Saturday, 31 December 2016
Guyana travels: September - October 2017
A few years ago I discovered something interesting about myself. I have the planet Jupiter in the 12th house of my birth chart. I must have known this for much longer but had no idea or hadn’t taken time to consider what it meant. Although interpretations vary about the significance of the 12th house, it is supposed to represent, among other things, challenges – masked as mysteries, secrets and so on that must be overcome in our lives. It is also said to reflect the subconscious – even the collective unconscious – hence it relates to deeper ventures of the mind and purpose of being. So challenges in this context might be best understood as our endeavours to know self, to transform self, to journey (not merely physically) but to the subconscious where the hidden secrets about our purpose might reveal themselves. If Jupiter sits in this house, however, it’s believed the individual will experience some protection against these challenges or rather experience the apparent challenges in a more spiritually expansive way. You see, Jupiter is meant to be a lucky planet. I’ve never thought myself lucky. Yet the discovery made me rethink how I do see myself and how I define luck.
Here’s one of the ways astrologer Donna Cunningham describes luck:
“Luck is growth and wisdom gained from experience.” I agree and go further. The growth and experience from which luck is derived make possible our ability to manifest Divine Order. It’s when the vision board comes alive and in ways beyond our imagination. Visualisation and meditation are key aspects of this astrological fixture in a birth chart. But it’s easy to say and know this than to realise it. I have learnt the importance of making preparations – carefully putting things in place and waiting. But often I become impatient and try to hurry up the kindling process (‘waiting’), the Divine Timing that accompanies the Order.
The last time I visited Guyana was in 2013. I went with my niece for whom it was the first time visiting the country of her father’s birth. The trip was mostly burdened by overt racism and some cultural restraints that made our time there patchy to say the least. That time I didn’t intend to do any rituals but would visit the sea to make offering as usual. After some sticky experiences it dawned on me we hadn’t given full homage to the ancestors but had embarked on the journey as though my nativity wasn’t connected to those who went before. I stopped the madness, did obeisance and things moved much more smoothly thereafter. The tide (our luck) turned.
At the forefront of the plans to go to Guyana this year, which marked Guyana’s 50th Independence, was that very connection to my ancestors. We had published three new books that honoured Guyanese folk culture and spiritual traditions. These were launched in London in July but we planned to launch them in Guyana too, for this would be a kind of return to source. It was a tribute, if you like to the ancestors who inspired my work on Komfa and some aspects of my spirituality.
About 19 years ago, my brother and I had put our names down for land in Linden. We had done all the required paperwork but spent many years awaiting the Title (deeds) to the land. It seemed that no sooner than the administration changed in Guyana that our Titles were released. It was therefore another reason to make the trip.
Finally, I had a Jupiterian dream to organise a spiritual and cultural arts festival in Guyana, which was shared with flautist Keith Waithe and would link to the annual Rupunnuni Festival. This latter was cancelled and my dream deferred but is not deterred. Instead I planned to do smaller rituals to honour the spirits of my ancestors and the wider ancestors of the land.
My mother, Mama Lou – the biographic subject of one of the books would make the trip too, despite physical challenges to her ability to walk. It would be Ateinda’s first visit to Guyana - he hoped to do some sightseeing and a chance for Cheryl (another travelling companion) to reconnect with friends and family.
Our trip to Guyana this year was timely and fortuitous, expressing the expansion (spiritual and real) associated with Jupiter. I’ve tried to capture some of the experiences in the picture collages below, commenting lightly to allow the pictures to give the impression of how wonderfully manifest were the Timing and Order, indeed how beyond my imagination the vision board materialised.
There's one foremost bookshop in Georgetown (if not Guyana), Austin's in Church Street. I had sent the first books we published to be sold there. That was nearly two years ago - they had not sold any. They had never contacted me, despite my trying to get in touch (via email) to find out progress with the books. When I arrived I went to the shop (it happens to be around the corner from where I was staying). I spotted copies of The Awakening in one of the stands, but couldn't locate Elijah. After about half hour of searching with the shop staff, I eventually found the books in a location near the 'religious writings.' I was told that the staff probably saw the title and didn't read much more beyond that to know where to stock the book. They eventually moved the books into the 'local writers' section where The Awakening was. I saw some other books in that section that I recognised were written by UK based Guyanese writers - Peter Ramrayka's was one of these. Margaret Andrew's biography of Jessica and Eric Huntley, Doing Nothing is Not an Option, was also there. The books throughout the shop were woefully disorganised or dishevelled. Many of the prominent books as you entered the shop were of big names/stories like Harry Potter. The outside window display featured a number of religious books. The books are overpriced. As a result I was told by my cousin that parents and students used a service where books were photocopied - given the dubious copyright laws in Guyana. I am glad Austin's exists so that original texts could be found there. If only the organisation was tighter, communication better and resources to open other shops in the country were available this would be a greater contribution. The staff were generally friendly and approachable. Writers in the diaspora should stay close to this shop and try to monitor how our book sales are doing as well as be fairer about how much is charged for our books, taxes and shipping allowing.
