October 22, 2014

The changeability of weather

Back in primary school, along with “as white as snow”, we crammed the simile, “as changeable as the weather”. My voracious reading also made the ubiquitous greetings, “nice weather” and “good morning” untethered from their moorings as commentaries on the PHYSICAL environment. Our good old Guyanese “rainy season” and “dry season” were predictable enough, to not need comments.

And so it was, I never quite appreciated just how fickle the weather could be until I came to Trinidad. In the morning, if I peer out through my windows I could see that it’s pretty much bright and sunny – a picture perfect “Caribbean day”.

So could you blame me for donning a light dress and casual shoes? But then two hours later, stepping out of class, I’d wish I’d brought a raincoat, boots and umbrella so I could get home without coming down with pneumonia. Not “good morning”. I finally understood why the English always walked with umbrellas.

Yet I must confess that I love the rain. Not “walking in the rain” or, God forbid, “singing in the rain” for me, however. Yes, yes, I know libraries are filled with poetry about that experience. Call me humdrum.

Pneumonia, hypothermia, and such things don’t really excite me, thank you! I just love the rain when I’m in bed. Really! I’ve heard of the joys of the “patter of little feet” – but that’s a while away. In the meantime the patter of raindrops on my roof and window panes, do wonders for me!

Some of the most pleasurable moments of my life have been waking up when the rain’s just started to fall and then burrowing down into the sheets for a little more of that sweet slumber.

But there’s a downside – when you have to get out of bed to get ready for class. That’s when I start making bargains with myself, “I could sleep in for 10 more minutes and I’d still be able to make it to class in time if I take that shortcut to class. But that route gets a bit muddy in the rain. No! It doesn’t matter; sleep is more important (read, “luxurious!”) I’ll deal with the mud when I get there.”

It’s cruel and inhuman punishment, I think, having to leave one’s warm, comfy bed to deal with raging winds and torrential downpours. I mean, lying in bed, sometimes in that in-between reality connecting the dream world and this harsh one here: isn’t this when you have your most creative ideas?

The only problem is we don’t generally remember any of it when we’re awake. But we do retain that feeling of thinking “deep thoughts”.

I was very pleased to read later (in a Chemistry text, of all places!) that one of the greatest of discoveries in organic chemistry occurred to the scientist Kekule while he was dozing. I won’t bore you with the details (I bore that ordeal for you!) save that it had to do with a snake seizing its own tail. I frequently tell myself that I’m channelling Kekule when I’m trying to snag that extra 15 minutes of sleep.

At this rate, I may be well on my way to making some breakthrough discovery during one of my frequent naps. Nobel Prize, here I come!

But even with all of my kvetching about the weather, I have to admit that there’s something nice about sprinting home in the pouring rain, changing into dry clothes, putting on a cup of coffee, snuggling up under a blanket, and just listening to the rain pitter-patter across the roof.

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International Day of the Girl Child

“The pen is mightier than the sword” – Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Richelieu, 1839

Yesterday, October 11 was designated “International Day of the Girl Child” (IDGC) by the UN in recognition of the challenges faced by girls and their rights that are still being withheld.

Here in Guyana, we’ve come a long way from the days when girls were married off by 16 and not expected to complete school (and now we’re totally DOMINATING Schools everywhere, FYI. Whoo!).

But the thing is, we still do coddle (protect?) our girl-children as compared to our boys, don’t we?? Boys are allowed to stay out late, not expected to call to ‘check-in’ as frequently and generally allowed to do a lot more things than girls on the sole merit that ‘they’re boys’. I mean, girls do mature earlier than boys – you’d think we’d be treated as the more responsible ones. And besides, it’s a bit unfair to the boy-children if you’re just overprotective of your daughters – bad things can happen to boys as well. But I’m digressing from the topic on hand – IDGC.

In a move to empower girls, Womenfound, the Afghan Women’s Writing Project (AWWP) and the Huffington Post are all working together to publish the works of Afghan women and adolescent girls. And I think that that’s an incredible idea. Writing is amazing on so many levels. By writing frequently, it becomes so much easier to formulate your thoughts and articulate them whether through writing or public speaking.

