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51 things to do in Georgetown

 

There’s nothing to do in Georgetown? Think again. Here are 51 ideas to get you started – one for every year of independence in Guyana.

  1. Lime on the seawall on a Sunday afternoon with friends, beers and hotdogs.
  2. Take your photo with Gandhi at the Promenade Gardens.
  3. Buy cassava bread and casareep for pepperpot at Guyana Shop on Robb Street.
  4. Watch a blockbuster at Giftland Mall Caribbean Cinemas.
  5. Feed grass to the manatees in the pond at the National Park.
  6. Go birdwatching before dawn on a Feather Friends tour.
  7. Buy Amerindian crafts at the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs on Quamina/Thomas Streets.
  8. See the work of top local artists at Castellani House on Vlissengen Road/Homestretch Avenue.
  9. Go for an early morning or evening swim (5am-6am or 7pm-9pm, according to last check) at the National Aquatic Centre (near Giftland). [Update: See reader’s correction in comments box]
  10. Look at the back of the 1763 Monument, aka Cuffy’s statue, in Independence Square to see Philip Moore’s handiwork in 360 degrees.
  11. Ride Guyana’s first-ever escalator at City Mall on Regent Street. Then eat at the food court.
  12. Have a saltfish & bakes breakfast at Oasis Cafe (cheaper than some coffees, believe it or not).
  13. Explore the history and culture of Guyana’s nine indigenous peoples at the Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology on Main Street.
  14. Cower in the shadow of the giant sloth at the National Museum on North Road.
  15. See indigenous, no-nails construction at the Umana Yana benab on High Street.
  16. Count the missing body parts on the statue of Queen Victoria outside Georgetown’s High Court.
  17. Place bets now at the casino inside Ramada Georgetown Princess Hotel – or venture upstairs to the games arcade.
  18. Make a splash at HJ Water World located behind the National Stadium.
  19. Croon a classic at The Vintage on Lamaha Street where every Thursday is karaoke night.
  20. Watch go-kart racing at the Guyana Motor Racing & Sports Club track on Albert Street.
  21. Climb the walls (literally) at Universal PlayPark directly next to Giftland Mall.
  22. Learn about Guyana’s slave rebellion leaders and see African arts and crafts at the Museum of African Heritage on Barima Avenue, off Vlissengen Road.
  23. Experiment with cheese meets plantain at Cheeze Pleaze on David Street, Kitty.
  24. Read a Caribbean classic at the National Library on Church Street.
  25. Organise a Sunday brunch at the Backyard Barbecue & Grill (a corner away from Cool Square on the back road) – or alternatively Antonio’s Grille on Sheriff Street or Hermanston Lodge on Lamaha/Peter Rose Streets.
  26. Take five in the peace and quiet of St George’s Cathedral on Church Street – one of the tallest wooden churches in the world.
  27. Learn another language. There are Portuguese classes at the Brazil-Guyana Cultural Centre on Church Street, Spanish classes at the Venezuelan Embassy, Mandarin classes at the Confucious Institute at UG, to name just three.
  28. Practice yoga (and perfect your ommmm) at the Indian Cultural Centre in Prashad Nagar ($3,000 for three classes a week for four months – thats $62.5 a class). Other classes available include Kathak dance, harmonium, tabla and vocals.
  29. Learn how to play guitar, piano, drums, bass or sing at Music Unlimited on Durban Street.
  30. Buy local art and craft from the Main Street Art Group located on, er, Main Street.
  31. Eat a Trini ‘doubles’ at Layla’s Doubles outside JR Burgers on Sandy Babb Street.
  32. Kick back to live music at the Pegasus on Friday and Saturday nights, and Cara Lodge on Saturday nights.
  33. Take a trip up the Georgetown Lighthouse – advance tickets available from the nearby Maritime Administration Department (don’t think on the day is an option). [Update: See reader’s correction in comments box]
  34. Buy a book written by a local author at the well-stocked Austin’s Book Store on Church Street.
  35. Create your own piece of art (while drinking wine) at a Red Entertainment Art Glass class.
  36. Feast for $440 (large portion) at House of Flavours on Charlotte Street. Other Ital favourites include Steppers on Thomas Street.
  37. Buy a natural nemwa-husk body loofah at Bourda Market and scrub your troubles (or old skin, at least) away.
  38. Go on a tour of Diamond Distillery Limited (DDL) – the home of Guyana’s world-famous El Dorado Rum, including a visit to the Demerara Rum Heritage Centre.
  39. Splash out on Sunday dim sum lunch at New Thriving on Main Street (or pick up some treats at the downstairs bakery).
  40. Wiggle your hips at a Latin Heat dance class in Kitty. Cuban Salsa, Bachata, cha cha, advanced waltz…
  41. Take inspiration from neighbouring Brazil and enjoy a caipirinha cocktail at the Brasil Churrascaria & Pizzaria on Alexander Street – or the Brazilian bar at Status Hotel on Croal Street.
  42. Sample wild meat, pepperpot and other Amerindian dishes – washed down with fresh juice or piwari – at Tocuma restaurant on Waterloo Street.
  43. Catch a show at the National Cultural Centre on Mandela/Home Stretch Avenues or Theatre Guild on Parade Street.
  44. Kiss on the Kissing Bridge in the Botanical Gardens. (You can stand on it right?)
  45. Shop in the shadow of Stabroek Market‘s famous iron-and-steel structure. Don’t set your watch by the clock, though – although that is due to be fixed.
  46. Spot the curled serpent atop the Radha Krishna Mandir (see main picture) on Camp/Quamina Streets.
  47. Pay a visit to the 1823 Monument along the seawall in Kitty, commemorating those who died in the Demerara slave revolt of that year.
  48. Buy a leather handbag, wallet or sandals – handmade in Guyana (hopefully) – at the craft stalls outside the National Museum.
  49. Order a health-boosting fresh, local juice from Juice Power on Middle Street, or Nicky’s on Albert and Robb Streets.
  50. See a cricket match at the National Stadium in Providence – if no matches are scheduled, cheer on Guyana’s blind and partially sighted cricket team in practice there every Sunday morning.
  51. Take a walk through the Walter Rodney Monument on Hadfield Street – and note down all the titles of his books you need to read.
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Holding it together

