By Cathy Hughes, Executive Member
I know what an emotional time it was, the end of a long and bitter struggle against colonial domination, the culmination of a bitter fight by our valiant forefathers who argued vehemently for the right to create an independent nation state, our ability and capacity to define for ourselves who we are, what we could achieve and the nation we hoped to build.
I know firsthand from my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncle what the evening was like to the extent that I feel I was there. The emotion and tears, the pride as the Union Jack came down and my beautiful Golden Arrowhead rose into the sky and began to flutter with a gust, almost as if she were saying “Finally, it is my time now!”
Her bold colours suggesting that we would dare to be different as non-aligned, well educated individuals who dared to build a new independent Guyana that would meet the needs of Guyanese intertwined in our different cultures but strongly Guyanese within a Caribbean.
I know for sure that the University of the West Indies was the place for me after a challenging but secure and happy childhood growing up in Georgetown.
Forgive me if I’m naïve but in those days, school made me a proud Guyanese…and all of us were not Indian or African, just young Guyanese, bold and daring like that flag, interested in serving, committed, with no thoughts ever of going anywhere else, just dying to get older and burst out, as if to say wait till you meet me!
We were expected to question things, to speak out, to be analytical and that was not being the opposition. How could it not be if at the end of the day, we all had the same goal – creating a great Guyana, realizing the potential that we sang of in those great national songs that so few of the young generation know today and all that we were brainwashed to believe in.
As the child of divorced parents in the 1970s which was still a relatively new thing then, I remember being told by my mother with pride “you have two mothers and fathers, two sets of grandparents, many people to confide in, to help make you strong” and I believed it. Guyana was the same, we were just different. Where else would you eat pepper pot and curry in the same day?
But sadly we lost it all along the way. I grew up, things got bad, my family migrated, I returned and things got worse. I returned in 1993 and by 1997 was jolted into the harsh realization that I was a black Guyanese in a place where the old childhood friendships still remained but in the world of business and politics I was black and very much a part of the growing racial stereotypes Guyana seemed to shove down the throats of its people. As David Rudder says “how we vote is not how we party!”
Two days ago I was driving along the East Bank road and was suddenly thrust into the madness of sirens, the confusion of a police car forcing two lanes of traffic into one in 10 seconds…and who was passing, a single car flying the flag of one of our foreign embassies, many times it is a government official but I could not help but think that my life as an ordinary Guyanese did not have the same value as these important people who we put in positions to serve us, flying by without regard for me or my safety.
Or the closure of parking spaces outside an already cramped city bank in the height of an ongoing eight-year crime season! Was it because the President had to pass as rumour suggested? I don’t know. It just made it harder for ordinary Guyanese. Who thinks about that?
This reminded me of the total displacement the city faces every time 65 of us meet in Parliament. Hundreds are displaced, relegated to the back of High and Lombard Streets, school children scrambling for a bus in the setting sun….no police to ensure their safety.
Then look at the Police Stations after dark, shut down tight with no possibility of me entering in my emergency or of them serving me in my time of crisis. Are they not here to serve and protect? …oops clearly it’s not the ordinary Guyanese. Is this what I pay my taxes for?
A few months ago I threw the Chronicle down in disgust. The headlines were of the Minister of Agriculture saying “Grow more”….I instinctively thought “Grow more what? Ganja?”
In this drug-riddled society, honest businesses cannot survive and children understand at an early age that a “hussle is de way” and “get rich quick or die trying” has replaced our motto – “one people, one nation, one destiny”. Fine words like “integrity”, “honesty” and “getting an education” are no longer the way. What have we created?
So I ponder on the fact that forty-two years have passed, we still haven’t grown more food and a fair and equitable land distribution policy is still not in place. A coconut vendor or the single-parent female cannot go and get a piece of this vast, underutilized 83,000 square miles and make a commitment to build a home, plant, and commit to a future for her and her family on these shores for generations to come. Is that too much to ask for us as Guyanese?
Now instead of reaping the benefits of the policies of 42 years we are trying to start over again. Go to the supermarket or corner shop and look at the imported juices….can you believe Pinehill Dairy from little Barbados with even less agricultural lands buying mango puree, making drink and trying to sell it to me in Guyana in a box, when all around I see mangoes on the ground. Many persons with little or nothing would not get a loan to start a fruit drink project, and if you did would the exorbitant electricity costs make it economically viable?
So on this our Independence, I lament the fact that four decades later no long term development plan is being implemented, although hundreds of us worked on a comprehensive and excellent strategy years ago, which could have been implemented regardless of the party in power, but for the Guyanese people.
I cry for the people I meet nearly everyday who live in fear and those who are struggling to make ends meet and want to leave by any means necessary. I cry for the people who will die tomorrow or the next day because a vehicle crashes into an animal wandering aimlessly on a busy, unlit road. It happened three weeks ago and will happen again. Nothing has been done from then to now, no new approach tried, no solution found. Just another life lost along the way.
So we call this fractured existence living and getting up each day a fight, and the people of this potentially great nation are the losers. The few with power continue to reap all the benefits. The skin tones may have changed and the texture of their hair but the system still serves a few and “we”…every Guyanese continues to do nothing to change it. Who feels it knows they say. Is this the independence we dreamed of?
Today I cry for my Guyana.
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