But most importantly for these girls, I think, is that through writing, their voices can now be heard. Being allowed to write and put your views out there into the world, to share your opinions is an amazing privilege. And an even more incredible thing is when people actually read the things you wrote.

Over the holidays in New York, I ran into several people who told me they read my articles and every time that happened, I cycled through different emotions: first came confusion (do you mean me? My articles?), then incredulousness (you actually enjoy what I’m writing?), then sheer happiness (wow! I feel so special – people read the things I’m writing!) and then gratitude that people not only took the time to read what I wrote, but also to let me know how they felt about my writing.

So I think this is a truly admirable initiative by the AWWP and the HuffPo because writing really does empower the wielder of the pen (or computer, nowadays). Through writing you can say the things that you might be too scared or anxious about saying in a speech to 200 people. Through writing you can gain confidence. I love writing, and I really think more people should write more frequently – even if it’s just writing about your day in your Diary/Journal.

So pay attention to your girl child, not just on IDGC, but every day. Some of us are dainty princesses and some of us are Xena warrior princesses and some of us just don’t like the idea of royalty. We’re all individuals, built differently, with different hopes and aspirations and hopefully we can all be allowed the chance to follow our dreams. To quote Mark Wahlberg’s character in ‘The Other Guys’, “I am a peacock, you gotta let me fly!”

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Living in a cocoon

Going to school in a foreign country is sort of like living in a cocoon. First of all, there’re the physical barriers from the rest of the society. Here in Trinidad, we’re in dorms within the huge Mt Hope Medical Complex.

(It’s actually named after their first Prime Minister Eric Williams, but no one really calls it that.) It’s fenced off, sprawling and practically self-sufficient: Medical School, Dental School, Veterinary School, Women’s Hospital, Children’s Hospital, General Hospital – you name it and they have it.

And then my dorms are even further sequestered within this compound – protected by guards and yet another fence. So when my friends and relatives back home ask me about whether I’m affected by all the crime and shootings and kidnappings in Trinidad, I can say honestly retort with a straight face, “What crime??”

But there’s the even denser cocoon from the rigours of medical school. You literally stagger from exams to exams and you just don’t have time to break out of the physical cocoon even if you wanted to. I’ve noticed that even some of those students who’re from Trinidad, stay on dorms many weekends. A person has to recuperate!

But the existence of a third cocoon slowly dawning on me, one imposed by the powers-in-charge sticking dogmatically to the curriculum of the school. Now I suppose every course of study must have to impart a set body of knowledge to those who signed on. But I didn’t expect that real world challenges in the field you’re slogging away at – in my case, medicine – would be totally ignored.

Take this Chikungunya epidemic that’s swept the Caribbean – and has finally reached Trinidad. Even after The Dominical Republic reported hundreds of thousands of cases, and my native Guyana thousands, it hasn’t even earned a mention from my lecturers. We’re still sticking to the dangers of cigarette smoking in public health!

I’d like to preach about the dangers of the “killer sticks” as much as the next person –   but surely I think a medical student should have more than a passing acquaintance ABOUT a viral infection that’s most likely going to hit her and her friends sooner than later. When the acquaintance will be up close – and very personal!

And now there’s Ebola – one of the deadliest viral infections ever to have hit mankind. They say a variant might’ve been the cause of the Black Death that took the lives of countless millions in Europe in the Dark Ages. And not a word uttered in my cocoon. And the thing is, it’s getting closer to home, like Chikungunya. There’s the first case to have hit the west – in Dallas in the US. Well, my first cousin’s getting married in two weeks in Dallas.

Ironically, her dad, my Cha-Cha, works for one of the largest health companies in the world – Abbot Labs in Dallas. My school cocoon precluded me going up for the wedding, but my dad’s all booked and ready. But thank God for the Internet – subverter of the cocoon. You keep up on your own.

