Every time I go away to play to audiences outside I hear from Guyanese in the diaspora on the coping-with-life-in-Guyana question. My general response is that it is an individual matter revolving around one’s own requirements for contented living, so that each person has to come and make their own evaluation. If the questioner persists, however, I will sometimes refer to some particular aspect that might be of value to the Guyanese considering living here again.
Recently, for example, when a friend in Toronto raised the matter, I mentioned my own experience in returning to live in Guyana where I quickly learned the value of “knowing people who know;” getting to know these folks who are something akin to the Malcolm Gladwell definition of “connectors” in a society is the key to making your transition here go smoothly.
They are people who can steer you to where unusual items can be bought, how to locate key services (plumber, electrician, etc), who is a good guitar technician or an electronics whiz. If you want a painting framed, or an appliance repaired, or your fence painted, these folks hook you up. They know.
Dennis Dias is an example. I don’t need the kind of high-end graphics work that Dennis does, but we’ve been friends since the early days of his Creations store in Water Street and Dennis has been like a live Google for me. The man is connected. Not only does he know who to call for tyres; he can tell you who has a sale on.
As an example, I called Dennis for a Creations item. He’s in Trinidad. He tells me the building next door to Creations is being demolished and the store has no phone, but he gives me the cell number of his nephew if I need to check an item from the store. On the rare occasion when I call him with a request and he’s stumped, Dias will say, “I don’t know, but I know who will know; I will call you back.” And he does. If you’re coming back to live in Guyana, you need to find a guy like that. He saves me tons of aggravation, and keeps me off the blood pressure pills.
Gary Da Silva is another one. I actually met him through Chris Correia of Trans Guyana, who was one of my early guides shortly after I moved back, and Gary is an antenna. He’s a building contractor, and has done some house repairs for me – turnkey, as they say – but he’s way more. Gary knows virtually everything that is available in hardware and construction material in Guyana, and how long it takes to order stuff, and where the best quality can be found. He’s a classic example of people who know.
When crusher run can’t be found, Gary can find some. Not a pontoon load, of course, but some. Best of all, novice that I am about retail in Guyana, he will steer me away from the pitfalls.
Needs vary, and occasionally mine is for someone who can frame pictures or paintings with an artistic flair; they’re scarce. Fortunately, I met Merlene Ellis through seeing a painting in my friend Carmen Abdool’s house and Merlene is a gem.
She knows the Guyana arts scene inside out, she can advise you on prices, and you can get your pictures properly framed, or buy her paintings, or postcard prints of her work. She’s reliable (the frames are ready when she tells you) and, best of all, you bring Merlene a photograph and she’ll reproduce it beautifully on canvas.
I have a painting of a flooded yard in Buxton, from the big water time here, that she did that way. People who come to the house love it; that would not have happened without Merlene.
When you’re getting used to living somewhere new, finding the small but critical items can be a strain; like a leather strap for your watch; or a particular type of bolt; or shoe laces. They’re too small for big stores to carry them; you don’t know where to look. Sohan Bramdeo knows where they are. I’ve come to him with a dozen weird requests for things that are eluding me completely and almost every time, he knows where the item is. If it’s something unusual to be repaired, Sohan knows where to direct me. Time and again he makes my life easier.
Getting yourself wheels in Guyana is full of pitfalls – the sharks abound – but I’ve been lucky to have Frankie Camacho who has been a great guide for me. He’s taken so much of the headache out of transportation transactions for me, but he’s also another one of these connectors like Dennis Dias, so through Frankie I got onto a young craftsman who is great at floor tiling, and he put me onto Frank Gomes who’s my guy when my car radiator acts up.
I’m sure you’re getting the drift of this; it is common to all our lives that we have a network of people like these who smooth out the foul-ups and the irritations, but it takes a long time to come together. For someone like me, landing back in Guyana to live after 50 years, and especially as a country boy moving to town, I didn’t have that network; I had to develop it fast or, as we say, ketch hell, and it would be the same for anyone moving back here.
The list I’ve given above is a partial one – there are others like the mechanic Adrian DeSouza who knows the intricacies of my American Dodge Caravan (although sometimes I have to wait); or Leon Rockcliffe who consistently finds time to sign an affidavit; or Doctor Rohan Jabour who is always able to separate the quacks from the experts for me. Now don’t misunderstand me.
These folks are not conjurers. They can’t do anything about the day to day boulders that are a fixture of life in Guyana, but they are usually able to help find the way around the obstacles. Together, they constitute a very valuable resource. For anyone coming back to live here, my advice is to start building your resource as soon as you land. It will have a lot to do with your answer when, in your turn, you get the “how are you coping” question.