Fishing and summer recreation among Guyanese in Ft. Lauderdale
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Dear Editor,

I VISITED Ft. Lauderdale in mid-June or early July after nearly two years. I usually visited South Florida every June for the last few decades to interact with Guyanese and other West Indians at religious and social events. Some years, I made two trips. But the COVID-19 pandemic restricted my travels to the ‘Sun State’. With America opening up and flying relatively safe, I undertook my Florida trip last month; it was most enjoyable, and very entertaining. I went fishing that was facilitated by Ram Ali, the Honorary Consul-General of Guyana. I visited a temple for Sunday morning service, and I went shopping, picking mangoes, coconuts, and other fruits at the yards of friends and strangers, visited homes of relatives and friends, watching cricket, and dining several evenings at Tropics, a very popular Guyanese restaurant. There are also other Guyanese Indian restaurants (Naz) and ‘Trini’ restaurants like Lallo’s and Joyce’s. I rented hotel accommodation with a kitchen that allowed preparation of my own meals.

Fishing is a very popular pastime or relaxing or sporting activity in and around the Everglades National Park. Many Guyanese frequent the park for fishing. A sub-tropical wilderness, the Everglades is a huge, sprawling park that stretches from South Florida all the way to Orlando, with an endless supply of wildlife habitats with plenty hassar. I visited the freshwater wetland section in greater Ft. Lauderdale, where many Guyanese and ‘Trinis’ go fishing regularly. There is thick vegetation on both sides of the canal that provides food for wildlife, and that drain in the canal providing food for the fish.

The canal is very rich in freshwater sub-tropical fish.  Guyanese and ‘Trinis’ go fishing for hassar (cascadou) in the canal that stretches for a couple hundred miles. Some use expensive rods and reels and boats for their catch. Almost every Guyanese or ‘Trini’ uses a castnet and a small boat to catch fish. And they get bountiful hassar. Some catch large quantities of hassar that are shipped up north to New York to sell on Liberty Avenue and elsewhere. Hassar goes for about $5 a pound in NY; it sells for less in Florida. There are rules and regulations on fishing, as well as limits on catch; what type of fish and their size that can be taken out of the park. Fines are very steep for violations. Each prohibited fish fetches a fine of $500. If a small fish of certain species is caught, it is dumped right back in the canal. There are no limits on hassar and porgies (looks like tilapia). People seem to catch a lot of bass, for which there are also limits on size and quantity.

I went fishing, hoping to catch hassar. The catch was good, and the experience was fantastic.  It was fun, recalling my days as a youngster in Guyana going fishing in trenches, swamps, and canals, using hooks and seine and castnets. At the Everglades canal, it was my first trip; an adventure. It was facilitated by a most generous and kind, and hospitable Guyanese host, Ram Ali (Honorary CG of Guyana), who supplied his own vehicle to get to the canal, boat, nets, and gasoline. Almost everyone I met seemed to know Ram Ali; he patronises virtually every Guyanese event (religious, social, sports, Eid, Phagwah, Independence Day, marriages, birthdays, jhandis, etc.) to which he is invited. He is down-to-earth, humble, and accommodating. He assists Guyanese with all kinds of issues relating to Guyana. It is incredible to learn of the kind of voluntary work this popular Guyanese does for Guyana and his country folks in Florida and south of the US.  He is extremely well known and popular among Guyanese and other West Indians.
I can never forget the boat ride for many, many miles, with Ram Ali throwing the castnet, and I untangling the fish from the net. We sighted several alligators along the way; they didn’t bother us.

Besides fishing, I went dining at Tropics, a hangout bar and restaurant that is patronised by mostly Guyanese and West Indians, although I also observed Whites and Hispanics eating there.  The food is quite good, as is the music (traditional Bollywood, Guyanese, ‘Trinis’, and West Indian) and the company. People seem to have an enjoyable time. When in Ft. Lauderdale, visit it!
As in NY, in Florida, Guyanese are attracted to their places of worship; Muslims to the several Masjids for ‘Juma’ on Friday midday, and Hindus to the mandirs on Sunday mornings.  I did not come across any Guyanese churches.

South Florida has a lot of tropical fruit trees. June is the harvest season for mango; it is the sweetest mango I’ve ever ate, and I had tasted mangoes from dozens of countries. Several other tropical fruits are also grown, like sapodilla, sugar apple, and cherries among others. Coconuts are plentiful.
On Saturdays and Sundays, cricket is the most popular form of sporting or recreational activity for the large West Indian population. There are softball and hardball competitions in different leagues at different grounds. At the end of the games, the players engage in traditional entertainment (food and beverages) as they also do in NY. Some visited Tropics, which also does a lot of catering for cricket games and social functions.

It was a most memorable experience in South Florida, meeting Guyanese from various parts of Guyana, and some of whom I know from New York who relocated to South Florida. I am most grateful to Honorary Consul-General Ram Ali for the fishing experience. Without him, I would never have experienced the canal and the Everglades, and or gone fishing by boat.
As I found in my conversations with Guyanese, COVID-19 has taken a serious toll among them (including their businesses) in Florida, as it has done in New York and other parts of America. (More will follow on this subject in a separate article).

Yours truly,

Vishnu Bisram

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