I was waiting for the tears to flow as I watched the flag rise on Wednesday night. I was waiting to shout that I was proud to be a Guyanese. But it didn’t happen for me. I suppose I just did not allow myself to feel anything because there was too much going on in my mind and the large crowd did not permit an intimate connection with what was happening. I was caught up in thoughts about the bigger picture of what it meant to be a Guyanese and not just the ceremony that was happening before me.
Over the last few weeks, green, yellow, black, red and white decorated the land on buildings standing high and low as well as vehicles and even the garments that some chose to wear. “If you selling red, yellow, white, black and green cloth and you ain’ get rich during this season, it gon never happen!” was one hilarious declaration and quite telling. A fever of patriotism has swept over this country. Never before have I seen the Guyana flag stand so prominently and such an influx of overseas-based Guyanese. Is this what turning 50 feels like for people also? Is it a feeling that you are relevant and beloved because you have survived on this earth for 50 years? And just because you have survived, does it mean that you are to be celebrated? Isn’t age just a number? Isn’t the journey more important than the number? Aren’t the relationships you build and your contributions to this earth more important than just the age?
It makes me question if Guyana was a person how she would feel. Would she feel proud of her accomplishments? Or would she feel ashamed? Or would it be a mixture of the two? Perhaps the latter, since what she received fifty years ago was a rebirth. After being undisturbed by man for a time that cannot be calculated, then having the Indigenous peoples grace her with their presence, then those who came looking for her gold, explorers and conquerors who brought others to her land and committed crimes against humanity, she saw rebellion, the spilling of blood; she saw freedom; and she saw development by the sons and daughters of the plantations as they built and established communities.
What she got 50 years ago was a new name assigned to her. What she got 50 years ago was a parting of ways with the colonial masters. What she got 50 years ago were her eager children who were prepared to prove that they could make her into a South American and Caribbean paradise. She would stand tall and proud and her citizens would boast and bask in the wealth. In May 1966, nothing was impossible.
Today in 2016, all things are still possible. We can look back at our history and say there were times within the last 50 years when we seemed to be heading in the right direction. And then there were times when our direction became obscured and there was regression–man’s selfishness, politics, corruption, the escape of many of our brightest by way of migration; Guyana hung on its potential and that still holds true today. Guyana also hangs on the backs of those who stayed and dedicated their lives to building this country.
The number of overseas-based Guyanese back for the jubilee made me wonder if they too still cling to the potential. Seeing them traversing the streets and caught up in the nostalgia has invoked many questions. Are they willing to return and lend a helping hand to the struggle? Yes, there are those who are willing, but the majority can no longer call this place home. I had a conversation with someone who had left more than thirty years ago and had never returned. I questioned what it felt like to be back.
She said she recognised nothing and felt lost. That word ‘lost’ stood out to me. Home is the place where we are supposed to feel most comfortable and confident. It is the place we are most familiar with. How can anyone who truly holds Guyana as home feel lost here? Or could it be for her Guyana is no longer home, but what she felt was an obligation to return because of that number 50 that is supposed to go down in the books of history.
The many visitors made me recall the parable of the prodigal son in the Bible. It’s not a perfect comparison but there are similarities. The prodigal son left home with all his wealth to live his own life, while many of Guyana’s children had to run away without wealth to it in other places. And now, after 50, 40, 30, 20 years, many have returned to pay her homage. And many of these overseas-based Guyanese over the years would have been sending remittances and barrels to their families. Most of them do not come crawling back poor and broken like the prodigal son, but they enhance the lives of their families based here despite whatever troubles they may be facing overseas.
Many, even though they would have left, maintained relationships and strived to help in the development of this country. What I heard out of the mouths of many, both the locals and overseas-based, was that they were proud to be Guyanese and proud of what we have accomplished.
I arrived some 16 plus years after independence and I am struggling in my mind with what this pride that many are speaking about is supposed to mean. Is it simply pride because of the beauty of the land or pride because we have survived 28 years of the PNC and 23 years of the PPP? Because we survived despite the fact that many options were not available to us. Yes, it is survival. What we really are celebrating is our survival. Regardless of where we are in the world, Guyanese are hard working and resilient.
Maybe the tears and the overwhelming feeling of joy didn’t come because I was thinking that after all is said and done, it will be business as usual. The government will continue to do what they do and the overseas-based Guyanese will return to the places they call home and those who are caught up in the struggle will lift their banners again. I guess I was a bit sad because I thought they would all leave, the celebration will be over and 50-year-old Guyana will sit in all her splendor, waiting for her correct rank in the world.