Since my marriage more than thirty-two years ago, I have done all the shopping. This structure has come about because I got more time from my working arrangement. No one in this entire country can tell me about prices. When you have been to the Bourda Green and the supermarkets for more than twenty-five years, maybe three days or more in every week, you come to have an acute sense of the state of the economy.
Despite the boasts of six years of economic growth and Guyana’s distance in front of the rest of the Caribbean, this is a country bogged down in grueling poverty. This is a nation where the levels of income and the prices for food conspire to maintain excruciating poverty. How the poorer classes live in this country is a story of a scientific miracle.
The real madness lies not in the cost for supermarket items but for local foodstuff that should virtually be given away because of their superabundance in the entirety of this land.
Shortly after I returned home from abroad in the mid-eighties and took up an appointment at UG, I got to know how cruel poverty was here. At that time I didn’t have a car, so I took the bus outside Central Garage. It was a humiliating experience. Every afternoon there was an insane rush to get a seat. You just got depressed at the thought of participating in the stampede. A group of hire-car owners became innovative. They decided to compete with the minibuses by offering a seat to UG for $20 more than what the minibus drivers charged. It failed for lack of patronage.I couldn’t understand why. My conceptualization of the episode was that for $20 more you bypass the unbearable hassle.
I inquired of my friends why students and staff were not using the cars. I remember putting the question to one of the most famous Social Science lecturers UG produced, Theo Morris (deceased). He said, “Freddie, what makes you think people could afford that $20.”
I was saddened to learn years later that Theo supplemented his UG income by hiring out his car.
The Government has the Guyana Marketing Corporation (GMC) that produces a weekly price list. It is sheer propaganda. I am saying those prices they publish are either lies or deception. What they tell you is not the reality on Bourda Green and at the Stabroek Market. A pound of plantains is going at $140.
Yesterday, I asked my daughter and wife to weigh the plantains we have in the kitchen. One plantain is just under or just over a pound. For a household of two parents and three children, that family has to spend at least $420 for three pounds of the green stuff. Plantain is common to Guyana as beaches are to an island. And remember, if you are going to eat plantains for lunch or dinner it has to carry something with it, meaning that you have to buy fish or eggs.
This is a crazy country. Pineapple is “a big man in dis place.” Guyanese should go to the markets and pick up a big pineapple for at least forty dollars. After all, some fruits and vegetables are so plentiful in this land that they should come close to being free. Pineapple should be one. The GMC cannot fool people. The smallest pineapple touches around $120 and when I say small, I really mean small. A family pineapple starts from $300.
Cayenne bananas go at $200 a pound. At the moment, mango is another big man. The tragedy of the Guyanese economy is that food prices are killing the lower classes
The real monster is what all Guyanese know – high electricity rates. I offer you the example of my nephew who takes home $36,000 a month. He has a wife and two school kids. With a fridge and four florescent lights, that man’s bill is $8,000 and change each month. There was a time in this country when a majority of citizens were guilty of a criminal offence – buying bread made out of wheat flour.
In today’s Guyana, quite a large number of persons steal electricity. Within the business community, electricity theft is quite prevalent. I confess in an unapologetic way that if I wasn’t a high profile critic of elected fascism, I would have stolen the kilowatts too.
This country has horrible levels of poverty and all one is asking for is not an overnight eradication, but the lessening of the suffering that the poorer classes are enduring.
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