One People, One Nation, One Destiny

“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. 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

Why can’t we live in love all the time?

What does it mean to not vote? To think about not voting? To talk about not voting? To be afraid or unwilling to talk openly about not voting? Does it mean that you are a fool? Or isn’t it more delusional to believe you’re doing something positive and useful when you continue to participate in a system that is- in reality- fatally flawed, full of corruption, malice, and dishonesty, and serves only to perpetuate downpression and inequity? What does it mean when people you know and otherwise respect spend huge amounts of their time thinking, talking, and peddling partisan politricks and dehumanizing those who disagree with them? Can’t/shouldn’t those energies be more meaningfully spent? Should I be proud of the fact that I’m able to have a decent relationship with my brother even though we hold often opposing viewpoints, that I continue to laugh with and live in the house of my Trump-supporting uncle, that I buy and eat food from my Cup-loving neighbour without fear of being poisoned? Would I have voted for the first time, last time, if Courtney hadn’t been murdered? Why has the intellectual mastermind behind his killing still not been held accountable? How come none of those who killed, stole, raped, and abused people and the public coffers in the past haven’t been held accountable yet? Why is there no justice- for poor people especially- in this scuntry? Why do people still wait for/think the legal shitstem will give them justice? Why, on Jubilee Republic day, instead of participating in cohesive Mash activities, or meditating on where we are and aren’t as a nation, are coolie aunties calling at my gate with campaign flyers? Why are trees, those essential, invaluable natural resources, being destroyed- in a ‘Green state’, and by an “Earth Champion”- to print garbage? Why is it ok to use and lie about using state resources for partisan purposes? Why do you not speak up more today about the politrickians campaigning when they should be working to solve the nation’s problems instead, as you did five years ago? Why am I unable to sleep properly these past weeks/months? Why am I still waiting for a houselot three administrations on, while some others receive theirs within days of not applying, simply because they possess the right uniform or skin hue? Why is the provisions vendor who took my side in 2015 now asking if “we- the Cup- gon win”? “We”, bhai? How can you say you’re my friend but support the friends of those who abuse me? When will I be able to walk down the street in my community during election season without getting dirty looks, or sit in a bus going home without being ‘bused by my fellow passengers? Why can’t all these parties coalesce and spend the money they’re wasting campaigning to run the country together and fix things for all of us, asks the dougla bus conductor sadly?  Do you not see that your and my liberation are inextricably tied together? Why do people not remember that these supposedly bitter opponents party together behind our backs after elections, give each other lavish pensions, contracts, and presents at Christmas time? Why can’t we live in love all the time? Why do people continue to look for leadership outside of themselves? Why do people believe voting will make their lives better? Why do people think you can’t complain or call for justice and accountability if you don’t vote? Why do so many people only vote and whine, instead of revolting or changing things themselves in their lives/communities? Why are the trials and tribulations under Burnham- dead and gone for decades past- still the first thing that come out of many coolies’ mouths when they talk about why they’re voting for the Cup today? Why do people continue to fall for/ follow slick talk and misleaders? Why don’t these old men step down gracefully and spend their time better by growing food or flowers, and playing with their grandchildren? Why do so many cling to power and position; don’t they know that none of those things will save them from the coming apocalypse/certain death? How misguided do you have to be to believe that voting really makes a difference in the grand scheme of life on Earth? How else can positive change be effected? Will the small parties really be able to accomplish anything, if by chance they get that golden one seat? Are minority, dissenting voices really heard and respected in democracy/ dis scuntry? What else can and should WE be doing besides voting to make Guyana a better place? Why is it that when you ask random Guyanese this on the streetcorner, many have no answer?

fat cat politricks

Nigel Butler’s public art revolution

audre and rodney

What are you doing to make Guyana better?

That was my question to people who wanted a free book in this first Groundings of the new decade. The responses were fascinating. Some people talked about what they did for money- teaching, nursing. One young nurse also mentioned planting trees and taking care of animals- which especially warmed my heart; I told her she could take two books!

A couple of women said pray which triggered an immediate follow up question- “and what else??” Cause faith without action is.. you know.. dead. The woman who sported a ‘minister’ lapel pin discussed her work with young people, encouraging them to think positive and help each other, even if it’s just by lending a listening ear or supportive shoulder. She also talked about going to the sea wall and meditating by the ocean, casting her problems onto the waves to be washed away. She also got to take extra books 😉

One unexpected answer was “pay my taxes”. I wasn’t sure if to laugh or applaud.. I mean, I’m pretty sure I know more Guyanese who don’t pay taxes than who do.. She saw the struggle on my face and understood right away. “Well, what they do with the money is a different thing, but..” A man from Sophia talked about doing self help with his community members- cleaning the drains etc.

