A blast of culture

At this hour of the day even the shade of a scrawly (Guyanese word), holey umbrella is welcoming. The kind of heat which bakes us people in GT (Georgetown), to use the words of a passing mango seller, “jus’ ain’t ordinary no mo”.

It’s like that higher power pointed to our speck of a city and said: ‘that smelly little settlement there with the clogged-up harbour and large rodents needs more heat!”

There’s no such thing as a siesta in GT, so many of us can’t even be baked in our homes. And even in this scorching heat the sweaty minibus touts will try to grab your child or vegetables. Even in this scorching heat vendors will sprinkle water from questionable sources on yesterday’s bora and boulanger and swear left and right that they’re fresh.

“Moms, moms wha you shopping deh? Come ah got fresh greens fuh you cook!” This is how I am greeted as I stroll along the outer perimeter of the Stabroek Market.

When I was a girl I’d risk stiff neck to see if the market’s clock was working. But even smiley people like me get tired of disappointment. I avoid looking at the clock as if it were the nastiest lump of cow dung. I can’t tell you if it works these days.

Sweat trickles down my back and my nose ignores the not-so-pleasant smells trying to invade my nasal passages. In GT your nose has to have a good radar. My nose, she sniffs and politely says no thank you to the scents of dead rats, fish guts, old pork and bluish chicken wings.

My strides are long, purposeful, I am on the hunt. These days I have a little more free time so I like to take a stroll into places I otherwise would never go. This hot GT day I was headed to the first aisle at the southern end of the market.

Halfway down that aisle on one side there are tiny cook shops which have been there long before independence.

Even this part of the market is saturated with the smells. And I find myself charmed by the little establishments before me. The bright paints, smell of spicy fish curry and the little wooden tables and chairs are appealing. If I were a tourist in search of real local culture this is definitely where I would come.

However, whether I’d be able to eat here is another thing. As I peek inside the little cook shops I see men, women and children attacking all sorts of creole foods. They seem oblivious to the bustle around them and to the smell of the half-naked junkie who just walked by.

I pick the most modern establishment and I stroll in. It’s clean but I cannot tell how it smells. The scent of the passing junkie is still in my nose. I listen to a man order dhal, rice and coconut choka to go and I consider getting something similar.

As I debate whether to get food or something to drink the smell of Eau de Junkie is replaced. Believe it or not a shrimp vendor comes rolling by selling not-so-fresh catch to anyone who’d buy. I wrinkle my nose, call for a passion fruit juice and tap my fingers rapidly as I wait.

Baking Guyanese including junkies and overfed rodents I am used to ignoring. Sadly the smell of stale shrimp marks the end of my Stabroek Market sojourn.

Would I do it again? Most definitely. Exploring GT is a blast of cultural entertainment. Try it some time! (Srh.midnight@gmail.com)

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