If any country might manage to contain Ebola – it’s the US. They have the money and logistical capability to conduct the mass quarantine that’ll be needed to prevent mass contagion like in West Africa. Remember that scary movie, Contagion?? It’s now become real life.

And this makes me worry about us in the West Indies. Are we going to be ready when the first case arrives here? As it certainly will? Well, probably not us in this cocoon called Medical School.

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Tying up history

I think I’d better get down on paper, the memory of my vacation in New York. Even though I’ve been back only some three weeks, things are already beginning to get hazy. With my lecturers insisting they really have to drone on for hours at a stretch, and days on end, I guess there’s only so much the old grey cells can retain!

One thing that struck me in New York City was the sight of so many Chinese tourists. They were everywhere – even upstate New York!!! And it wasn’t by chance. The New York tourism folks are sending all kinds of teams to China to snag a share of their US$100+ billion tourist market.

As one newspaper pointed out, the middle class in China is larger than the ENTIRE population of the US…and they have as many billionaires. That’s a lot off dough rolling around!!

Having ploughed through seven years of various courses in high school that bemoaned our (Caribbean) declining tourist trade because of the decline of the West, I wondered why we also haven’t gone after this alternative tourist market. Jeez!! If the Americans can try to lure Chinese tourists to New York – why can’t we?? Even the flyers handed out by the touts on 8th Ave hawking NYC Bus Tours and the Empire State Building, had Chinese calligraphy.

With so many relatives in New York, I had the opportunity to check out their secondary migration. One aunt lives in Poughkeepsie, up the Hudson Valley. Even though I hadn’t visited for nine years, I still remembered the hills and forested areas of that part of the state very fondly.

The streets of Jamaica, Queens can get a bit too much sometimes!! The visit didn’t disappoint. From the famous vaulted ceiling over the great hall of Grand Central Station (where that scene from Madagascar was filmed and from where we took the train up) to visiting the palatial homes of the Vanderbilts and Rooseveldts outside of Poughkeepsie, a different New York presented itself.

I’m not sure many New Yorkers realised that their State was once owned by the Dutch, and in fact only became British after the treaty of Breda back in the 17th Century when it was exchanged for Suriname!! (Who snickered why I had to write WI History? Ha! )

But if one took time to notice, there were signs of the Dutch presence everywhere in upstate New York – from the stone fences, to the houses, to the artefacts – not to mention the names of towns and places. Having coffee and cake in the picturesque European-like village of Rhinebeck was a highlight of the trip.

We also spent a night over in the town of Schenectady, near the state capital of Albany. This also brought back scenes from my books. This was the landscape that Fenimore Cooper described in (often painstaking) detail in Last of the Mohicans. This was the land of the Mohican Tribe. But today Schenectady can be seen as a snapshot of 21st Century America: its once great factories closed; its products “outsourced” to China; and its cities plunging into ruin.

The population of Schenectady has declined by a third from its heyday when General Electric (GE) produced turbines and generators that lit up the world. My cousin Devi drove me past the gargantuan GE factory – that once employed 40,000 but is now one tenth of that.

The abandoned houses in the city attracted thousands of Guyanese from New York City – and they have done a wonderful job of gentrifying large swathes of what were slums.

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Winging it

We’ve all been in situations where we’ve just had to wing it. You know…just doing something without any preparation or planning. On the fly. Sometimes we even put ourselves into those situations – we might’ve decided to procrastinate and leave everything to the last minute and bluff our way through a test or a presentation.

As students we do that a lot, usually patting ourselves on the back for pulling another fast one over our teachers. I don’t think we ever really got away with those slapdash attempts though, somehow I think our teachers knew. Maybe because our presentations were full of gems such as “Umm… well…umm…and then….like….yes well”. Faultless elocution, that.

Of course, sometimes we could find ourselves in a situation where, despite planning ahead, things still go awry and we have to just improvise our way out of the problem. In those instances, we have to try to be a bit more flexible, to be willing to accept things for being what they are, instead of how we want them to be.