Some people had a difficult time with this question though. Like really difficult- silence and stumped face and putting down book and walking away difficult. Another interesting thing was how many people only talked about what they were doing for themselves- working hard, saving money, striving for ‘betterment’. It’s great that you’re not part of the problem, I said, but.. are you part of the solution? That got me some hard looks.. Don’t get me wrong- I totally understand- this is not an easy place and self-protection is definitely something I prioritize as well. But that should be a starting point, right, not the end.. Some agreed and some, well, just took their free book and carried on.

Not littering was a popular answer of the schoolchildren. Very good, I said again, but what do you do if/when you see somebody else littering? Do you say something to them or not? Most said they spoke up, some saying they buse back if necessary. After I heard about not littering one time too many, I started asking for another answer. That got them talking about setting a good example to their younger siblings and peers. One young man with mischievous eyes and a rifle pendant on his chain collected a book for his younger brother as well as one for himself. Another young girl spoke about participating in Youth Parliament and giving the government ideas. “They should listen to us.” It was healing balm to my soul to hear from these young people after a day of horrendous stories of stabbing and chopping up among some schoolchildren in Linden.

A policewoman said she thought police should be placed on school grounds, to search backpacks and maintain order. She acknowledged that work had to be done in the homes and among families as well though. She was an advocate of beating children- she has three and beats them regularly to get them to listen to her. Another mother nearby agreed enthusiastically. “Yall don’t reason with them?” I asked, but they were unyielding, overruling my “the research has shown that beating children does more harm than good” interjection with their own experiences. At least they were taking books home for their children whom they beat.. Sigh.

The one thing I noticed about this Groundings that was different from previous ones was the non-Guyanese who stopped to collect books. A Nigerian man, a Venezuelan woman, and two Cubans all stopped and many others passed by. Since all the books we had were in English, it’s clear that immigration and assimilation are here to stay. The Cuban couple talked about helping poor people, changing hearts and minds. The Venezuelan woman took a book for her Guyanese child whom she had with her Guyanese man. If things get better in her country she’d go back, she said, but otherwise she’ll stay here. The Nigerian man said he has lots of books in Nigeria- he just needs a local address to ship them to. I gave him mine; hopefully they’ll come, and not any requests for my bank account details.

When I said that you had to answer a question before you could take a book, one older man’s immediate response was “You want to know who I’m voting for?” I reassured him that I couldn’t care less. Clearly embarrassed, he said “nothing” in response to my question, that he was retired now. I just looked at him. He talked some more about being labeled as something he’s not when speaking up on an issue. So you let that stop you? I pressed him some more before taking pity on him and allowing him to go with his book.

I don’t know if the people we interacted with this afternoon will reflect any more on the conversations we had but I hope they do. In any case, these Groundings gyaffs always end up being for myself more than anything else.. The things I choose to talk about with my fellow Guyanese, what I learn from them, the self-reflection that it triggers.. There’s a reason that I sometimes don’t feel up to doing it for long periods of time- it can be challenging to talk to Guyanese at times. But sometimes it’s really great.

Vidya and Salima were there as well, with different questions of their own as well as turpentine mango seedlings. Hopefully they’ll blog about their experience too.

