Check out this video – “Undiscovered Guyana”
Check out this video – “Undiscovered Guyana”
Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)
Photo Credit: Nelson Mandela Foundation: Living the Legacy
During his struggle to end apartheid in South Africa, Nelson Mandela was no stranger to the Guyanese people. I shared the pain and anger of the oppressed Blacks in South Africa. In the early 1980s, at a time when there was no Internet and online petitions, I joined thousands of my fellow Guyanese in signing the Free Mandela! petition circulating at my workplace in Georgetown, Guyana.
In Guyana, we faced our own form of separateness. The two major racial groups, Blacks and East Indians, had allowed racist politics to divide our young nation. A divide that exists to this day.
When Mandela was finally released from prison in 1990, after twenty-seven years of incarceration, I had already left Guyana with my husband and sons for Brazil. Racial violence and political oppression had culminated in the assassination of Walter Rodney, our “Mandela.” The future of our nation was reduced to cinders.
The confinement and abuses of prison life could have transformed Mandela into an angry and bitter man. Instead, his years of isolation from society forced him to look within and to question his values, beliefs and relationship with his oppressors. He learned the power of humility, forgiveness, and love.
In his 1994 autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela wrote:
I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.
At seventy-six, Mandela was ready to embrace his role as negotiator and conciliator between the minority white oppressive government and his people. Forgiveness and reconciliation with the enemy was by no means an easy sell. The transition to democratic elections with majority rule did not come without conflicts and more deaths.
We freed Mandela. Like other great leaders before him, he showed us the way forward to end the separateness of the human species. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Love.
So simple… So difficult…
The truth is that we are not yet free… Mandela wrote in his 1994 autobiography. We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
A young Guyanese undergraduate has embarked on that difficult road. In her blog post of 7 December 2013, “They brand us, play us and cast us aside,” she calls attention to:
… the hate, anger and bitterness that simmer just under the skin of my country men and women; men and women whose minds have been chronically abused by the racial politics of our land.
Nelson Mandela, a man abused by the racial politics of apartheid, was a light in the darkness. With his passing, it is now up to each one of us to keep that light burning.
This morning, I read with horror the news in the Guyana Chronicle Online of the brutal killing of Rusty Lall: a beloved guard dog and pet.
Violence continues to strangle our small nation.
Read more: “Brutal murder of Rusty Lall” by Parvati Persaud-Edwards, published on 24 July 2011.
The dog is man’s best friend… They say. But dangerous encounters with our so-called friend have left me with an aversion for our domesticated companion.
During my early years in Guyana, dogs were mostly kept either for hunting wild deer in the forested sand hills, some thirty miles inland from Georgetown, or guarding the home and other properties.
I was eight years old when my parents first allowed me to visit my cousins by myself. My uncle and his family lived at the back of a long yard. There was no ‘Beware of the Dog’ sign on the access gate. On the right of the car-width concrete pathway, a six-foot-high zinc-sheet fence hemmed me in. Four-foot-high paling fenced in the houses on my left.
I had gotten half-way along the path when a dog dashed from a yard. He ran towards me. I froze against the zinc fence and screamed. What happened afterwards is a blur.
After independence in 1966, our young nation ventured on a path of degradation. The empty shelves of the corner cake-shop and grocery stores mocked us. Water shortages and black-outs became commonplace. Home burglary, oftentimes ending in violence, and thuggery contaminated our city and coastland. ‘Beware of the Dog’ signs multiplied across the city and outlying areas. Wrought-iron frames fortified windows and doors.
In the flat above us, the couple with three young boys – ranging from seven to eleven years – owned a dog of mixed breed, the size and color of a butterscotch Labrador. During the day, they kept him locked in a kennel in the front yard, close to the gate and our front door. I’ll call him Brutus. I don’t recall his name: We were never on speaking terms.
When the following incident occurred, I was an Assistant Librarian Trainee at the University of Guyana Library, where I sometimes worked the 2:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. shift. On those nights, my father held Brutus while I slipped through our front door. Our neighborhood was in darkness due to yet another black-out. I was surprised to find my father (a hunter) waiting at the gate. He was somber.
Wait, Rose. Let me lock up Brutus first, my father told me. Brutus lurked in the shadows at the foot of the front stairway. After I was safely indoors, my father released Brutus to guard his territory.
The babysitter, a woman in her forties, had left the boys alone upstairs while she took care of some personal matter. When darkness closed in and the lights did not come on, the boys released Brutus. On her return, the woman entered the dark yard, unaware that Brutus was on the loose.
The attack was brutal. Blood and bits of flesh spattered the front stairs where he caught her. If my father had not intervened, Brutus would have mauled the woman to death.
I shuddered. I hated the brute. But I slept better at nights knowing that he protected us from the violence strangling our city.
Guyana, Brazil, and the United States are all located in the Western Hemisphere, once known as the New World.
Guyana – formerly British Guiana, until its independence from Great Britain on 26 May 1966 – ranks economically in 160th position among 227 nations of the world (based on GDP in 2010, CIA World Factbook). Its estimated total population of 745,000 people is less than that of the US city of San Francisco and not even a third of the population of Fortaleza, the capital of the northeastern State of Ceará, Brazil.
Although located on the northern coast of the South American continent, Guyana’s language and culture set it apart from the rest of the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking nations dominating the continent. Back in the colonial
days, the French language taught in high schools suited the British Motherland that hobnobbed with France across the English Channel, but did nothing to help Guyanese to connect with neighboring Brazil, Venezuela, and Suriname (formerly Dutch Guiana). Guyana’s kinship lay with the English-speaking islands in the Caribbean Sea.
A founding-member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in 1973, Guyana finally embraced its South American family of nations on 23 May 2008 when the nation’s president signed the Constitutive Treaty of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) in Brasília, Brazil. By aligning with the immense regional block, little Guyana gains a bigger voice.
Brazil– the world’s fifth largest country and population – ranks in 9th position among the nations of the world (based on GDP in 2010, CIA World Factbook). Numbered among the world’s top four emerging economies, Brazil is fast gaining clout on international forums. Fear lurks among many Guyanese that the neighboring Brazilian giant will roll over and smother Guyana. Fear is good… It spawns caution.
Liaisons come with the good and the bad. Ask any American about the Chinese giant, now fully awake and kicking. Products, Made in China, are now anathema for millions of Americans who have lost their jobs to China. Still, American consumers expect more for less. To remain competitive, American companies are doing more with less: increasing their productivity by draining the blood of their lean workforce.
We want to have it all: gain without pain. Something’s gotta give.