Friday, November 30, 2012

2012 Edgar Mittelholzer Memorial Lecture

These Lectures were organised 2yrs after Mittelholzer's death in 1965 by AJ Seymour. They have been staged sporadically, since presumably there is a dearth of writers to maintain a good enough academic standard as a fitting tribute to the man who can be considered the first 'born-Guyanese' writer - Egbert Martin  publishing poems in 1883 being in a different category ( he wrote the last stanza of the British National Anthem).
It was mentioned that VS Naipaul said that writers are necessary to record the nation's history and experiences- the actual quote from 'An Enigma of Arrival' : 'Men need history; it helps them to have an idea of who they are.'    and I remembered that Chinua Achebe was provoked into writing his classic novel 'Things Fall Apart' after reading the derisive account of a Nigerian by an English writer and Chimamanda Adichie's  thoughts: -- so easy to stray off my subject...
Both UG lecturers who did presentations moaned that the town of new Amsterdam where Mr Mittelholzer hailed from showed no evidence of him-- not even a major street name? - but that New Amsterdam exists for perpetuity through his writings. Sadly like most Caribbean writer from that era, he was not appreciated in his lifetime and committed suicide in 1965. Interestingly he had to become a 'writer in exile' to be taken seriously-- there is a local writer who thinks ex-pat Guyanese writers writing about their Guyanese experience ought not to be considered Guyanese and be eligible for National Prizes and Awards!
So the topic of this lecture was Guyanese Literature, Magic Realism and the South American connection. Pauline Melville noted that we tend to align ourselves with the Anglophone Caribbean instead of tapping into the wealth of the South Ammerican connection. But interestingly in Mittelholzer's classic book 'My Bones and My Flute' - that tapped into one of 'the local spirits' - Dutchman and the even older pre-Columbian Amerinidan flute. She noted that the environment tends to influence writers in addition to what they have previously read. The Latin American environment and particularly Guyana where the popular 'hassar' or flat-headed armoured catfish has been known to walk at the speed of man towards a new pond for quite a distance, lends itself well to 'magic realism' but in fact could just be the realism of a different sort. She noted also that the language of the ancient/first peoples in the Americas lent itself well to explaining the Theory of Relativity as expounded by Einstein rather than the rational 'standard' languages and ended calling for more Guyanese writers and particularly women to express themselves.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Open Spaces

So I was being driven home past the Parliament Buildings last night and noticed the the open space right opposite the said building fenced off with metal railings (it also registered recently that the Non-Aligned monument down the road also had metal railings to prevent people from removing the stone busts out of sheer 'worthlessness'). 
While I admire an acquaintance trying to change things that didn't seem right to her, I reflected sadly that loss of open spaces within an urban environment can affect us subtly in ways we might not be aware of. I digress to remember being in Halls of Residence in my fourth year after leaving Guyana to study and how I became aware I was grateful that I was high enough and on the 'right' side to look out directly onto a patch of open space while surrounded by the concrete jungle of the Barbican. That patch of green remained through the winter months and it was the first thing my eyes looked at and unconsciously looked for while looking out of the window. Now that I think about it Parks in England have had to fence off over the years to prevent the indigent from camping out and sadly likewise in Guyana where it seems the amount of people unable to cope with the 21st Century have increased.
I mentioned my acquaintance because having a high social awareness she was active in leading the 'camping outside' Parliament and 'deter Chris Brown from coming to Guyana' protests. Unfortunately she is also convinced that the HPV vaccine is not a good thing and her next pet project is to get Medical Terminations of pregnancies done through the Public Health system. As trained personnel don't just drop out of heaven this would realistically not be feasible until another 3-5yrs or so but there ought to be some sort of Forum where citizens can voice their concerns and direct all that energy and passion as my view is I prefer to hear them rather than the horrible apathy at seems to pervade and suck all the Life Energy out of you.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Show them how it's meant to be New York!

I note in today's Stabroek News that the teenager who performed exceptionally well at High School and was rewarded with a car by his parents had the book thrown at him up in NY where the family had migrated.
A brief recap of the story - the 17yr decided to go driving in Long Island at 3am with three other friend after they had smoked marijuana. As a provisional driver he needed to have another licensed driver in the car with him. Of course a cocksure young male would speed and subsequently lost control of his vehicle at a tricky turn - the three friends died. The papers reported that last Friday he was charged with aggravated vehicular homicide, vehicle manslaughter and driving while impaired with drugs (Ha to Colorado who just passed State Laws allowing personal use quantities of marijuana!) and could face 25yrs in jail-- unlikely to have to serve the full sentence in America's overcrowded jails- AND the parents were both fined a small nominal fine with the possibility of jail-time.

