Welcome to Santa Mission located on exotic Kamuni Creek off the West Bank of the Demerara River in Region 3 of Guyana (which is NOT Ghana in Africa). Santa is an Arawak Amerindian Reserve. We have a village Touchau or captain who is elected to run the community with aid and guidance from the elected Village Council. Our captain is Aubrey Samuels, but he is nearing the end of his term.
From the Landing to the back trails Santa is a beautiful community with awesome people. We start this virtual tour at the Landing. This is the dock where visitors and locals alike park their boats and enter the village. Most days you’ll find kids playing in the water or jumping off the dock or even practicing for the National swimming competition. Some days you’ll find people fishing. There are many high-quality edible fish in the waters as well as some nasty critters.
The waters of Kamuni Creek are home to a host of River-Monsters-worthy creatures from anacondas to big fish and piranhas (allegedly). On the creek I’ve also witnessed water dogs (manatees), sloths in the nearby trees (once I saw momma sloth with a baby on her back), various water snakes, and some of the most beautiful butterflies I’ve ever seen. The area around Santa is home to bush tigers (wild cats/jaguars), wild hogs (yummy!!), laba (short deer), a whole host of snakes from the deadly to the boring, lizards, gorgeous birds, anteaters, and domestic animals like dogs, cats, goats, pigs and so on. It’s literally a jungle out here.
Ample fruits grow throughout the area in addition to planted produce. People in the community grow pumpkins, watermelons, a variety of leafy greens, tomatoes, cherries, hot peppers, coconuts, bananas, pear (avocados), tangerines, cashews (the fruit not the nut), guava and often times generously share out any and all extras when they are in season. There are many many fruits that grow wildly in the forests. There is something called hitcha which is a small sour little fruit, Ashi-ashi (spelling?) which is a tasty little fruit with black seeds and a yellow peel, owara, jamoon (a purple berry that sucks the calcium off your teeth, ganip (a sour fleshy fruit surrounding a white seed in a green peel, wy-ki-ki (spelling??) a long skinny pod with oblong black seeds covered in a thin sweet white fruit, and many many many others that I do not know the name of, how to spell the names , or describe them. The children and adults in the community can tell you the names and where to find them.
Moving into town we have the Benab, which is a large structure with a roof made of leaves and open on the sides. Many community events take place here. Usually when there is a special guess from the President of Guyana to professional cricket players and even once the queen of England, all have dinned here.
The first major landmark of Santa Mission is the enormous kalmaka tree or Silk Cotton Tree. The tree is huge and old and there are many legends of spooky spirits that hang out near the tree.
Next stop is the old school, which has been turned into a community building. Its central location makes it ideal for social gatherings. We have dances and parties that are housed in the community center. When we have Heritage celebrations most things happen in the building and the open space around the building.
Around the way we also have a community library opening 3 afternoons each week.
Santa is also home to a small statue commemorating a Touchau and marks the anniversary of the founding of Santa Mission.
Up the hill a little ways is the circular craft shop. Santa is becoming an exporter of traditional Amerindian crafts. Mostly women, but some men as well make crafts like baskets, fans, jewelry, mats, bags, headdresses, bracelets, headbands and basically anything else you can think of from straw and sell it to tourists who come through Santa. Hopefully by early 2015 these products will be shipped to the U.S. for purchase in fair trade shops. Exciting stuff!!
Across from the craft shop is the Health Center run by neighbor and friend. Due to limited resources most serious health concerns are sent out to a larger facility, but they do offer services from family planning to basic care and consulting.
On the other side of the craft shop is the guest house. The guest house is a one-story building with room for up to 12 people. For sleeping only the cost is something like 15$ per night to the full service experience at 125$ a night. The guest house is eco friendly in that there is solar power and sustainable practices. The president of Guyana, came to the opening of the small guest house. There is information online for the use of the space if you ever want to come visit (I highly recommend a stop in Santa Mission).
Then we go up to the top of the hill to reach Santa Primary School. The one-room, concrete, schoolhouse currently hosts about 45 students and 5 teachers for Nursery 1&2, Grades 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 9. Due to the location it is difficult for students to reach the closest secondary school so often times they stay at Santa Primary and we try to manage as best as possible. This year saw the return of Head master Jeffrey Patterson and a new teacher, as well as me, the PCV. Last year only 3 teachers ran the entire school. It’s common for 1 teacher to have 2-3 grades on any given day. Luckily we have some dynamite teachers.
Behind the school is the ball field. Any given day you’ll see cricket, volleyball, football (European) or general track and field. There are games every Sunday as well as most other days.
After the ball field the town splinters off into paths and roads and has houses in every direction.
Economically Santa has many service positions thanks to the craft shop and growing eco-tourism. Additionally many guys work in the lumber industry. It is fairly common for men to go work 3-4 months in the bush and then come back to Santa for a few months. It’s very difficult labor. Others go into town to work and come back to Santa on the weekends. Overall the population is in decline as most people leave Santa to find a career.
Santa is home to roughly 350 residents though only about 200 live in the main cluster of town regularly.