July 7, 2015

CARICOM Day 2015!

“We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.” – J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Tomorrow is CARICOM Day! Long weekend!!! Incidentally, two “CARICOM Days” ago I had just graduated from high school. It feels like so much time has passed since then but at the same time it feels like just yesterday I was back in high school.
Tomorrow is the first Monday of July, a day set aside to celebrate Caribbean Unity. There are aspects of Caribbean Unity that I think have been particularly successful, CXC being one of the most important to me.
And after having spent two years on the Joyce Gibson Inniss Hall of Residence of the UWI Medical School at St Augustine Trinidad, among students from most of our Caribbean neighbours I developed a better perspective of how and why a unified Caribbean could be possible and necessary. The thing is we have so much in common, us and them.
There’s so much overlap with the food we cook, the music we listen to and the slang we use. It was incredible to see that all of the kids from the different islands had a version of curry that they cooked- I must’ve seen at least five different ways of cooking curries. Variations on a theme, but a theme nevertheless.
We all learnt so much about each other’s culture and I began to really understand the whole concept of Caribbean unity on not just an intellectual level, but on an emotional level. I mean, I always used to get emotional supporting our West Indian cricket team, alternating between weeping tears of joy and tears of anguish, but this past year I’ve managed to make personal connections with persons from the different Caribbean countries.
Over the past year or so, we’ve been assigned public health research projects. One of the areas my group honed in on was that of Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – with good reason because according to a PAHO 2012 report, the Caribbean region has the highest burden of NCDs in the Americas! The things that keep us together!
Non-communicable diseases, like Diabetes and Hypertension (“high blood pressure”), are those that are by definition non-infectious and non-transmissible among people. An infectious disease would for instance be malaria. NCDs are the leading causes of death and disease worldwide.
In our readings for the project, we stumbled upon the 2007 Declaration made by the CARICOM Heads of Government, “Uniting to Stop the Epidemic of Chronic Non-communicable Diseases”. So it was heartening that at least we were taking a common approach to this major challenge. It demonstrated perfectly one of the main reasons for us to stick together as a region, apart from sharing a common heritage and culture – the benefits of pooling our resources.
And it was interesting to read about the follow-up implementation of this seminal declaration towards which each member including Guyana made “commitments” towards achieving the original goals. At this time the declaration had been implemented with different levels of success with the most successfully achieved in the larger countries. Our own previous Minister of Health, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy was a key figure in placing the NCDs on the agenda of PAHO, the Commonwealth, the UN, WHO and possibly as a new Development Goal for the world. This is progress borne out of cooperation at the CARICOM level.
While there is some gloom and doom about the future of CARICOM, it is evident there has been progress in many areas. For there to be further and wider real change and real progress , it’s absolutely essential for our Caribbean leaders to work together to tackle the epidemic of NCDs and other challenges collectively. We need to buckle down and implement policies (guided by research) as a unified Caribbean.
Happy CARICOM Day!

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The importance of reflection

