I was twenty-one when I left Guyana, SA.
Guyana’s closest neighbor is Trinidad – last stop in the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean before you’re in South America.
I’m seventy-three now. And although only a vintage of what I was back then, people say I look young.
I enjoy their kind remarks, but the daily freeze-ups of my fingers remind me “Carlton be careful – you’re not that young anymore.” And I grin in wry agreement.
As warm weather comes around, and people see me roll up on my 1500 cc Suzuki Intruder – they remark “Wow – good for you – that looks like a ton of fun.” And I smile in agreement.
Later, as we part from a church or other community meeting, and as I put on my helmet, turn the ignition key, and my twin pipes gently roar, they smile again and “OK- be careful.”
Then as I smile and roll away, I muse “Seems they think unless they say that – I won’t.”
But “slowing down” had nothing to do with my motorcycle. Seven years ago, my wife and I were scheduled to fly to Denver, CO for business meetings.
A week or so before leaving, I did a mental preparation check, and decided on a surprise for Sam, my next-door neighbor. Decided I’d power-wash his house while he was at work. My neat retiree initiative.
The previous fall he’d had this bright idea. “Hey Carl, I’m going to buy us a power washer. You can go up and down our street – and we’ll be in business” My response was equally jovial, but I “chalked off” our chat as magic. The magic of another enjoyable Jersey harvest moon…
But two weeks or so later Sam rolled a gleaming red power washer across his lawn to mine.
And I realized he’d been serious. “Course I don’t have the room for it in my garage, so you’ll have to keep it in yours.” The following spring, I got out the machine and washed our home over two days between pool opening, and usual flurry of new season start-up chores.
Back then in 2014, I was a new retiree. After thirty – five years teaching computer assisted drafting and design in vo-tech high school. And I wasn’t really “sold” on the idea of a power washing business.
My loves are writing, cooking and landscaping. Plus, I’d been looking forward to replacing the bridge across the brook in our backyard. That way I’d begin the challenge of taking down some trees and starting to grow artichokes. Yup. I’m a well known lover of artichoke.
The Denver trip would take an entire week. Was why I wanted to surprise Sam before going. So, I rolled an aluminum ladder and the machine over to his house, filled it with gas, checked the oil, and began making his siding new again. In no time I’d finished the right side, moved the ladder over, climbed up, and got the left side done.
But as I was coming down, “haste made for waste”.
Looking back, I realize I’d put my foot too far off center on the rung – only about four or so feet above the ground. But the “ground” was concrete. That day, I learned a painfully hard, jarring lesson. About concrete and a light aluminum ladder …
It spun under me – and down I went – banging my head and left side on concrete. I felt badly shaken and limped home. After putting things away, I tried to lay down as I told Melva about my fall. She gasped. “Should we go to the emergency room?” I gestured “nah.”
Ten minutes later I did – realizing the “all over me pain” was getting worse. After being wheeled out of our home and into the ambulance, I looked up at its ceiling as the EMS prepped me for the hospital trip – and realized my “jack of all trades” days needed to be significantly – over and done. I’d cracked two ribs into my left lung.
Took two hours for Dr Becauge to halt his evening and return to Robt Wood’s ER. Before sticking a tube in my left lung, he said “We can avoid anesthesia and speed things up If you can stand the pain”. Funny, a doctor said the same thing over fifty years ago in General Hospital, Georgetown. I’d been accidentally shot the day after New Year’s. But that’s another story.
After two days walking around with a plastic box for the drainage from my lung – Becauge said I was fit to go home – with a floating ball breathing doohickey to keep tabs on my lung capacity.
OK – so you’re wondering – what’s all this got to do with Guyana and Trinidad? It’s a good question. But at age seventy-three, the question that occurs to me is the same one I mused on – at age twenty-one:
Why is racism still a problem in Guyana? ‘Course, it’s hypocritical to ignore racism is not “alive and well” in America. And I’ll never be able unsee a black man in an African country machete hacked to death – by blacks! And of course – to top it all off – Hotel Rwanda.
