From I was a youth, as my Jamaican friends would phrase it, I have always been one of those “let me see for myself” guys. Sure, I read the news releases and listen to the social comments, but I’ve learned you can also get a pretty useful grasp of something in your society, almost instantly, from simply observing it in its various aspects, and, most of the time, it’s not a complicated exercise; you can do it casually, just driving the street, or walking the neighbourhood, or flying over the territory. You spot the change; you see what’s added or what’s absent. In the same half-hour drive, for example, you notice the repaired bridge work on the Embankment Road, as well as the neglected City Hall wooden structure in town. Information sinks in. So, as I’ve said before, I’m an observer. (Incidentally, that is also the genesis of many of the songs I write; I’m delving into something I’ve noticed.)
In that light, and following our recent change in government, I am here to report that for the first time in seven years living in Guyana, I can now come south from the Seawall and arrive at the junction of Vlissengen Road and Lamaha Street to find totally clear parapets to my right on both sides of the trench; one can also see the waterway widened and flowing better westward. I have looked at that vista many times in its earlier unattended state with a tinge of despair, so to see it transformed last week was a jolt; I actually had to look twice to be sure this was no mirage.
Similarly, for the first time in seven years, I saw government excavators, several of them, cleaning trenches in eastern Campbellville. I used to drive those side roads and see impenetrable grass taking over the landscape. Now the grass is gone, earth dredged from the trenches is on the parapets for hundreds of yards, and the waterway is more visible − for for the first time in seven years. And excavators, too, are on Avenue of the Republic, opposite City Hall, operating on the parapets bordering the trench and even (according to reports; I did not see it myself) attempting to improve the water flow, although, as one wag put it, “they were only disturbing the soup; not the obstacles.”
A few days after the election, as well, the newspapers carried an announcement by the Georgetown Mayor and City Council that “Bourda Market would be closed for a day for sanitization of the area” after the recent flooding in the city. I have found a new vegetable vendor outside the Kitty Market and don’t visit Bourda as often as I used to, and so I’m not sure if this falls in the “seven-year” category, but it’s certainly been a long time since I heard of sanitization taking place officially in the old BM, and regardless of the timing that is good news, indeed.
The shift to improving drainage and to removing litter and cut grass is obvious – no press release has to alert you. In the middle of the day recently, in parts of Queenstown, and along the side of Irving Street, machines are out clearing bush and smoothing embankments. One is seeing land again in areas where all that was visible previously was untended grass. Farther south, there has been a massive clearing of vegetation along both sides of Homestretch Avenue that is simply dramatic. With the brush and the weeds gone, it is a bit of a shock to discover that there is actually a trench, set back from the parapet on the northern side of the road; to my recollection, it’s been invisible for seven years.
In the days after the election, as well, I was intrigued by the sight of repair work on the East Coast Road during the day. Trucks and wheelbarrows with asphalt were about filling holes and levelling bumps; it was such a novel sight for that stretch that I gave one of the workmen a big wave and a thumb-up as I detoured past. It may not be seven years, but it’s been an age since I saw that picture. (I’m still trying to figure out how Arian Browne missed that one.) Also, in the same week a photo did appear showing the clean-up around the Parliament Building and the introduction of potted plants and blue-and-white tyres holding shrubs. (Parliament Building staff must have thought they’d died and gone to Barbados.)
Finally, on a separate but related note to all this, I have lived on Demerara’s East Coast for seven years now and, to my shame, when a visiting relative asked me who was the MP responsible for my area, I had to admit ignorance. We have to change this system in Guyana where if something needs attention in my neighbourhood I have no dedicated representative whom I can go to for help. I have to scour the phone book, being bounced from one department to another, being treated with a number of “call back” promises that never materialize, and finally giving up in frustration. Parapets overgrown, no community drainage, containers left rusting on parapets since I’ve been living here, feel like the result of a residential area essentially ignored by government; that’s been the effect for the past 7 years. This week I’ve heard some heartening comments from Minister Bulkan on reinvigorating our village councils and on the movement toward decentralization, and I can’t wait to see that happen. Mind you, I’m enough of a realist to not be expecting miracles overnight, but at the very least I hope the next time I get one of those “so who’s the representative for your area?” questions, I will be able to confidently provide a name; for the first time in seven years.