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest” – Confucius

I’ve been home a month now and there is evidence that my automatic compulsion to repress any thought of Medical School is waning. Fickle mind!! I’ve been thinking about this course called PECH (Professionalism, Ethics and Communication in Health), which we have to take in addition to our medical courses.
The line is that it’s all a part of training us to become “well-rounded doctors” – not just some jaded automatons treating diseases instead of treating the actual human patient.
And although I sometimes (most of the time) rant and complain about the added work we have to do for this course, I actually do appreciate the importance of such a course. I think anyone who’s ever stepped into a hospital has had at least a few instances where they’ve had to deal with a medical professional who really wasn’t very professional at all.
Whether most of us students are absorbing the things we’ve covered in this course and will actually apply them when we become doctors remains to be seen. But at least so far, there are a few takeaways that have already proved useful.
First of all, there’s the notion of integrating work and action with the acquiring of knowledge itself – all within an ethical framework. I come from a tradition that insists that information isn’t knowledge when one hears it or even cogitates upon it and integrates it with other ideas.
It becomes “knowledge” when it is put into action. And “in-forms” you. So PECH was not entirely a novel experiment.
In our first semester, a big portion of our assignments for PECH was to write a series of reflective essays. We were supposed to select news articles, videos or even TV shows, reflect on what feelings they evoked and then write down our thoughts on the matter.
And it wasn’t that bad, except for the part where our tutors kept telling us that we needed to dig deeper and pour out more of our feelings into these essays and it all felt like impromptu (and unwanted) psychiatric sessions. Kind of an extended Woody Allen movie.
But at least the course forced us to take the time to reflect on the things around us. In this current time when the Internet is so accessible and there’s so much information accessible, so much information just filters through, doesn’t stick and we don’t think much about all of this new information.
At the time, a piece of new information might cause you to think, “Oh. That’s interesting.” You’d pause for a moment, and then you’d keep scrolling and move onto something new and probably forget about that other thing. We don’t really process and internalise much of this information.
Of course, much of it isn’t really worth retaining. And this is where your ethical values come in handy: so that you have a framework – in addition to the purely “medical” or “scientific” rules to evaluate information. I don’t think there’s a prize out there for remembering all of the details of celebrity marriages. How do you ever keep up with the Kardashians??
But some of it, you should at least try to think about how the issue might impact on you, on your life and on the people around you. It’s nice to step out of your personal bubble and take a genuine interest in the things you read, hear or see, instead of letting them pass you by.
So slow down a bit in your incessant scrolling through information. Take some time to actually read though an article and pass it through your ethical screen before commenting, instead of forming an opinion off of just a headline.

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Happy Fathers’ Day!

“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me” – Jim Valvano

Today is Fathers’ Day, the day set aside to celebrate all of the fatherly figures in our lives. Kids all over the world will try to do whatever they can to make their fathers feel special.

Our Dads play a huge part in shaping the type of persons we eventually become. Apparently my brother and I used to want to drink tea just like our Dad and read the newspapers.

Never mind we were so little, we’d hold the papers upside down. We were still ‘reading’.

Dad used to read stories to us every night before bed, even “doing” all of the funny voices for the different characters. So it’s no wonder that my brother and I grew up with a love of reading.

Throughout my school-life whenever I had questions I’d ask Dad and invariably he’d have the answer and was able to explain the concept to me in a way that I’d be able to understand. Even now in Med School I still ask Dad my questions whether over Skype or during the holidays.

For kids our Dad become a Superman-type figure who works, knows everything about anything, can fix our toys when they’re broken, fetch us off to bed when as toddlers we’d fall asleep on the couch and give us advice from experience at every step of our life.

But it shouldn’t take Father’s Day to remind you of how important your father is. Showing your dad that you care should be something that you do every day. It should come to you as naturally as breathing or as eating (after all, in many families, the father is the sole bread-winner of the family and is the reason that you actually have something to eat in the first place).

So yes, of course you have to do something special for your dad today. But please don’t just post your gift in the mail, or make a quick phone call or send an e-mail to your father – that’s downright lazy! Take the gift in person, say “Happy Father’s Day” in person.
Or better yet, cook a special meal for your dad or just spend some quality time catching up with him.

Today, we’ll do that our Dad and then take him to the movies. He’s a movie buff. And even though we suspect we’re more enthusiastic about Jurrasic World more than him…because he’s our Dad we know he’ll enjoy it!

Happy Fathers’ Day!

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Our extra lessons culture

“If you want to grow a giant redwood, you need to make sure the seeds are ok, nurture the sapling, and work out what might potentially stop it from growing all the way along. Anything that breaks it at any point stops that growth” – Elon Musk.

