By Adam Harris
Guyanese pride themselves as the friendliest people in the region, but they are not alone. I happened to visit some other Caribbean countries and I hear the same boast. Of course there are the Barbadians who make a similar claim but when put to the test, this is not the case.
One Barbadian man said to me that Barbadians would appear to be very friendly on the streets but the last thing he would do, would be to take you to his home. The man said that while Barbadians are friendly, they are not too trusting.
The Jamaicans are like the Guyanese. They like a drink and they would chat with anyone at the drop of a hat. Not too strange to understand is the fact that they like the Barbadians less than anyone else. The Shanique Myrie case and the placement of Guyanese on the ‘bench’ may explain a lot. However, that is not the essence of this story.
During the Christmas holidays when my overseas-based relatives visited, I took them to the place where they spent their formative years—Beterverwagting.
I did mention some aspects of that visit, but what I did not share was the fact that they all recognized that a village raises a child.
As we walked the streets of Beterverwagting my relatives found it refreshing to find that every child they passed by would greet them with a ‘Good day’ or a ‘Good afternoon.’ That for the children was as natural as drinking water. This was also the case with adults; no one walked past someone without a greeting.
A few years ago I was at Bartica and the same thing operated. There was always the smile and the greeting. This may be the reason why the crime rate in those communities is so low. Everyone looks the other in the eye and smile.
It goes without saying that such a simple feat makes one’s day. One is relaxed and one goes about his or her business safe in the knowledge that someone is always there with a smile. The relationship goes beyond that. If you ask someone for direction that person, if time permits, would take you to your destination.
I grew up in those communities and the old habits are still with me. I doubt that there is anyone who could say that I walked past without a greeting. Sometimes the greeting is not reciprocated. One morning as I was walking out from Tucville, I passed a man and a boy. I said ‘Good morning’ to the pair and I heard the man say something to the effect that back in the States people couldn’t waste time with a greeting.
Of course it was rude and so un-Guyanese, but I suppose it comes with the territory. This man had been deported from the same society where people could pay no heed to another on the streets. People would tell you that if you need direction look for the nearest policeman.
Back in Guyana, therefore, we have two distinct sets of people—one set extremely courteous and gracious and the other piggish. The latter abounds in the urban areas and this should explain why the crime rate in the urban areas is so much higher than anywhere else. The criminals come from the city and they invade the rural areas.
As a boy growing up in Beterverwagting, there was the time my mother had a royal cuss-out with the fish lady. The woman had come to collect her money and my mother did not have it. At first she tried to convey the impression that she was not at home, but in a small house that is all but impossible. So there was the confrontation.
I was angry at the woman for cussing-out my mother so later the same day I happened to walk past this woman without so much as a ‘Good afternoon.’ The woman immediately remarked that I was playing a big man. And she immediately reached my house. I was just about there when the woman called out, “Mavis. Me and you got story. I didn’t know that me and you son got story too.”
A primal scream escaped my mother’s lips. “Adam. Come.” I began to shudder and I had every good reason to. The wrath of God, at least so it felt, descended on me. There were others in parts of Guyana who must have had similar experiences.
Just the other day in my native Beterverwagting, an off-duty policeman happened to be walking in the village. He was not a villager but he came under attack from a man of unsound mind. The village came to his assistance.
The close nature of village folk is such that people celebrate with the child who does so well at external examinations. The child’s success is everybody’s. How some of us who moved away to the urban areas lost these wonderful attributes is anybody’s guess. It could be that we wanted to be like the people around us without recognizing that we were shedding our lofty virtues for rubbish.
In Jamaica, Queens, New York, where my in-laws live, there has been a remarkable change. When they moved into a new housing scheme there they were surrounded by drug dealers and the like. Other foreigners, among them more Guyanese, Trinidadians, Jamaicans and the like, moved in there too. They all went with their values.
They did not want their children to go the way of the damned because they all came to give their children a break. The result is that the drug dealers have all moved out and the area is as clean as a whistle.
It is the same in parts of New Jersey where Guyanese settle. The visitors made their impact, but this has not always been the case in the city. I brought my values to the city and my children are proud testimonies to my early village life. That is why I still reconnect with the villages in which I lived—Den Amstel, La Jalousie and Bartica included. I wish others would do the same and let us change this country back.
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I have been doing columns since 1988. I have been a major columnist with the Catholic Standard, Stabroek News, Kaieteur... more