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Things weren’t going well. Halfway to the Indian Cultural Centre, my bicycle chain snapped. It could have been worse, but the sudden loss of drive in the middle of the intersection between Sheriff Street and the line wasn’t ideal. I pushed the bike over the road, thinking I’d continue on foot. But a few drops of rain convinced me otherwise. I was also coming up towards the washbay where a few days previously I’d stood in the rain, clutching a tray of still-warm chocolate cake, lost and looking for my friend’s house. I didn’t need to give the washbay guys another episode of the Crazy Brit drama.

I began walking back, down David Street and onto Middleton. But, as I’ve come to realise in Guyana, people’s eyes are sharp. I’m frequently told by friends, “Oh I saw you in the street”, and have to apologise for failing to spot their numberplate or respond to their toot. “I don’t respond to chirps or tweets. You have to call my name.” Back in London, it’s as if everyone walks wearing blinkers. Me included. You rarely make eye contact or notice what other passersby are doing. If someone calls out to you it’s probably a Jehovah’s Witness with a flyer, a geezer telling you to “Cheer up, love”, or someone asking for a charity donation (or begging as it’s called for those not wielding clipboards).

Not so in Georgetown. Walking with my bike down the roadside, a steady stream of commentary followed me. “Rider!” “You get a puncture?” “Why you not riding?” “That bike is soon going to ride you”, “You can’t ride without a chain, girl”.

Just then the front wheel started playing up. The basket, I realised, had lost its second screw and was now rubbing onto the tyre. I tried to hold it up with two fingers, while gripping the handlebar with the remaining three. I walked along awkwardly for a few steps. It wasn’t going to work. I tried using the bike lock to hoist the basket up but it was too thick. As I struggled, a man approached. He’d hailed “Good afternoon” when I passed him further up the road and now came over to see what the trouble was. He peered under his baseball cap at the basket. “No worries, baby”, he said. “I g’on find something to tie it up.” He scoured the ground, then – not finding anything – reached into his rucksack and took out a piece of wire wool. He tore off a section and began weaving it between the basket and the bike frame. “Hold the basket, is fixed?” After a few moments, he tucked in the lose threads and sent me off with a smile.

