Monday, August 27, 2012

Afternoon at the Races

Port Mourant Turf Club billed their 6th Guyana Cup as the biggest Horse Racing event in Guyana.
Apparently my family used to own a Racehorse when my mother was a child as she remembers dipping her fingers into the bucket of molasses for the Horse -- she looks normal so I guess they weren't into 'spiking the mix' back in de day. I have vague memories of being dragged to 'The Races' - the crowds in the Stands, the interminable waiting and the Horses thundering past in a cloud of dust.
My neighbours, rapidly gaining confidence with their new car wanted to explore a bit and decided to join me up there as I was attending a Wedding. One couple came with their 8yr and 1yr old and the other couple came by themselves. We aimed to get there for 1pm and that was good timing as there was the inevitable late start, unfortunately this year saw the largest Crowd and the Stand was filled by the time we got there - just in time for the starting of the first Race.

 We ended up standing in front of the Announcers/VIP stand by the fence.
I thought the price was a bit steep (Gy2000=US10) for a mere spectator sport, where you have to stand in the sun to get a view. In fact-- one needed to be elevated to see across the field to see the start- and if the Stand/s were filled what were you paying for?
My neighbours and I are clearly not cut out for the spectator thing - as we weren't into gambling, didn't know the Horses, weren't Local- didn't 'know' people, didn't drink to get drunk and got bored after the second Race and left!
As usual it was the charm of thr Guyanese crowd that made the day as a sweet 13yr old stood back while my neighbours pushed in front of her and her 5yr old sister. Turns out that they were waiting for the 8th Race when their first horse would run, they had a second horse running later. She worked out that we were not Locals and shared a borrowed Program to explain the finer details of Horse-Racing to me - pointing out the jockey on a beautiful grey horse was her cousin and that the top jockey had broken his foot last year when his broken bone punctured his skin and the second Race was his first Race back! There was some sort of Upset for the punters as the favourites did not win either of the first two races- both winners winning unambiguously, the first most appropriately named Saviour!

The horses were magnificent to look at though
And the official Betting booth was crowded:
though the unofficial gambling was also doing a brisk trade:
Apparently after each Race all the unofficial gamblers run onto the Track and do business:
requiring the Police to chase them off the Track
before the next Race and delaying up things considerably:
Of course, the Police themselves need to clear the Track:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Now for something different....Africa

Thanks to BBC radio, learnt of the tragic case of Samia Yusuf Omar – the Somalian female runner - who took part in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.  With the rise of the Islamic fundamentalists and the general descent of Mogadishu into a warlord-run turf, woman’s sport was probably one of the last things that they would be interested in. Sadly what happened - she tried to reach London independently and travelled over-land to Libya with the support of her overseas relatives—one of whom was a sister living as a refugee in Finland - where against the advice of her mother, she took a migrant ship which ran aground in Italian waters. The Italian navy apparently using the latest European technology, being one of the main countries having to deal with illegal migration, threw them a rope and 6 women and 1 man died while crawling across – Samia one of them. I just thought how much of these stories that we never hear about—the daily struggles of the common folk to see some sort of future. 
Also, what’s sad – those Somalian women who became world-famous like the model and actress who had married the singer David Bowie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali whose books we read in the Bookclub, who seemed not prepared to help their sisters in tragedy and use their fame to start some sort of Foundation to improve the lot of women back in Somalia- I admit not an easy task to try and make sense of the mess back home.
I note the various medical ‘outreaches’ of Overseas Guyanese – something is better than nothing, but for chronic diseases, surely helping people to make better choices – the primary one as I can see is eating properly – the odd shot in the dark is just a Bandaid maybe better to support of National Policies – like giving the Gardasil vaccine to girls before becoming sexually active (Guyana has one of the highest rates of cervical cancer in the region/world even?).  It is very difficult to encourage people to take responsibility for themselves when the general atmosphere is ‘grab it now before it’s gone’.  There is room for both types of aid—as far as I can recall it was the Remote Area Medical team (overseas –based doctors volunteering their precious two weeks vacation to run volunteer clinics in Guyana’s interior) that highlighted the high incidence of genital warts/cervical cancer back in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s but of course the Government may want to claim credit with the improved Health facilities and training of more Medexes.
The Ethopian Prime Minister died at a relatively young age of 57 – he apparently came to Public  Notice in mid-1980’s – around the same time I met a pretty Ethopian student who surprised me with her reaction to my sympathetic mutterings about the awful famine rampant in Ethopia at the time – she informed me that in fact Ethopia was exporting their staple grain! Bob Geldof arranged Band-Aid around the same time.  So this PM takes credit for Ethopia’s impressive 11% growth rate in the last few years, the war with Eritrea back in the 1980’s and the large-scale ‘leasing’ of Ethopian land to the Asian neo-colonists (China and India) and its attendant miseries not really highlighted.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Guyana: A National Cesspool of Greed,Duplicity & Corruption I( A Remigrant's Story) by GHK Lall