But we’re talking Guyana and Trinidad – I absolutely refuse to believe their sons and daughters aren’t way past the world’s averages of “stinking thinking” …
And I didn’t have to look far or hard for evidence. In “Conflict between East-Indian and Blacks in Trinidad and Guyana – Socially, Economically and Politically” Hookumchand’s timely work is transparent, enlightening, and for me – very encouraging:
“When I look in the mirror, I ask myself, Guyanese, Indian what am I? I landed in Guyana by accident. I think my view is warped because of my life experiences in the United States, where it is no longer important what race I am, but essentially that I am not Caucasian.
In comparison to others while most see themselves by race first, I see myself as simply, Guyanese. People both Indian and black in Guyana and Trinidad fail to acknowledge how similar they truly are and only focus on their differences and that is sad. They share similar cultures, celebration of Carnival, foods, and customs“. Intro to Caribbean History. May 18, 2000. guyana.org/indiansandblacks. Gabrielle Hookumchand Professor Moses Seenarine Accessed 4/28/20
Apart from the stellar transparency of Hookumchand’s: “I think my view is warped because of my life experiences in the United States, where it is no longer important what race I am, but essentially that I am not Caucasian. In comparison to others while most see themselves by race first, I see myself as simply, Guyanese” – we’re awed and wonder – has this excellent work been shared elsewhere?
These are the kinds of cultural nuggets of courage and clarity needed in Trinidad and Guyana. Arguably, their diasporas outnumber the local populations. Such being the case, the enlightened expatriates should export their awakening.
The chutzpah or gumption they doggedly employed to avoid “stinking thinking” are needed “back home. The avoidance of stinking thinking – of “Appan-jaat” is now way past crucial. Curbing the asinine cancers of racism is now long overdue. It is ravaging the potential of our origin countries.
Why is racism in Trinidad and Guyana rampant? How can it be curbed, if not cured?
Like the majority of humankind’s evil, its discovery begin in the mirror. It’ll only take you a quick reading of what follows – to agree the writer is either malevolent – or at their time of writing – yet to benefit from an opportunity to cross the Atlantic …
“I object to being black. Indian belong to the Caucasian or “white” race… why then call Indians black?”… You the Black Power members are asking us to join you in your march for power. Your sudden interest in the East Indian sugar worker is viewed with suspicion… We are not prepared to support you.” Ibid.
While immigrants from Trinidad and Guyana would find “I object to being black. Indian belong to the Caucasian or “white” race… why then call Indians black?” – sufficiently funny to cause pain in the belly from laughing – it’s anything but a laughing matter.
Rather, it’s more than ample evidence to prompt our diasporas to do more than wishful thinking about the catastrophic cancer of racism at home.
Hookumchand opined: “The Black Power leaders underestimated the importance of these divisions and failed to provide the necessary groundwork within the Indian community. The term “black” moreover, generally referred to persons of predominantly African descent. Most Indians did not regard themselves as being black. Ibiden.
With regard to “the necessary groundwork” it’s helpful to realize the main difference among the two prominent races in question is – hair. And intuitively, we recall seeing people who changed, covered or cut their hair when they realized they were the minority in an audience, function, setting, or otherwise homogeneous group.
These crucial times require clear thinking ...
The records of Spanish, French, Dutch and British colonialists who plundered for the gold of sugar and the diamond of oil – need to be in our history books. Or we’ll repeat their crimes. But far worse is now rampant. After these many years – who’d believe racism would still be blinding and blighting Guyana and Trinidad?
Evidently, it’s time to imagine the blessings and beauty of bald.
We may not need to cut our hair. But Jesus advises “And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. Matt. 5:30.
Our countries have endured the hell of mindless, evil racism for far too long…
Compared to a hand, cutting off hair is a “cake walk”. And the men from Guyana and Trinidad who cross the Atlantic can easily vouch for the relative ease to acclimate on this end of the “pond” by “close cropping” their hair. And:
… like the mountains, the sea and the rivers – great wide and deep their lives are continually becoming.
No. If you choose not to – don’t feel pressured to “cut off” your hair.
But please, for the sake of Guyana’s and Trinidad’s rich heritage and splendid promise of a bright, unified future – the next time you see a sister or brother whose main difference is their hair – please imagine them and you – bald – and ever so beautiful!
God’s richest and continuing blessings for you and yours!
Carlton, aka Dr. B