I came back to live in Guyana in 2008 with no illusions, no pipe dreams, no blindness to the reality of life here. I had become very familiar with the day-to-day angst in the homeland from the personal experiences of coming to the country for over 40 years. From early 1968, when a song I had written for Tradewinds called ‘Honeymooning Couple’ became a hit across the Caribbean, I had been coming to Guyana, as a working musician or a visitor, virtually every year – sometimes twice in a year. On some occasions I would stay at the Pegasus with the other band members, but most of the time I stayed with my friend Freddy Abdool and his wife Carmen (Freddy later became Tradewinds’ representative here) in their several homes over the years. I moved around the country a lot – a good bit of it with Freddy – visited my family and friends in West Dem, and was also doing performances in parts of Guyana completely new to me – Bartica, Anna Regina, Corriverton, New Amsterdam, Kimbia, Linden. I was also doing the more popular venues such as the Cultural Centre, Pegasus poolside, Thirst Park, Georgetown Club, Woodbine Hotel, etc. At the shows and on my many free days, I was constantly meeting Guyanese in long exchanges, talking obviously about the difficult times, particularly in the socialism years, and hearing first-hand experiences and information from a range of people resident here and often in business here. That is the basis of my “no illusions” comment made earlier; I knew in detail what was going on in the place where I was now coming to live. It is true that in the early years of my return I was getting acquainted with a wider Guyana through my wife Annette in going to places such as Mabaruma, Shell Beach, Lethem, Baganara, etc; that geography was new to me. In the sociology of the country, however, its cultural and economic life, there were no surprises for me. I wasn’t coming back here with any false hopes; I had experienced or seen Guyana first-hand in all the Tradewinds years.
Writing on this subject today I am venturing into the very complicated question of Guyanese here and abroad who are “struggling we struggle”, as I said in ‘Blade O’ Grass’, as they cope with the issues, and in recent times I have been very engaged on that “living in Guyana” subject with a number of friends who, like me, know the territory, and continue to live here. In more and more of these exchanges I am seeing the enormous complexity of this subject. Economics is part of it, race is a factor, and education, and religion. There are massive external influences, and historical ones (Britain, India, Africa, Holland, Europe, China). The anthropology of the place is having its say, as is the Amerindian culture; the effect of the forest and the rivers and the plains, and their ingredients, are at work. Our diverse cultural influences play a role, as do the behaviours of that large diaspora population with all of its own turmoil. And the more I exchange opinions with persons on it – the most recent being two friends of mine who are esteemed doctors here – the more I see the issue as being so enormous and complex as to being almost undecipherable; at least to my mind with its limits. However, I’m getting to a point here, be patient, and it is this: time and again in my various chats, almost without exception, one friend after another will at some point remind me that we must not despair; we must continue to hope – many of them actually use that specific word ‘hope’ – and they also remind me that there are signs of it, bright spots in the gloom, that we must embrace.
Ironically, a few days ago, following another despairing conversation with a friend, I drove out from where I live onto the Seawall Road to town and was greeted with a sunset that stopped me in my tracks. I was watching it and saying to myself “Oh my God.” I have seen impressive sunsets in many places in the world – the Canadian Rockies; Bryce Canyon in Utah; several in Grand Cayman; Georgian Lake in Canada – but nothing like that Seawall sunset looking from the new arch west to Georgetown. The area was bathed in blinding yellow sun that even made the coconut trees look golden. The sky was deep azure, with snow-white clouds, and gold over it all. If you saw it, you know what I’m talking about. It was a miraculous spectacle. Indeed, when I originally mentioned the incident to Stabroek News Editor-in-Chief Anand Persaud, he commented, “It must be a sign of hope.” I had to agree. I didn’t have my camera, but fortunately several photographers saw it, and through my very organized pal Michael Lam, I was fortunate to see some of the pictures they took. One of the pictures is attached here, kindly provided by the photographer Subhash C Haimraj, and let me assure you that it is completely untouched (See page 15). What you are seeing in his picture is what I saw – he must have an excellent camera – and through his kindness and that of Michael Lam, I will be getting two enlarged prints of the photograph. I’m playing in Toronto on June 23rd at the Twilight Restaurant in Scarborough, with Raymond ‘Chinny’ Lee-Own’s band Triple Play, and I know for sure I will inevitably hear from someone words like “Boy, why you hanging on in that place?” As the Trinis would say, “This time ah ready fuh dem.” I will simply say, “There are difficulties, I agree. But there are also hopeful signs, and sometimes they come to you like thunder. Let me show you one.” And I will present Subhash’s photo.