I recently returned from a long-anticipated trip to Berbice with my elderly father. On the way back to the airport, we hired a taxi and decided to have one last taste of Guyana ‒ at the cane juice stand in Cove and John. There were no signs or indicators that this was a ‘no stopping’ zone. Several cars had also pulled over to buy that sweet, fresh green juice. However, before we could step out of the car, our driver was summoned by a police officer. The officer did not ask him to move the car; rather the driver was brusquely instructed to drive directly to the police station where the car would be impounded. When the driver asked the officer what should be done with us, his passengers, he was told that we could stand up by the roadside (with our suitcases) to hail a taxi.
I realize this is a trivial inconvenience compared to the daily hardships in Guyana. I only share our unpleasant experience in light of the government’s much touted commitment to the tourism sector. The vast majority of ‘tourists’ to Guyana come from the diaspora who, like us, return home to visit family. However, grand investments in the tourism industry, such as the 10-storey Marriott Hotel under construction, are not aimed at us but at a different type of tourist (as for tourist infrastructure, we would simply like to see fewer potholes on the road). I wonder how many tourists will visit, even with world-class hotels, if they fear they might miss their flight for reasons difficult to comprehend without insight into Guyana’s inner workings? Or will there be two classes of tourists (ones encouraged to support local business as an exotic experience, and others harassed for their longing and nostalgia)? And on what basis will the police and others distinguish between these two classes of tourists? As a friend said ‒ “well, your father wanted to see Guyana” ‒ and he did.
As a teacher, I tell my students that the Caribbean is expansive, existing outside of its geographic borders, to include the diaspora and beyond. It is not so simple, though, as there is a tension that must be acknowledged between those who left and those who stayed, based on privilege, mobility, and relative income. Nonetheless, just as the ideal of regional solidarity is a concept which involves determination (sometimes in the face of adversity), so too the bridges between those at home and those abroad require an active effort. Decolonization is an ongoing project that requires empathy and understanding of each other’s relationship to the land.
We cannot rely solely on promised white saviours to boost Guyana’s tourism industry, and consequent image in the world.