At the national level there’s much that needs fixing. I hear of government employees not paid for months. Of important legal reforms left gathering cobwebs and land grabbed. Of millions wasted on projects executed badly – or not at all. I hear of petty rivalries and race baiting. I see big people made small and silent by the fear of losing face, their job, or money. I pass hobbled bridges left in disrepair, where every crossing is a game of Jenga. And there is so, so much more that I miss. Some problems are big, some are small. Some are being tackled, others are forgotten in some in-tray. It’s the same worldwide, yet in Guyana you’d think it’s the only place on Earth with problems.

When I speak to expats living here many talk of being frustrated. It’s always ‘frustrated’. If only Guyana did this… If only people stopped doing this… If only… And I get frustrated myself. Because as much as I agree certain things need fixing and just aren’t acceptable, the negativity drains me. I’m grateful for their desire to progress forward, but I wonder if they look back and remember how Western countries – including my own – once stamped on freedom of thought, freedom to govern, and freedom itself here – in order to have progress there.  And continue to do so. “This is Guyana” is the shrugged conclusion. As if the country is set in stone, unable to move. They’re not alone. Many Guyanese constantly rip apart their own country. I’ve spoken to Guyanese who tell me their people are stupid, lazy, have no vision. Who ask me, “Why are you here?” As if it’s inconceivable their country has anything to offer. Who call their own language, Creolese, “broken English” – ignoring the rich, multicultural identity it speaks to and the struggle of the people who gave birth to it.

The world of self-help books is full of talk of visualisation, affirmations, calling on the universe, turning negative thoughts into positive ones. Why don’t we do the same?

That afternoon when I was lost by the washbay, a young man came out with an umbrella to shield me from the rain and ask if everything was ok. Later, after I finally reached my friend on the phone and started on my way again, he stopped as he drove past to check I got through. When I explained where I was going, he realised I was going in the wrong direction and offered a drop. I wonder at times if I get extra favours for being young(ish), foreign(ish) or female. But I don’t think so, at least I hope not… When I visited NAREI yesterday and got there too late, the two women at security chorused in disappointment, ‘Your foot too short!” Before telling me – unasked – how much the bus would cost, or how much for a car drop to the top of the road, so I didn’t get ripped off.

Amid all the frustration, a friend from England tells me her reason for staying: “Guyana makes me a better person.”

Last year I wrote about Small Acts of Kindness in Guyana and got a positive response. People liked hearing something good about Guyana, and seeing that it didn’t take money or a massive effort to do a good deed. It wasn’t because of some UNICEF-funded programme, or an EU-directive, or a US think tank laying down the rules. After all, when does that really change anything? Sure, the funding helps but if the idea is not homegrown, organic, nothing grows. Any shoots just wither away, because why bother nurturing a seed you didn’t plant – when it’s either not what you wanted, or someone else will come in and do it.

Sturdy as it feels for now, the wire on my bike is a sticking plaster. Yesterday I went to the shop to get a new chain fitted and the basket re-attached, but the place was closed up and the person not to be seen. What should I do, say I tried and leave the bike to rust up in my yard? No, I have to go back. And it will break again. But I’ll keep going back. Because that’s what life is about. Fixing. Breaking. Mending. Fixing again. There will always be something else to do. We’ll never reach a stage when everything is working perfectly. But with little bits of wire and hope, we can steady our lives – and keep trying for the big fixes.

A final note…

Some people may remember, a while back I posted a photo of Gandhi’s statue at the Promenade Gardens and joked, ‘You know things are bad when someone’s teefed Gandhi’s specs’. Well, looks like someone’s taken their own little piece of wire and fashioned him some snazzy new ones (see photo below). Maybe things aren’t so bad after all…

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Firing the canon at Bocas Lit Fest 2017

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Trinidad’s Kaiso Blues Cafe was packed. Elbows poked ribs. Waitresses squeezed through tight spaces with loaded plates. And ears strained to hear the poets unfold their words on the small stage. This was Bocas Lit Fest on the road. Most of ‘Trinidad and Tobago’s annual celebration of books, writing and writers’ took place at the national library (NALIS) and adjacent Old Fire Station. But a few evening events, like this, had been organised to take the book beyond the four institutional walls of the library.

