Is Guyana located in Africa?

I admit, I didn’t know very much about Guyana before my involvement with the Peace Corps. But it has been funny to see what others know about this country when I tell them that I’ll be moving there in a few months.

Many people think that Guyana is located in Africa, not South America. I suppose it’s easy to get confused, for of the 58 African countries, five start with the letter G and two are pronounced similarly: Gabon, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau.

But if they don’t think of Africa, they inevitably think of the “Jonestown Massacre”; the 1978 mass suicide by members of the People’s Temple, an agricultural commune in Jonestown, Guyana. On the orders of their leader, Jim Jones, more than 900 followers of the cult, mostly Americans, took poison and died.

I didn’t know much about this story, so I went to look it up and found this article from

Jonestown massacre + 20: Questions linger

Jonestown mass murder-suicide scene in 1978
November 18, 1998

SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) — Twenty years after the world was shocked by the mass murder-suicide in the supposedly utopian community known as Jonestown, the questions linger: How and why did 913 people die? Some believe answers may lie in more than 5,000 pages of information the U.S. government has kept secret.

“Twenty years later, it would be nice to know what went down,” said J. Gordon Melton, founder and director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion.

Time to declassify?
Over the years, there have been rumors of CIA involvement. Some people believe CIA agents were posing as members of the Peoples Temple cult to gather information; others suggest the agency was conducting a mind-control experiment.

In 1980, the House Select Committee on Intelligence determined that the CIA had no advance knowledge of the mass murder-suicide. The year before, the House Foreign Affairs Committee had concluded that cult leader Jim Jones “suffered extreme paranoia.”

The committee — now known as international relations — released a 782-page report, but kept more than 5,000 other pages secret.

Without those documents, it’s hard to confirm or refute the speculations that have sprung up around Jonestown, said Melton, who planned to be in Washington Wednesday to ask for the documents’ release.

George Berdes, chief consultant to the committee at the time of the investigation, told the San Francisco Chronicle the papers were classified to assure sources’ confidentiality, but he thinks it is time to declassify them.

Paradise becomes a prison
What is known about the end of Jonestown is that on November 18, 1978, Jones ordered more than 900 of his followers to drink cyanide-poisoned punch. He told guards to shoot anyone who refused or tried to escape. Among the dead: more than 270 children.

Only two years before, Jones — the charismatic leader of the Peoples Temple, an interracial organization that helped the desperate — was the toast of San Francisco’s political circles.

But after an August 1977 magazine article detailed ex-members’ stories of beatings and forced donations, Jones abruptly moved his flock to Jonestown, a settlement in the jungle of Guyana, an Idaho-sized country on South America’s northern coast.

The plan was to create an egalitarian agricultural community. But Peoples Temple members who worked the fields and subsisted mostly on rice soon learned it was more like a prison, recalls Jonestown defector Deborah Layton.

Dissent was unthinkable, she says. Offenders sweltered in “The Box,” a 6-by-4-foot (1.8-by-1.2-meter) underground enclosure. Misbehaving children were dangled head-first into the well late at night. Loudspeakers broadcast Jones’ voice at all hours.

‘Time for us to meet in another place’
In May 1978, Layton, a trusted financial lieutenant for Jones, slipped out of Guyana. She went to the U.S. consulate and later to newspapers with a warning: Jones was conducting drills for a mass murder-suicide.

But there was little official government action until November 1978, when U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan, who had been contacted by a number of people worried about their relatives in the Peoples Temple, decided to lead a delegation of reporters and relatives to Jonestown.

Ryan’s group arrived on November 17. Their visit began happily enough, but the mood soured after some Jonestown residents indicated they wanted to defect. The group was ambushed the next day as they tried to leave at a nearby airstrip. Ryan and four others were killed.

Later that night, Jones told his followers “the time has come for us to meet in another place,” as the mass suicide began. He was found shot through the head.

‘Jim had deep hatred in his heart’
Jynona Norwood, who lost 27 relatives in Jonestown, questions whether Jones was ever motivated by benevolence.

“Everybody wants to paint these pretty stories about how it started off OK. I personally believe that Jim had deep hatred in his heart from Day One.”

Californian Fred Lewis lost his wife and seven children at Jonestown.

“I blame myself. I blame my wife,” he told CNN. He also blames Jim Jones. “He was a con artist all the way.”

But don’t blame the victims, said one speaker at a memorial service held Tuesday at St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco.

“Remember the people of Jonestown, not for their horrible deaths, but for who they were — people in search of a better world.”

Correspondent Don Knapp and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Focusing on my exit

This past weekend, my boss Matt Carson and coworker Jason Guyton came to Indianapolis for a departmental retreat. Naturally, the retreat was scheduled prior to me telling them that I’ll be joining the Peace Corps, for they learned of that news just five days earlier.

While the purpose of the retreat was to plan the department’s future and to envision how Carden Jennings Publishing will be serving the fraternal market in the coming years, we did spend a lot of time focusing on my exit and transition.

We decided that April 30 will be my last day as an employee. I think this will give me enough time to finish projects that I am working on and transition sales accounts smoothly.

More so, it gives me nearly a month to get ready for the Peace Corps. Here is a rough agenda:

  • April 30: Last day at Carden Jennings Publishing.
  • May 4 – 5: USAV Regional Volleyball Tournament
  • May 6 – 16: Move from Indianapolis to Raleigh
  • May 17 – 19: Attend brother’s graduation in Los Angeles
  • May 20 – 31: Family vacation in Hawaii
  • June 1 – 2: Raleigh, pack for Peace Corps
  • June 3 – 4: Miami, Peace Corps registration
  • June 5 – 7: Guyana, Peace Corps orientation
  • June 10 – Aug 16: Guyana, Peace Corps training
  • Aug 2002 – Aug 2004: Guyana, Peace Corps service

All in all, the retreat went well. While I will miss Carden Jennings Publishing, I wish them the best and hope that they will have continued success. It is a good company, one that I might return to upon completion of my service in Guyana.

