All and sundry agree: the words “Georgetown” and “garbage” are synonymous. We all know the complexities, largely political, behind the situation, and it’s been going on for over a decade, but for those who live here and should be inured to the sight, it is still a shock with certain parts of the city (Quamina-East Street; Church Street facing Bourda) bordering on revolting.
It is often the case, if you have your eyes open, that you’re engaged in an encounter on one level and you suddenly find an awareness on a completely different level that is so strong and so vivid that it makes you draw a sudden breath, as from a fright.
Going in I admit I’m frequently complaining about things wrong in Guyana, and I make no apologies for that; we have many things wrong and we should do more complaining – me included.
I have no idea how many read it, but following the recent Guyana Prize awards, a lady from the University of Leeds in the UK, Lori Shelbourn, herself part of the jury deciding on the awards, wrote a review of the collection of poems by Cassia Alphonso that won the Guyana Prize for Poetry 2012.
We’re taking our time in the Caribbean writing our musical history. Jamaica, as usual in front in such matters, has become involved, but in the Eastern Caribbean, apart from the work of Gordon Rohlehr, and two books by George Maharaj, we have been rather silent.
Sometimes, in the everyday course of life, an interaction comes along, out of the blue, that is unusual and startling and revealing all at the same time.
I have previously mentioned that when I meet Guyanese during Tradewinds performances overseas, they are often curious to get a read on “life in Guyana” from someone who has relocated there, and their tendency is to grill me who is not seen as an establishment person who might be inclined to gild the lily.
Opinions will differ as to what is the most important quality God gave man for coping with life.
The curtain is only just down on the recent Limacol Caribbean Premier League cricket tournament, enjoying sold-out games and strong sponsorship, and here comes the usual wailing in the press about the demise of cricket propelled by the T20.
Every time I go away to play to audiences outside I hear from Guyanese in the diaspora on the coping-with-life-in-Guyana question.
I’m writing this in Toronto a few hours after a concert at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts, designed to help raise funds for the Burn Care Unit at our Georgetown Public Hospital.
In a column in this space in mid-January 2012, in the aftermath of the general election, I wrote the following: “The playing out of this scenario, in very public view, of a President sitting in a Parliament, where his party is outnumbered by the coalesced opposition, is going to mean that the normal ruling party dictates will not be operating in Guyana, and this manoeuvering for consensus, by its very nature, is going to require exemplary people, people of character, for the governing apparatus to work.
A recent note from a Tradewinds fan about the design of a particular album cover took me back to the time I had begun recording with the band in Toronto in the late 1960s.
As Guyana’s interest in tourism appears to be gaining momentum, it is useful to reflect on the development of that sector in two Caribbean countries – St Vincent and the Cayman Islands – that moved into tourism at approximately the same time in the 1960s.
I always travel with a little scribble book where I make notes to myself (books or CDs to get; observations; a reminder to me or to a friend, etc) and browsing through it recently I found the following reference to an incident that had completely left my memory.
First of all, “the book” is ultimately not about Guyana. Yes, it took place here, and it involved many Guyanese, but it’s essentially about a US State Department sub-culture bubbling in the US visitor-visa scam that is found in several US embassies around the world.
(This column originally appeared in the ‘Caricom Review Magazine,’ July 2013) We have been at it as far back as 1921, when the Jamaican legislature saw a motion to ask the British Colonial Office to consult the other islands on the idea of a federation – this notion of regional unity, that is.
Barely a month passes in the English-speaking Caribbean without a reference on some stage or in some letter or political speech to the deleterious effects of colonialism upon us.
I’ve always been intrigued by the process in which the apparatus of a culture is gradually modified, even mutated, by persons migrating from one culture taking up permanent residence in the host one.
Most of the truly riveting or memorable things we’ve seen reside in still photographs that freeze a fleeting moment and hold it for us forever.
It is often the case in life that you see absurd behaviour taking place and you immediately know the reason; like a driver running a red light at full speed.
Airline travel these days is often a taxing and frequently painful experience. Late flights are common (the usual hollow excuse is “the aircraft is being cleaned”); all the jetways are occupied so the plane has to sit on the tarmac; you arrive, but your suitcase doesn’t; your suitcase arrives, but it’s minus the handle; the list goes on.
There is a Guyanese organisation in Toronto called the St. Stanislaus College Alumni Association which has done stellar work over the years raising funds to help maintain the school.
