In another time in my life, when I was domiciled in Grand Cayman, I wrote a musical about the early beginnings of development in that country (the 1950s) when the first major tourism hotel, financed by UK money, was going up on the island’s now famous Seven Mile Beach.  One of the songs in that show dealt with the concern among some Caymanians back then for what changes lay ahead.  For a variety of reasons outside of me, the musical was never staged in Cayman, but going through it in recent days, it struck me, with oil revenue looming here, that the concerns being expressed by Guyanese now are eerily similar to the ones being raised in another time, in another place, by another people; the parallels are so vivid.

As Guyana is now, the Cayman Islands (Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman) was a poor country at the time.  With no sugar estates, or major agricultural potential, most of the country’s male population became seamen working on the high seas for international companies.  The money they sent home went to maintain households, and to gradually build homes, in a time when the Cayman was a dependency of Jamaica, under the domain of the English Governor ruling Jamaica.  Apart from some thatch rope used in the fishing industry in the Caribbean, Cayman had no exports, and times were very hard.  With no drainage, and a swampy interior, the place was a mosquito haven.  Bonfires had to be kept going all night in the rainy season to control the insects which were a menace to the country’s cows and other animals, and even in the daytime schoolchildren sometimes went to school carrying a home-made smoke-pot.  The burden of this lean and very difficult period in the country’s history only began to lift in the 1950s with the stirrings of tourism, drawing on the islands’ astonishingly clear seawater and alluring beaches, plus its location only 500 miles away from the USA with that market of eager affluent travellers. 

The Caymanian people are a hardy lot, very attached to their religious roots, and as I lived there and got to know them, I began to understand why, as the prospect of tourism riches loomed, many of them, who were still alive in the time I was there, had initially raised these concerns.  In the musical I’m referring to, for instance, I cited the case of a tradesman, Carey Hurlston, struggling to make a living, who nonetheless was one of those raising the “hold on a minute” concerns.  This did not come from any assumption of mine.  I had gotten to know the man – he had become expert in the making of hand-made knives using old cutlass files, and in creating black-coral jewellery for the tourist hordes – and it was from him that I first heard of this intriguing trepidation among people, scrunting in hard times, who were still prescient enough to contemplate misgivings about the alterations in their lives, despite the promises being projected. It says a lot about the wisdom and quality of the Caymanian people that neck deep in their hard times they were still taking time to question and to warn and to be sceptical.

That is the parallel I now see being replicated here.  Not a day passes without some doubt about “all the good times coming” being expressed, and one has to notice that these recriminations are across the spectrum – we hear them from political leaders, from civil rights activists, from professional people with university degrees. But, if we’re listening, they’re also coming from the man in the street, the market vendor, and (I can attest to this) the taxi-driver ferrying you to or from town.  For me, growing up in West Dem where the common sense of the common man was frequently in my face, it is heartening to see that this sense of caution, and the disposition to consider the ‘what if’, still abides in many Guyanese.  I may be attaching too much importance to it – after all, we haven’t really faced the acid test yet – but I am sitting here writing this column and remembering the questions being raised in that far off land I had never known, and that I am hearing those same musings almost every day in Guyana.  I can’t send you the song, but here are the lyrics. I wrote that twenty years ago; one would think I wrote it last week about my own country.

What Will Tomorrow Bring (Words and music by Dave Martins – SOCAN 1994)

I wish I had the eyes to suss
What is out there ahead of us
Will it turn golden or be dust
What will tomorrow bring

The plans I hear are grandiose
Will they prevail nobody knows
You’ll find a thorn on every rose
What will tomorrow bring

And when the changes land on us, whatever will remain
Will there still be some people here, who know me by my name
How will the world look to me then when all the buildings rise
Will I wake up one day to find the blue has left the skies

As we go searching for bells to ring
I’m left to wonder
What will tomorrow bring

Across this country in the sun
The course is laid for us to run
You can’t go back once you’ve begun
What will tomorrow bring

Waving cane forest planted high
Cassava reaching to the sky
Will they live on or will they die
What will tomorrow bring

And will the palm trees always line the way ahead of me
And will I always look and find the rivers running free
When we pursue a better life with all we have to give
We must ensure we do not spoil the very place we live

As we go reaching for the brass ring
I’m left to wonder what will tomorrow bring