I had these ethereal experiences the other day in the middle of the day. At first I thought sunstroke had taken firm hold, and I was hallucinating. Or that I had somehow ended up on another planet. But I was right here in sun blasted Guyana, and at street level, too. Here is the scoop.
This street has to be the quietest, most civilized place in the city, perhaps the whole country. Vehicles crawl past as if on eggshells, and at a sedate pace to boot. There is not a single horn heard for eternities. The police headquarters, the mighty courts of commoners (Avenue of the Republic or Kingston), and venerable healthcare institutions can neither demand nor claim such respect. It is more like awed worship; the studied deference of the humbled.
It is the same story for the gathered throng: there are no double lanes; no jumping the line; no pushing and shoving; and neither snarling nor cursing. Spitting there is not, and this is wide open, every man-a-law-unto-himself Guyana. Conversations are hushed to the point of being effectively muted; the eavesdropper in me leans forward, but there is no sound. I tell you most solemnly, it is a cathedral and the ambience is there. I could use the cushion and interference of high stained glass windows to shield from the midday boil. Somebody needs to pray for me.
There is a slightly jarring note, except that it is not a jarring note at all, at least to the object of the restraining guiding hand. A Guyanese was asked to remove the chewing gum from his mouth; he readily acquiesced. His first instinct was to deposit the offending article in the bin within hand reach. He was told politely but firmly that that was out of the question, and then pointed and directed to another bin in the distance. Off he went, obediently, quickly and humbly. Is all of this for real? Can any of this be really happening?
This is Guyana, and if a Guyanese is asked (nicely) to do just that, the automatic responses would include a string of curses and heated exchanges of the least common denominator. It would not matter if women, children, the elderly, or the president himself were around. There would be that automatic fusillade unleashed on the unsuspecting by the unsavory. But this is Kingston. This is 100 Duke Street. This is the fortress edifice of the United States Consulate in Guyana. And Guyanese of all ages, genders, education levels, and financial statuses are given the opportunity (and the straitjacket) to demonstrate how well they are potty-trained in the fine arts of manners and decorum. They do not fail; an exhibition is put on for the foreigners. It is visa time, when all is said and done. And only the very best will do. For this dumb country boy, it was heaven on the Guyanese earth.