I get a modest monthly American Federation of Musicians Union pension cheque which I deposit in the bank here, but it takes 30 working days, yes 30, for foreign cheques to clear (money laundering; fraud, etc, is the reason you’re given) which means, taking in weekends, foreign holidays and ours, that it’s actually closer to 45 days.
I’ve mentioned before that we don’t need to wade through reams of data or voluminous comparisons to reach some basic conclusions on seemingly complex matters; that we can often get a clear and almost instantaneous insight on these issues from indicators staring us in the face.
A friend of mine, who knows I love Martin Carter, alerted me to a recent letter in the press by Ruel Johnson that contained a poem by Martin apparently written in the dark days of our suspended constitution.
During Mashramani this year, my friend Vibert Cambridge and his New York-based Guyana Cultural Association (GCA) organised a Masquerade Band competition on a Saturday morning in Victoria.
Every time I meet a foreigner in place in Guyana, I’m curious about (a) what led them to our country and (b) their impressions after being here a while.
You’re going to have to stay with me on this one; it’s quite an experience.
The information from daily reportings of various traumas in a country, whether from government actions or personal behaviours, can become a surround creating a feeling of hopelessness in the citizens.
We have a number of folks with very perceptive eyes writing columns or letters to the press on a daily basis pointing out various traumas or irregularities in the country.
It’s not on the main road, so you can drive by it every day and not know it’s there, as thousands do.
It happens without fail: every time I come or go from our major airport at Timehri, I’m caught up in a memory of the time in the mid-1950s when I worked there as a youngster.
From a youth in Saints, dealing with Mr Singh and Mr Stanley Fernandes who taught us English, I was drawn to the intricacies of words and the shades of meaning that one could extract merely from word choice.
Somewhere in the early ’80s, Tradewinds came to Guyana to take part in Mashramani with a substitute bass player, Burman Scott, from Cayman.
When I lived in the Cayman Islands, I became friendly with a young businessman there largely based on our interest in Caribbean culture, personalities, social movements, etc.
Guyana is up in arms this week over news that the Chinese are building a Marriott Hotel here but not employing any Guyanese in the construction work, and that we’re also going to have a Chinese TV channel; yes, Sumintra, a Chinese TV channel in Guyana.
In recent weeks, probably propelled by fading hopes for “a new day” with our new Parliament, we have seen some stirring letters to the press citing Guyana’s diverse difficulties and calling for the citizenry to become more socially active.
In just a few months from now, the regional airline LIAT will begin using the expanded facilities at Ogle Airport ferrying passengers to and from the Caribbean.
Anyone who knows anything about my work in music will know of my commitment to Caribbean dialect.
On civic matters in Guyana, while there are often opportunities for discussion or exchange, we have a marked tendency to eschew that route and simply make pronouncements.
Wherever we happen to live, our end-of-year diversions usually include the media interest in New Year resolutions.
From the start of Tradewinds, I’ve always had a thing with ‘dem Bajans.’ While it’s true that the band initially became popular in 1968 from Trinidad radio stations hammering my ‘Honeymooning Couple‘ song, it was the Bajans who first got on the Tradewinds bandwagon and embraced the group immediately in a way that would only be equalled in time by Guyana.
Good musical sense is the ability to know, without being directed, what to play and where to play it and, just as importantly, when not to play at all.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve had this interest about understanding how things work, about the intricacies at play, about the skills involved.
Among the many admirable qualities in mankind, probably the most galvanizing is the willingness to say, “I was wrong.” An individual delivering those words, without equivocation, is displaying a degree of maturity and courage in that admission that is very rare.
Sorry to disappoint you, but the widely popular notion of art as being the result of a spur-of-the-moment inspiration, of a bulb lighting up, is one that is generally false.
Many of us in the Caribbean have it in for the USA – the interference in the affairs of other countries; the deadly machinations of their agencies such as the CIA and the FBI; their massively corrupt system of lobbying government running in the millions of dollars daily; their opiate problem – the list goes on – but there are times when you simply have to hand it to America.
Anyone with even basic awareness must be conscious of the many difficulties we face dealing with daily life in Guyana.
It is a part of human nature here and elsewhere that we sometimes deal with contentious issues by adopting a position of delusion, so as not to deal with the unpleasantly real factors involved.