As well as poetry readings and music, the night included a lively conversation between two writers – Jamaican poet Kei Miller (winner of this year’s 2017 OCM Bocas Prize for fiction) and Trinidad’s own Vahni Capildeo – chaired by the UK’s Susannah Herbert, director of the Forward Arts Foundation. Herbert began by saying that coming from the UK to Bocas felt like moving from the ‘periphery’ of Caribbean writing to the centre. She asked about the next “literary canon”. Who would be in it? Where would it be centred?

It’s a tempting idea: a literary canon made up of writers from across the Caribbean, influencing education, debate and thought around the world. And, it seems, not inconceivable. Already the publishing world is opening up. “This is a really good time to look for US representation” enthused American literary agent Barry Goldblatt. “Diversity is not a trend”. This shift, this widening, is no flash in the pan – and Bocas knows it. Little wonder there was a certain optimism and excitement in the air.

But like the colonial governors who were replaced by a new, local elite across much of the Caribbean, is putting a new face on existing structures, terminology and norms the way to go? Answering Herbert’s question, Capildeo cooly answered: no, we don’t need a new literary canon. A new empire. (I wish I had a recording of this exchange to get the wording exactly but hopefully this is coming). Rather than a pyramid, Bocas offers a web of literary connections, one that the spider writers lightly navigate – collecting juicy titbits from other places, spinning new connections and bending the rules.

In a discussion with Jennifer Rahim about her new book Curfew Chronicles, on the state of emergency declared in Trinidad in 2011, Peepal Tree Press founder and managing editor Jeremy Poynting recalled a discussion the two had had during the editing process. The question: should certain words, cultural references and other details unfamiliar to, say, a UK audience be explained? The answer, in the end, was no. Perhaps times are changing. Where once Caribbean readers had to sit and imagine snowy landscapes, ripe peaches and pebbled beaches, European readers now must discover what it means to see a scarlet ibis fly overhead, bite into a double, and ‘gah lang’. 

As the focus shifts, perhaps Caribbean writers will no longer need to be compared to their Western equivalent, be it Chaucer, James Joyce, William Wordsworth or Shakespeare. As was done by some moderators at Bocas. Instead writers from all nations will be allowed to step across borders, borrow other languages, cultures, words, influences and perspectives. In his conversation with the American essayist Eliot Weinberger, Bocas programmer director Nicholas Laughlin asked about Weinberger’s term ‘post-national writer’. Despite being coined some 12 years ago, the concept remains fresh today. Questions about identity and nationalism pervaded many Bocas discussions and debates.

There’s a current desire among not only post-colonial nations but also former colonising nations to create a ‘national identity’. What does it mean to be English/American/Algerian/South African/Jamaican/Guyanese? “Our consistent desire to manifest as this one monolithic identity doesn’t make sense,” said the Kenyan journalist and writer Peter Kimani in his session. And yet, ironically, it is also that literature helps construct identity – and power. A writer reflects, distorts, challenges and lays bare a country, a people, a community. Through their words we come to understand ourselves, see where we’ve been, and where we might go next. And the stronger a country’s literary heritage, the greater its cultural reach.

When Weinberger commented, “I was a little surprised that people here still look at England as a place of valuation”, it wasn’t an easy stab to take. A member of the audience quickly stood up to say that England simply offered more of a market than the US, in her opinion. That the UK had given more platforms to Caribbean writers. To reduce this reliance, there’s a need to build up the literary infrastructure in the Caribbean. Publishing houses, editors, copy editors, production staff, publicists… “Writing is really the only thing you can do by yourself,” noted writer/editor/book developer Malaika Adero in a talk on publishing. “Everything else requires a village.”

 

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The soundtrack of Guyana

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You can’t escape birdsong in Guyana. From the caw caw of the wild parrot and macaw to the omnipresent kis-ka-dee, kis-ka-dee. For Guyanese flautist Keith Waithe, these are not just background sounds – but inspiration. Now ‘The Flute Man’ is planning on creating what he calls a birdsong symphony, taking his cue from Guyana’s dawn chorus.

