My surrogate mother(s) in Guyana

By Skyler Jennings

When I first found out I was accepted onto the Texas State Global News Team and was going to Guyana my first thoughts revolved around shear happiness and excitement.

My second thoughts?

I’m leaving the country for twelve days without my mom?!

I put on my big girl pants and pretended I could handle this, that people have gone farther and longer without being by their mom 24/7, because I wanted so much to enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

It soon became clear that I hadn’t so much left a mom behind as I had gained two surrogate moms (whether they intended it or not).

My first surrogate mom was my instructor Holly Lynn Wise.

Holly Lynn Wise on Fort Island in Guyana. Photo by Skyler Jennings/Global News Team.

I first took her class in spring 2017, and that’s when she changed me as a journalist. She taught me about the confidence needed to be a journalist. She’s 100 percent the reason I put my big girl pants on and pretended I could handle this – because she believed in me.

In Guyana, she took on a role of more than just a mentor.

She was the one who asked me how I was feeling because she knew I had caught a bug. She’s the one who carried around Advil for me, who ran upstairs at the last minute before the van rolled out for the day to grab medicine for me.

When my imaginary big girl pants had fallen down and I was feeling unsure of myself as a journalist, she approached me every few minutes and coaxed me until I pulled them right back up.

When the days were long and our stomaches were rumbling, she would pull out a bag of trail mix to hold us over. When we needed an ‘American night’ in, she grabbed spaghetti and garlic bread ingredients to help our homesickness.

She was there for me, with me, when I faced my fear of heights and conquered the clocktower in Stabroek Market.

She was so important to the stability I needed while I was miles away from my biological mom.

My other surrogate mom, Sharon Armstead, I didn’t meet until the pre-departure meetings got into full swing in fall 2017. I fully experienced the Armstead love on one of our recreation days in Guyana.

Sharon Armstead in the speedboat on the Demerara River. Photo by Skyler Jennings/Global News Team.

We were on a small speedboat, filled to capacity with roughly 20 people. I’d never been afraid of boat rides, in fact I’d always enjoyed them, and I did for the ride out to Baganara Island Resort.

The speedboat we took. Photo by Skyler Jennings/Global News Team.

On the ride back, however, the tide in the Demerara River had changed and the boat ride became one of horror for me. I was sat in the second row, meaning the ride for me was bumpier than it was for most. I was silently trying to conceal my panic attack, embarrassed beyond belief.

Nothing could get by Sharon, who was sat in the first row and caught sight of my silent tears.

Without hesitation, she immediately turned in her seat and grabbed my hand. She leaned in to keep our moment private, and whispered reassuring words in my ear.

She hugged me. She held my hand. She whispered to me. She shared her own experience on this river a year prior that was similar to mine.

For twenty minutes she did this, until we had to stop the boat at an island to get gas and I assured her I was calmed down.

That day, without her love, would have been one I looked back on with pain.

Now, I look back on it with so much happiness in my heart because I know she was there to make sure I was ok, not only because my biological mom couldn’t, but because she truly cared.

Sharon and Holly, my forever surrogate moms: thank you, for so much more than you will ever realize.




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