Hardly a day goes by without someone, in a private gaff or a public forum, waxing eloquently about “the good old days,” and how great things were then, and how unfortunate our young people now are for not knowing those times.
In the good old days, all of Guyana’s roads outside town were burnt earth that generated dust clouds in the dry season and mud holes in the rains.
The drive from town to the airport, what we now call Timehri, could take up to three hours in monsoon months. To cross the Demerara River you had to use an hourly ferry, last crossing at 7pm or so. After that, if you needed to get to town in an emergency, you had to rent a boat – if you could find one.
The house I lived in at Hague had no running water, no flush toilet, no electricity, no TV, and no radio. That was the good old days.
In America, not only could black people not vote, they could not sit on the same bus with white people, and in the public parks, they had to drink from a separate water fountain. The fountain for whites actually said, “Whites Only” – and it was the law of the time.
Even famous musicians such as Duke Ellington and Count Basie, on the road with their bands, were routinely turned away from hotel accommodations and restaurants with “We don’t serve n——-s here.” Young black children trying to break school integration barriers were met with police barricades and vicious dogs. And in South Africa, with blacks outnumbering whites, 10 to 1, people on both sides were burnt alive in race riots, and the black leader went to jail for 27 years for demanding equal rights for blacks.
In the Caribbean, it took a week by steamship to get to England. In Guyana, a letter to the Pomeroon from Vreed-en-Hoop took almost two weeks.
Jamaica was a country somewhere out there in the ether; living in Guyana I didn’t know a single person who had ever set foot in that country.
Consider music. Almost every other day somebody tells me “I wish we could go back to the music from the eighties – that was real music.” The music back then was from that time. The reason we can’t get the music from 1980 is that it is no longer 1980. We live in a completely different ambience now – faster, more energized, more diverse, more titillating.
The ambience from that earlier time, although it may be attractive to a few, is generally not what people want now. In the same way, they don’t want women’s dresses up to the neck or down to their ankles, or men in those narrow ‘gun mouth’ trousers, or dressed up folks wearing patent leather shoes in the boiling sun.
Okay, we are not as cordial to one another now, and our manners have declined, but balance it out: we’re not as cordial or mannerly mainly because we are busier, involved with several projects, and we simply have less vacant time. Do the comparison: would we put aside the conveniences and entertainments of this time and go back to when we were more cordial and mannerly but our afternoon entertainment was to sit by your front window and ‘look out’? Do I put aside watching Federer/Novak in the US Open as it happens, on my living-room TV, and go back to the diversion, as we did long ago, of competing for who had seen the highest car licence number?
I wrote a song recently about our ill-treatment of women now, but it was far worse in the past. They had to walk behind the man (in many cases, wait for their dinner until he had his); we kept our women uneducated, in the shade instead of the limelight; we discounted their opinions and even their value.
Ask those women about “the good old days,” and don’t be surprised if, as the Jamaicans say, “dem doan lick yuh wid two bad word.”
The columnist Andres Oppenheimer tells us of a recent study entitled The State of the World 2011 published by an international think-tank known as The Millennium Project. It demonstrates that we are well rid of the good old days.
The report says that “The world is getting richer, healthier, better educated, more peaceful, and better connected, and people are living longer,” and its assessment is that if we put current world problems in historical context, progress is undeniable.
Here are some data from the report on what has happened just in the last 25 years:
• The average life expectancy worldwide rose from 64 years in the mid-1980s to 68 years today.
• Infant mortality worldwide has fallen from nearly 70 deaths per 100,000 people to 40 deaths today.
• Poverty, defined by the percentage of people living on less than $1.25 a day, fell from 43 per cent of the world population in the mid-1980s to 23 per cent today.
• The percentage of the world population with access to water rose from 75 per cent to more than 86 per cent.
• Secondary school enrolment rose from 45 per cent in the mid-1980s to nearly 70 per cent today.
In the good old days, we had rampant malaria in Guyana, and people died from diarrhoea. In the good old days, a black man couldn’t even dream of being President of the USA, and we didn’t have the internet where we could send stuff around complaining about how bad things are today.
Like most of you, I spent a few years in the good old days and there are a few good memories from that time, but if your intention is to go back there, don’t waste your time inviting me to join you. Those old days were simply not as good as some of us remember them.