Normally based in London, Waithe is in Guyana as the University of Guyana’s artist-in-residence – the first person to hold that post since Martin Carter. At a workshop, held yesterday at UG, he hosted an Improvisation Workshop – to introduce music fans and performers to his repertoire and research.

“I have over two hundred flutes!” he said, and proceeded to demonstrate a few. The alto flute, the Irish penny whistle, the clay ocarina… swooping from bird sounds to classical music to masquerade to a kind of mouth percussion mirroring the sound of Indian dhol drums.

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From India, we were taken to Africa and some Guyanese kwe kwe rhythms, performed with the help of a guest drummer and an impromptu performance from National School of Dance director Linda Griffith. Then, after a brief stop in China and the world of classical music, it was on to Guyanese folk as Feed The Flames frontman Gavin Mendonca performed ‘Small Days’ and a steel pannist was called up from the audience to join in.

“Show us a conversation between the flute and steel pan,” requested one participant, “this is an improvisation workshop after all!” Waithe and the pannist duly obliged, and ended the workshop with a lively jam session.

Having a musician as an artist-in-residence is an interesting step for the university, which offers three music programmes: Associate of Arts (Music/Creative Arts), Certificate in Education – Music Education, and Diploma in Music (none are on the 2017/2018 course list but that seems to be an omission).

Yet music isn’t an island. At the workshop, students from the art department were invited to paint while the session was in progress. The experiment drew some great results, including this piece (see below) – inspired, said the artist, by Waithe’s reference to his many flutes.

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Students and interested folk in Berbice can enjoy the workshop when it’s repeated next Wednesday (29 March) at UG’s Tain Campus (10am-12pm). Other upcoming events to look out for include a concert at the Theatre Guild in Georgetown on Friday March 31st, and a Public Lecture, also at the Theatre Guild, on Thursday 6 April.

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What UG’s new publishing imprint means for Guyana

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Ian Randle hands Vice Chancellor Ivelaw Griffith one of over one of 200 books his publishing company is donating to the University of Guyana library

Last night, the University of Guyana and Ian Randle Publishers signed an agreement to create a University of Guyana imprint – meaning UG will be able to publish books and journals under the name ‘University of Guyana Press’.

There are a lot of details to work out. Will only academic texts be published? Will it be run for profit? Will e-texts be available? How will access be ensured through affordability and distribution? What steps will be taken to tackle infringement of copyright (or even to establish copyright guidelines – are there any in Guyana?)

But these will be worked through in time. And Ian Randle, founder of the eponymous Jamaica-based publishing company, said he hopes to see the first UG publication roll off the presses by the end of 2017.

This means that finally researchers and lecturers at UG will have the opportunity to publish their works, without looking beyond their own institution or country. And old papers, theses and monographs (my new word for the day, meaning a detailed specialist study on a particular subject), consigned to the archives, will finally see the light of day.

After all, as various people pointed out at the launch, what’s the point of research if no one reads it?

Publishing is having a rough time of late. But still, books continue to hold their own against e-book readers and the internet. As Mr Randle quoted, “They’re portable, high resolution, and have a long battery life.”

Academic writing, too, is facing its own crises. As well as debates concerning open-access publishing and peer reviewing, the very role of academia is under debate.

This excellent article from The Conversation, entitled Academics can change the world – if they stop talking only to their peers  highlights the exclusivity of many researchers’ work:

…their work is largely sitting in academic journals that are read almost exclusively by their peers. Biswas and Kirchherr estimate that an average journal article is “read completely by no more than ten people”.

The article goes on to report that some academics don’t want to feel like they’re “dumbing down” complex thinking and arguments. Since when is writing with clarity, sensitivity to your readers and energy ‘dumbing down’?

Perhaps they really mean, “I want to use big words”. Go ahead, no one is stopping you. We have dictionaries.

While he has made his name across the Caribbean publishing scholarly works, Mr Randle acknowledged that their second (I believe) bestselling book is a cookbook: Tastes Like Home by Guyanese foodie Cynthia Nelson.