vidya and salima- jan2020 groundings

tree climbing tips from big aunty

First and most importantly- ignore all those idiots who say girls/women can’t/shouldn’t climb trees (esp when menstruating) because they’re too weak/it’s unfeminine/will blight the tree. Start early- as close to sunrise as possible, and make sure you empty your bowels before you get airborne. Wrap up, plait, or otherwise contain your hair if it’s long and liable to get in your eyes or caught on some branch. Kick off all footwear- bare feet is the ONLY way to tree climb. Make sure you say a loud good morning to your neighbours from your perch, just in case you have an unexpected descent and need their assistance. Wear a bright colored shirt and comfortable pants and doan vex if it get lil holes and tree branches tear it up more so your belly/bubby/batty show and ketch the eye of the people passing on the road- dis is one time when you WANT people to watch you- again, in case of untimely descents and you need assistance beyond what the dogs and cats can provide. Tuck your cheap, durable, and reliable mango-pelter phone in your pocket in case you have to call for help. Make sure you have credit and friends who won’t laugh at you if you call them with a “Help I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” message. Deep breaths and slow careful movements are your aim- this is not a race and you don’t have to show off; your very existence hangs in the balance. Pause often and scan carefully for marabunta and wasp nests- remember they have the wings and stings, not you, and unless you have a face mask and bodysuit like dem bee men, you need to exercise mucho caution. Examine and test each branch b4 you step on it- the last thing you want is a dead branch giving away underfoot..  It helps to talk to the tree as you climb it- trust me. You can’t tree climb if you’re afraid of ants, lizards, or other creepy crawlies, or afraid period. Remember- you are a primate and our ancestors climbed trees for generations; we have the genes still, so u got this! Enjoy the view and air up there, and the sensation of hugging a really rooted living entity that’s working every day to provide the thing you need to survive.  Don’t be afraid to really lean on those branches and hug the trunk as tight as you want. Let all your cares and stresses out. Don’t peek into your neighbours bedroom windows though! If you’re climbing to pick fruit, walk with a cloth bag or bucket. Descend before you feel too tired/hungry/thirsty as that’s when your concentration and balance are liable to waver. Again, remember the location of all those wasp and marabunta nests and watch where you put your feet. Don’t jump to the ground from too far a distance. Give thanks when you land without any stings, sprains, broken bones, or other major injuries. Scrapes are par for the course and not worth mentioning. Last and most importantly- repeat often! 😉

Errol Ross Brewster – “Beware the Promise Today”


I am very pleased to be able to publish this photo essay by Errol Ross Brewster, as a first post on his work. It will be followed by a two-part interview with him (click here for part I).

“BEWARE THE PROMISE TODAY” is a photo essay about the demise in Guyana, in the early 1970s, of the very first trains to be introduced in all of South America in 1846, and the impact on the Guyanese people – in particular the poor and vulnerable, of a peculiar political culture that arose in that time and has continually plagued the country until now.

It is offered as symbolic caution, and a reminder of how the placing of party politics (The Paramountcy of the Party was a much touted doctrine of the ruling party at that time) above country led to ruin then, and could likely, without extreme vigilance, now and in…

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Caribbean Conversations: Errol Ross Brewster – Part I


The Brewsters, 1956, Kitty, Georgetown

Here is the first part of a two part conversation with Errol Ross Brewster.

Errol Brewster is a Caribbean artist from Guyana, living in the United States. With more than four decades of a Caribbean-wide, multimedia imaging practice, he has participated in multiple CARIFESTA’s; the EU’s Centro Cultural Cariforo, “Between the Lines”, travelling exhibition, 2000; the First International Triennial of Caribbean Art, 2010; and the Inter-American Development Bank’s “Sidewalks of the Americas” installation, 2018.

Veerle Poupeye: – You were born and raised in Guyana. Tell me about your family background there and how your early years put you on track to become an artist. Was your decision to become an artist supported by your family? And do you have any other artists in your family, then or now?

Errol Ross
– I’m the last of 4 children, born in 1953, in…

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Diary of a mothering worker. September 11, 2019.

“..there will be a time when some of our region’s islands will simply produce refugees. What is our plan for this reality?”


Post 341.

The impact of devastation in the Bahamas gets more disturbing as the days wear on. I’ve moved from fear for our Caribbean neighbours while watching the storm crawl over the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama to horror and sadness at what’s left of people’s lives.

Hope lies in all the immediate assistance with supplies for survival, but reading back to Dominica, Barbuda and Puerto Rico suggests that recovery will take far longer than our attention may sustain.

This is one of the challenges of disaster recovery, despite road maps for long-term response. All the Caribbean countries decimated by hurricanes in the past three years have families who remain living under tarpaulin, areas with long-term loss of electricity, risks from water contamination, and aid dependence. Grenada recovered from Ivan in 2004, but sits in the Caribbean Sea just as vulnerable as it was then.

Whole economies are reduced…

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flowers* for Andaiye

“Heard that one of your Red Thread women died..” This from my brother and then my father- two coolie/ PPP-friendly Guyanese men now living in the diaspora. My mother, sister, and sister-in-law are still blissfully unaware, consumed as they are by child minding and related duties more than politricks and news from the homeland. I can just imagine what she would say about this..

pink weed flower2

People older than me called her aunt, but not me. She was not like any aunt I ever had or knew; she was in a league all her own. I still have only an inkling of all that she did during her life, but I know enough to know that when around her, I was in the presence of greatness. Brilliant, bold, hilarious, provocative- when she talked, you listened. And learned. About meaning and words and language and power. About commitment and solidarity, politricks and principles. About men, mothers, and madness, love, loss, self, and struggle. About revolution- then, now, and the ones still to come. Words were important to her- meaningful, but action equally- if not more, so.

