As so often happens, in its now familiar seasonal reincarnation, the sticky issue of diaspora presence and place here resurfaces. It can be unwelcoming, even hostile, and houses some degree of bitterness. The issue can be boiled down to three sharp questions: Where were they when the going was tough? What did they contribute? And why are they back here? In these perennial questions, I discern insecurity, narrowmindedness, ignorance, envy, and many times fear.
I start by repeating my own position and practice: members of the diaspora who do actually return should give freely of their time, talent, and treasure. Some endorse this by example; others disagree and seek to take advantage. I admit that many see Guyana as a waiting milking cow. I have many problems with such thinking, attitudes, and pursuits. Now I would be the first to recognize the struggles that played out here; it would take thousands of pages to do justice to the sturdy souls and the stirring stories that embodied boots on the ground and the tremendous sacrifices.
Then, I say that, while it does not rise to the levels of the local wars, those who went (“ran”) in their own way, also, made sacrifices. The sacrifice of separation; of starting over as an alien in an always harsh, sometimes hostile territory; of bitter disappointment, if not failure and loss. I venture that they made the sacrifices of expensive (unaffordable) support through political donations; through barrels; and through interest and involvement, be such public opinion or physical picketing. I ask: which advanced country (A or B or C or E or U) would have cared enough to be concerned (and intervene) in what was tantamount to an irreversible domestic family feud, and one occurring in a backwater mostly mistaken for Africa, as in Ghana. To underscore this point, the harrowing example of Rwanda stands as compelling testimony of what results when a watching world just did not care enough to be moved. I submit that the Guyanese Diaspora, in its own way, purchased some interest and interventions from foreign powers, and which coincided with the changing world ushered in by ideological collapse elsewhere.
Again, such may neither be ripe for acknowledgement nor quantifiable nor tangible, but I do think that cumulatively, the pot was kept burning, and it counts immeasurably. Further, I believe that, were it not for the escape valve of emigration, civil strife would have devastated this country into something unrecognizable. That huge exodus eased considerably the pent-up societal pressures and antagonisms. The many back-trackers and traders operating on the peripheries also were part of the act, and embedded themselves eventually in many environments and through chain migration kept things moving. Moreover, the incoming dollars (however paltry) helped to feed and clothe the empty and contributed to raising up voice and volume on the streets.
For all these reasons (and more left unexpressed), I assert that those who “ran” also contributed to raising up from a distance. They did so invisibly, not as loudly, and perhaps timidly. But those who looked back did have a dog in the fight and lent bone and backing that should neither be ignored nor scorned nor minimized. I go further and say that wise, honourable, and conscientious citizens would not regard the few returning members of the diaspora as either threat or competition for local rewards and local glory.
Those pale versus what was given up, and this returnee could care less. There are a few returnees I know who want nothing; ask for nothing; and take nothing. It is the way it should be.
Last, for those who remained and struggled alone (according to their version of sainthood), two questions come to mind: first, if this society as it stands (deceiving, valueless, disfigured) represents the results of those labours, then what was really laboured for? And how much is the end-product a reflection of the character and mindset of the intrepid architects?