Now I didn't read of any protesting, burning down buildings etc-- the people accepted their penance for their stupidity meekly. Not so in Guyana where it seems the more aggressive you are on the Roadways 'you win'. It is de rigueur for ignorant males ( usually) to be cruising along with a cell phone here on the Streets of Guyana, frequently past a Traffic Cop-- I have heard of instances where people have been charged but it's usually the ones the Police think they can bully - shame the same treatment is not meted out across the Board, in a small country-- it's usually who you know who can get you off the hook.

Ironically in the same papers - very next page in fact-- there was a photo of World Day of Remembrance of road traffic victims. With the Government being proud of the fact that they have no viable Public Transport Policy and that carownership has exploded within the last two years while no planned major improvements on roads designed for limited traffic plus the perception that the general level of intelligence seems to have dropped inversely proportional to aggressive behaviour - as exemplified by the current lot in Parliament on all sides, we are all set for a SERIOUS rise in Traffic Accidents.

It's not like we don't have sensible Laws, simply that they are not enforced and the Courts are a joke - you get the feeling that the mice are in charge, the cats gave up and migrated  leaving just the Fat indolent ones!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Trekking to the Top of Roraima -1

Strange how sometimes the most incredible things that we do, we do without thinking too much of it -- like producing a child (women), met a guy who casually said he designed a water system to move water from a stream about 70m to a house above in the interior and I trekked to the top of Roraima from the Venezuelan side with my unfit self complete with weak knees and ankles!
The top of Roraima is said to be one of the wettest places on earth due to the almost constant billowing clouds and frequent rainfall. Standing at the highest point of Guyana where the borders of Venezuela and Brazil meet, it is roughly 2700m high, being flattened on the top - called a tepui in these parts (mesa in the US, table-top in South Africa) which means temperatures often fall below freezing when the sun is not present.                
Odd Rock formations and ever-present mist

The top of Roraima on the Guyana side--  too rough for even a helicopter to land
The adventure started in Lethem where we got conned/persuaded to change money into Rials being told that it was a better rate of exchange here than in Venezuela (wasn't) but as we had the Time and now Brazilian money we eschewed a taxi directly to the Venezuelan border for the Public Transport bus from Bom Fim to Manaus where, we were told that we could get another bus to the border. Mich chatted up an Amerindian man and his family to find out how we should pay and we were blown away at the low cost! Unfortunately when we got there we discovered that we had JUST missed the Bus to the Border which apparently decided to leave early. Spirits still up we booked into a hotel near the station whose charges ate up whatever we saved on the taxi (and more!) and wandered out into the rainy night to one of the open-air eating places-- Brazilians love to eat al freso.
The next day we got the bus to the Brazil-Venezuela border and the scenery was pretty spectacular in places once we got off the savannah lands so I was glad we travelled during the day. The bus was freezingly cold! A quick snack and then we walked to catch a couple of taxis to get into Venezuela with another Brazilian/Guyanese Amerindian family. Our main thought was to not get conned so we pretended to be part of the family-- the border Guards obviously need spectacles because we obviously didn't look like the family in ANY way but I can now sleep easy knowing how secure the Borders are from the Druggies and Terrorists. The taxi dropped us off to the hotel in St Elena which was tightly locked - we tried calling at the family house opposite but the woman had apparently gone out.  Not wanting to look like the obvious tourists that we were we booked into the competition next door-- Hotel Michelle then wandered up the road to the Square, took some pictures of the inevitable Simon Bolivar, chatted with a Spanish woman selling trinkets to finance her 3yr South American tour and collapsed gratefully into a Chinese Restaurant for a meal.
Siesta time over, we made contact with our Tour Operators and found out that one of Mich's previous work colleagues was one of the Porters!   

Opting for the easy way out-- we agreed to pay Carlos to lug our main backpacks up the mountain - money well spent I may add - and then wandered around to check out the shops - walked to someone's home that was a living museum of the some of the Crystals found on top of the mountain - depend whether you believe they have mystical properties or not but we took turns to stand in the Circle and absorb some energy - nothing like making sure you have all bases covered for coming down in one piece!