Since 2002, I have been visiting Guyana annually. Articles on my first trip after 30 years away and another 10 years later were published earlier in this newspaper. Since my trips to the homeland, my love and interest for the country, especially the Essequibo region, grew to the point of me planning an extended stay sometime in the future. Booking our trip home is always the highlight of our annual vacation plans. While other relatives and friends turn to other countries down south for their vacation fulfillment, we would focus more on Guyana for relaxation and spending quality time with relatives there.
I did not intend to produce a related article for another five years but an unfortunate incident resulted in this write up. My niece at Charity on the Essequibo Coast normally facilitates our destination route after landing at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport and puts herself out of the way to ensure our stay is pleasant, interesting and family focused. It was only last October 26th that the two of us were strategizing our trip next year Easter time. Unfortunately and sadly to say, my niece had made her last vacation planning for us. A few days later, Shelleza Basir Lall, was fatally wounded during a shooting at a nightclub in Georgetown. An unexpected phone call, at a family gathering here in Canada, changed our world for the rest of our lives. As we tried to grasp the fact that she was no longer with us, the family members present consoled each other on the loss of our loved one.
On the morning of September 29th, just after hearing the sad news, it was with shock and disbelief that I was hurriedly booking our flights back home. That same night, we were bound for Guyana still not knowing what really happened and why our niece is no longer with us. We were in the same situation of an urgent flight to Guyana several years back when my mother-in-law passed away. But Shelly, as we called her, was still a young lady of thirty-three years, I would never dream that we would be returning to Charity for her funeral this year. Arriving in Charity a day before the funeral gave us the opportunity to get a better understanding of what happened.
We estimated about 3500 persons paid their respects and said their final farewells at her home in Charity. Another 500 did the same in Georgetown. This was not just a funeral ceremony but a tribute and a pouring of affection for her. It was not surprising that representatives from various denominations acknowledged Shelly’s love and care for humanity. It was a funeral fit for a celebrity and that was what my niece was. Shelly is the perfect example of a role model when it comes to kindness and love for mankind.
This young lady made a positive impact on the lives of so many persons, including relatives and friends on the Essequibo coast, in other parts of Guyana and abroad. My niece was one in a million, someone who cared for her relatives, friends and strangers alike. For the persons who had an opportunity to look at her Facebook page, you would see the outpouring of love, the numerous expressions of grief and the sharing of happier times. Shelly has touched most of our lives in some way or the other.
In a few days, a month will have passed and we are no nearer to knowing who is responsible for her fatal wound. We can only hope that the local authorities will soon provide some positive information. While we await news of an arrest, we continue to cherish our memories of her. Instead of dwelling on how she died, we prefer to remember how she lived.
After the funeral and related activities, I took some time out to take a trip to Georgetown for a couple of days. But, as much as I am a city boy, after enjoying a short visit to relatives, I was simply eager to return to Essequibo. My next trip was to a place called Moruca. My niece was planning for my visit next year to this beautiful spot just off the side of the Atlantic Ocean. Although, I was very happy meeting my many relatives on my mom’s side, it was with sadness that I remembered who wanted to be with us on this trip. For those who have yet to visit this location in region 1, I urge you to pay a visit sometime soon. The history, culture and the very friendly people here together with the beauty of the land make for a very interesting and informative experience. I am anxiously awaiting my next visit to Moruca next year!
As I boarded the plane to head back to North America and while reflecting on the past 10 days, my thoughts came to Shelly, who will no longer be around for our future trips here. This validates my belief that we should not hesitate to spend quality time with our loved ones. We will miss you Shelly, for the rest of our lives. You, my beautiful niece, will always be in our hearts. Rest in peace, our angel.
Keith Antonio Hernandez,