I believe thinking commercially is essential. Not just to reduce the financial burden on the university and make the imprint sustainable in the long term, but to re-establish Guyana as a leading literary force.

Guyana is renowned worldwide for its fantastic writers. Edgar Mittleholzer, Jan Carew, Gaiutra Bahadur, Mark McWatt, Pauline Melville, ER Braithwaite, Sharon Maas, David Dabydeen, Grace Nichols, John Agard, Wilson Harris, Martin Carter, Wordsworth McAndrew… I could go on.

And there is a whole swathe of writers who don’t achieve international fame or become household names, but quietly plug away – just for the joy of writing. Since I’ve been in Guyana I’ve met poets, short story writers, playwrights, novelists… where do they turn when they want to publish?

Some do get publishing deals, while others decide to self publish. This democratisation of publishing is welcome, but care has to be taken. Without the critical and promotional input of editors, proof-readers, production managers, marketing experts etc, quality can be jeopardised and the potential reach of works dramatically reduced.

It’s an oft-repeated adage that until the lion learns to write, stories will always glorify the hunter. In Guyana, people talk often of the search for national unity – a uniquely Guyanese identity. Is it a coincidence that the local publishing industry is so lacking? That schoolrooms and libraries are dominated by Western books glorifying the hunter?

Yes, you can go to Austin’s Bookshop and buy great contemporary and classic Guyanese books but they’re not cheap. Which gives rise to cash-strapped teachers and parents photocopying texts for their children. And in turn, takes away potential royalties for authors – making writing not a feasible career choice, except for those wealthy enough to support themselves through another means.

Imagine a Guyana where children of all backgrounds read books about Guyanese children who look and sound like them. Where students learn from textbooks written by Guyanese experts. Where data and research about Guyana is widely accessible. Where the National Library is a hive of activity every day of the week. Where Guyanese authors in the diaspora come to publish their books ‘back home’. Where critical theory is standard in the curriculum. And where books come stamped with the proud label, ‘University of Guyana Press’.

This doesn’t have to be fiction.

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One love: Could marijuana unite Guyana and build a green economy?

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A Sadhu in Varanasi, India. By Pierre-Emmanuel Boiton (Creative Commons)

“How many of us know that the largest contingent of coolies* were brought to Jamaica, not to Guyana, Trinidad or Suriname. And they brought the ganga with them … And maybe, maybe, that is why you have complete assimilation of the races, which we don’t have in Guyana.”

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The flyer for the event

It was a jump, and the speaker knew it. Hence the double maybe. But Dr Turhane Doerga, founder of the Guyana Hemp Association, was making a point. When did marijuana – which evolved in central Asia some 12,000 years ago and has been used medically, religiously and socially by people around the world for millenia  – become criminalised, stigmatised and associated negatively with black people wearing dreadlocks?

That was just one of the questions asked at Global Marijuana Decriminalization And Guyana’s Indifference, a talk organised by the Guyana Rastafari Council and the University of Guyana Student Society – the final event in a four-part series entitled The Caribbean Revolution of the 21st Century.

Dr Doerga is far from the first to note the links between Rastafarism, ganga and India, but this history only now seems to be coming into mainstream public consciousness. In a recent New York Review of Books article entitled ‘The True Story of Rastafarism‘, Lucy McKeon writes about the origins of the Rastafari movement and its beliefs:

“Ganja” (an Indo-Aryan word) had originally reached Jamaica in the mid-nineteenth century by way of East Indian indentured laborers, who used the herb in their spiritual ceremonies and were brought to Jamaica to fill the labor demand created by emancipation. Howell’s Rastafari spirituality amalgamated East Indian and African customs and beliefs—an approach that incorporated ceremonial ganja-smoking with the drumming, singing, and chanting of Kumina, an Afro-Jamaican religion developed by central Africans brought to the island enslaved or, like the East Indians, indentured.

Then there’s the new documentary Dreadlocks Story, which explores between the spirituality of Jamaican Rastafarians and the Indian Hindu Sadhus.