And once we don’t spend time panicking about things not being exactly as we wanted them to be, and instead think up a new plan of action, we might be surprised that the end result might be better than expected.

Unexpected things will always come up and maybe in our preparations, we should start preparing ourselves to have to think on the spot or make quick decisions, instead of just preparing for a single event. It’s not the end of the world if you’re missing some ingredients from whatever you planned on cooking, just alter the dish and create something new.

And every day we’re thrust into new and unexpected situations. We could show up at a meeting, expecting other people to take charge, but for whatever reason, they just can’t. We could be the ones who step up to the plate. We can adapt to the new role of leader and sometimes, we’ll find that it’s a position we thrive in.

But improvisation can be difficult if you’re set in your ways or if you completely spazz out if things aren’t going completely to plan. It’s good to plan ahead, don’t get me wrong – I love planning and making nice organiSed, colour-coded timetables – but it’s when you put more importance on following the exact letter of the plan than doing the actual task that things become problematic. You have to be able to think on your feet and adapt quickly to changes around you or be able to tailor your approach to your particular situation.

And of course there are the little improvisations we make every day. Singing a song and can’t remember all of the lyrics? Most of us just make up new ones. Do the new lyrics always make perfect sense? Nope, but that’s fine since half of the pop lyrics out there don’t make sense anyway – and they were written by professionals!

All of the above, of course, has been prompted by my rather detailed, colour-coded plans for getting back into a school-mindset after that looooong holiday (mine started in May). That vacation! But then they do say, “Travel broadens the mind”, right? What was it that Robert Burns said?? “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men/Gang aft agley (awry)”.

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Man Up

By Anu Dev

There’s always been so much talk about “peer pressure,’’ usually in a lecture at school warning you to stay away from drugs, sex and wild partying – the trifecta of doom, we’ve been warned. But there has not been enough discussion about all the other pressures we’re faced with – pressure from our elders, our teachers, and society in general.

Of course, it’s important to remind everyone–especially adolescents with their young, impressionable minds–that peer pressure is very, very real. I mean, you spend so much time with your friends and lots of kids prefer to fit in instead of being the odd duck out. So naturally your peers can exert an enormous amount of influence over you. And that influence can be either positive or negative, depending on who you choose to hang out with.

But I want to speak a little about the pressure society puts on us all. Though we live in a world that supposedly hails individualism and free thinking, there’re always retorts like “man up!” and “you hit like a girl” thrown around all the time.

Now don’t get me wrong, I know a lot of the time those words are thrown around in light fun, without malicious intent, so I’m not about to pull out my soapbox and bullhorn and start denouncing the next person to tell a guy to “man up”. But still, words can have a lasting impact.

Everyone’s wired differently. A guy shouldn’t be any less of a man if he’s not into stereotypically “manly’’ things. And a woman shouldn’t be less of a woman if she’s not into all of those stereotypically “womanly’’ things.

Men are still pressured to be the main breadwinners of the household, to shoulder the responsibilities of the family. We’ve come a long way from when women were confined to the household; women have successful careers and are earning the big bucks.

But I wonder if most people will be as accepting of a “househusband’’ as they are of a “housewife.’’ I don’t see why they should have a problem though – men are just as capable of cooking, cleaning and taking care of children.

But even at the school level, there’s this pressure on boys to be cool and “manly.’’ Maybe that’s one of the reasons girls keep out-performing boys in school? While the boys have to find time for cricket and other sports and keeping up the façade of being “too cool to study,’’ it’s fine for girls to prop open a textbook, sit in a corner to study and get all wound up over wanting to do well for exams.

Boys seem to have to use that time to keep up with the latest video games and generally do other “boy things.’’

But boys and all of us have to take the time to think about the type of person we want to be today, five years from now, and even 10 years from now. Is it worth spending so much time to “fit in’’ if you become someone that even you can’t recognise?

Take a quiet moment to think about whether the things you do, or the things you want to do are things that you truly want or whether it’s what everybody else is doing. Don’t be afraid to flow against the tide, to be your own person, to captain your own destiny.

