Once the Garden City.
Known for friendly, hospitable people.
And St George’s Cathedral, the tallest wooden building in the world.
Georgetown now slumbers below ageing seawalls on the shores of the muddy roars of the Atlantic Ocean, a city of noise, tumult and nasty rowdy markets.
St George’s still stands majestic overlooking the city, patiently waiting for the passing of this time of ragged piles of stinkness, watching the Stabroek Market clock stand still over the social chaos.
Life demands maintenance, and so a garden without the nurturing care of a patient gardener becomes a tangle of messy weed. Such is our city. The Garden City is overrun with bushy parapets, smelly clogged drains, and management stooped in decades of decay, unable – or unwilling – to rise to the grand elevation of a good gardener, despite rhetoric of good and green.
Everything grand and awesome about us is so debased and made cheap and worthless.
The Garden City, once enjoying world fame for its architecture of grandiose aesthetics, now stoops like an old beggar dressed in dirty rags.
Nowhere is this more poignant than at Mandela Avenue, where sitting in a packed speeding minibus blaring loud cussing music, the smell of the dump site assaults the nostrils with unpleasantness to the extreme. How could this noble man’s name be so degraded in our city? We named it Mandela Avenue, and dumped our garbage on its land.
The Garden City has fallen into a garbage city, and on the streets folks talk about this laughing at the absurdity of it all.
St George’s stands as a slender finger of hope, pointing to the eternal heavens, and so we expect tomorrow to shine brighter than today.
We bemoan when things fall apart. But when people fall apart, when our fame for friendliness and hospitality as a city becomes a distant memory, we fall into despair.
We might lose everything, but we should guard our reputation for friendliness and hospitality. In that character lies our enduring value as the people of Georgetown, Guyana.
The people of Georgetown.
We talk so much about how divided we are as a people, of how unreal is that vision in our motto: One People. When we talk about the political divide, we are talking about people standing on opposing sides, a la Parliament.
Forbes Burnham and Cheddi Jagan in the public eye stood opposing each other. Yet, personally, from all accounts, they were privately very good friends, with Cheedi’s son, Joey, being the “godson” of Forbes.
Even in that political divide we nurtured our friendly and hospitable character.
In everyday living, this country is not racist. It is, in fact, more multicultural and embracing than Canada, the world’s beacon of multiculturalism.
Last December I walked out of the house in Charlestown on a Sunday morning of pouring rain to go preach at a church. A knee deep flooded passageway greeted me, all decked out in suit and polished shoes and clean socks.
I stood there paralysed, refusing to step into water that could be contaminated with faeces and all manner of nastiness.
My cousin, Jerilisa, cheerfully took off her high heels, hauled up her fancy dress, and waltzed through the water to dry ground on Ketley Street. I stood there trying to figure a way out, stuck.
On the street, this young teenage guy was passing. He saw me stand there under the umbrella, and asked what was going on. Jerilisa, finding mirth in the situation, told him I didn’t want to walk through the flooded walkway.
This young man proceeded to untie his shoes, take them off, roll up his pants legs, and walk right through that water to me, without even asking. He came over to my side, and said, “come on. I will take you across”.
I was flabbergasted. I refused. He insisted. And insisted. He piggy-backed me across that water to the street, after I relented because a church was waiting for me to speak and I was starting to run really late.
In church, with Member of Parliament, Raphael Trotman, in the audience, I related that story as a symbol of the kind of people we continue to be as a nation.
That boy wanted nothing for his selfless friendliness, and his eye-popping hospitality. Nowhere in the developed world would anyone experience such a beautiful human act of kindness, but in our Georgetown.
Here’s the astonishing thing: when everyone bemoans the racial divide in this city, here was a young black man from Albouystown piggybacking a strange Indo-Guyanese man (I reject the label, by the way) across a flooded passageway in Georgetown.
That day, my faith in humanity’s spirit lifted a thousand times higher.
Our future looms bright in this enduring quality of our humanity.
When all around us we see social decay and ethical and moral behaviour that borders on the grotesque, we must realize that we are a people of friendliness and hospitality. All over the world we built that reputation. It is a national characteristic.
Ten years ago I got a flat tyre at a gas station in Ontario, Canada. It was 2 in the morning, and my van was loaded with newspapers (I published the Guyanese newspaper in Ontario then). I asked several people, of all nationality, if they had tools for me to put on the spare wheel.
After I got eight rejections, the one who came out of his car to lend me tools, and to help, was a black Guyanese-Canadian guy. His selfless act of such incredible kindness touches my heart to this day. I live to emulate him.
This is who we are as a people, and the world used to acknowledge it as fact.
Yet, the young generation is losing that spirit.
Our society lacks the friendliness and hospitality that had come to define the people of Georgetown.
Maybe it would be wise to set up in the Ministry of Youth and Culture a desk for Friendly Social Behaviour.
It might even be a good idea to incorporate Dale Carnegie’s timeless classic How To Make Friends And Influence People as a culture text book in our school system.
This book, which has sold worldwide in the hundreds of millions, teaches the art of being friendly, from smiling and conversing with selfless listening, to caring about others with a sincere love for life and people.
It was so refreshing interviewing member of Parliament Khemraj Ramjattan recently and hearing him say that Trotman and him as leaders of the Alliance For Change aim to be “the new Burnham and Jagan. But without the splitting apart”.
This is the nature of who we are, friendly, embracing and one people. Our politics stifle that spirit. It is good that we have among us leaders who see the vision not as mirage but as reality.
We must work hard to inculcate in our young generation this spirit of friendly care for each other, for respect for elders in the society, for being coachable and teachable, for nurturing their hearts, souls and spirits into human beings of beautiful character, of caring and conscientious embrace of others.
We must be a society where suspicion, strife and antagonism give way to friendliness and hospitality – to return to who we are as a people.
We then would become a distinct, world class city.
This writer can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org