The wordy title alone gives an indication of both content and style of this book. By the end of Chapter 1, after a Foreword, Preface,Author's Note and Prologue I had to put the book down for a little rest. I recall a friend who read it saying to me that it needed editing.

Purely by coincidence, if there's such a thing ordained by the Universe, I happen to be reading about Aristotle's works and was on the part about his 'Politics' and was impressed how a statement by Transparency International,Guyana mirrored his view: 'The bond which holds men together in states, says Aristotle, is justice,  "and the administration of justice, which is the determination of what is just, is the principle of order in political society....Man when perfected is the best of animals, but when separated from law and justice, he is the worse of all."
Um, so while we're off-topic - 'a government formed from a middle class of moderate and sufficient property is preferable to "those who have too much of the goods of fortune,strength,wealth, friends and the like" who will establish a despotic oligarchy (PNC? nouveau PPP?) or to 'the very poor, who are in the opposite extreme," from whom will come a degenerate form of government , with power in the hands of the poor and uneducated (current PPP?)'.     He further stated that the 'principal motives for revolutions are: a universal passion for privilege and prerogative; excessive insolence or avarice on the part of the rulers; too great concentration of power in one or more individuals; attempts to conceal the misdeeds of men guilty of wrong-doing; disproportionate increases - territorial, social, economic, or otherwise  - of any part of the state at the expense of the rest; dynastic and family feuds and quarrels and the struggle for office and political power between rival classes and political parties' - mmm Guyana seems ripe for something!

So back to the book-- Ch 2 dealt with the further dealings with the GRA in getting his vehicle and personal effects released from the Wharf and obtaining a Driver's Licence. He grudgingly admits that the latter process was faster then that in NY and I have to say the British did good work in updating the archaic system in both the Driver's and Vehicle Licences obtainable at Smyth Street in a rather run-down building - sad that he ascribed the smooth/fast process to his 'help'
I felt a great deal of sympathy reading about his encounters with City Hall and greedy relatives but wondered how much he contributed to, in his words, the monster - his naivety in believing someone saying 'doan tek wurries' and handing over a Power of Attorney to an already suspect relative surprised me and I thought he was lucky that they didn't move to change the deeds of his relatively recently-purchased house when he returned to NY to sort out personal matters.  Which reminds me of what I thought was the most enjoyable aspect of the book - his capturing the local dialect, sarcastic asides and dubbing people who annoyed him with derogatory but appropriate names... hence the appearance of Lucrezia and Arnold Benedick, I was amused at his caution of avoiding Slander by even changing the characters' spelling!   By Ch 9 he acknowledges his naivety and his contribution to it, however three years later in Guyana he pragmatically pays whatever is necessary to get the rest of his personal effects cleared but ends up paying the 'commercial' not 'personal effects' price- roughly 4x the price and I wondered if it was deliberate, as by then his self-righteous tones might have reached petty, upper ears!
Ch12 I found most interesting as it dealt with the whole Education mess-- a microcosm of the mess being repeated all over and I liked his observation about the Goverment's weak stance on the matter as there was an AFC supporter writing enthusiastically about the young vibrant Minister doing good things in that field where anything is better than nothing but I didn't think over-the -top-praise for just doing what you are supposed to merited such a response.
On the whole the book reflected the Guyanese reality - he tried to end on an optimistic note, asking what can be done -- but acknowledging that what's left is the remnants of a once-moral society- the plaintive moanings of a generation looking back with sadness at what we've become. Today's parents have a lot more outside influences to counter.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Cause for alarm....