Indentured Indians also brought ganga to British Guiana, but their usage and cultivation was tempered by colonial policies such as the 1913 Indian Hemp Ordinance. Furthermore, as Ramesh Gampat relates in his book Guyana: From Slavery to the Present: Vol. 2 Major Diseases, the British also used carefully constructed stereotypes of ganga users to demean them and dismiss their protests, beliefs and way of life as “violence” and “idle”. Sound familiar?

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That attitude continues today. Although marijuana is used across the social, economic and racial divide in Guyana – even by some of our politicians, as we heard last night (no names mentioned) – the stereotype of the troublesome, criminal, lazy, black addict persists.

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Sister Woziero Esther Gittens of the National Reparations Committee

In her speech at the University of Guyana event, Sister Woziero Esther Gittens, secretary of the National Reparations Committee, shared stories of Rasta brothers and sisters hounded by police for their marijuana use. She recalled being arrested and imprisoned herself, and how she nearly had her locks cut off by overzealous prison guards, who did not know that this is prohibited in Guyana (a fact Sister Gittens said she was aware of having campaigned on this very issue). “Twenty years of cultivating my life would have gone” she said, noting that others have not been so lucky.

For her and others in the Rastafari movement, this – and the criminalisation of ganga – amounts to an attack on their religious freedom. “We should seek reparations from the government for the persecution of our culture,” urged Sister Gittens in her speech.

As well as being a religious and cultural matter, it’s also a medical one. Last month, a Paramakatoi farmer was sentenced to three years in prison and fined $40,500 for being in possession of almost one pound of cannabis, which he said was to make medicinal tea for his sick niece.” True or not, the medicinal properties of ganga are well documented – from easing pain and nausea to greater muscle control for those with MS.

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Dr Droega of the Guyana Hemp Association

And then there’s the economic aspect. “Metropolitan countries are making billions off it, why can’t we?” asked Sister Gittens? “You can’t talk of green economy and not plant marijuana, hemp.”

It was a point expanded on by Dr Droega, who cited the case of Colorado, which collected $88.2m in taxes from Cannabis sales in 2015. Restricted de-crimininalisation (usually of small amounts for personal use) is swiftly catching on around the world. The Netherlands, Uruguay, Spain, Portugal, and various US states to name just a few. Incredibly it was only in 2015 that Jamaica (the home of Rastafarism) finally decriminalised the possession of small amounts of ganga and the use of the herb for religious purposes. “The Babylon police used to abuse the Rastaman for smoking the herb. But the times are changing and the agitation has to stop,” a local supporter was quoted as saying in a news report.

As well as smoking or ingesting marijuana, many products can be made using hemp – which is differentiated from marijuana for various reasons, including its reduced amount of THC and a different genetic structure. Hemp can be used to make many things, from clothes and food, to paper, textiles, plastics and biofuel. It also grows quickly and, according to the Guyana Hemp Association‘s website, requires half as much water, and no pesticides, compared to cotton. Just last week, farmers from the Region 10 Industrial Hemp and Agricultural Farmers Corporation made a call for the legalisation of industrial hemp – in line with the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which permits the growth of Cannabis for exclusively industrial or horticultural purposes.

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So why is Guyana so ‘indifferent’ to the changes happening around the world, as the title of the talk suggested? Speaking from the audience, Gerald Perreira, leader of the Organisation for the Victory of the People (OVP), suggested that the government was waiting for the “nod” from “The ABC countries – American, Britain and Canada.” Dr Droega made a similar point, saying “Don’t wait for them to tell you it’s ok, while they’re making money”, calling on the audience to “vote in your own people.”

AFC Chairman Nigel Hughes (who was due to appear at the talk but was not present) did compile a draft Narcotics Drug and Psychotropic Substances (Control) (Amendment) Bill in 2015, which seeks to soften the penalties for marijuana possession. However this “has been languishing on the Order Paper”, according to chartered accountants Ram & McRae, and still hasn’t made it to Parliament. Despite President David Grainger reportedly telling TV programme The Public Interest in August 2016: “I would say, even running the risk of talking out of school, that it is likely that the private use of marijuana would be given consideration in months to come.”