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Growing pains

When my own CSEC results came out in 2011, I’d been vacationing with my family in Suriname. I learnt about it, in what is now the old fashioned way — via the newspapers. This year, the Eduction Minister broke new ground – she personally streamed the results of the top 52 performers who’d secured 11 or more passes with Grade Ones.

My family were avid viewers over in New York, where we were now vacationing: my brother Abhimanyu had written 17 subjects at the age of 14 and “anxious” was not the word for us!!. Maybe me more than my kid brother! Abhi had always been special – and precocious. You know the saying, “You have to creep before you walk”? Well, he just dragged along on his (pampered) rump for a while and then blithely stood up and walked one day.

He started to read at the age of two and when he entered primary school at the age of six – he had to be placed in Grade Three. As his classmate Saskia Khalil recently reminisced on his Facebook wall after the CSEC results were announced, Abhi was already writing his notes in cursive at that time!

For him to enter school and skip Grades One and Two, he had to be evaluated by several officials in the Education Ministry. When he later placed 4th in the NGSA at the age of nine, the Chief Education Officer Genevieve Whyte-Nedd confessed that she’d opposed his entry – she hadn’t thought he’d be able to compete.

So Abhi, went on to Queens, and against the advice of his teachers and our parents, he decided to write 17 subjects. It’s possible he wanted to top me – who’d done 15. I’ve heard about these “sibling impulses”!!

Like me, he didn’t do any lessons, except for Spanish. But unlike me, he absolutely refused to seek assistance from our father – who I still lean from even now I’m in medical school. Forget about ME helping!! That was, and is, Abhi – fiercely independent and marching to his own drummer.

So Minister Manickchand announced the 11-plus achievers– and Abhi wasn’t on the list. We could see he was bitterly disappointed. When he was finally able to access his grades– he’d gotten 9 ones and 8 twos. Now I personally think this result was incredible – not only in absolute terms – (any 14-year-old securing 17 subjects has to be special), but because I knew Abhi didn’t really study. For sure not like how I did, three years ago.

And this is really what I want to talk about today. We hear a lot about boys not performing as well as girls and this year’s results prove that in aces – at least at Queens where the top 100 NGSA performers end up.

Among the 20 Queens students who secured 11 or more Grade Ones – not a single one of them was a boy!!! While I only have access to the Fifth Form friends who shared their Grades on Abhi’s Facebook page, it appears that he was the top performing boy this year at Queens. What is going on??

I can only report from what I saw with Abhi and his friends. Even though all of the friends went to lessons – the latter was seen as mostly a place to hang out. Then there were the other extracurricular activities – cricket, computer games – and in Abhi’s case, reading every book under the sun (and then some), but his schoolbooks. Whether it is a case of our method of imparting education is geared more towards girls (who are socialised to be more passive), or because we mature earlier – I wouldn’t be able to say definitively.

But I do know that Abhi finally buckled down during the three months his exams lasted. And I say – congratulations for doing what he did in that time!! Imagine what he and the rest of the boys could do if they hit the books like we girls did!

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Vacation

“In matters of healing the body or the mind, vacation is a true genius!

“What I did for my August vacation” – come September, the composition title that pretty much every school-child will expect to be asked to write on. It’s a wonder we don’t write one during the holidays preemptively so we can just lay back and relax when that assignment is given. On second thought, I know why. How many children ever actually do school-work while on vacation? There’s a reason that there’s a collective chortle at the Headteacher exhortation in her end-of-year speech to “crack open” our books during the summer.

I’ve never really seen the point of those essays though. They’re basically mostly just you listing off the things you did during the summer. “This vacation I visited the ______________ with my __________ and ______. It was very ____________. But the most fun was when we [insert thrilling anecdote]. I also ____________ and learnt how to swim.”