By the time I hit high school, the extra-lessons culture was already inextricably tied to the school system. I decidedly stayed away from taking any extra lesson throughout my high school life.
And no, it was absolutely not because the syllabus was covered during the school hours by my teachers. I think any student would have a hearty chuckle at the suggestion that our teachers ever actually covered all the material in class.
Not to bash our teachers too much though. Because given the system they’re teaching in where so many other teachers are making so much dough off extra lessons, it would be ludicrous to expect that they wouldn’t want to do the same.
How could a teacher be motivated to give 100 per cent to their class when other teachers are giving 20 per cent to their class during class hours and are being paid the same?
And tack onto that the fact that those 20 per cent teachers are making three times the salary of the 100 per cent teacher after school hours courtesy of their extra lessons, even someone with an actual passion for teaching would get discouraged. The question of distributive justice arises.
But I absolutely understood why my classmates were taking extra lessons. We simply were not being taught enough in school.
And since many of the extra lessons were given by our regular teachers, it raised the question of whether those teachers were deliberately not teaching enough so that students would have no choice but to take their extra lessons. You’ve got to create enough demand for the product you’re supplying, right?
Now I should take a moment to clarify something. At the CSEC level, it’s understood that we should be taught most of the syllabus but at the CAPE level, going in, we’re told that we’re expected to do 80 per cent of the work on our own.
And I respected that. CAPE is a whole different ballgame from CSEC, and it’s supposed to prep us for University where we’d be expected to do the bulk of the work on our own.
Since I was already accustomed to having to do the bulk of the syllabus outside of the school system, on my own, CAPE didn’t seem all that different from CSEC and once again I decided against any extra lessons.
Most of my classmates we ahead with extra lessons, same deal with CSEC, except this time our in-class teachers weren’t expected to cover the material in class, we’re supposed to do the work on our own.
But here’s my problem with these extra lesson, especially at the CAPE level. CAPE is that step before university.
University – that glorious place where you can skip as many lectures as you like without the lecturer caring one whit whether you show up or not.
University – that place where lecturers lecture, not teach – they paint a big picture of the concept, painting it with broad strokes and swipes with the understanding that you’ll hit the books till the sun comes up, to fill in the minute details.
University – the places where there are no extra lessons to spoon-feed you what you need to know, to keep you on track or to prep you specifically for the exam. It’s all you and your self-discipline- not some external force to keep you disciplined.
If you forego lessons at least at the CAPE level, you’ll get a chance to cultivate that self-discipline that’ll serve you so well for university and the rest of your life, basically. University won’t be such a shock to the system.
It’s not my purpose with this article to convince anyone to give up their extra-lessons. Everyone is different – we’re all individuals who need different things to keep us going. But I just want to put it out there in this atmosphere of extra-lessons being an absolute necessity that it’s possible to do it without the extra-lessons.
You’re not going to fail without extra-lessons, in fact, you could excel once you put in the work. And you’ll come out of the experience with stellar grades and a killer work ethic.
Our new Minister of Education (old Queens boy, eh?) is continuing the long, drawn out (Sisyphean?) war to crack down on these extra lessons. I wish him well.

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Limiting educational possibilities

Last week I was reading an article titled, “Writing too many subjects at CSEC could be up for revision”. It made me groan in frustration as I do whenever someone floats the idea of limiting knowledge.
When I wrote my 15 CSEC subjects in 2011, there were people who asked me, “What was the point of writing so many subjects?” And my answer was always the same – and the truth – “Because I was genuinely interested in all of those subjects.”
In Third Form at Queens College, we were exposed to all of the subjects we would have to choose from to eventually write at CSEC. And so, after a year of sampling, I discovered that I quite enjoyed most of the subjects we did and I was passionate enough about them to be able to handle doing them, never mind all of the timetable clashes.
My teachers allowed me to go ahead with my plan provided I kept up with the workload and maintained my grades.
But yes…I know there are lots of kids who write tons of subjects, not because they’re especially interested in the subjects per se, but because they hope to earn that CSEC/UWI scholarship. And who can blame them?
In our year, there were no Government scholarships for top CSEC students – the CSEC/UWI scholarship was all we had to aim for. So one way to cut down the number of subjects being written individually is to fund more national scholarships.
Secondly, and more germanely, if there are more national scholarship options available at the CAPE level, maybe we won’t have students writing 70 subjects at CSEC in the hope of topping the Caribbean to get that scholarship.
Our present Education Minister should know in his time; the Guyana scholarship, which he won, was only given to the top A Level achievers. But the awards must be tied to our country’s developmental skill needs.
Going through the CAPE experience I can say that it was a quantum leap from CSEC. Going into Lower Six we were informed upfront that we’d be expected to cover 80 per cent of the work on our own, with our teachers there to cover the remaining 20 per cent.
Compared to CAPE, we were practically spoon fed at CSEC. And the level of the work at CAPE compared with CSEC is so much in depth. I never thought I would reach a point in my life when CSEC would seem as simple as Common Entrance, but then I did CAPE and well, I found myself wishing I was still back in Fifth Form.
But in terms of preparing me for university, CAPE did a much better job of preparing me for university than CSEC ever could – I learnt a lot about how to use the resources around me to learn things on my own. But 15 CSECs did give me a breath of knowledge that made me much more rounded.
And of course, more national scholarships could hold the answer to our brain drain problem.
In Trinidad, The Bahamas, Jamaica and Barbados, all of their scholarship students are expected to return to their country to serve for a particular number of years. And I don’t think that that’s unfair. It makes sense; your country is paying for your education… of course you have to give back something to your people.
It’s a win-win for both our country and our students. We could send our top students abroad to get the highest quality education and then have them return home to develop our country.
And hopefully we can get to a point where the development is so significant that our scholars will stay not just because they’re obligated to, but because they genuinely want to stay because of the great opportunities that they could have right at home.
But please, let’s not limit our students by fixing some arbitrary number of CSEC subjects as the limit. Students should be free to choose the number of subjects they want to write based on their capabilities. Guyana has churned out some of the brightest minds in the Caribbean.
How would they have been allowed to soar if someone had decided to clip their wings and shackle them to the ground?

