So, I made contact before departure with Rene and he welcomed me to stay with his family in a village on the river, as if I was a member of his own family. I was very touched by this. These are the kind of people who may have nothing, materially speaking, but welcomed me as if I was part of the family. That was very, very touching. I spent most of the five weeks by the river in these little villages, then went to the slums in St. Laurent. Due to job constraints, most of the people from the river area immigrate to the coastal cities. The problem is the job market and social housing are saturated, so people from the river have no choice but to live in slums. So just imagine, houses where the walls are made of wood, the roof is made of iron and sometimes you do not have tap water or electricity in the middle of the city and this has to be rented for the equivalent of £600 a month. And that’s not even talking about the cost of daily life in French Guiana, which is twice as expensive as the French continent.
TE: And what impact did this leave upon you? Was this your first time encountering poverty on that scale and how did you respond?
WB: I would say this was my first time in such conditions because in the villages you really live in harmony with nature. I remember the first thing I used to do when I woke up was get down to the river and wash myself alongside the kids. You wake up with the sun and go to bed shortly after sunset because there is no electricity. Saying that, I was happy in that I discovered a very rich culture. The Bushinengue people have their own language, arts and traditions; it’s a very rich mix between Christian and African traditions in terms of religion. Plus, you have different ethnicities, different spiritualities – all the Bushinengue live together in harmony and that was truly amazing. So I would not say there was poverty, at least not in the villages, because it’s a way of living people are accustomed to and happy with. I learnt that people value a man for his ability to, for example, cut some wood in a forest, build a house, hunt, fish, build a boat and sail on a river –