Pleasant, puzzling encounters in the diaspora

‘YOU CAN’T REMEMBER THIS FACE?’

“Allan, you kyan remember dis face?” “Tell me who speaking to you.” “Mr. Fenty you remember me?” “Let me take off the cap. Recognize me now, sir?” “You getting ole Allan, ah bet you doan know who talking to yuh.”

The above questions and comments are a sampling of what flew at me as I encountered dozens of old school mates, friends, relative, students and colleagues in New York City recently. During the first five days of this September I happened to be in New York partly to participate in three events organized by the Guyana Cultural Association (GCA). Monday September 5 was, of course, the day of the million-plus-person 44th annual West Indian Carnival along that city’s Eastern Parkway.

The GCA celebrated its tenth year of preserving, promoting and displaying, consistently, all aspects of Guyana’s folk traditions and cultural heritage, generally. And Guyanese, living in New York and further afield, legally or not, supported all events most significantly. By their numbers and enthusiastic, participatory presence. At a Symposium at a Suny College I did not recognize John Criswick. My poor eyesight and jaded memory did not prevent me, however, from quickly recognizing Roy Brummel (teacher-folklorist), Ken Corsbie, Lear Matthews, Walter Edwards, Janette Bulkan and Rose October. Other presenters I met for the first time. Like Harry Hergash and Frank Birdalsingh.

But my recognition problems really overcame me at the events attended by the hundreds and the thousands. I’ll return to that slightly-stressful fun shortly.

The Guyana diaspora
At the GCA Symposium, themed ‘Arrivals, Encounters and Exchanges‘ former army officer, now scholar/researcher Desmond Roberts stated that besides the known phenomenon of Guyanese in North America and the UK, there are hundreds of thousands of Guyanese immigrants in Suriname, Brazil and Venezuela and settled throughout the Caribbean. You and I probably know that.

My work on local radio and television and in the print media helps to make me recognizable – if not “memorable.” I take some time, however, to recognize many acquaintances, colleagues and fans long migrated to other lands. It’s my fault completely mind you. During the last Carifesta hosted by Trinidad and Tobago; in Caracas and Boa Vista for weekends and in Suriname late August, I was challenged frequently to identify Guyanese long absent from the homeland Some Indo-Guyanese at the Nickerie, Suriname Ferry Terminal really puzzled me before I realized that they were my once faithful Guyana ‘Cook-Up Show‘ TV fans before they migrated to speak Taki-Taki Dutch pretending to be actual Surinamese.

Up close, not-so-personal, in New York

Easy to recognise: Hugh and Hilton

Oh, but it was at was the Cultural Association events and at the Tripey Square, after-Parade lime on Labor Day where you see them in their hundreds of thousands new in the US.

Yolande from Canada, Danny from New Amsterdam (“I‘ve now created options, Allan”) Cheryl from Bourda market, Sarjo Fraace and dozens of other footballers, the “old” printers, GNS, GPF, GDF, THD, GPSU folks. From Sandhills to Woodbine to Oasis to Ozone Park to Flatbush to Church avenue? They “bounced up” with me and with them. Even if I wanted to answer nature’s call many insisted that I “rememba” them, before I could move off. I could not even do any bluffing.

Especially moving for me, this time around, were the encounters with my former teaching colleagues and students from Goed Fortuin and St Sidwells. Oh the warmth, respect and friendship still there.

Another time I’ll discuss Dr Lear Matthews’ views on the role and status of what he calls “hometown associations”. Speaking about the now numerous, professional and alumni associations, village, medical, political, religious and cultural groups of Guyanese he mentions that “sustained interactions through HTA’s imbue a sense of identification with place of  origin; perpetuate the culture and present the opportunity for altruistic endeavours, or perhaps an investment for returning home.”

I struggled to remember Rhonda and… Parry

For now I’ll treasure and savour the memories of those personal encounters of social renewal. And yes some of you know I’ll lament the fact that those thousands have opted to be where they now are. I understand and cannot dare to pass any judgments.

As I try to remember that face, that friendship, I’ll wish that one day I see them all in their Guyana homeland, if only for one year at a time. Meanwhile, I’ll always struggle to remember that name, that face. (“Oh yes man, you’re none other than the distinguished Hugh Sam!”)