TRIPLE BOOK LAUNCH
The launch was held at Moray House and was co hosted by us (Way Wive Wordz) and The University of Guyana. The programme above outlines the order of the evening - it was a much more formal process (at least initially intended to be thus) than the one we did in London. It was customary by University professors/lecturers to review books when they were hosting a book launch. Given that we were launching three (!), there required three book reviews. Mr Al Crieghton gave a great overview of Guyanese Komfa; Ms Gential Miller reviewed Mama Lou Tales and Ramona Bennett's excellent review of Something Buried in the Yard was published in Stabroek News, on November 27th following our return. I had met Dr Barbara Reynolds, the Deputy Vice Chancellor when she visited London with Professor Ivelaw Griffith, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Guyana in August (I think) and we agreed to organise the launch. I was grateful both had kept their word.
We organised to open the launch with a drumming introduction. This was to highlight the practical folk aspect of Guyanese Komfa. The drummers, suggested to us by Keith Waithe were from the Buxton Fusion School of music. They were fantastic! The school, founded some 9 years ago by Deodat Persaud, was initiated to alleviate misfortunes of the young people in Buxton, giving them opportunity to learn music. The teacher, Marlon (or 'Chucki') is a master drummer and a couple of his children are also learning the craft. The school needs support, of course to fully pursue its interest of engaging young people and the community in the importance of folk culture. It is a good space for discipline and an alternative way of looking at the world, since it celebrates techniques found in other cultures. Check out a sample of their work, which they played just to show us what they can do - this of course and much more...
My young cousin, 12 year old Julia, unfazed by the Creole in Mama Lou Tales volunteered to read a couple of the Tales. We had planned for her mother, Adi to read but Julia loved the stories as they were practicing and decided she would read. That was a very special thing. Whilst many struggle to read Creole (and I often to write it no doubt!), this young lady read it beautifully, calling into question why more of this is not taught in the schools or more such books used in the curriculum (discussed a bit more below). Here's Julia's reading...the Guitar Player
Moray House reached capacity of 70 people. We were grateful for everyone who took time to attend, especially members of the family who travelled from Berbice and some we hadn't seen for some time. As well as those faculty and university of Guyana members, we were pleased to see Minister Carl Greenwich and Mr Lincoln Lewis join us.
A particular highlight was visiting a few secondary schools where I read from my first novel Elijah. The children were amazing. It was unfortunate many struggled to name Guyanese writers. They tended to know of Martin Carter. That was it! One of the Heads explained that the CXC curriculum doesn't really use literature by Guyanese authors. If this is true - its shameful and surely the Guyanese Ministry of Education will try to fix this, given the contributions to literature made by Guyanese over the years in the discipline of literature. What ever the reasons etc, I was disappointed that the students when prompted couldn't name Guyanese authors - disappointed then delighted that a savvy one said 'Dr Michelle Asantewa!' In seriousness, if the CXC curriculum does not make provision for Guyanese writers, the Ministry of Education in Guyana and its schools need to rethink how they can incorporate this into the wider learning for students.
For without exception, the students LOVED Elijah and weren't shy to tell us so!
And then there was St Joseph's! One of those fortuitous moments was initiated many years ago when I purchased a painting by Bryan Clarke's. He was at the time exhibiting along Avenue of the Republic. I didn't know it would end up on the cover of my book, superbly rendering an impression of Guyanese Komfa. We wanted to give him a copy of the book. Again, we stumbled on an exhibition he and his group the Mainstreet Art Collective had organised - called Dynamic Expressions and herewith came the opportunity to give him the book. I was sure I saw a trickle of tear fall from his eye as he saw the book. He told us he taught art at St Rose's Secondary School. When he learnt we had visited their rival school, St Margaret's he asked us to come to his school too. It was a dream - fraying nerves because it would be on our last day. I'd forgotten the beauty of Divine Order, you see! It was through this visit that we made friends with a wonderful young man, Scott Ting-A-Kee, a teacher at the school and recent graduate from the University. Scott has since done an excellent review of Elijah for which we are most grateful.
THE LOVELY NATIVE LAND AND SEA
After much rigmarole over the past 19 years, which I think was wilfully obstructive by the previous government, we were awarded the Titles to the lands in 2015. To be precise it was noted officially at being awarded on 7th October, 2015. I collected the deed on 14th October 2016, two days before my birthday. No plan...but plenty occasion to rejoice. To be humbled by Divine Timing, once more and of course - the Order.
