Though mindful that I might sound a tad bit eccentric this week, I am of the opinion that Guyana is one big pot of ‘amalgamated stew’- even if we sometimes let the cook(s) ‘sour’ the pot.
This past week, I visited a few places along the East Coast of Demerara (ECD) with two men: one was doing some research for a book he is writing on Guyana, and the other was our community friend and de facto guide.
We visited the Success squatting area and spent some time speaking with the squatters. We were told the same heart-wrenching stories I have been told over the past weeks while reporting on the matter.
Persons feel as though they have no other option, so they came here to squat, some lost their jobs and (rented) homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic and some, some of them just wanted a place of their own to rest their head.
The Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) has plans to restart sugar production at the Enmore estate, and that would require a supply of cane from this Success field, inter alia. GuySuCo said that the field is currently being flooded, to prepare for cultivation. While I was at Success, on that day and over the past week, I saw the water rising more and more each day. I saw people pack up and move further and further away, trying to escape the oncoming flood. I understand that the local sugar industry is being revitalised, but I also understand that many of these people (if not all of them) are in a position of need.
After visiting Success, we went into the “office” in Buxton, which was a roadside shop and a space for people to cool down. We sat at the side of the road just “gyaffing”. We touched on our politics, the way these cornershop and bottom house conversations almost always go, and we touched on whether our local politics has been the true cause of the real or perceived racial differences.
We spoke about how we join hands to get through hard times- like the 2005 flood, or now, the COVID-19 pandemic (and all the ramifications of each of those- like squatting, for example). The larger-than-life woman who ran the shop and managed the “office” branched off of that main conversation to tell me that I should try what she termed an “amalgamated stew”. This stew, she said, was something she made when she didn’t have enough of one ingredient to make a full pot of stew.
“You could throw in two ochro, some bora and whatever you got with a lil fish head, and you mix it up in yuh pot and stew it down. Duhs de amalgamated stew,” she said.
I sat there in the office and I wondered: was Guyana some kind of amalgamated stew?
Over the past week, working alongside the researcher, I’ve been thinking a lot about our history and how it has shaped our present-day realities. I feel as though the different people that make up Guyana are like the different ingredients thrown together in a pot of the amalgamated stew. Each ingredient is different from the rest (the ochros tastes very different from the tomato) but those different ingredients come together to make a good, full pot of stew. And the reason for the “amalgamated” part of the amalgamated stew is because the pot wouldn’t “lash” with just a little bit of one ingredient.
I’ve written before (and I remain thoroughly convinced) that race and ethnicity are not the issues here in Guyana. I believe that our problem lies in how we interface with race and ethnicity. Experiences like these- Indo-Guyanese, Afro-Guyanese, and a British Jewish man sitting together at a roadside shop
Now, let me hasten to add that I do believe that this “gyaff and laff” rhetoric of togetherness can be superficial. We cannot assume that we are one people living in unity, striving towards a common destiny simply because we can indulge in these manners. My conviction, however, is that we do not dislike each other just because of racial or cultural differences. There is something else, and something simply sinister, that has been spoiling this pot of stew.
In another conversation we acknowledged that whenever there is some disaster- a bus plunges into a trench, for example- we don’t stop to see if we like the race or the ethnicity of the persons in the bus. No. You will find people gathering quickly to try to save those persons. While these squatters are struggling to find a better situation for themselves (and hopefully, one that is less contentious) you better believe they are going to band together- regardless of who is who- to figure something out.
It makes me wonder, do we really have a race and/or ethnicity problem? Or is there something else that has been keeping us from healing and reconciling? Who or what is spoiling or ‘souring’ this pot of amalgamated stew?
If you would like to discuss this column or any of my previous writings, please feel free to contact me via email: firstname.lastname@example.org