It’s hard for me now, one week after her passing, to find the exact words to explain how I felt around her- somewhat intimidated, immensely grateful, always stimulated and supported, encouraged when working on an issue together, challenged to keep on going when I might have wanted to call it quits. She understood when I had to cuss or leave the room or meeting before imploding, or take refuge in a cold Guinness. She was shero, mentor, friend.

purple wildflowers

We first met at Red Thread and then later at her home, after her physical challenges multiplied. Sometimes there would be email and phone calls- “Can you come now?” I stupsed to myself at first, then grinned and went. That was the only possible response; I couldn’t tell her no, never wanted to. It always felt like an honor and privilege to be in the same room with her. To be a quarter as bold, an aspiration.

Not that she demanded worship or anything like that- you were free to disagree, to be yourself. She welcomed and invited the sharing of ideas and opinions, especially from younger people. Her dry humor was especially awesome to witness- especially when it wasn’t aimed at you. I know people who quailed just hearing her voice over the telephone. I soon learnt not to ask her how she was doing; she preferred to spend the time and energy she had on the work that still needed to be done. Earlier this year, we worked on a solidarity statement for sistren pushing for the decriminalization of abortion in Jamaica. Although I consider myself a passionate pro-choice advocate, the statement I drafted paled in comparison to hers. As always, the voices and experiences of grassroots women shone through- her commitment to those who make up the bedrock of society crystal clear and unwavering.

white wildflowers

Two Decembers in a row she tasked me with book buying for the children in her life. It was something I looked forward to- browsing in Austin’s for books that showcased brown and black characters, instead of the pink and blond images she and I had been fed during our childhoods. It felt like winning to present her with these treasures which she would then gift to the lucky children. She bought my own minor literary offerings and urged me time and time again to write more.

Eighteen months ago, at a time of immense personal turmoil, she was one of a few, precious handful of people whose counsel I sought. Her response restored my calm and sense of self and sanity, something for which I will be eternally grateful. Weeks later, when we spoke again, after yet another unexpected turn of the Universe, her empathy lit up the then dark night of my soul.

I am better for having known her. She was and will forever remain an inspiration and role model.

Keep resisting, keep organizing. A luta continua. Rise in power, Andaiye!

Please use the comment section at the bottom of this page to share your remembrance/tribute/thoughts. If you are on the “Tributes” page, please comment at the bottom of the “Remembering page.”

bounty of lilac lavender flowersAndaiye at PP

* These are mostly weeds/wildflowers I noticed around the place this past week. I remembered her liking a picture I had shared a couple of years ago of the flower of a weed I’d seen in the yard in Lusignan..

flowers 4 blackie

Inside and out is gray and dreary, cold; light weak as a used teabag. Busy chainsaw and woodchipper rent the soundscape. We gaze upwards, willing the sun to life. If only. The petals are tightly furled. I watch and wait. When will they open? The abomination of force ripening chemicals aside, Pachamama cannot and should not be rushed. But.. I watch his chest heave up and down, hear his labored breathing. His greenish yellow eyes are dulling, but still piercing. When will he go? To assist or not- that is the great debate raging. I remember my aunt with uterine cancer, begging her Gods to take her. They remember lining up with teaspoons of water to drop into their aji’s wasted mouth. Dis time nah like lang time, I snap. You would want euthanize us too, when we get sick- accuses my oft delusional mother. Mercy upon us all. Mohamed, more realistic, negotiates for one instead of ten more days. Day after day. I watch and wait. One breath at a time. These are the last days. Of Blackie and us all. Spend them well. I watch and I wait and I learn. All that for a cat! Some scoff. But love is love; it’s either scarce or abundant- you get to decide. Om.

blackie 5.26.2019


[Intelligence, they say, flows from the personal to the personal, it is known, experienced and lived through the personal, and enacted through the personal. It goes from this elephant, to that tree, to that bird, to that valley, to that river, to this land, to this sea. It is deeply personal to each of my white blood cells, to each of the trillions of bacteria in every gut, to every vein in every body, every enzyme in every gut, every tree in every forest, and every star in every galaxy.

Intelligence, they say, in fact, requires the personal, the beloved, and the rooted. It requires you and me.

The last thing we need to do, in this last hour, is prove or measure or debate it or put dollar values on it, or bottle it up for posterity. Just listen to your body.]