It is written in the Bible that Jesus performed a miracle where he fed five thousand people from five loaves of bread and two fish. There was a time when I thought that such stories were historical events; many members of Christendom still believe them to be, notwithstanding how illogical they seem. However, later I would view them as metaphorical.
The story came to my mind after I made a visit to the Stabroek Market fish section earlier this week. It had been months since I braved the bustle to experience the damp concrete structure, ripe with the odour of ocean life. The fish market was almost empty. There were about four vendors and each of them had little to offer. Usually that had never been the case at that time in the morning. It was peculiar that most of the fish stands were unoccupied and silence had replaced the usually loud calls of vendors begging one to buy.
I enquired about the emptiness and scarcity of fish from the vendor from whom I purchased. She suggested that the drilling for oil was chasing the fish away and that soon they would have no fish to sell. The vendor next to her joined in to support her.
While there is no evidence that I am aware of to support what the vendors were saying, I did recall reading some time ago that ExxonMobil had restricted fishing in some sections of Guyana’s waters. However, Exxon had also said that their restrictions would have little impact on the fishing industry. Nevertheless, the concerns of the vendors and scarcity of fish made me wonder if the the restrictions were having more of an impact on the industry and if the vendors’ beliefs were valid.
For the next few days I pondered on the some of the changes oil would bring. Many Guyanese are hopeful that with the coming of oil, their loaves and fish would multiply, and their baskets will never be empty. With every new discovery, there are those salivating, thinking about the feasts oil wealth would afford them. But some Guyanese are also very scared and skeptical. With every new discovery some are clutching their chests and praying that it is not a curse but indeed a blessing as it is being sold. Others are unconcerned about the discoveries; they do not believe that oil will change their condition. It is whomever will be in power and their cronies who will benefit the most, they believe, while the poor will continue to create their own miracles by turning their five loaves and two fish into a feast.
But Guyanese working miracles to make life work is nothing new. Most Guyanese are poor. In our society, most people are not paid enough to live and barely make enough to survive. It is not unique to Guyana but when one considers the resources we have and the size of our population, there is no reason any Guyanese should be deprived of the good life. Bad governance has truly been our blight.
Nevertheless, there is no prophet in this age to speak miracles into existence. But as has been my recurring theme, the onus is on us as individuals to create the lives we desire. The system has been designed to distract us from the power we hold within. We have been conditioned to seek other, rather than to see the me and the us.
After leaving the fish market, I visited the fruit section. It was a brighter and more uplifting scene. There were the usual fruits we would see in any Guyanese fruit market and as I made a purchase a man stood in the middle of the passageway and captured my attention. Clearly grappling with mental health issues, he looked towards the sun and cried while those around him found it amusing. Mental illness continues to shred the potential and blur the purpose of many of our people. And though for some it may also be an escape from the pressures many of us feel to turn our plain white loaves and bush fish lifestyle, into a multigrain bread and caviar one, it still seems like a wretched life.
Seeing the variety of fruit reminded me again about how fortunate we are as Guyanese to occupy this space. Just a few minutes before, the fish vendors expressed their concerns about the effect the oil industry will have on them, but I thought at least, we would always have the resources to feed ourselves. But while the fruits and vegetables may abound on the land, we must also think about our marine life. The vendors believe that drilling for oil is chasing the fish and while we have been assured, we still must think about the hazardous waste that results from the drilling for oil. Certainly, we cannot believe that it will have absolutely no effect on our marine life.
Many believe that for the long-term benefits, there must be sacrifices. But the thought of thousands and even millions of years of life beneath the waters that have helped maintained the balance being destroyed, is cause for concern. Do we only allow ourselves to meditate on the positive and make a conscious effort to reject the negative? What will our collective thoughts bring into existence?
Whether it is the desire of most of the Guyanese or not, changes are heading our way. The fish vendors I spoke to believe that they are already feeling the effects from the quest for liquid gold. In a few years, what will our fish and loaves be made of? Will we have reason to hope for miracles? Will the fish markets be empty? Only time will tell.