Groundings Continues: Election Edition

Oh no, not a migraine again! Not when we’ve got a picket and Groundings scheduled- both requiring standing in the sun for hours. At least the sun wasn’t too hot and there was a breeze. I drank some coconut water, ate some channa, and headed to Parliament. Set up in one place but when Vidya came, we decided to move across the street, by the gates of Parliament. The spot was clear and clean; the homeless folks a bit further up. A guard/policeman with a big gun hollered at us from inside the compound as we tied the Groundings banner to the fence, but we begged him “ow man, ‘low we nuh, is just for a lil while, we not selling anything,” and he backed down. The pavement here is wide and there are no vendors, so we had lots of space to spread out the books.

School had not too long gotten out so lots of schoolchildren were passing. They’re too young to vote, of course, but most of them, from what I could tell, were totally up on the politics of the day (not surprising with all the drama, right? hah) and surprisingly (or maybe not) critical of the status quo. As I listened to one 12yr old boy from Brickdam Secondary talk about not trusting the politicians, I felt heartened that these youth at least, had their eyes open and would not be fooled. Another group of children and their teacher from Leonora Primary stopped. They had just won a quiz competition at the National Library and happily posed for photos by the Groundings banner. They didn’t have the certificates ready to give them tho, when they won; I’m glad we were there with our books/magazines so they could have something nice to take home, to add to their fond memories of the day. Children who are excited about learning make me feel so happy and hopeful! They talked about other things you could do to show love, besides voting. Cleaning up the neighborhood, helping old people, helping anyone who needs help, they said.

Another winner was a woman who picked the book lovers anthology. She was the 3rd place winner of a reading and writing contest that the New Amsterdam Women’s Prison had had, she told me, when she was an inmate there. It had been hard, she said, being away from her family, but she had enjoyed the reading and writing competition and she was going to enter it again this year, even though she was out now. No, you didn’t have to love the politicians to vote for them, she said, just look at the issues and what they’re going to do about them. Slowly, my migraine started receding.

More people came. Stan, Adrian, then Natalie. A set of Ministry of Home Affairs employees passed by. One lady had her hands full with two bags and a dripping cup of icecream, but still stopped to browse. I held her selections while she ate her icecream and gyaffed with Stan. They talked for almost an hour- at least 45mins! The question about what else you could do to show love, besides voting, was the last one on the page when I printed the set out, and ended up with that extra space underneath. So when I cut and folded them up to put in the question box, that one came out bigger than the rest. It was the one that got chosen the most over the course of the afternoon, which I loved. A man told me how he cuts the grass up and down his whole street, and at his workplace, without being asked or asking for thanks from his neighbors. Some of them contribute money to buy the gas for the machine, but he doesn’t need them to thank him, he said; he’d still do it regardless. When he started cutting the grass at his workplace, it was a cutlass he was using, but he still cut the whole place, not just the part they told him to. The boss man saw and apparently felt bad/ashamed, and brought a brush cutter soon after which made the task much easier. Cuz cutlass work is slavery work, you know, he said. I shook his hand, he picked a book, and went along his way. This is what Groundings is all about folks- creating an opportunity for Guyanese to gyaff and share with one another, freely, and without any agenda other than just growing goodwill and increasing understanding among we people.

“Are you guys a club or something?” a tall young man asked. He had a lovely, open, expressive face and was full of genuine curiosity and quite a bit of confusion about who and what we were up to. No, we’re not a club, I told him. He hadn’t heard of Groundings before though he had heard the name Walter Rodney. I explained about Walter’s ‘Grounding With My Brothers’ and how we’d started last June on his death anniversary, to revive the spirit of community among our fellow Guyanese. We talked about what he could do in his community and then he and Adrian talked for the whole rest of the time! Vidya and I laughed then, because Adrian had done the exact same thing when he’d first stopped by a Groundings- stayed and gyaffed with us the whole time, unlike most other people who just stop, pick a book, answer our question, then go back along their way. Love, love, LOVE!

Speaking of love, one question was if it was possible to love people who believed differently about love than you did. It’s not the clearest of questions; I had gay-straight issues on my mind when I wrote it but that didn’t come across, so when people picked it, I had to spell it out for them. What about gay people, I’d take a deep breath then ask. Do you love them, even though they might love differently than you? Everybody said yes, although most of them also still talked about love the sinner, not the sin, about choice, etc. Progress, but still a lot more work to do. I was glad tho, that someone made the distinction between love and sex. Cuz is really two very different things..

More Ministry of Home Affairs employees passed. One woman who stopped to pick up a book for her daughter and gyaffed with Natalie. I got out the camera to snap some photos and she got paranoid cuz she was still wearing her badge. I didn’t understand- it’s not like we were doing something illegal or breaking any laws- as Vidya joked- we weren’t handing out drugs or guns, just books. On the pavement, outside Parliament building, in full view of numerous security guards and the Police Outpost, in broad daylight. I sighed but reassured the lady that I wouldn’t take any pics that would show her badge. One man passed and asked Natalie what we were picketing. She told me, laughingly, after he left, that he’d said, when he saw me, that we had to be picketing something. Stuups! I does do more than picket, you know! Still, it was funny 🙂 The time was passing merrily, not dragging, and our pile of books and magazines shrinking slowly but surely. Still, Natalie joked, if we were giving out free clothes, we would have been done in no time.

