Living in Guyana again and becoming caught up in grumbling about this or that like most folks, it has begun to occur to me of late (partly from seeing a variety of video footage and still photographs) that we don’t seem to take the same note of the positives that exist here, right under our noses, along with the other stuff that rightfully draws our indignation.
One clear bright note for me is the bustling market at Mon Repos, about a 10-minute drive from where we live on the East Coast. All right, Mon Repos can be more than a little crowded, signage is almost totally absent, and the array of fresh produce, combined with fresh seafood and chicken, can produce some pungent odours. Also, although the policemen do their best, parking can be a taxing experience, but once you’re in the market, the array of produce is truly staggering. Apart from the common (bora; pumpkin; callaloo; cassava; etc.) it’s a place for the unusual (whitey; locust; custard apple; etc.) and the seafood choices are wide. I challenge you to go to Mon Repos on a Saturday morning and walk out saying, “I couldn’t find anything I liked.” And it’s right there waiting for you (okay, there’s no AC) bang up against the East Coast sidewalk. It’s a Guyana plus we often overlook when our ire is up.
Another one is the impressive range of creeks and rivers that crisscross our country and while there is frequent mention of the big rivers, we seem to overlook this range of smaller, narrower waterways that cover our landscape like veins on a hand. Yes, we have these majestic flows (Mazaruni, Pomeroon, Waini Mouth, Rupununi, Potaro, etc.) but the small creeks, too, like Kamuni, where Capt. Gerry Gouveia has his Arrowpoint Nature Resort, and Akawini, a branch of the Pomeroon (my father, Joseph Francis Martins, a Pomeroon farmer, used to get the contract to clean the weeds in that one) are special waterways, with those smaller ones particularly magical, winding their gentle way through the forest. Well before Capt. Gouveia built his resort on the Kamuni Creek, I remember being on the water there one evening (I worked at B.G. Airways at the time), heading to spend the night in the accommodation at Waratilla. As a young greenhorn, freshly out of Saints, and with several young ladies on the boat, I was bursting, as the Guyanese say, to pass water, but decided to hold it in. It felt like we would never arrive. So as we reached Waratilla, I was the first one out of the boat running for the bush. By this time, it was night, pitch black, no moon, and I never saw the low tractor parked in the trail; I ran straight into it, stood right there, and peed away. I can’t speak for the machine, but, thank God, no damage to me or mine.
Living here again, I had a better creek experience recently when a friend, Raymond Khalil, invited us to his weekend retreat at Dora (off the Linden Highway). Raymond’s house is built on a gentle slope and leads to a creek that encircles the property in a graceful arc, coming from where I don’t know but obviously heading west to the Demerara. You go by on the highway, totally unaware of that natural treasure just a short drive away. When I worked at Timehri in the late 1950s, I was familiar with the road to the airport that crossed the Madewini Creek a couple miles to the north. But living and working in Timehri, I had also come to know a more rustic Madewini. For that vista, you go to Timehri, drive to the northern edge of it, past where the Cossou guest house used to be, drive until you hit bush, then get out and walk (come with sturdy running shoes), kinda pushing your way through the bush, 10 minutes or so, until you suddenly come upon a creek; it’s the same Madewini but this part deep in the forest. There is a canopy overhead so you don’t see much sky; you’re in a kind of vegetation enclosure and the creek is there before you, with only the slight murmur of the flowing black water. Oddly enough, because of the dense growth all around, there is a feeling of safety although you are in a spot where you are totally alone, and if you ended up having to shout for help, for any reason, you would be wasting your time; only the bush leaves or the black water would hear you. You are in a cocoon of nature, bursting with life, but with no help whatsoever from mankind. This particular area is remote. Banks’ Jerry Goveia had introduced me to the spot; I was living on the Base and didn’t know about it, but the bushman Gov sure did. It had been right under my nose all the time.
It’s the same with our waterfalls. The adulation, even ecstasy, that comes from the majestic ones, such as Kaieteur and Orinduik, is widespread, but we also have the unique smaller ones, like Marshall, and, one of my favourites, Kumu, a few minutes’ drive from Lethem. Going by on the road outside you would never know Kumu is there, but it’s a spot that seems almost designed for a scene in a movie or a short video. Although in a dense forest (you need to walk about 15 minutes to reach it), the actual waterfall is coming out of dark, dense, black rock, in a powerful rush out of nowhere, spilling into a circular pool at the bottom, seemingly designed for bathing. It’s a delightful place and you drive by on the adjacent roadway, completely unaware that it’s there. That’s one of the great things about living in Guyana; you see nature in all her glory, and, many times, you don’t have to go far. Often it’s right in your backyard or a short jaunt away.
About a year ago I wrote a song, I Am There, in memory of the late Desrey Fox, the Amerindian lady who had served as Minister in the Ministry of Education (it’s really about the Amerindian dogma that man and nature are the same). I will get around to recording it one of these days, but for now one verse in it says, “In the place, Roraima stands, in that holiest of lands, home to all the roving bands, I am there.” Another one says, “In the Kaieteur water, where the swallows fly, you may not see me, but I’m nearby.” And, “On Essequibo’s falling tide, when those angry winds collide, and little children run inside, I am there.” In fact, the song, which is actually about an Amerindian way of seeing life, is full of examples of these natural wonders of Guyana that we interact with all the time, and it occurs to me that a video along those lines would be a powerful addition to our tourism promotion material showing visitors these singular aspects of nature we are blessed with in Guyana – often, right in front of us.
Finally, while we may seem oblivious to these things, we are really not. They may not be in the forefront of our minds, but those vistas, and the emotions they stir, are absorbed into our being over time and serve as a comfort to us; they are actually a part of who we are as Guyanese… an experience to lean on, a lovely memory to embrace with a quickening of the pulse in periods away; we have absorbed the influences; they are there, like reflections or shadows in a creek, making us who we are and how we are, whether we’re on the Toronto sidewalk or the Pakaraima trail, whether we want to or not. The bottom line here is that our country’s future depends on all of us “putting a hand” and President Granger made exactly that point in a speech on Emancipation Day recently. The special conditions of Guyana are in our favour; the material to shout about is not in some dark inaccessible place hundreds of miles away; most of it is virtually right under our noses.