Everyone I know is affected by my departure

Telling friends and family about my decision to join the Peace Corps brings mixed emotions. Some respond with excitement and countless of questions, while others display sadness and concern. Most are both happy for me, and sad to see me go.

While many of my friends respect and admire my independence, I often fail to realize what I mean to them. I clearly underestimated how my decision to join the Peace Corps affects others.

I knew that I would have to make many sacrifices (no income, no TV, no hot water, etc.), but hardly considered the many sacrifices that those who know me will also have to endure; and endure without a choice or say in the matter.

I now realize that everyone I know is affected by my departure. And I want to thank them for their support and apologize for my absence.

Jennifer Griggs: I’ll miss your birthdays, holidays, road trips, Brook’s wedding, pumpkin carving parties, and all of the many things that we have enjoyed doing together in the last three years.

Doug Finberg: My best friend from college, I’ll miss your wedding. I know I was just one of your few invited guests, so I realize how important it was for me to be there.

Ansley Paulson and Sean Torres: I’ll also miss your weddings. How I would have enjoyed attending both, catching up with friends, and sharing your important day.

C.A.M. Wagner and Aaron Ayscue: The two of you are going to be dads in the next six months. By the time I see your offspring; they will be two-years old. I’m happy for you both.

Volleyball Teammates: We have great dynamics on and off the court. I’m sorry that you will have to play without me. At least now you’ll have fewer passing errors.

These are just a few of the many friends that will be affected by my departure. I think you all are great, appreciate your support, and hope to keep in touch. May my remaining few months here in the USA be spent with each of you.

Told my boss I will be leaving

Today I told my boss that I will be leaving Carden Jennings Publishing in mid-May, which will give me enough time to prepare for my June 2 departure to Guyana. It was a difficult conversation for me, but he took it rather well. This is the basics of what I told him:


I have some disappointing news that I need to share with you. Nearly two weeks ago, I received an invitation to join the Peace Corps.

I began the application process to serve as a volunteer while I was still with And when I lost my job in January of 2001, I naturally tried to speed up the application process for it was a great time for me to serve. After all, I was unemployed, I was single, and I didn’t own a house or anything.

In fact, it started to look like the Peace Corps was not interested in me and that I would never receive an invitation. After all, it is a rather competitive process.

And once I accepted your offer in May, I had little contact with them at all; that is until a few weeks ago when I received an official invitation to serve with them in Guyana, which is in S. America.

Needless to say, I have put a lot of thought and careful consideration into this decision. And I realize that by accepting this invitation, I will be disappointing you and Carden Jennings for I will have failed to make the Indianapolis office profitable.

Yet as I contemplated my options, I realized that my hesitation to become a Peace Corps volunteer was not due to a fear of catching malaria or yellow fever, or the fact that I will be leaving friends and family behind for two years.

Instead, the thing that troubled me the most was this phone call.

You put your trust and resources in me and by leaving, I will have let you down. I don’t like letting people down.

But once I realized that the main thing that was keeping me from accepting the invitation was my employment with you, I had no choice but to accept. For I would have been unhappy and regretful had I passed up this opportunity.

So this means that I will likely need to leave Carden Jennings by mid-May, for my Peace Corps service begins the first of June.

I am fortunate to have spent my last year under Matt’s guidance and management. This upcoming weekend, he and a coworker will be coming to Indianapolis for the three of us to hold a retreat to plan the future of our department’s business and services. I am glad that Matt is still interested in holding the retreat and seeks my involvement. While I will not be around to implement the plans that we will develop, I believe in CJP and hope that it will prosper after my departure.

Leaving a company that you care about and a job that you enjoy is no easy task. I am grateful that Matt took the news so well and considers my departure in good standing. It is a relief to have this discussion behind me, taking me one step closer to becoming a Peace Corps volunteer.

I’m going to be a Peace Corps volunteer

I did it. I am now a Peace Corps Volunteer, or at least I have promised to become an official volunteer starting this June 2002.

It feels great to have reached this decision. I seem to have acquired a permanent grin that has attached itself to my face, as well as the inability to sit still. I find myself walking around my apartment talking to myself with excitement, saying, “I’m going to be a Peace Corps volunteer. I’m moving to Guyana. I’m going to have to learn how to like cold showers.”

Oh it is such a relief to accept this invitation. While coming to a decision was quite difficult, accepting the invitation was rather easy. Basically, I sent out this simple email:

—–Original Message—–
From: [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Wednesday, February 27, 2002 2:55 PM
To: Sylvie Mortimer
Cc: [email protected]
Subject: Acceptance of Peace Corps Guyana Invitation


I am pleased to inform you that after careful consideration, I accept your offer to serve as an Information Technology community education promoter for the Guyana – Poverty Alleviation Program (GUY10). My Peace Corps Registration will begin on June 3 in Miami.

Please confirm that you have received my decision to accept this invitation. And again, thank you for offering me this opportunity.

Jason Pearce
(317) 490-7080 cell
[email protected]

And I got this in return:

—–Original Message—–
From: Mortimer, Sylvie [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Wednesday, February 27, 2002 2:59 PM
To: [email protected]
Subject: RE: Acceptance of Peace Corps Guyana Invitation

Got it– great. Congrats!

That’s all it took. Just a few simple words. Wow.

I’m going to be a Peace Corps volunteer. I’m moving to Guyana. I’m going to have to learn how to like cold showers.