I have made passing reference to it previously in references to migration, but in the midst of learning new things about the country we’ve moved to, we are also often coming to realize, outside, something about the homeland, and one of the latter for me, during my years in Grand Cayman, was the powerful impression visiting Guyanese sports teams left on that country, year after year.
Most Guyanese have no idea of the impact those athletes made in Cayman, and common sense suggests that they would have created similar good feelings for Guyana in other countries they went to, and as our squash team will be doing shortly in St Vincent in the regional tournament there. Frankly, I was once one of the unaware bunch. In my first year in Cayman, I would read in the press about this group or that passing through – particularly the rugby team and the squash team – but it was from the Caymanians that I gradually came to realize the value for Guyana in these visits. Time and again, in conversations about other topics, Caymanians, knowing of my Guyana connection, would spontaneously refer to the impressive sportsmanship and behaviour that seemed to be ingrained in the Guyanese players. I don’t recall that it was ever a subject in the newspapers there, but it came across vividly in casual conversations with persons one met in the street or at some social function ‒ they would bring it up, not me ‒ and it often devolved into some version of the “be proud of them” comment from the Caymanians. I should quickly point out that Caymanians are not pushovers; they are a conservative people, critical in many respects, and not often given to lavish praise to, as they would term it, “foreigners” in their country. That they reacted so naturally and so often with regard to the Guyanese players was a surprise for me, and to this day I feel most Guyanese are unaware of how much good promotion for us has come, in particular, from those squash and rugby teams who ventured overseas.
In my early years in Cayman, in the 1980s, I became aware of it, and my wife and I would often have the team to the house for dinner.
Having lived in Canada for 22 years, I was new to the Guyana sports scene, but in short order I was getting to know people like Roger Arjoon, Guyana’s squash king at the time, and Colin Ming managing the team, and the veteran Richard Chin, along with several of the rugby players whose names I don’t recall, and I was also hearing from Caymanians praising our troops.
Cayman is a small place, in the information sense it’s a village, and the comments would come largely from people seeing the athletes at the matches, but also on the streets, in restaurants, stores, and on the alluring Cay-manian beaches, of course. It was striking that while the comments had to do with sport, they always touched on the behaviour of the players whether playing or socialising. They often contained a reference to how “mannerly” the Guyanese were – manners is high on the agenda in Cayman – compared to players from Jamaica, Trini-dad, Bermuda, etc. These young Guyanese, unintentionally perhaps, were creating friends and admirers in these visits, and I don’t think folks in the homeland were aware of it then, and perhaps still are not today. For me, it was both remarkable and uplifting.
Part of it, of course, was clearly a result of the players’ upbringing, and there was also the influence of the very organized administrators who came with the teams, but the end result was a shot in the arm for Guyana going way past the four-colour brochures and the coffee table books. People who knew nothing about us had taken notice, and, among the results of that, several business people in Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac approached me on how to proceed to recruit workers from Guyana. We had not spent a dollar in advertising or recruitment, but Guyana and Guyanese were benefiting. These athletes made us proud and the dinners at my house were a response to that, although, as my then wife Angela put it, “Lord, these guys can eat.” There was a chap on one of the rugby teams – his name eludes me – who was legendary. (Living here again, I have had several former rugby players meet me in public and say thanks for the Cayman dinners, but nobody volunteers the name of “legendary” ‒ the man could really eat.)
Along the way, in both sports, the list of names to praise would be too long for me to include here, but I would be remiss not to mention long-established squash player Richard Chin, who was part of those overseas teams and who, at 47 years of age, was in the final of our Guyana Squash Championship here recently losing only to last year’s champion Alex Arjoon. From my marriage to Annette, I have some idea of the rigorous training grind and high discipline that is behind the achievements of our squash champs like her son Alex, and at his age, Richard is unique for still being able to ‘bring it’ with his singular athletic gifts and fitness. He is certainly among the best we have ever produced in that sport, not to mention the most enduring. But beyond the athletics, watching that championship match this year at the Georgetown Club, I was reminded of our squash teams’ performances in Cayman and of how much Richard is in the mould of those athletes I saw visiting Cayman, displaying the kind of behaviour, in a game or socially, that would make us very proud. Guyanese know about the results of the overseas matches, but naturally they don’t know that other story, the one where a people’s qualities shine through and are noticed in some very distant country. It’s not a big item in the news, but it’s happening, and believe me, it is a very big deal.