by Robert Stewart, Director; Professor
It isn’t every day that doctoral students get the chance to teach in another country, much less spend an entire quarter doing so.
I recently sat down with Sally Ann Cruikshank, a second-year doctoral student in our program, to hear about her recent experience in Guyana. I also asked her to write up a blog entry about her experiences, as well as let me include some photos of her trip. All of those media are included in this post.
Uncovering Guyana’s Mega-Sloth (Sally Ann Cruikshank)
As a journalist, I’ve worked some serious magic to get interviews. I’ve called back after being hung up on (several times), and once in Miami I dropped by a man’s business once a week to convince him to go on camera. Until I moved to Guyana, however, I had never gone off-roading to get an interview.
Fabian, our excellent driver, and I stood outside the SUV staring at a massive mudhole. It was right in the middle of the road we needed to pass through to get to a small mining town, where our interviewee lived. We were still miles away from her home, so if we couldn’t get through, that meant no interview. And we were on a deadline.
“I think we can get through it,” Fabian said. He proceeded to pick up a nearby stick to check the water level. My eyes widened when I saw how far into the water the stick went.
“Oh,” he said, “we can make it through that.”
I wasn’t so sure, but I decided to trust him. After all, he’d done this before, whereas I had only been in Guyana a few weeks.
I had come to Guyana as part of a partnership between Ohio University and the Centre for Communication Studies at the University of Guyana. Although I came to Guyana to teach, classes hadn’t started yet, so I volunteered to help the graduating students produce a series of mini-documentaries. The interview we were trying to get to that day was for a documentary on Guyana’s Mega-Sloth. Recently the National Museum had unveiled a new exhibit on the prehistoric creature, which featured mega-sloth bones found in Guyana. Dinosaur bones are a rarity in that region of South America, because the tropical climate doesn’t usually preserve bones. Our documentary included interviews with the Ministry of Culture, the miner who discovered the bones, and a woman who had written a letter advocating the bones be displayed. She was the person we were trying to reach that day.
Of course, off-roading for an interview was only the beginning of my adventures in Guyana. Over the next five months, I would stand in front of the world’s highest single-drop waterfall, Kaieteur Falls, and I would get there by flying in the co-pilot’s seat of a tiny airplane. The breath-taking waterfall is in the middle of the Amazon jungle and is home to the miniature golden frog. It’s only found in the area around the Kaieteur Falls and is extremely poisonous. Our guide warned us not to get too close. The trip to Kaieteur wasn’t my only experience in the jungle. I spent three days at Iwokrama, a field station deep in the Amazon. Besides taking a walk through the top of the canopy, we got up close and personal with scarlet macaws, toucans, and caimans bigger than boats. It’s not often you’re serenaded to sleep by a chorus of howler monkeys.
That was all to come, but for now, I was focused on the documentaries at hand. We got back in the vehicle, put it into 4-wheel drive, and hoped for the best. With a splash we bounced through the mudhole, making it out the other side. (Apparently, the front license plate did not. A few weeks later we noticed it was missing. It’s likely still in the mudhole.) We found our interviewee a few minutes later, living in a home in the middle of what could only be called a lush, tropical paradise. We spent a few minutes setting up the cameras, choosing to conduct the interview along the river running behind the house. At one point, an impromptu rain shower forced us to shelter the camera with an umbrella, but overall, the interview was a success.
Just a few weeks later, after many long nights and several more interviews, we premiered the documentary, along with two others I worked on, in front of an audience that included the Prime Minister. My students, who before this experience had never edited and hardly worked with a camera, had produced an incredible look at Guyana’s Mega-Sloth. It was a bright, shinning moment for the Centre and the students, as they realized just how much they were capable of accomplishing. I was not only unbelievably proud of them as well, but I also was able to add one more thing to the crazy list of stunts I’d pulled to get an interview.