Woman Hold Your Head and Cry
Today was supposed to be Groundings #5. We’ve been good about sticking to our twice a month schedule and I had been able to convince Vidya to try a different location this time (High and Hadfield St- a corner close to my heart from People’s Parliament days), so I was looking forward to it.
I had to go to court in the morning, to support my trans friends who had been shot at one night while they were by the Cathedral (even though they got the license number of the vehicle involved, it took over a month and picketing the station for the police to ‘investigate’ and bring charges against the shooters). But Groundings wasn’t until 3pm, so my plan was to go to Court and do a little bit of marketing, then return home to unload and relax during the hottest, mid part of the day, before heading back out. That’s not how the day unfolded though.
The case was adjourned yet again, so we ended up just liming and gyaffing for a couple hours. It had been a rough couple of weeks, with Tyra and Jada getting murdered, the picketing of MMC and OP, the wakes, funerals etc and everyone was spent. So it was nice to just kick back and chill out. We drank Milo and ate cassava bread. Eventually tho, I had to leave. I only had one roll of toilet paper left and had to replenish my stocks.
I first went to the Library to print some quotes from “Stains On My Name,” by Brackette Williams for the Groundings later. Then I made my way to Stabroek market, picked up my Golden Arrowhead toilet paper and few other items, and started down Water Street, heading to my bus park. As I walked, I noticed a couple of men, also walking the same direction as me. One of the men was barefoot, in ragged clothes. He was being led/dragged by the other man who was holding onto a belt wrapped around his neck like a collar. As they walked, onlookers laughed and called out “Ey, you got a big dog there; Woof woof!”
The barefoot man, it appeared, was a ‘junkie’ and the other man a vendor who he had apparently stolen a basket of bananas from. He walked unresistingly. We passed a policewoman in the blue traffic police uniform. She just looked at them and kept on walking. The vendor turned into the yard of the Gandhi store, yanking the ‘junkie’ along.
I had followed when they turned into the yard. I knew a beating was about to be inflicted on the junkie. That is how things go here. The vendor pushed the ‘junkie’ against the fence, picked up the concrete and iron sign which usually blocks cars from entering and hit the ‘junkie’ with it. He crumpled to the ground. I got into the mix then, grabbing the vendor’s shoulder. A female member of the City Constabulary also appeared and together we pulled the vendor off the ‘junkie’. By this time, a crowd had assembled, mostly other vendors from that area, mostly female. They all screamed at me to mind my own business.
They were out for blood. They pulled the ‘junkie’ away and started kicking and cuffing him. He remained motionless on the ground. I shouted at them to stop. “He’s a thief,” they screamed back. “Ok, so take him to the police station then,” I countered. The female Constab member just looked on ineffectually. “Y’all want kill a man over banana?!” I was incredulous. “Shut up! This is what tiefman them deserve!” They were out for blood.
“Eh, like is she family! Is you tiefing family dis?” They were up in my face, poking fingers and spraying spittle. I felt someone yanking on my arm. I recognized one of the women. She had known me from People’s Parliament; when we were collecting signatures for the petition to reduce the VAT, I had canvassed the whole market area. Ever since then, she’d hail me whenever I passed her spot, and sometimes I’d stop and gyaff a bit, buy something. “She’s with human rights,” she told the others now. She was one of the ones trying to pull me to the side. But then I saw her kick the ‘junkie’.
I don’t know how long the whole incident lasted. All I remember is the venom. The look of absolute hatred on the faces of some of the market women- none of whom owned the basket of bananas in the first place. They were just mad at me for intervening. I just kept repeating, “Y’all really want kill a man over banana?!” I couldn’t think of anything else to say.
Eventually, the crowd parted and the ‘junkie’ and male vendor disappeared. I tried to follow them for a little bit, to see if they were going to the station, but I lost them in the crowd. I stood there for a minute, trying to catch my bearings. I walked back to the Gandhi store area. I wanted to ask my ‘vendor friend’ why she had kicked the man. But she didn’t want to talk to me. The Constab woman then came up and hollered at me to move along. “Don’t you make any trouble here,” she berated me. I asked her where the men had gone, but she didn’t answer; just kept shouting at me to move. People were still enraged and screaming at me.
I made my feet move. I was able to contain myself until the next corner. Then I started to cry. Not huge sobs, just silent tears flowing down my cheeks. People are ready and willing to kill another human being over bananas. I know vending is not easy- being out there in the hot hot sun whole day, having to deal with harassment from Constables and police, competing with everybody else selling the same trinkets and goods, trying to make enough for all the expenses; I know all this. I know you have to be tough otherwise people will take advantage of you. I do 99% of my shopping from the street and market vendors; is only one one things I go into the supermarkets for. I don’t expect gratitude or friendship in return; I’m satisfied with my fruits and vegetables and knowing that I’ve done what I can in this small way. So that’s not why I was upset.
The utter disregard for life and others, the savagery and violence that is now a daily part of our existence, the valuing of money and material goods over everything else- that’s what upsets me. I know there’s a lot of goodness and beauty in the world still, but the longer I’m alive and the more I see, the less convinced I am that real, sustained, change is possible. Now, mostly, I think: bring the cloth to wipe the slate clean and whatever will be after will be.
I still believe in revolution, but there are a lot of revolutions that need to occur, in many different spheres and levels- not just in the political arena. “Junkies” are still human beings, somebody’s child, friend, relative- a human being still. Same as my trans friends. I’m not condoning stealing; I’m just saying a human life is more valuable than a basket of bananas. And nobody deserves to get shot at simply for being who they are, from being different from what some think is the ‘norm’.
I came home, fighting back tears all the way. I crawled into my hammock and cried until sleep arrived. I’m fine- physically at least. I don’t want sympathy; I want behavior change. I’ll be ok. But I don’t know about Guyana/the world.