And as for the Sea - what mixed emotions I experienced there. It it always compelling to acknowledge that painful journey across the Atlantic that brought our ancestors to Guyana. It was also imperative to reclaim for myself the association they made with the Watermamma and other river deities as forces of this aspect of nature. This element cleanses/purifies, it nurtures, is creative (through it we are created). It is an important symbol of transformation and rebirth. But the great Sea will not degrade unnatural things like plastic - it will reject these. Land and sea are inseparable as relates to the environment. If the land is dirty that filth swept into the Sea will spew back onto the land. For those who are asking it - it's true I saw signs of the Government's efforts to clean around the town but it's not as far reaching enough - for it requires constant maintenance. Yet, be clear the Government is not solely responsible for keeping the country clean. It must be some genuine, heartfelt commitment by every self respecting Guyanese to stop the nastiness. Dig deep, real deep and stop contributing to the Sea Shore looking despicable. The signs are clear but actions and impressions last longer.
And yet, and yet - that same spot full of filth at one eye turn gives way to the beauty of Sunrise - a thing to behold though I guess when readily available is taken for granted. We tried to 'eat sun' as often we could at the start of our day. I miss those moments which came so much alive in Guyana.
Apart from the walks to the Sea wall and attuning with Sunrise, we organised a couple of rituals that aimed to celebrate folk cultures and to say thanks for the gift of life.
My birthday was marked by a ritual of thanksgiving, particularly as I'd received the Title. Naturally I planned to celebrate my birthday this way (a rare chance to do so in the land of my birth). But I (physically) had not planned when I would receive the Title deeds. We invited drummers, family and did a collective fireside cookup. It was also the night of the full moon - and how she shone on our dances? We sprinkled liquor round the land, and in each corner rested some provisions representing our crops, our harvest. And my mum and her twin aunty Winnie watched on like two lionesses charmed by the energy of their cubs.
We did a ritual of release in Berbice where Mama Lou had been bequeathed land by her grandfather. After all her labours and attempts to move back to Guyana and build a house on the land, physical health forced her to give up the dream and return to London. It hurt. But not more than the fights she has endured with some of the villagers over the lands bought for by our ancestors so their descendants would have something of their own. Unfortunately, there were no proper provisions for how that inheritance would be 'valued' by the people of the village. They fight each other ruthlessly for lands and houses. There is no festival harvesting as there used to be - as way to thank the land for its produce. And too much blood has been shed over land for which we know nothing of the struggles our ancestors went through to preserve. So she wanted to release herself from the mental entrapment of land tussling.
And on our last morning - we again visited the Sea (the blueness is a tinted homage to Yemaya not actual of our Atlantic which is more muddy or brown looking).
SCENES AND SIGHTS
As it was his first time, Ateinda hoped to see some of the interior beauty of Guyana. We hoped to get to Kaieteur and Rupunnuni, but time directed the moves and we were made busy by other inspirations. Of course it meant we have to go back SOON! Still the movements were full of wonderful impressions.
ART GIVING LIFE GIVING ART
When it comes to art, Guyana will always be special for me. It seeps from every aspect of our society yet it is underappreciated. That's a culture I hope will change - actually revert to a period when it was very much celebrated. I cant imagine what the responses would have been if I'd asked the students to name a Guyanese artist. St Rose's students would have an advantage with their teacher, Bryan Clarke but how tragic that none might never have heard of Aubrey Williams, Stanley Greaves, Frank Bowling (whom I only just learnt about shamefully myself), Dudley Charles, George Simon, Phillip Moore, Bernadette Persaud, Akima Mcpherson (whose works I promise to know better), Desrie Thomson-George and plenty others. The forms also, like Maquerade, which work is being brilliantly documented by Drs Paloma Mohammed and Vibert Cambridge need also to impress more greatly on the Guyanese cultural psyche. There is a responsibility of course for the Ministry of culture to encourage celebration of Guyanese art and for those institutions able to promote it as much as possible so it's not lost to future generations. Actually, many Guyanese artists are outside, which of course compounds the lack of awareness about them but much more work can be done collectively and conscientiously to celebrate our artists at home and in the diaspora.
It's imperative to include in the form of artistic expressions those that celebrate spiritual and folk traditions - as I'm aiming to highlight through Guyanese Komfa and as the Buxton School of Music do through drumming. I am pleased also with the progress being made to promote art in its wide scope by the Main Street Art Collective, led by Bryan Clarke and Francis Perreira.