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Fast-food folly

 “The fast-food industry is in very good company with the lead industry and the tobacco industry in how it tries to mislead the public, and how aggressively it goes after anybody who criticises its business practices” – Eric Schlosser

When I first arrived in Trinidad, I was amazed at all the different types of fast food places they had: McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Pizza Hut, Pappa John’s, Wendy’s and a whole host of others. My old «backward» Guyana only had a handful… KFC and Pizza Hut?
And then I came across a 2013 report that Trinidad was the NUMBER ONE obese nation in the Caribbean and the sixth most obese nation in the ENTIRE WORLD. Guyana was way, way below them.
Was there a connection between the two facts? There sure was! What had happened was that the first-world countries - especially the leader, USA, wised up to the connection between fast food and obesity and started to regulate them.
That meant less profits …and their fast food chains didn’t waste any time moving down to the third world. In only the last two years, surely you›ve noticed so many of these joints coming even into «poor» Guyana?
In the first-world countries, the fast food industry’s being pressured to offer “healthy”options on their menus and it’s mandatory to display the number of calories in each item of food.
Like McDonalds in the States now also offer salads and wraps - never mind that the dressings for the salads probably have more calories that the burgers! McDonalds in Trinidad doesn’t even offer the illusion of wraps- just good old-fashioned calorie-laden burgers, fries and nuggets.
I get the allure of fast food. Who doesn’t? It’s tasty- a high fat and sodium content pretty much guarantees that. And of course it’s fast. Laying in my dorm room too tired (and lazy… mostly lazy), to cook, sometimes I give into the urge to pick up my phone and to order pizza.
And fast food’s so much cheaper than healthy food. When I’m ordering pizza, the person at the end of the line usually talks me into upgrading from a medium to a large pizza «for just $5 more” through some ongoing deal.
I usually end up with a rather unhealthy amount of pizza that I end up having to freeze most of for later. I once had to turn down a free large pizza when I ordered a medium one. The Papa John’s worker seemed to think I was quite daft to turn down a free pizza, but as I tried to explain to her, I really had no need for both a medium and a large pizza.
There’re always deals and promotions going on in these fast food places. I’ve never been offered a free, larger head of broccoli when I buy broccoli. And I guess that’s why a lot of people prefer to go the fast food route, even knowing how unhealthy it is.
And it’s incredibly unhealthy. One piece of chicken thigh from KFC has 290 calories, with 190 of those calories coming from fat and it has 850mg of sodium- that’s 35 per cent of your daily value. And many people don’t just get one piece of chicken- they get fries, soda, biscuits and more chicken.
In school we’ve covered the systems of the human body and the type of strain your body goes through when you charge up on these fast foods. Your arteries get clogged, your heart has to strain to pump blood through those clogged arteries and you’re more susceptible to developing, diabetes, hypertension, of suffering a heart attack.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the prevalence of obesity among adults in Guyana is 16.9 per cent and that’s pretty low, especially compared with Trinidad’s whopping 30 per cent.
But if we keep on welcoming fast food chains into our country and boast about it as «development», we may well end up going the route of Trinidad.
So choose wisely. As with anything, moderation is key. A bit of pizza once in a while won’t hurt, but once it becomes habit, that when it’s a problem.

