The Fruits of an International Internship

Alessia Avola

Alessia Avola

Intern at the Institute of Applied Science and Technology, in Georgetown, Guyana

Part of the Queen Elizabeth II scholarship Establishing Right Relations Program

Greetings from Guyana, the Land of Many Waters, the Nation of Six People, and our home for three months this summer! I’m Alessia, one of three third-year University of Toronto students studying in Guyana as part of the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship, Establishing Right Relations program. Myself, and the other two interns here have spent our first month getting acquainted with the city that is our home for the summer. Georgetown, the capital of Guyana, is green, lush, hot, and full to bursting with brightly coloured flowers, fruit trees and palm trees. The Institute of Applied Science and Technology (IAST) in Georgetown, where we spend most of our days, is different from any office I’ve ever worked in: I’ve caused a hold-up on the stairs more than once because every time I walk up to the second floor and look out onto a vista of sunny lemongrass fields, palm trees, and a whole host of other plants I can’t identify, I have to pause.

Of all the new things we’ve encountered since we’ve been here, I think the strangest, but possibly the best, has been Soursop. It’s a fruit that resembles a kind of huge squished watermelon with spikes, but it has a flavour and texture uniquely its own. The first time we saw one we thought it must have already spoiled, because, despite the appearance of the spikes, it was so soft—one poke and your finger could slide through its skin. We quickly learned, however, that was the identifier of a prime Soursop. We were introduced to the fruit by one of the chemists here at IAST. He’s appeared in the doorway of our office more than a few times to offer us a range of Guyanese goods: green mangos and soft orange ones, guavas, short, fat little bananas, sugar-cane juice, and as of now, two Soursops. He’s not alone in keeping us well fed—our supervisor here has also brought us mangos from her tree at home, plantain chips, and a strange (but wonderful) little fruit called Guinep that grows in bunches like grapes but feels more like a Lychee fruit—pictured below. We steadily ate our way through a bushel of them in the lunchroom this week, a process which involves biting into and cracking the Guinep’s hard shell, exposing the slimy, sweet translucent fruit inside, and scraping it off the pit, a nut the size of a marble, with your teeth. Half the appeal of eating Guinep is, I think, working to get to the fruit. Everyone we have met in Georgetown has been eager to share the food of their homeland with us, which is lucky for us because it has all been delicious.

guinep fruit
Half the appeal of eating Guinep is, I think, working to get to the fruit.

In case anyone in Toronto is worried that we think we are here on holiday, I should emphasise we know we’re not here just to admire the beautiful greenery and eat our way through the kitchens of IAST employees. IAST is involved in several commercial projects in different Amerindian communities lodged deep within the country’s interior. In some projects, IAST acts as a branding or marketing consultant for products already developed and being produced by Amerindians in their communities, and in others, IAST is more directly involved in short-term production or other aspects. We interns are in Guyana to study the economic development taking place in various Amerindian communities, and the impacts of that development, both on the communities and between the communities and coastal peoples.

In a few weeks we will be traveling into the interior, near the Brazilian border, to research in three different Amerindian communities, and I think I speak for all of us here when I say we are very excited and very honoured by the access we have been granted. We are looking forward to seeing (and tasting) what comes next!

July 7, 2016