And so it goes as primary school children try to build up their essays to the required length – 250 words, I think? There’re only so many ways you can creatively list off all of your summer escapades. Besides, most of us are just so sorry the vacation’s over, we’re only fuzzily focusing on our work anyway. We’re mostly hankering back to those lazy “summer” days.

I mean sure, you usually fill your friends in on what you’ve been up to, but it’s not in perfect grammar and stilted English – it’s usually a loud babble of voices all speaking at once. I’ve always wished that one of my teachers could come up with a more creative topic to kick off the school year. Or a more creative way. There’s something called “Digital Humanities” that just hit the English Graduate Programmes in the US – it utilises all the new media and electronic techniques available now to create narratives. Maybe it’ll percolate back into the Caribbean soon??

But maybe in time I’ll grow nostalgic about those essays, as I’m already preemptively growing nostalgic about “August vacations”. I’ve been informed that adults don’t get three-month holidays just like that, to lounge about. (My Dad – and certainly not my Mom – never had a “nine to five” job…until last year!!!) Even though I know it’s not practical to have the entire world just vacationing about for three months, it would be kind of nice, wouldn’t it? Every one needs a vacation (and then a vacation from your vacation). Vacations are important. They’re the light at the end of the tunnel during an extra hard sustained period of school or work.

Vacations don’t have to be jet-setting to far-off countries – you could just relax and unwind at home. Like after our gruelling exams, all my friends and I had on our minds for after the exams was to sleep – no extravagant plans, just sleep. But then instead of sleeping, we stayed up into the wee hours of the morning catching up on all the shows and movies we’d missed out on, so I’m not sure if this is the best example of using your vacation to relax.

But anyway, the nice thing about vacations is that you can spend them how you want, you’re not chained to a desk working anymore – the shackles are off. Sleep or don’t sleep. Save up your money and then spend it on travelling, if that’s your thing. Catch up on that new book that you’ve been trying to read or binge-watch all the seasons of that TV show you’ve been dying to watch. Meet new people, meet old people, visit your friends and family. Do whatever’s your cup of tea. Drink tea even, if you’re into that.

So for everyone still on holiday, “Happy vacationing!” and for those of you whose vacations are already over, I hope you had a pleasant holiday.

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August Holidays!

It’s summer! The endless sun-filled holidays, that glorious time of the year when lazy days are the norm, you gorge yourself on junk-food and bathing is optional (Kidding! Or am I? No, I really am kidding. We love lolling in our bathtubs).

The holidays have always held that special allure. I guess because they’re like weekends, all stacked together, back-to-back for two whole months. It’s like TGIF times infinity.

And yes, the holidays are that time when you can run, jump, play cricket, climb trees. That time when you get to release all of that pent-up exuberance that you had to keep in while you slaved away at your Summerdesk during school.

But that doesn’t mean that as kids you should take ridiculous, life-threatening risks. There can be accidents, you know. Have fun in safer ways. You don’t have to swim in the deepest water to still have fun.

And for goodness sake, the Kerb Drill wasn’t taught to you in Primary School as just some cute rhyme. You need to observe it. Too often, during the holidays, I would see kids just darting across the road without even looking to see whether there’s any oncoming traffic.

When I started driving I noticed the carelessness of pedestrians even more, I guess because I have to be constantly alert to make sure I don’t knock over one of them casually drifting across the road. “Constant vigilance!” as Mad-Eye Moody would say.

But maybe their parents are giving them free rein to do as they please, to get their kids out of their hair for a few minutes. Maybe the parents are thinking about their childhood when they could freely play in the streets or climb trees relatively frequently. But times have changed; there are so many vehicles now that within minutes of you setting up the wickets, you have to clear them off the street for some car to pass.

It’s a bit more dangerous on the roads than in the ‘good old days’, so parents, give your kids freedom to have fun, but within reason.

You should seize the moment, don’t wait for tomorrow, do it today. Live in the moment. And no, I don’t mean you should go out partying wildly and getting wasted and emulating those people who justify it all by shouting ‘YOLO’.