The results of the Regional school-leaver exams for 15/16yr old came out this past week- this Blog was delayed as I tried to find out the pass-rate for Trinidad and Barbados in English A and Mathematics to use as a comparison-- no joy on the CXC Website and was informed by an Education Officer here that they would not release that to me - a non-person, even if I emailed them.
So the cause for alarm is: the pass-rate for Guyana has dropped in English A from 60.8% last year to 37.02% this year - that is--  passes in Grades1-3; and in Mathematics from 30.4% last year to 29.69%.

A similar drop occurred in Jamaica in these two subjects and in the absence of Data from Barbados and Trinidad where one would have expected better pass-rates, one can only surmise that there was a similar decline as the overall pass in the Region in English A was 47% achieving Grades 1-3! One also assumes the pass-rate for Mathematics is so embarrassingly low that they are skirting around the issue and not publishing...?

This does not bode well for the future if 16yr-olds cannot cope with a syllabus revision which placed more emphasis on reading and comprehension as this would impact every other 'subject' - so in fact although the overall pass-rate in Information technology improved to over 80% getting Grades 1-3, it was noted that  many students resorted to unnecessarily re-writing the question demonstrating poor examination technique! I remember failing or getting substantially poor marks because I was too embarrassed to ask what 'neonate' meant in my first-year Biology paper in university so fudged around the question: so I can totally sympathise with students being confronted with words or phrases they may not have encountered as Reading for pleasure is a declining pat-time and I have heard the younger folk say they only read if they have to - ie for school work.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Passing the time.......

So, drifting in the flotsam of Guyana, juggling my sitting on the fence act and trying not to thread on anyone's toes while trying to amuse myself... a friend thought this would be right up my Street as he thought my Blogs were veering towards the bitter side and forwarded an invite to a Book Launch titled:

Apart from the people with vested interests like the Newspaper people, Kaieteur News founder himself giving a little speech decrying the rise of the Corrupt, there were only about 25 people, not counting Mr Austin of Austin Book Services, the only Bookstore in Guyana, and now where the book can be found - the latter was praised for being non-partisan although I understand he had refused to stock 'The West on Trial' - a Guyanese Classic praised by Left-leaning University professors in other parts of the World but Guyana.  I was acutely aware that I myself was there at the invitation of a friend who had got invited, although Mr Lall was gracious in thanking me for attending.
Mr Lall gave a little summary about how he came to write the book but I was a bit disappointed that the usual practice of reading a few sections from the book was not carried out. Apparently I was sitting next to someone who had been given a copy to review and they said that they read in all in 6 hours non-stop and  that it pretty much reflected Life in Guyana today without much exaggeration.
Having said that, Mr Lall mentioned that his reputation apparently preceded him and his request for a venue was rejected so he was careful not to name people directly using Mr Austin as an example saying that it would be unethical to name him if he had - say- refused to stock the book that the correct thing to do would not mention that he had done so, as that was his right and privilege as the only Bookseller in Guyana and thus thanks to his his non-partiality we can access Mr Lall's book.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Segu by Maryse Conde

