I have previously mentioned that when I meet Guyanese during Tradewinds performances overseas, they are often curious to get a read on “life in Guyana” from someone who has relocated there, and their tendency is to grill me who is not seen as an establishment person who might be inclined to gild the lily. A few weeks ago, in a Tradewinds engagement in New York, I ended up in one such exchange with an intense young woman from Leonora who was herself considering returning here to live but with some obvious trepidation. It was not a superficial chat. This informed lady was digging deep; she was asking probing, even personal questions. There was nothing trite or casual; she was actually pushing me to reflect on what I saw as the impediments.
I am somewhat reluctant to get into these evaluations because, as I explained to the lady, it is a completely subjective matter, but she expressed so much genuine interest that I finally conceded (it was almost time for the band to play anyway) that the two biggest concerns for me are, in macro, the Indian/Black ethnic division, and, in micro, the widespread tendency to accept or even encourage the sub-standard. For someone who has lived in the developed world, for two or three decades, that disinclination or disability to pay attention to detail in the various aspects of our life, is a jolt, and adjusting to that difference is very difficult because it confronts one daily. From the workman who paints the wall and leaves paint specks on the ceiling, or the carpenter whose 45-degree joints don’t quite line up, or the telephone technician who winds two wires together and leaves them exposed on the door jamb, or the singer who comes to the competition not quite knowing the song, the lack of finish is there.
Interestingly, we seems to be on fairly safe ground when it comes to the major work – the new four-storey Georgetown buildings appear well built; the installation of massive concrete bridges along the East Coast and East Bank, Demerara seem like substantial structures – but for some reason when we come to the “fine fine”, as Guyanese term it, we fall short, sometimes abysmally short. A prime example is the replacement of a sagging wood bridge on a side road giving access to the Line Top near Ogle. The folks replacing the beams and the planks did good work, but on the approach to the bridge there is a substantial sink in the roadway causing a very noticeable thud for any vehicle passing over; moreover it is there at both ends. We build a formidable bridge, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, but an approach defect, costing perhaps five thousand dollars to fix, remains. It is a detail, but we don’t seem to have yet understood in Guyana that the difference between good and excellent is always, absolutely always, in the details. Here, we praise the overall structure and seem oblivious to the pieces left hanging.
More pivotally, the lack is across the board. It is not just in the things we build. It is in the presentations we give, in the shows we stage, even in the way we drive. It is rampant in the media. Without fail, every day, there are punctuation errors, or declensions wrong, or verb/subject disagreements in our newspapers, and the lack of attention to detail in how we say what we say infects the broadcast media as well. We have radio and television stations broadcasting on equipment, costing millions of dollars, with a noticeably annoying hum, and one well-known personality appears on a popular television talk show where the audio broadcast sounds as if it was taped in a cave. We have broadcasts of important persons speaking where the coverage is achieved by hanging a microphone in front of a speaker; the voice recording appears to be coming through cotton wool. Time and again, the basic details of professional audio production, not a difficult task, are blithely ignored.
Two days before writing this column, I attended a public cultural event in Georgetown. Forty-five minutes after the announced starting time, nothing had happened. In all that time, with a public address system in place, and with 30-40 individuals waiting patiently for the presentation, no one thought to apologise for or to explain the delay. When the event finally began, as the first person came to the microphone, it had not been turned on. Activating it produced a loud feed-back. At the event’s conclusion, one of the principals thanked the audience for “taking time out of your busy schedule to attend.” We are demonstrably keen to get the people there, and to declare our gratitude, but remain so cavalier about how we come before them when they do show up. A friend of mine, with an awareness of the problem, says that this lack of attention to detail is now part of our cultural make-up; it is a condition of who we are and what we are. It is Guyana’s sociology in 2013. Cynical as that may be, it is a contention to consider.
In sharp contrast, Tradewinds played a few weeks ago in New York at a memorable function organized by Guyanese Amar ‘Vinod’ Bisram of the Caribbean Angels Band there. It was held at the Convention Center of the new glittering Resorts World Casino edifice in Queen’s. The event was singular because of the opulence of the venue (the Convention Center accommodates 7,000 people on a single floor) but also for the care taken by Amar, and his wife Geeta and pal Kelvin Ambedkar to put on a first-rate presentation. Amar, whom I’ve known for years, in a setting I can only describe as lavish, was up to the task. Everything was prepared and checked in advance. The p.a. system and Tradewinds run-through took place in the afternoon (in freezing cold, mind you, but it took place) so there were no mikes feeding back and no lights malfunctioning and no patrons left without a chair that night. Security was there in numbers to handle the massive crowd, and it was needed just to move the band through the mob. Bars were set up all over the place. The event was videocast as it happened. The place was humming, and the night was a great success, partly because of the venue itself, but partly because the organizers, Guyanese organizers, had paid attention to detail.
It’s something that’s taken for granted outside, but Guyanese coming back home will find it usually lacking. There are exceptions around in the private sector, and they stand out (Rossignol Meat Store; JR Burgers; Spads Water; DD Signs), but generally speaking, when it comes to attention to detail, as we say in Guyana, we gone out.