I’m just back from overseas engagements (Toronto and New York) interacting with hundreds of Caribbean people, the majority of them Guyanese, and, inevitably, after the music was over, I kept finding myself in discussions generated by the news that I am now living permanently in Guyana. It happened many times in both cities.
Frankly speaking, as Brother Fenty would put it, it’s a complete waste of time getting into prolonged discussions about why you live where you live. You can obviously get involved in those chats if you’re so inclined, but the reality is that there is so much subjectivity involved in, for example, someone’s choice to live in Guyana or not, that trying to explain it to someone else, differently disposed, is almost always futile.
The bottom line is that while there are some tangible commonly-held considerations at play (health services, infrastructure, level of crime, schooling, etc) and rightly so, there are also a host of intangible things that can have significant influence on where a person decides to make his/her permanent abode. These influences will differ from individual to individual, so that what is important to one person will often mean nothing to another – indeed, may even sound deranged – and, furthermore, they cover everything under the sun. Obviously, I am talking here about the person who has the freedom to choose where to live, but for those persons those intangibles are often what tip the scales in favour of one country or another, or, for example, the Rupununi over our coast.
A good example of this is a man, originally from England, who runs a successful restaurant in Georgetown. Just recently back from a trip to Canada himself, and trying to dissect the pleasure he felt at returning home, he said it had occurred to him that it was the vibrant human interaction he was surrounded by here. As he put it: “You can’t help noticing the efficiency of the mechanization and technology in a place like Canada, and it occurred to me that we would have five or six people doing a job that one would do over there. But you know what? With all the frustrations here, I missed that human equation, and it felt good to come back to it in Guyana.”
Now I can hear already the comments – “That’s why we’re so backward”; “We’ll never get anywhere with that view”; “Efficiency is progress,” etc – but such reactions only reinforce my point that (a) that these intangibles, dismissed as ridiculous in one view, are warmly embraced in another, and that (b) therefore trying to rationalize or balance them is pointless.
For example, one of the things I love about life here is the daily immersion in this rambunctious dialect we possess, with these intriguing and often comical words we’ve created, and the tangled constructions and the ingenious idioms we use in our communication. All of that is precious (at my recent shows in Toronto and New York I had Guyanese laughing about it), but it goes beyond that. I’m talking literally about the sound of the dialect, heard at some remove, as from a passing car, or in the buzz in a market, where those dialect voices combine to create an ambience that is purely Guyanese and only Guyanese. Of course you can find it in isolation where Guyanese live outside, in places like Liberty Avenue in New York, or Eglinton Avenue in Toronto, but there it is an occasional thing; here that sound of Guyana comes at you from every corner, all day long. It probably means nothing to many people, but that’s an important intangible for me. It’s like a comfortable blanket that follows me about.
The exuberance of our people is another one. A few weeks back, I’m walking up Regent Street, and there’s a man on the sidewalk looking the other way with a stunned look on his face. I don’t know the guy from Adam, but as I get within six feet of him, he approaches me and blurts out, “Mistah, you see dah? You see wha’ da man do? Is wheh he learn fuh ride motorbike? You wan’ tell me dey shouldn’ lack he up? You evah see anyting like duh?” Frustration over, communication complete, he walks away. I continue up Regent Street laughing. I lived in Toronto for 22 years and never once ran into a man like that. That episode depicts the verve of these people – another intangible.
I could give you a dozen more examples, but I’m sure you get the drift. Once you get past the basics, it’s those other emotion-driven, almost ethereal, aspects of living that become powerful pulls, or pushes, generating the appeal that means home. Some of it operates from the subconscious, creating that feeling that we can’t always articulate, but that acts like an antidote to all the difficulties of life in the homeland. It’s a highly personal, very specific thing, it comes in a bewildering variety of shapes and moods, and it therefore often leaves people with that puzzled look when you try to elucidate it.
Space here precludes my giving you more examples, but here’s one I had to include. A few nights ago, my wife and I are driving home on the railway road. There is a draycart going east around Liliendaal, looked like father and two sons, making good time. As a safety precaution for cars overtaking, one of the sons is sitting on the side of the dray holding a kerosene flambeau. It’s blowing in the breeze; you can see it clearly; a flickering alert in the darkness, before you get there. Annette and I look at each other. Some people would say, “How backward!” She says, “Isn’t that lovely?” In foreign, apart from the fact that it would not be a draycart, the transportation would have flashing hazard lights, or a red flag. Flashing red lights on a pick-up truck, or flaming bottle-lamp on a draycart; take your pick.
It’s what the English guy was talking about the other day. You can’t measure it, or package it, and, if the truth be told, you sometimes sound demented trying to describe it, as I’m probably doing right now, but to many people who choose to live here it answers the question, “why.”
Yes, I’m talking about intangibles; absolutely; but they are real.
It’s always nice to hear from SN readers on So it go. However, a note from Adam Frankowski regarding my column of May 3, shows he missed the point. I was not personally touting Twenty/20 cricket (I find a lot of it silly); I was merely saying that in modern life that’s the version that is most popular and why so. Adam says that “the double entendre calypso is much more satisfying than ‘Who Let The Dogs Out,’” but the question is ‘satisfying to whom’? Obviously – and that was precisely my point – only to a small minority.