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Home at last!

“Home is where you go to find solace from the ever changing chaos, to find love within the confines of a heartless world, and to be reminded that no matter how far you wander, there will always be something waiting when you return.” – Kendal Rob

​Well the semester is finally over! I’ve packed my things, put them away in storage and locked up my dorm room for the summer. I realised that I’m somewhat of a pack rat- who else would save old, used up pens because they’re reminders of courses completed? As the plane lifted off from the Piarco runway last Tuesday night and I saw the lights of Port-of-Spain spread out below me, I felt like I had finally snapped shut a new chapter- my second year of Med School. It was a relief, to be honest. As the plane climbed higher and higher, I felt like all of my worries and anxieties of the past semester were falling away as I was being whisked away towards home.
At every level it feels like that exam is the hardest exam I’ll ever have to write- that’s how I felt writing SSEE, writing CSEC and then CAPE. And invariably I’ll look back and think, “Why was I complaining back then? I’d definitely prefer to take back CAPE Unit 2 Pure Math and Physics on the same day again than these 2nd year final exams!”
But as my dad likes to remind me, “This too shall pass.” And it does, and I end up surviving another exam and can return home for the holidays.
And it’s been amazing being home, reunited with my family! It’s nice settling into old routines and waking up in my own bed. There really is no place quite like home!
And now I’m home, it seems like the May-June rains are here. Ordinarily I would have to be making the journey to QC and the rains usually make that quite a damp, dreary, smelly and quite miserable ordeal that would have me shaking my fist and railing against the stormy sky. But this time around, safely ensconced in bed, I can borrow a line from Frozen and say, “The cold never bothered my anyway.”
But my return home hasn’t completely been the restful and relaxing lazy-days I was looking forward to. I had been scheduled to return to vote – and looking forward to exercising my franchise in what I’d already figured was a critical one. But then fate, in the form of Caribbean Airlines, intervened when they arbitrarily switched me to the day after.
The past couple of days has been focused more on our elections that I had anticipated. I had (naively) expected that the votes would soon be tallied, a result announced and a Government sworn in relatively soon, not the long, drawn-out saga that has played out. I would’ve hoped that after all the drama with past elections, systems would be in placed to speed up a more transparent process.
The GECOM press conferences proved to be pure theatre…complete with dramatic tension and conflicts. Hopefully today there will be a denouement today that’ll allow Guyanese – including me – to get back to our everyday routine. As I finish this piece I’ve been staring at the TV screen for the last hour – waiting for the final announcement to be made as to who’ll form the next government. My deadline’s past…so I’ll just say: Good luck to the next administration. Life goes on…

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Happy Mother’s Day!

