As someone who has chosen to live in Guyana again, I have speculated in this space about the various magnets operating on Guyanese who could live elsewhere but choose Guyana. Just this week it came as a shock to me to realize that right under my nose, so to speak, a collection of photographs, sitting on my desk, represents one of those “what’s the pull” factors operating in my case. I have been a camera bug starting from when I moved to Canada and purchased my first Zeiss-Ikon camera, the old-time model with the miniature folding bellows, and later moving to a 35mm Nikon. Over the years, on my trips to Guyana with Tradewinds or on holiday, bunking with the Abdools in New Haven and then Courida Park, I have been taking a series of photographs, all over Guyana, partly from the photography interest and partly from reacting to images that came to me. While I cannot recall what originally propelled this, the next step was that somewhere around 15 years ago I began working with a photography outlet in Grand Cayman to make 14 x 20-inch enlargements of the pictures (probably to frame some of them?) and the point of all this is to say that I found myself looking at the colour prints this week – something I hadn’t done in a while – and realizing that the images spoke to the “why we stay” debate for me.
I took these pictures, over of a period of some 30 years, with no conscious mission, and they range widely. Interestingly, no photos of iconic Georgetown buildings are there – no Law Courts, no City Hall, no Kingston three-storey home – neither is the inevitable donkey-cart, or fruit vendor, not even a reminder of Garamai, the legendary potato-ball vendor on a Raleigh bicycle. (Remember, I was a West Dem country boy.) Also, the usual Botanic Gardens foliage or the blooming water lilies are missing; they may be there in the original rolls of 35mm film (I kept all of those) but clearly I had chosen not to enlarge them. Many of these photographs go back decades, and it’s understandable that I have almost zero recall as to why I took them in the first place. The subjects and the style cover a span. One of them is a noontime shot of a small, curving beach on the Essequibo River, at a place called Ampa, where my wife and I were guests of the aviation Correia family shortly after I returned here to live. For some reason, I waited until the beach was completely deserted before I took the photo and, as a result, there is a kind of sadness in the photograph which is something I cannot recall at that time, but I see it in the picture now. Eerie.
By contrast, during one of my Guyana visits when I lived in Cayman, Tony Vieira, he of the radio station and that striking former sugar-estate house in Versailles, took me in his boat to visit Kyk-over-al. On the brief walk to the ruins, it was dense green everywhere except for a solitary multi-coloured line of clothes hanging between two coconut trees like some exultant shout. It is a still photograph, no people mind you, but teeming with life.
Another one I treasure comes from a trip with my friend Bernard Ramsey and his wife, Debbie, who treated us to a lovely three to four days in the Rupununi, with Bernard doing all the driving. In the photo, we are approaching a 90-degree turn in the road and the surface, in complete contrast to what we’ve been seeing recently, is a graceful, well-tended span of smooth curving red, with green vegetation fringing it, a sensuous rise-and-dip of blue mountain range way off in the distance, and the striking tiny white spots of occasional distant dwellings coming through the green. Save for the empty water bottle in the foreground, discarded by some idiot motorist, the picture is that of unique Rupununi life; almost a post-card image. (I don’t think Ramsey has seen this photo; I must phone him.)
From that same trip, there is a picture of the dense forest one drives through on the road to Lethem, where the trees look 100 feet high, with long narrow white trunks, straight as an arrow, pointing to the heavens, giving no warning of the sprawling flat savannah bowl waiting to surprise you ahead. Also among the enlargements is one of a typical Parika/Bartica speedboat at full throttle on the Essequibo, all power and bounce, while another is of an Amerindian family, on the same river, six of them in a small canoe, barely cutting the water, on a sunny day, with the mother holding an umbrella over her two young children… a complete contrast. The latter photo is so Guyana, up to the dead-calm wide riverway, and the Amerindian culture. As is the mid-morning photo of an East Coast fishing boat, heading out through choppy seas, one jet-black sail and one bright yellow, also very Guyana. I also have photos of Easter kites and the Lethem Rodeo, and a sunset from the East Coast looking to Georgetown, and a Lethem sunrise from the trip with Ramsey when I was up early enough to capture the orb just starting to peep through.
Those may be seen elsewhere, but there are two rarities. One I have is of Shiv in a WI one-day game against England at Bourda when we seemed to be losing, and he came in and put the blade to them. In the shot I took from the pavilion (I was there with my friend, the late Freddie Abdool) the scoreboard is a backdrop, and Shiv has just cut one through the slips. The wicket-keeper has that “oops” look on his face and the English dude at second slip appears nailed to the grass. In the background, at the top of the scoreboard, a Guyanese in a white cap is doing some serious poping. The other photograph is a total fluke. I just happened to aim the camera at a stretch of East Coast beach near Courida Park at low tide. A mother and daughter are walking there and the camera catches them making their way through a very shallow pool of water creating a spreading design of total silver, in the late afternoon light, against the dark brown, almost black, sand. In the background are more silver swatches and some more people taking in the view. The horizon of the sea in the background is dead straight. It is a photograph, but every time I see it, I swear I can hear voices.
Only a few persons have seen these pictures, and looking at them this week, for the first time in a while, I now see them operating as magnets, perhaps answering the “why we stay” question for this Guyanese. Someone suggested they might make an interesting exhibition at Castellani House; I must put that to Elfreida.