Saturday, 31 August 2013

Spirits in the Guianas: a journey and alignment: part I


The reality of this existence – a life or survival in London dampens my spirit or misaligns me. It takes will-fulness – divine strength – to keep stepping (on the treadmill) and seeking (“journeying” the Path of building one’s spiritual pyramid). I can activate this “will” for so long before it becomes imperative that I return to the “source.” That source, where my navel string is buried, is Guyana. In truth the “source” is much more dynamic than the mere geographical location of one’s birth. It is spiritual, physical, creative, as well as “ancestral” (as attributed in my last Shout following a visit to Ghana in May).

I have been “returning” to Guyana since 1995. I had been spiritually directed to do this through a dream I had of my deceased grandfather. The dream was simple– he accompanied me on a plane back to Guyana. At the time, I was in my first serious experience of feeling “misaligned” – let me call it “spiritual destabilisation.” A moment to explain: I was studying in Scotland; removed from London and a larger community of Africans I felt isolated; I experienced the kind of psychical “splitting” Fanon articulates in White Skins, Black Masks, as I was ogled by Scots as though I was some human curiosity and considered bemusing because I had a Scottish surname (“Gordon” at the time), since I was not apparently Scottish. Feeling culturally displaced and spiritually disconnected, I struggled with identity. I entered a state of “unconscious trance” about which I shall return, as it’s something I think many Africans living in UK (actually Europe) experience without due reflection. In any case, I read and accepted the obvious signs of the dream and decided to return for an extended journey to Guyana. I felt spiritually and culturally liberated (dare I say renewed and grounded). This empowered me to live with the beast - I have not yet mastered a sustainable method of defeating it. However, knowing that Heru defeated Set, as Buddha defeated Mara comforts me. All experiences I take as the wisdom of Tehuti guiding me along the Path.

The beast is not simply depression or the perpetual struggle with identity (both spiritual and physical), it is also the forced (unconscioius) and therefore false trance that is the consequence of my exile in the UK. If there is a false trance state, conversely there exists a real, cultural and spiritual trance state by which I can align my spirit. “Spiritual destabilisation” occurs from the difficulty to consciously go into trance – (that is allowing my spirit(s) the freedom to manifest) in this burdensome reality. Of course, it’s not impossible, but it is rare to see anyone consciously go into trance in London/UK. Perhaps this is because of the overwhelming pressure of surviving as an African, of having a particular kind of hustle, of struggling to feel (spiritually) grounded here. The effort of trying to define myself or being perpetually defined in a place that always feels abstract and alien puts me in an unconscious trance. I am living within a context of an alienation that sometimes seems designed. This is the predominant state I exist in no matter how well I believe I am immersed or assimilated into this reality. Indeed, the unconscious trance is a consequence of my immersion and assimilation into a way of life in which the forces are always set against me. So in order to live with this beast, I fortify myself with a visit back home, lest I am driven completely off the Path.
This Shout is a tribute to my recent visit to Guyana and Suriname in July and August this year. The demarcation lines of the Guianas are a colonial artifice so they’re no longer considered one geographical space. My visit didn’t extend to the third Guiana which remains an “overseas department” of France. Guyana and Suriname are respectively former colonies of Britain and Holland. The territories are the same, the people equally diverse. But their expressions of culture and spirituality differ considerably. The crushing bump of my return has left a kind of hollowness and a veritable struggle to defeat depression. In what follows, I consider how possible is might be to keep aligning with the spirit after a meaningful journey to the source. Bear with me as it will take some time to get this out – at least to the delight of the guides. Along the way - all are signs.

En route to Guyana – drum beats in Barbados
You can’t travel directly to Guyana from the UK. It’s necessary to transit either through Barbados or Antigua, say, and then ultimately through Trinidad. I was travelling with my niece – it would be her first time to Guyana (and Barbados). We had planned (at least on paper) to get to Venezuela from Guyana, as well as Suriname since they are neighbouring countries at the tip of South America. In truth, Suriname was more my dream because I had wanted to go there for a long time, knowing since childhood that it’s a place of powerful spirituality, and one where Africans fought the Dutch and created their own Maroon territory in the interior. That maroon interior, with the culture and spirit of Africa is still intact. My niece wanted to get to Venezuela - after all socialism is in motion there and we hoped for the chance to observe it.

We decided to spend a few days in Barbados, en route to Guyana. I’d been to Barbados before and it’s true as a tourist you can’t fault that gorgeous island – at least once you accept that it is a “tourist driven” economy and therefore its prices match London’s in some places. Their tag is “relax, you’re in Barbados.” You can indeed relax. No one bothers you. Transport around the island is easy; it is safe, the beaches accessible and (where we were) not at all overpopulated with other tourists (though refreshingly it was used by a few locals). The people greeted us with subtle, friendly gestures, but there was often something hidden in their eyes (when they were raised long enough to be surveyed). Rarely did we encounter the male hisses that we would abundantly experience in Guyana. Pride is taken in keeping the island clean and there’s respect for pedestrians. Although there were little pavements for us to walk, as was also the case in Guyana, pedestrians do not have to fear being hit by cars if they attempt to cross the roads. In fact, cars automatically stop for you to pass – this is reversed in Guyana and Suriname where even stepping onto a zebra crossing seemed perilous.
It seemed predestined that we would make it to Venezuela because our few days in Barbados centred on attending events that were part of a cultural exchange between the Bajan and Venezuelan governments. In anticipation of Crop Over an African Venezuelan group called FoundaciĆ³n Aye were invited to show the similarities of song and dance that are cultural retentions from Africa. In their music we felt the drums of Africa but also heard the “sounds” of Latin America. It reminded me of old time Guyana, when as a child I was exposed to Latin American beats strumming from my aunty’s gramophone in one of many lazy afternoons, or early evenings. The Latin beat was complimented by Bajan Soca artist, Red who performed duets with the group to provide further example of the similarities between the cultures. And Africa was loud in the exchange with the Israel Lovell Foundation of Barbados; the two collaborating to show that African ancestral spirits are in the rhythm of the drums and the memories of the people. When Africans beat the drums it’s an artistic ritual that “revives” spiritual energies. It is an opening, signalling to the spirits that we’re ready for their manifestation.