“Mama was my greatest teacher, a teacher of compassion, love and fearlessness. If love is sweet as a flower, then my mother is that sweet flower of love” – Stevie Wonder
Today, the second Sunday of May, has been set aside as Mothers’ Day. Children of all ages, all over the world, will try to do whatever they can to make their mothers feel special. Some will give their mother flowers or cards. Some might even prepare a home-cooked meal, or take their mom out for dinner.
My Dad’s going to call his Mother – my Ajee – in New York…and thank goodness for Skype, we can see her as well. My Mom usually has her Mom over – my Nanie – who’s still in Guyana and we usually have a great sit-down meal. The family that “saa-nays” together sticks together!!
When Mothers’ Day became a recognized holiday in the US in 1914, it quickly spread to the rest of the world. And just as quickly, by the 1920’s it had become as commercialized as any other holiday. Unfortunately.
But why should you only honour your mother on the second Sunday of May? It’s just a date chosen arbitrarily. It could’ve been any other date or better yet, it doesn’t just have to be one date. Why can’t people show their love for their mother every day? Or rather, why don’t they?
Your mother should be important enough to you that you would have no problem with showing her that you love her every day- whether you want to show your love by just saying ‘I love you’ or by showering her with gifts, it’s your prerogative. Be spontaneous; show your love every day in all of the little ways that count much, much more.
You wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for your mother. With it becoming more accepted for females to have abortions or to be on birth control, your mother could’ve decided that she didn’t want to have to deal with a noisy, complaining, whiningbrat.
She could’ve decided she wanted to be some high-powered executive, completely focused on her career, caring about nothing but her job. But she didn’t. She decided to have you.
So let’s hear it for those wonderful women who had to put up with our wailing in the middle of the night as babies, our whining about going to school, our teenage angst, and everything else.
The women who all too often are our shoulders to cry on, the persons we share our hopes and fears with, the persons who worry about us more than we ever worry about ourselves.
And when we become mothers, we often pattern our behaviour after our own mothers. And my mom has certainly set the bar pretty high – a bit down the road, I’ll have somepretty big shoes to fill.
But the good thing is that your mom would be there to help you get through your own journey through motherhood. She’ll teach you how to hold your new-born child and of course she’ll spoil your kids rotten so they’re always more excited to see their grandmother than you.
And this Mothers’ Day isn’t just limited to celebrating your biological mother. It’s a time to honour all of those great women who were mothers to you, who at some point treated you like you were their own child.
Hey… we can even honour our country that has given birth to us!! Tomorrow is E-Day, when we get a chance to select those leaders who will take care of this sacred land that’s given so much to all of us. And let’s be honest, it has, hasn’t it?
And even though you should be showing your love every day, it is a nice gesture to go that extra mile on Mothers’ Day. And on E-Day!
Happy Mothers’ Day!

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A momentous occasion

“Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid? That is the only time a man can be brave.” ― George RR Martin

On Tuesday, the nation will celebrate the 177th anniversary of East Indians arriving in Guyana.  One hundred and seventy-seven years since the first batches of East Indians arrived on the shores of Guyana aboard the Whitby and the Hesperus.
And in Grade Two, around this time, our project was to make a model of either the Whitby or the Hesperus. I remember those days (not so very long ago) when my Dad and I would painstakingly glue on sails to the masts and paint on tiny portholes onto the sides of the ships.
For me, building that ship was one of the things I liked the most about Indian Arrival Day.  We put a lot of effort into building that ship. We didn’t just build some generic ship – we built the Whitby. We did research to try to build the ship as accurately as possible. It made me reflect that this ship was something important. So as far as school projects go, that one was pretty thorough.
And for the other grades when we didn’t have to build ships, there was always a special effort by the teacher to teach something specific concerning the arrival of East Indians in Guyana.
But somehow, in secondary school, interest in the arrival of East Indians to Guyana waned. The holiday came and went relatively unremarked. The CXC even set exams on this day (as they have done again this year). There were no more assignments to build the Whitby or the Hesperus. Or even to reflect on why their “arrival” was necessary. We should think about those reasons for the neglect.
In history textbooks, there was probably only a single chapter dedicated to Indian arrival and heritage. You could blink and literally miss the entire topic of Indian Indentureship to the Caribbean. And yet about half-a-million souls arrived in the West Indies and the vast majority (almost 75 per cent) remained. Indians have contributed so much to our society and culture. Right off the top there is so much diversity presented to the Region in our dances and songs and music and food. Isn’t curried goat the national dish of Jamaica?? And how about the “ganja” that is now legalised in Jamaica – for “medicinal purposes” of course. And I’m not even going to delve into their contributions with regards to religions and philosophy. They deserve to be celebrated even more widely.
I’m Guyanese, I’m a Caribbean person – I’ve never even stepped foot in India. I’ll always support the West Indian cricket team over the Indian team without question. But the cultural practices, philosophy and beliefs that my ancestors brought and preserved from India, have shaped me, my ideas and my ideals. I am an Indian Guyanese. India may be my “Mother Land” but Guyana is my “Sacred Land”.
So for me, May 5 is an important day. It’s a momentous occasion. It’s the day that the first set of East Indians crossed the Kala Pani (Black Waters) and  arrived on our shores. It’s the day when they disembarked on an entirely different continent. It’s the day that everything changed for them – and for us in Guyana.
It’s the day that their old life ended and a new life began. For better or for worse, they were here, in Guyana, a whole ocean away from their old lives. And most of them left behind family members, and most of them, like my great-great-grandfather, never saw those family members again.
It must have been so traumatic to be transplanted from everything that was familiar to this completely alien land. But they pushed on, they survived and they prevailed. They made a home away from home. Let us not risk that home being destroyed.
They forged a new identity to cope with everything that they had to deal with. They showed courage and fortitude in the face of hardship. They pushed aside their fears to bravely make a better life for themselves and their descendants.
Happy Indian Arrival Day!