What I mean is, kids, don’t waste your entire holiday sitting at the computer glued to Reddit or 9GAG- there’s a whole world out there.

And when you decide to venture outside, don’t go out with your ears plugged up with earphones as you walk down the street, trapped in your own music-bubble, bobbing your head to whatever tune you’re listening to. I know I’m guilty of having my ears plugged up on the bus, in the car, wherever and never bothering to unplug, even when someone is trying to speak to me- I just usually smile and nod to whatever they’re saying. And that’s not something that I’m proud of.

Basically what I’m saying is to form or intensify your relationships – with family, friends or neighbours – by doing things together.

And besides, when the holiday is over and it’s time to return to school in September, you’ll probably wish you had done something fun during the holiday. Plus, you’ll need something interesting to write about for those ‘How I spent my Summer Holidays’ essays you’re bound to be given by some incredibly imaginative teacher as soon as school re-opens.

And parents, your children will be home for the next two months, take time off from work and take them out on holiday somewhere. The holiday doesn’t have to be the South of France, it could be around Guyana- just spend time as a family. How many of you guys have seen the interior of Guyana, or Kaieteur Falls, or scaled a Guyanese mountain? As I’ve written before, Guyana is a wonderful place to tour- you just need to give it a chance.

And most importantly for this holiday, JUST.HAVE.FUN!!!

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Emancipation!

“Slavery is a weed that grows on every soil.” -Edmund Burke

This Friday, August 1 is Emancipation Day! Slavery was abolished 180 years ago. 180 years! That’s literally 10 times the amount of years that I’ve been alive! But yet oftentimes I wonder what has happened to the promise of that seminal event.

In Caribbean History, we spent a lot of time learning about conditions on the sugar plantations during slavery and after Emancipation. It was a descent into horror. We learnt about plantation society, about sugar manufacturing and we even had to build models of a typical plantation.

Most horrifyingly, we learnt about the slave trade, and about the terror of the Middle Passage which, when contra-posed against the societies from which the slaves were snatched, becomes an object lesson of “man’s inhumanity to man.”

I loved reading about the societies and cultures that were already established in West Africa, about the Kingdoms like Dahomey and Ashanti and about the Oyo Empire. There was so much rich culture, religion and art. I got lost in the stories and legends of the Akan religion.

When the Africans were brought to the Caribbean, they weren’t allowed to practise anything of their own culture. They weren’t even allowed to have families. They were forced into Christianity – after they were freed and it was conceded they MIGHT be human – and had to give up their own religions.

They were forced into a European social structure, where they would always be inferior striving to be what they could never be – white men and women. Never mind that they already had their own well-organised social structures for hundreds of years. I really can’t imagine what it would’ve been like living like that, being treated as being less than human. As chattel – someone’s property.

One of my favourite heroes in WI history was Toussaint L’Ouverture. To have a man – born a slave – take on the full might of one of the greatest European powers of the day, for the right to be free, was awe inspiring. He was indeed an “Opening”: the eventual independence of Haiti showed the path that every other colony had to walk. But yet we heard ad nauseum about the American and French Revolutions, but never about the Haitian Revolution.

I mean lots of people have the notion that you have to move on from your past completely in order to have a future. But that idea completely disregards the point we are our past: we are, in a word, our consummated past. And this is not just the past of our own short lives, but the past that has been transmitted to us.

History shows how families, countries, laws and institutions are formed, how they evolved and why certain ones have survived while others ‘bit the dust’. If a nation is just defined by its present- how shallow is that?

Look at how much our country and our people have survived and suffered through and yet we’re still afloat. We need to be aware of our past. We need to be aware of our heroes, of the adversities we overcame. We need to remember our heroes such as Cuffy and Quamina.

Think about how those who came before you struggled and fought for their freedom and how lucky we all are now, to be living free. We’re not enslaved, we’re not indentured: we’re living free, so it’s inexcusable if we don’t work hard to give ourselves the future we want- the shackles are off.

As our own prophet Bob Marley sang, “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our minds.”

Happy Emancipation Day!

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