MEETING SOME LOVELY PEOPLE
The trip was made particularly special because it presented the chance to connect with some wonderful people. Each are doing impressive work to contribute progressively to Guyana's development (beyond the 50th independence flag thing) - or as Professor Ivelaw Griffith compels in his aspirations for the University of Guyana - bring about a renaissance. I agree it's time to change the script of negativity that plagues the country. There needs to be new ways of seeing who we are and rid ourselves of the stigmas of ignorance and blights that have no place in a country whose two historically dominant political parties began with the interests of the 'People.'
We were invited to the African Cultural Development Association's weekly meeting, where they were outlining plans to outreach to Youth around Guyana to participate in the Reparations Movement. Its Director Eric Phillips purchased copies of our books for the organisation and shared ideas about opportunities to be explored in this the Decade for Peoples of African Descent.
I got to meet Dr Vibert Cambridge on Jupiter's whim as I was checking in and he was checking out of Herdmanston Lodge. I had been following his work on facebook for a while. He was visiting Guyana to receive the Golden Award of Achievement. I missed the ceremony at the National Cultural Center but got to personally congratulate him in our brief meeting at the Lodge.
The owner of the Lodge is Mr Keith Williams who was delighted to attend the book launch - both he and his wife were lovely to us. He bought copies of our books, having shared the launch details to the guests at the hotel. For this we will always be grateful.
Dr Rupert Roopnaraine despite being extremely busy in his affairs as Minister of Education found time to meet with us and discuss a little of his hopes for curriculum development in Guyana.
Emily King, the Chief Librarian was grateful for our books donation and purchased several other copies - so we are pleased that Guyanese can have access to the book should they venture to the National Library.
Mr Petamber Persaud contacted us and invited me to an interview on his TV programme Oral traditions. This came after I'd stop trying to contact media - I just stopped and allowed the forces to play. I was heartened by this exchange with Petamber and the work he's trying to do with regard celebrating Guyanese literature and cultural traditions. He was very accommodating.
Thanks to a young staff member at Herdmanston Lodge - Quinton - I gave an interview that was printed in the Sunday Chronicle (Pepperpot supplement). And no - I didn't plan the print to appear on 16th October, my birthday!
I here express thanks to members of my family who allowed us to stay at their homes intermittently. Adiola Stanley who lives in Waterloo Street and hustles like most Guyanese to make a living without the benefits we get abroad in our respective 'outside' - thank you for your outstanding hospitality. I wanted for nothing, you looked after us so well - even when we were staying elsewhere, you always made sure we had food! Bless you. Cousin Abraham David I love your home in Belladrum - thank you for letting myself, Ateinda and Cheryl stay briefly. Cousin Douglas David thank you for the convenience of an alternative spot in South Ruimveldt of Georgetown.
In Linden we spent a couple of nights at Joseph's guest house not far from where my brother and I have land. They don't do breakfast, which is unfortunate but it's clean and has basic amenities.
The Herdmanston Lodge was our delight. I searched for somewhere I thought Ateinda might like as he was joining the trip a couple weeks after us. I had no idea who owned the Lodge and chose it for what I thought was a charming and simple beauty. Apart from the stairs we had to climb to get to our room and the lack of a swimming pool (which I desperately wanted), this place was perfect for us when we needed to be where my mum could also reside (there are two ground apartments allowing her wheel chair access). Do check it out here online and I fully recommend it. The staff were superb, everyone friendly and helpful. They plan to put in lifts and a pool so we'll be returning there, I'm sure again and again. It's not often one gets to meet the owner of a Hotel let alone one so down to earth.
We didn't have much occasion to 'relax.' I conclude that spirit defined what constituted 'relaxation' thus other matters were pressing. And I felt pressed by spirit in a way I couldn't resist - I felt we were gliding. Even when I thought time was beating us inside I felt things were moving the way they were meant to. For my mum and I had received the spiritual tidings from my grandfather, long before making the journey that light was there - no need to be anxious that the electricity at my mum's place had been turned off by GPL (Guyana Power and Light). We used an old time kerosene lamp to give us some light. It made us appreciate what we have in our lives, what we take for granted. And even when I was stung by a Marabunta (hornet bee) during that lamp lit night I accepted that it was because the bee was only defending itself not because it wanted to hurt me. I accepted that had I listened to the still small voice that said, put on your slipper to make it to the bathroom, I would never have been bitten. The pain rushed through me as bitter sweet reminder that Guyana is an intriguing place, plagued by so many complex issues (I didn't have time to go into in this shout) but it expresses a particular kind of beauty that is not always easy to appreciate. The marabunta bite was reminder in that sense that in a place like Guyana, your luck and life is what you make it and indeed that luck is 'wisdom and growth gained from experience.'