A few days after my recent column on some good news items for Guyana, I was hit with another example as I found myself as an observer at the National Toshaos Conference at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre at Liliendaal. This one was in the “you live and learn” category, because if you had asked me how many toshaos we have in Guyana, my spontaneous answer would have been around 100 or so. There in the Conference Centre I was learning that it was more than double that – or 209. To say I was surprised is putting it mildly; I know we have a big country, but the figure exceeded my admittedly limited knowledge.
But to get to back to the “good news” aspect, I was in for an even greater surprise when I sat there at one of the week’s sessions and listened to the various toshaos introducing themselves to the gathering and saying a few words about their plans and concerns. Given the number of persons involved in this exercise, I would have expected, as in most such occasions, that the introductions would vary in quality, ranging from good to mediocre. What struck me very quickly, however, was the uniformly high standard of the various Amerindian brethren in their short deliveries to the audience. Each of them was impressive, both in their grasp of language and in the well-structured thinking behind the various points they were making. In the language of today, they blew me away.
I must have heard over two dozen of these leaders do their introductions, and I could not make a single criticism of any subject they raised and, particularly, of how they said it. I recall a time in Guyana when there were negative aspersions about the Amerindian people, but that is clearly past tense. The overall message I came away with this week is that the persons involved in governing and managing our various hinterland administrations are a formidable group. Understand that I am simply reporting the condition – I don’t know enough about this subject to be able to explain the progression – but perhaps a journalist, familiar with the matter, will subsequently enlighten us.
Suffice it to say that if in the midst of our Guyana’s various concerns you have some doubts about the quality of our leaders in the hinterland, I hope you were there for that presentation at the Conference Centre because it would have stilled your concerns. All of the speakers – I stress “all” – were precise and erudite and when one considered that many of them were touching on pressing, even urgent, issues for the minister’s action or treatment, their manner of presentation was impressive. Based on what came across in the auditorium, ladies and gentlemen, it seems that our official hinterland business is in very capable hands. As someone who has been present at a number of such official functions since my return to Guyana nine years ago, I am happy to say that this one was a cut above the rest. The toshaos did themselves, and their communities who selected them, proud. I didn’t know any of them personally, but they made me proud. And pardon my hammering the point, but it bears repetition; as I said in my original article on this subject of standards, many of us, myself included, can sometimes be unaware of the positive actions or progressive approaches being taken in various sectors, private and public, of Guyanese society. The Toshaos Conference was an example of a positive light shining. And to say that is to also pass on some praise on to the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, which was responsible for staging the event. Certainly, some of the sessions ran long, but as far as I could see there were no frivolous matters being raised, and consideration was being given to the matter of “question time,” which can easily eat up an hour. The total result, therefore, can be long days, but again it was noticeable that folks were generally paying attention and were hanging in instead of leaving.
A final plaudit must go to the staff taking care of the Arthur Chung Conference Centre. The building, which is a gift from the Chinese, is easily one of the most impressive public structures in our country and it is maintained in top condition. There is no mark on a wall, no light fixture hanging, no cracks in the tile floors, or tears in the chairs’ fabric. The elevators are clean, the lights shine, and the air conditioning is quiet and efficient. Given the amount of traffic in the place, and the variety of events taking place there year round, the Centre’s staff deserve a bouquet for keeping it as sparkling as it is. If you want to show your visitors something to counteract Lombard Street or our City Hall, blindfold them, lead them inside Arthur Chung Conference Centre, and remove the blinders. Indeed, to double the impact, take them there during a Toshaos Conference.
I can’t close without mentioning that I was so impressed with this convention that I offered to come and perform some music for them on their final day. With some audio assistance from the Centre’s technicians, my long-time local keyboard accompanist Oliver Basdeo and I treated them to a couple of my Guyana songs. I even inveigled the crowd into singing the chorus – presto, an Amerindian version of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I have always known Amerindians could sing, but I never knew they were that good. Oh yes, you live and learn.