Over the years I have listened and responded to a cauldron of comments in the American classroom as a faculty. One comment from a non-traditional student in my Caribbean History course at the University of the Virgin Islands some time back still lingers on my mind. The student said that if Christopher Columbus returned to the Caribbean island of Dominica he would recognise the island instantly. I was taken aback by that comment especially since I had spent an awful lot of time discussing the evils – genocide, slavery, colonialism, imperialism, racism, indentureship and dependency – caused by Columbus and the subsequent arrival of Europeans to the Caribbean.
I asked the student to elaborate some more why he made such a comment. He said that Dominica is the most preserved and pristine island in the Caribbean.
Dominica is really a nature island with large tracts of its land undisturbed. It has what is called the Carib Reserve Territory, land set aside for the protection of 3000 or so indigenous Carib people.
There is a parallel with the above story and Berbice but in an opposite way. If the British colonialists were to return to Berbice they would have no problems recognising it. They would see that few things have changed in this part of the world. They would recognise open sewage alongside the main road from New Amsterdam to Crabwood Creek. They would recognize children playing in the sewage and some people fishing in it for food. They would recognise that the people still use pit latrines when the rest of the world has access to indoor toilets. They would recognise poverty, suicide and crime out of control. They would recognise high unemployment amongst the young. They would recognize that people rely on sugar cane and rice cultivation as well as fishing for survival.
Equally troubling is that there is little indication that the above maladies will change for better. The agricultural sector has become more uncertain than any other time in history. The new entourage of politicians seems to have their own views about the status of agriculture in Berbice to which they only understand.
Communist leaders Moa Zedong and Fidel Castro once asked their Cabinet to go out and work the fields so that they would have the experience as to how it felt to be like peasants and pariahs. I see nothing wrong with applying this policy to Guyana.
There are, to be sure, some noticeable developments in Berbice: the Canje and Berbice Bridges, the University of Guyana, somewhat regular electricity and running water. All this come to Berbice after Guyana has achieved independence 50 years later. This is not saying much and I am so elated that the current regime plans to keep the 50 years’ celebration mainly in its urban support base as evidenced by the results of the local election.
One of the tabloids is having a field day reporting on how the current regime has won Georgetown. The people of Berbice rather see the politicians riding donkeys around the villages than giving speeches and splurging into celebration frenzies.
That being said, I have asked the PPP on numerous occasions in dailies to at least develop an airport and No 63 Beach in Berbice but this asking was given lip service. In political science 101, the basic thought is that if you have a majority of support coming from one particular region, pay serious attention to it and try to answer in the affirmative because your political life depends on it. This was taken for granted.
What is disturbing is that of all the counties in Guyana, Berbice has experienced the most out-migration, some 50,000 over the past decades. The current population is around 130,000 or so. The talk in the streets is that everyone is waiting to leave and investment now is not in agriculture but in airline tickets. Nevertheless, an airport plus the development of No 63 Beach as well as a Cultural Centre will certainly bring back Berbicians for even short stays which will in turn generate growth and development. Instead, opposite has happened.
I have never seen so many abandoned houses and idle land anywhere else except in war zones. This eye-sore demonstrates that Berbicians are mad. I am mad. Are you mad? I asked one villager who was surprised to have received a visa from the US Embassy prior to May 2015 General Election this: why didn’t you stay and vote and then leave? His response was “ah you try dey, me gone buddy.”