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A momentous occasion

“Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?
That is the only time a man can be brave.”
― George RR Martin

On Tuesday, the nation will celebrate the 177th anniversary of East Indians arriving in Guyana.  One hundred and seventy-seven years since the first batches of East Indians arrived on the shores of Guyana aboard the Whitby and the Hesperus.
And in Grade Two, around this time, our project was to make a model of either the Whitby or the Hesperus. I remember those days (not so very long ago) when my Dad and I would painstakingly glue on sails to the masts and paint on tiny portholes onto the sides of the ships.
For me, building that ship was one of the things I liked the most about Indian Arrival Day.  We put a lot of effort into building that ship. We didn’t just build some generic ship – we built the Whitby. We did research to try to build the ship as accurately as possible. It made me reflect that this ship was something important. So as far as school projects go, that one was pretty thorough.
And for the other grades when we didn’t have to build ships, there was always a special effort by the teacher to teach something specific concerning the arrival of East Indians in Guyana.
But somehow, in secondary school, interest in the arrival of East Indians to Guyana waned. The holiday came and went relatively unremarked. The CXC even set exams on this day (as they have done again this year). There were no more assignments to build the Whitby or the Hesperus. Or even to reflect on why their “arrival” was necessary. We should think about those reasons for the neglect.
In history textbooks, there was probably only a single chapter dedicated to Indian arrival and heritage. You could blink and literally miss the entire topic of Indian Indentureship to the Caribbean. And yet about half-a-million souls arrived in the West Indies and the vast majority (almost 75 per cent) remained. Indians have contributed so much to our society and culture. Right off the top there is so much diversity presented to the Region in our dances and songs and music and food. Isn’t curried goat the national dish of Jamaica?? And how about the “ganja” that is now legalised in Jamaica – for “medicinal purposes” of course. And I’m not even going to delve into their contributions with regards to religions and philosophy. They deserve to be celebrated even more widely.
I’m Guyanese, I’m a Caribbean person – I’ve never even stepped foot in India. I’ll always support the West Indian cricket team over the Indian team without question. But the cultural practices, philosophy and beliefs that my ancestors brought and preserved from India, have shaped me, my ideas and my ideals. I am an Indian Guyanese. India may be my “Mother Land” but Guyana is my “Sacred Land”.
So for me, May 5 is an important day. It’s a momentous occasion. It’s the day that the first set of East Indians crossed the Kala Pani (Black Waters) and  arrived on our shores. It’s the day when they disembarked on an entirely different continent. It’s the day that everything changed for them – and for us in Guyana.
It’s the day that their old life ended and a new life began. For better or for worse, they were here, in Guyana, a whole ocean away from their old lives. And most of them left behind family members, and most of them, like my great-great-grandfather, never saw those family members again.
It must have been so traumatic to be transplanted from everything that was familiar to this completely alien land. But they pushed on, they survived and they prevailed. They made a home away from home. Let us not risk that home being destroyed.
They forged a new identity to cope with everything that they had to deal with. They showed courage and fortitude in the face of hardship. They pushed aside their fears to bravely make a better life for themselves and their descendants.
Happy Indian Arrival Day!

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