“Coolie girl! Coolie girl!”
It’s not me he’s calling; it’s his mother.
“Dat is your mother?” I’m disbelieving. First of all- she doesn’t look remotely ‘coolie’. Secondly- she doesn’t look old enough to be this grown rastaman’s mother. But she comes over and confirms that yes, he’s her son. Ohk! She’s wearing a t-shirt with the Guyanese coat of arms on it, with that One People, One Nation, One Destiny slogan that slays me every single time. Primarily because we are so fucking far from realizing it.. the Guyanese tragedy..
“My grandmother- her mother- was named Doreen. She had hair like yours..”
Whenever I hear the name Doreen, I always think of my aunt. Not a blood aunt, not like that matters. She was there throughout my childhood, making our birthday cakes and special occasion outfits, dispensing hugs, kisses, and sweet treats every time we visited. When the cancer struck, I was glad that I was back in Guyana to be with her through those final days. Hearing her tossing and turning at night, begging the Almighty to take her, I brought her some ganja, hoping it would help her sleep. But decades as a policeman’s wife had instilled in her a block too firm to be removed and the herb stayed in the dresser drawer until her death; then I used it to ease my sorrow. All this comes back to me at the mention of his grandmother, another Doreen.
I’ve been reducing my social media interaction for months, primarily because I’m unable to deal with the vitriol there. Covid-19 and the stay home/social distancing guidelines have also been manna to my soul. Nevermind that I live in Lusignan- home of the big PPP posey, numerous cocaine lords, drag racing coolie youth, and refuge of the Guyanese Critic. To protect and preserve my sanity and wellbeing, I’ve created a cozy little bubble of love, plants, animals, and books. But there’s no escaping; shit seeps in, burning eyes like teargas. Because I hadn’t gotten on Facebook earlier, it was after 1130am when I saw the post about the protest. I hadn’t planned on leaving the safe haven of my yard but.. there I was, three buses later, making a beeline for Cuffy, scanning the crowd for others like me. Knowing full well that even though people might look like you physically doesn’t mean they’ll think, talk, or act like you, or like what you think/say/do..
I heard the chants before I reached- “What do we want? Justice!” Standing silently with my Black Lives Matter sign, I shake my head at the reporter who asks if I want to speak with her. No. I’m afraid of what might come out my mouth if I start talking. The sign really says what I think is important anyway. Plus I’m more interested right now in counting how many other Indian people are present. I look to my right, then left, then in front, then behind. There are well spaced lines of people, most wearing masks. Surprisingly, there’s virtually no foolice presence- a huge contrast to all the other protests I’ve been part of which usually garner multiple foolice staring us down, copying what’s written on our placards into their notebooks, asking for the organizer, etc. But today, amazingly, aside from two lone ranks, there’s absolutely no sign of any official foolice presence!
Also missing in action, as far as I can tell, are my Indo-Guyanese brethren. Oh, I see some straight hair- long, purple hued- clearly paid for by the owners. But very few natural ones. Finally, I spy a girl in the back. She might be Indigenous though; the mask makes it a bit difficult to know for sure. Then I see an older woman, then a guy. Ok, so that’s 4, including me. I keep scanning and counting. And sighing. I didn’t run out of fingers. Maybe they didn’t know about it. Maybe, like me, they only found out at the last minute and couldn’t drop everything and rush to town. Maybe they’re waiting for more information. Maybe they’re scared of Coronavirus and crowds. Maybe they feel safer commenting from afar, behind a screen. Many maybes swirl in my head..
I’m happy to see the sizeable turnout. I remember a Red Thread picket from a decade ago, after a 14yr old teenage boy was tortured by the police in Leonora (Irfraud’s hometown, incidentally). You didn’t have to be a parent to be horrified by the image of the burnt genitals of this young boy, imo- you just had to be a decent human being. But appallingly, although this was front page, national news, most people averted their eyes and passed us straight, instead of joining our stand against this heinous crime. The PPP was in power then, as now, and people were scared. https://www.inewsguyana.com/govt-satisfied-with-promotion-of-leonora-torture-cops/ I wish I could believe that there has been real progress a decade later and today’s action is not just motivated by politricks and the copy-cat mentality that we Guyanese are notorious for cultivating. But I have been in Guyana long enough now to know that hope is worthless currency.
Rage- now that is clean burning fuel! Though, to be honest, it’s fear that I feel most these days.. Fear of ‘them’, the “Other”, emboldened to act with impunity, and of a system so easily manipulated and thwarted. Fear of those who now say: “Let’s go after their children.” Fear of the person shouting about battymen at the back of the protest. Fear of losing my precious zen, of being consumed with anger and bitterness, of becoming like those I despise. Fear of drowning under the weight of depression, again, and of exile.. Fear. It’s what Isaiah and Joel Henry and all the others before them whose names and faces we’ve long since forgotten would have felt in their final moments of life, as they faced those filled with hate, bent on destroying them. To live and die with fear- is this what it means to be Guyanese?
There’s no denying that Guyana has a race problem. That Guyana has a violence problem. That the foolice and politrickians are part and parcel of the problem. That two young boys were brutally murdered, most likely as a result of race hate. That I had fingers left over after counting the number of Indo-Guyanese seen at the protest today. That this rastaman’s grandmother had hair like mine..
I don’t know where this leaves us. After the chanting and knees taken and photo ops, I sit on the grass and press the earth with my bare toes. I feel the rays of sunshine on my brown skin and the cool wetness in my mouth. There is love by my side and this helps; sometimes I think that’s all that matters. But sometimes it doesn’t feel like nearly enough. Black and coolie people have long loved and lived with each other in Guyana. And killed each Other. Because we still remain ‘Other’ to each other. This rastaman’s grandmother Doreen had hair like mine. But Joel and Isaiah Henry and now Haresh Singh are still dead and calls for justice regularly go unanswered in this scuntry. This beloved below-sea-level scuntry of less than a million souls, where the white man keeps “discovering” oil..
One People, One Nation, One Destiny. uh huh