In the classic Broadway musical, “The King And I”, later made into a very successful movie with Yul Brynner as the Asian king, there is a scene where he is struggling to explain his confusion on some key issues, and he sums up his frustration by exclaiming “Is a puzzlement!”

Brynner’s expression in fractured English, used in the case of ancient Siam, is something that often comes to mind in life today.

Consider, for example, two views: One is of Georgetown, and much of the adjoining East Coast and East Bank areas, where you literally have to detour around litter on parapets; where discarded bottles and plastics clog the trenches; where derelict buildings that should be razed somehow hang in existence. Sit outside the Roti Hut in town, and take in the view opposite – posts of an abandoned structure, blackened with age, rising from a jungle of grass four feet high. For the second view, we take in the Essequibo Coast. There the scene is strikingly different. To drive through many of those villages is to notice that there is very little litter about; there are no abandoned rusting vehicles on the roadside; most houses are neatly painted; most parapets are trimmed, and it is not uncommon to see people sweeping their yard fronts as you pass.

What’s behind the difference? Okay, political conflicts are at play in the mess in town, but why do so many private properties on the Demerara side look unkempt when the picture in Essequibo is different? Do a different breed of Guyanese live over the big river? Frankly, it’s a puzzlement.

Here’s another one: The week doesn’t go by without our being told in the media of yet another fatal accident involving speeding mini-buses, or private vehicles, with sometimes young lives being aborted, with families being left in sudden heart-rending grief. In the face of this widely known consequence, why do we find so many passengers, aware of these frequent tragedies, sitting mute in these speeding vehicles? In the minibus scenario, why do these passengers, who are, in effect, hiring the driver, not instructing him to slow down? In a private vehicle, where the driver is a relative or friend of the driver, the leverage to get him to drive safely is even more available.  We often hear after these fatal crashes – vehicles doing 75mph; overtaking blind – that no passengers complained. Is the fear of mutilation and death not in us? It doesn’t make sense; another puzzlement.

I’m watching a television broadcast in the recent West Indies/South Africa cricket series. There is a tight close-up of, I believe, Nash. The English commentator says, “It’s interesting that the maroon cap Nash is wearing is a different colour from the cap the other batsman is wearing. Why is that?”  The Trini commentator – I believe it was Fazeer Mohammed – makes a brave try: “Well, perhaps they were made at different times, or one is older than the other.” The camera then pans to other West Indies players on the field (turns out there are three different shades of maroon represented that day; it’s similar for helmets, by the way) and the English guy comes back, “But surely it couldn’t be all that difficult. You know what the colour is, make the cap that way.”  Fazeer tries again. “Perhaps the company making the caps lost the contract, and a new company got the job.” The camera then pans to the West Indies flag, maroon fabric dancing in the breeze. Says England: “Okay, but whoever is manufacturing it, there it is. That’s the West Indies maroon. Why aren’t all the caps that colour?”  Silence from Fazeer.

The English bulldog has a point.  You mean to tell me that among all our high-priced cricket executives and administrators, and public relations people, and WICB members, not one of them notices the variance? We’re on international media, going around the world, with our regional team wearing branded maroon caps in three different colours? Why is that happening? Are we all asleep? Isn’t that a puzzlement?

Guyanese houses, with their naturally copious use of windows, don’t leave much wall space for paintings, but I love paintings.

Looking around lately, however, there’s a noticeable drop in the number of paintings being created here, and there is also a sameness of design with many artists using the montage style combining several small images. In the course of a talk with the students at the Burrowes School, I asked them about it. Their take is that it’s the result of fewer art patrons (migration; less disposable income) and that that condition is not likely to change soon.  That explanation makes sense, but only up to a point. In any society you care to name, financial reward is not the sine qua non of artistic output; artists produce their creations for the sake of creating (money comes into play later), so that’s not the full answer for the decline of painting here. Also, what is even more puzzling is the narrowing of the subject matter. What’s operating there? No one I spoke with seems to know.

In a recent “So It Go” column it was suggested that our landscape, particularly in Georgetown, would be greatly improved if we simply cut the grass. However, as a reader pointed out, the problem there is that our parapets and roadsides are notoriously uneven; after construction or roadwork is done, the earth is not properly leveled – bumps and holes remain – and only hand-held grass cutters can operate. All of that sounds reasonable, but why are most of our parapets a jumble of bumps and sinks in the first place? Surely there must be planning regulations to require that the parapets and roadsides be put back level after construction; why aren’t they being enforced? It’s a puzzlement.

Finally, a pet peeve of mine is to hear Wolf Blitzer on CNN; the man is one of the worst talking heads on television.  He says “nucelar” instead of “nuclear”. He says “deteriate” when it should be “deteriorate”. He says “inneresting” when it should be “interesting”. Most irritating of all, he reads until he runs out of breath and then pauses, so you get, “The President and members of his inner White House circle are meeting this weekend at Camp (deep breath) David. The ongoing Palestinian/Israeli tensions are at the top of their agenda and the goal is to apparently persuade the Israelis to another (deep breath) round of negotiations.”  Why does Blitzer’s continuous mangling of English continue unchecked? I wish Yul Brynner was still around to call him up and say, “Wolf. You is very much a puzzlement.”

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