Teresa Lalltoo’s brother, Dave, joined us. His sister’s baby had died at GPHC on Monday, April 20th, the day of Bheri-gate. I actually didn’t learn of that incident until a few days afterwards but it was a typical case of healthcare workers making bad decisions, lack of properly equipped and functioning public health facilities, and a family being given the run around in their quest for answers and justice. They were launching legal action against the hospital(s). I applauded him for that and Natalie and I pledged our full support. If there was proper training of staff, adequate spending on equipment, and real attention and commitment to accountability in the public health sector, people wouldn’t be suffering so much, and if legal action will help bring about a change, so be it! I didn’t go looking for trouble with Bheri in Berbice but I’m glad I took the opportunity that presented itself to raise the issue of maternal and infant mortality and accountability in the public sphere. The more attention paid to these issues, the better for us all and I don’t care who’s in government- if these problems continue under a new administration, you can bet that I’m going to be raising hell then as well. Heck, one thing members of a new government could do to bring me over to their side almost immediately (aside from locking up Bharrat, Nandlall, Brassington, etc), would be to start using the public facilities of Guyana- sending their children to public schools in Guyana, having their babies at the GPHC and other public hospitals, taking public transportation, etc. #watchingandwaiting

Anyway, back to Groundings. My big rasta lady friend, Juliana rode up on her bicycle. Juliana is a fantastic and super-talented jewelry maker, creating amazing necklaces, earrings, etc out of seeds, copper wire, and other local elements. She has won several awards nationally and regionally and represented Guyana at numerous tradeshows but she still had to shut up her shop on Robb St because she couldn’t make enough to cover the rent. The last couple of times she got invited to international trade fairs, she got no/little help from the Ministry of Culture and had to beg and scrounge for funds to reach there; I think she didn’t make it to some of them even. I love Juliana; she gives the best hugs and we have awesome conversations about the divine feminine power. I hadn’t seen her in person for a while tho; we’d just been in text contact. Earlier in the day tho, when I’d gone to the Library to print the Goundings questions, I’d run into her in the computer room. She literally pulled me into her lap for a bearhug- she was sitting and I went from standing in a vertical position to lying horizontally in her lap, while the people around watched and laughed. I didn’t care; her energy was awesome. She handed me a 3 page piece on the necessity for feminine empowerment in Guyana/the world today that she had been working on , and picked up two National Geographic magazines- one with Gaddafi and the other with a Mayan pyramid on the cover. Gyaffed a bit then she road off to distribute more of her good words.

A question that got pulled by a lot of people was the one asking if not voting meant you didn’t love the country. Not at all, most people replied (I think there was one woman who agreed with that silly statement). Had a nice long chat about that with a guy who turned out to be from St. George’s, Grenada! I had just been thinking about Grenada the other day; oh it was so nice and peaceful with the goats! I know I have a home there if I so desire, or at least a getaway if necessary. He had married a Guyanese, hence his presence in Guyana today. Interesting guy- had a Bachelors in Biology, I think he said, and a Masters in Theology. Talked about Public Health for a while, since he had an interest in that. He picked the first question on the list- What’s there to love about elections? He surprised me when he said, yes, he did love election time. “Are you serious,” I asked, uncomprehendingly. “Yup. I like the drama, the tension..” I was totally surprised, had not expected that. He wasn’t voting, he said; had never voted actually. Me neither, but I didn’t tell him that right away; asked him to explain why. His argument made absolutely no sense to me- something about if you voted for leaders and they turned out to be terrible misleaders, then you’d somehow be partially responsible for their reign of evil. “But,” I countered, “couldn’t the flip argument also be true? – that is you *don’t’* act to remove them, to change things, then aren’t you complicit then too?!” He hemmed and hawed and still made no sense to me. He was some sort of Adventist, he said, but different, not like the usual rest of them. I thought his reasoning was whack and told him so. He said it was some old school Christian thinking and that he thought of religion as expanding, not evolving. Evolving implied backwardness, he said, while expansion is more positive, meaning tolerance and diversity. It still sounded like bullshit to me. I told him tho, that his country was beautiful and I loved it, and we ended on a mellow note.

A guy came up and read a poem he had composed, inspired by Bheri-gate. Apparently there is some big youth concert by Bourda tomorrow night- the Change concert, I think he said it was called. The poem was great! #Guyanagottalentyall! You know- didn’t hear anybody talk about beating out of Guyana today. That’s noteworthy because the last time we’d been in this spot (well, across the road, back in November, after Parliament got sent home and everyone was still trying to figure out how to pronounce Prorogue properly, me included), we kept meeting youth after youth just dying, planning, and scheming to get out of Guyana. The worst were a trio of UG students, one girl and two boys, all Indo-Guyanese, chemistry students or some other such fantastic subject. But, they were all planning to leave Guyana as soon as they finished UG, to get further education and probably never to return. When I asked them that specifically- if they would ever come back after they left, the girl just looked at me and laughed. None of them answered any more than that. Was totally depressing. This time around tho, nobody talked about beating out. Instead, people seemed hopeful, perked up, eyes and ears, ready for change.

A lot more awesome stuff happened; I can’t remember it all. Others feel free to fill in. We went for ice cream afterwards (yea, we baaaaad! lol) and took out funny pictures with the free books sign and my miscreants must go placard. I’m beginning to realize that positive sometimes follows negative, and to learn how to recognize and be grateful for that.

Migraine gone! Yay

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