Like Roots, a novel that traces the fortunes of an aristocratic family for three generations during the turbulent period of 1797-1855-ish when traditional African customs came under threat from larger conquering forces-- Islam from the northeast and later Christianity from the West.
The novel is realistic in that the characters all become rather bitter towards the end of their lives when their unfulfilled ambitions, hopes and dreams come to nought, in fact I thought the ending was quite appropriate.  It was good to get a picture of life in Africa before/not from a White perspective ... I was fascinated by the reincarnation and psychic connections but wondered how much of that was the writer's imagination. The role of the women was also interesting - the power of the first wife, the acceptance of polygamy and the concubines and the acceptance of other children not birthed as your child. Yet the women learn to operate within this set-up, an ex-slave becomes a powerful Marriage-arranger and her daughter boldly proposes to the second son. A young captured Yoruba girl learns trade in Brazil and returns back to Africa. In fact, that latter fact surprised me as I did not realise that a sizeable number of slaves returned back to Africa. Sadly the discrimination between African people with the perception that a lighter skin and non-kinky hair was somehow better also started.
I wondered if any of the characters mentioned - several notable people who lived during that period  were worked into the novel- had their Tombs destroyed by the fundamental Muslims in Mali recently.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Evening with the GHS and trolling Stabroek Market at night

Evening with the GHS and trolling Stabroek Market at night

A very interesting couple of hours was spent with the Guyana Heritage Society under the kind patronage of a Dutch historian now resident in Guyana. He arranged for the screening of a Dutch documentary of the a letter sent by the wife of the Dutch Governor of Essequibo in the late 18th Century to her 12yr old son going to school in Holland- Friesland in Northern Netherlands. Apparently Governor Trotz’s family originated from the part of Germany now in Poland and they had about 80 slaves (African) who either took up that name and/or intermingled with the family over the course of time. Interestingly, the 12yr old son who grew up in a relatively affluent lifestyle in Holland eventually returned back to Guyana and subsequently died in 1839.

It personalized the settlement of the Dutch and brought into focus the rivalry between the English and the Dutch in the 17th and 18th Centuries as this letter was among 4,000 or was it 40,000 recently ‘discovered’ in the archives of an English museum, apparently seized from Dutch ship returning to Holland. They traced one of Governor Trotz’s descendants whose life sort of mirrored that of the letter-writer’s in that she has been living in Brazil for the past 20yr and her son was in the Netherlands completing his education.

They also managed to trace a local who said that his family had been told that they were the descendants of the then 12yr old son—Adrian. I was amused at the part of the documentary where they interview a current Mr Trotz on his patio, his house being larger that most in Holland and very tastefully furnished and the questioner from Holland asked him how he felt to be a possible descendant of Governor Trotz who was white and he, the current Mr Trotz was obviously not – he did a double-take and tactfully replied about the interactions between the races/cultures.*The current Mr Trotz then asked for the floor after the presentation and said Guyana is/should become a big melting pot where distinctions should be irrelevant in the aspiration to become One Nation, One People, One Destiny – although that motto may have been foisted on us- or words to that effect. Two friends commented afterwards that they both wondered if the current Mr Trotz had any of the same genes as the blond descendant and I thought to myself it would have been interesting to trace the African side back to see how and when the two races intermingled,  as it was common for slaves to take the name of their masters.

We were then invited to try some Dutch Schnapps – nothing less than 30% alcohol. I tried three and while burping it reminded me of the raw Raki. A little tipsy, I agreed to follow a friend who was going to her regular Friday night market-shopping at Stabroek Market. The place was bustling at 8.45pm – it is a whole new world…. A woman from the Opposition was trying to whip up a small crowd of people by Idaho, the firemen were liming outside the Firehouse, wholesalers and small farmers had spread their wares out on the Stelling Road. Most things seemed cheaper.

* Ran into Mr Trotz and I complimented him on his house and he ruefully told me that the Producers were playing on the fact that the Trotzs were bigshots back in de day and used the Patio of a local hotel to film!!