From atop the five-foot-high granite wall protecting Georgetown, capital of Guyana, from the forces of the sea, I used to gaze across the muddy brown waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. I was born a coastlander. My breath synchronized with the rise and fall of the waters. Beyond the horizon lay Europe from whence came the ancestors of my maternal and paternal grandmothers.
The Interior of my birthplace and home for over thirty years was shrouded by a dense tropical rainforest that oftentimes swallowed up small crippled aircraft on their way to remote mining or lumber settlements. Stories of such losses gave me dread of flying over that expansive mottled-green canopy beneath which Masacurraman, the legendary river beast, lurked along waterways and falls to devour those brave enough to venture into what was known as The Bush.
Across the ocean loomed Europe and North America. Our well-being depended on those distant northern lands: wheat flour for our bread and pastries; cloth for our party dresses; movies, exhibited in the numerous cinemas where we flocked at weekends; Alka-Seltzer to relieve our aches and heartburn.
When my husband and I could no longer stomach the bitter medicine forced down by our dictator in the name of self-reliance, we, together with our two sons – then two and four years old – ventured southwards beyond our forest to the vast and rich land of Brazil. Travelling by bus from the Brazilian border town of Boa Vista onto Manaus, we meandered through Amazônia, the Amazon Rainforest. On the last leg of our journey, from Belem to our destination in Fortaleza, capital of the State of Ceará, our interstate bus crossed the barren landscape of the sertão – the semi-arid interior region of Northeastern Brazil.
Fortaleza hugged the coastline. In that new world which I called my home for sixteen years, the rise and fall of the sea calmed my troubled mind and renewed my energies. On the distant shores of the warm blue-green waters of the South Atlantic Ocean lay the cities, towns, and villages of western Africa from whence came the ancestors of my maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother.
Nowadays, during the warm summer months, I go for walks along the Venice and Santa Monica beaches in Los Angeles, California. Here, the murky blue sea is too cold for my thin tropical blood. I look out across the North Pacific Ocean. Canton in China, from whence came the ancestors of my paternal grandfather, is only fifteen hours away by air. I am closer, too, to India from whence came the ancestors of my sons’ paternal grandfather.
I breathe with the ebb and flow of the seas, connecting the shores of the homeland of my ancestors. My breath is labored. I worry about the future of our planet and our species.