Whenever we mentioned that we were going to Guyana the few Bajans we spoke to looked curiously at us, some saying forebodingly – “Guyana is not like Barbados.” When we pushed for explanation we were told that crime was high in Guyana, and that again we could “relax” in Barbados, that it was “unique” compared with the rest of the Caribbean. They were seriously asking us imploring us to spend a short time and return to Barbados (arguing that we would miss Crop Over if we didn’t). Even when we said that I was born in Guyana, this was met with a look of bewilderment or sympathy. Obviously, I felt wounded (and mindful of the impression this would have on my niece). But I understand that each of the countries in the Caribbean have their own sense and degree of pride. Barbados is proud of its reputation as a tourist destination and also its colonial links with England that still render it a jewel of the crown. Guyana too is unique within the context of a history of slavery and colonialism. We sealed our relationship with England when we replaced the Queen as Head of State with our President. Guyana was going to be rough, this was their warning but we comforted ourselves that it’s my home country so how terrible could it be. We knew it would be different. We knew there were no beaches comparable to Barbados but the experience would be something deeper.

“Guyana is not Barbados”

Every journey we make is spiritually symbolic, even when it seems “random” – as if it was just a “quick getaway.” This might be obvious for a spiritualist but whether we’re conscious of it or not, some shift or change occurs each time we travel. We recharge our physical and spiritual energies. But if we are too wound up before the journey, so much so that we do not prefigure the purpose and commune with our spirit for direction, the aligning will skew somewhat and we’ll struggle for precision – that is a direct and easy line along the Way. Said differently, we will be unconsciously in the midst of the unfolding purpose (of our journey) and thereby feeling spiritually lost and physically frazzled as we try to navigate the Path and our understanding of what is happening to us.

Sloppiness on my part and perhaps the sense that I was really “accompanying” my niece as it was her first visit to Guyana meant that we encountered some unforeseen obstacles. I recognise now that before each journey I would commune with my spirit so that everything would work in my favour – I mean things as simple as praying my luggage would “not be overweight” so I wouldn’t have to embarrassingly open my suitcase and send something back; or as complex as praying that no one dies when I go (I had noticed the coincidental occurrences of this years ago and began to pray that it wouldn’t happen each time I got on a plane – the last time I planned to go to Guyana, I ended up at my uncle’s funeral and unable to return to London for the funeral of my best friend’s brother).

Despite efforts to pre arrange accommodation, the first day we arrived was spent trying to find one that would suit our purpose. That is, we wanted a base in the City from where we could travel around the country and also fulfil the aspiration of going to Venezuela and Suriname for a few days. The place we were supposed to stay proved inconvenient. Admittedly, we had been spoilt by the splendour of the Barbados experience. There, we had the free use of a luxurious bungalow. My mother’s friend allowed us the use of her home whilst she was in London for the summer.

Guyanese homes can be woefully congested. Fake flowers, two sets of sofa suites in a small living space, dining tables, doyleys, crocheted chair backs, cabinets that house rarely used crockery are signs of some kind of cultural psychosis I’ve never understood but am convinced is remnant of colonialism – the aspiration of the landlord/slave master’s level of materialism. Desperate material conditions usually mean the congestion also includes lots of people (extended family) in the small space. Ever curious cousins doting on your strangeness can be overwhelming, even for those of us who secretly appreciate the subservience that comes simply because we’re from “outside.” So after my first few visits back I decided to do what any sane returnee would - stay in a guest house or hotel whenever I visited the City; since we’re usually seeking respite or some kind of sanctuary. Previously, my mother’s house in the country (Berbice) was available but she is back in London and the place has been rented. After a few desperate days, our accommodation needs were met by a cousin who lives in Town and the generosity of a friend based in the UK who has built a spacious, comfortable returnee’s home in Den Amstel, about twenty minutes over the river. We would travel into Georgetown each day from Den Amstel either on the boat or by bus across the floating bridge.

Let me back up to that need for “respite.” I had not properly alerted the spirits about the journey, I accept this now. After all, spiritual lashes are hot, so any aspirant should do what’s in their power to avoid these beatings. I took it for granted that the spirits were with me always and vaguely comforted myself in that. I didn’t contemplate my purpose, though was aware that “it was time” – for a “recharge.” I also took for granted that Ghana, where I had visited only a month previously, was a blessed trip and I was confident of same blessing in Guyana. No so. For Guyana is not Barbados, nor Ghana. My niece and I found ourselves very much in the midst of unfolding purpose, struggling to comprehend where exactly we were. In Barbados we had swam in clear blue water, around us now were the coffee black waters of Guyana, with the muddy Atlantic seemingly too thick for spiritual clarity.
TO BE CONTINUED...Part 11 will be posted soon