In her article The True History of Rastafarism, Ms McKeon notes: “…the greatest menace to the colonial order was [‘The First Rasta’ Leonard Percival] Howell’s founding of Pinnacle as an autonomous economic community financed by the cultivation of marijuana … By the late 1940s and early 1950s, at Pinnacle’s height, Howell was the biggest ganja planter in modern Jamaican history.”

If Guyana is indeed waiting for a nod of approval from its former colonial masters in Britain or its capitalist/cultural colonisers in the United States and Canada, it may be waiting a while. And by then, the hemp/marijuana industry will be established and Guyana will have to play catch up.

“The 2020 elections must be a marijuana election,” declared one audience member. Given politics in Guyana is a notoriously racially divisive matter, perhaps a pipe of peace is the way forward.


[*’coolie’ is a term used widely to refer to those of Indian descent in the Caribbean, though is considered offensive by some]

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Your TV or your life

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Defective by Design/Free Software Foundation

Talking to a friend on the phone the other day, we were comparing notes on procrastination viewing. “I keep watching Location, Location, Location,” she admitted. Hopes of moving and neighbour troubles have been on her mind of late, so obsessively watching a property show in which people are helped to find their dream home makes sense.

For me, it’s recently been Gilmore Girls, I confessed sheepishly. After she finished laughing, she asked, “So what do you get out of it?” In other words, what was missing in my life that I found in a show about a over-caffeinated mother and her journalist-wannabe daughter; their scarily close relationship in suburban America; and the men they fall in love with. And then out of love with. And then in love with again. (You get the picture.)

I hadn’t thought of it like that – that what we don’t have in reality we seek in fiction. But it makes sense.

We watch detective shows and CSI dramas not because we want to commit a crime or like seeing someone hurt (I would hope) but because eventually the perpetrator is caught, loose ends are tied up, goodness prevails. And perhaps that makes us feel safer, reassured, because real life is a lot more uncertain. Injustice happens on a daily basis, criminals are not caught, there’s rarely a neat resolution.

Romantic dramas and romcoms give us hope that we will find someone extraordinary, who finds us extraordinary and we’ll live happily ever after. There are declarations of love, long-thwarted kisses, passion, certainty… all the things which seem a long way away from the mundanities of dividing up household chores, waiting for someone to text back, scrolling through profiles on a dating app, or the indecisive falling in and out of love that Alicia Keys sang about more than ten years ago.

Fantasies and sci-fi take us far away from our everyday worlds to lands where magic happens, fortunes change and destinies are found. There we forget the earth as we know it even exists.

Action films fool us for a second that we’re living in exciting times, and we go on car chases, fight, run like the wind, jump, swim, attack – all while safely sat on our cinema seats and sofas. We may seek danger because our lives are a boring cycle of wake, work, watch – or because we identify with living on the edge, we experience it daily – just without the comfort of a stop, rewind or fast-forward button.

But it’s not a solution. How many times have you finished a programme or series and felt a sense of anti-climax? Felt like you were regaining consciousness as if from a coma? Or thought, ‘Well that was a waste of time’? Because it often is. We can fool ourselves into thinking we’re learning valuable life lessons. That it’s relaxation time that we deserve. But do we really need a screen to do that?

I often wonder what I could achieve without YouTube, Netflix et al. I imagine myself spending evenings writing novels, cooking delicious meals for friends, learning to play an instrument, cleaning the house, reading… but instead I press play and zone out. For an hour and a half, two hours, three if it involves Orcs, Italian godfathers 0r doomed ships… I am elsewhere. But time doesn’t stop, it carries on. And life does too. I can’t get back that time. I know all those other things would make me more happy but sometimes deadening the mind seems easier.

Doing the luddite thing and smashing up my laptop would be a bit counterproductive. So, as with everything in life, it’s all about balance and moderation. I’ll re-download that SelfControl app which has mysteriously disappeared from my computer. I’ll continue to not live with a TV. I’ll avoid walking close to DVD sellers. I’ll switch off after one show.

As Gil Scott Heron said, the revolution will not be televised. And, unless you’re Jim Carrey in The Truman Show, your life won’t be either – so unless you want to miss it, we better start switching off from time to time. And realising that we hold the power to do whatever we want.