How Hamilton Green saved the Walter Rodney Groundings Continues crew: A GT Odyssey

I’m not sure why but I woke up yesterday feeling like the sky- leaden and overcast. It had already been a very ‘full’ week, with lots of high and lows. I was still missing the sight of Mamasita’s sweet brown eyes and wagging tail at the gate and on the road every day. Missing also was Courtney Crum-Ewing during the opening of the People’s Park and Parliament on Wednesday; the fact that the occasion fell on his birthday made it all the more bittersweet.

On Thursday morning, I fielded a call from a cousin of mine who I haven’t heard from for months, not even during Bheri-gate. He was calling now to let me know that his son- who has been going to private school all his life- had gotten into QC. “What I didn’t do, my children doing,” he said to me emotionally, telling me also that he remembered how I had been the ‘top girl’ in Guyana when I wrote Common Entrance, eons ago. I was left momentarily speechless. Yes, and I had also been valedictorian and voted the one ‘most likely to succeed’ out of my high school class, but the fact is that as soon as I got to college and started broadening my horizons and honing my critical thinking skills, my definition of success changed radically, to put it mildly. In the end, I congratulated the child, told him to keep up the good work and that learning was a lifelong process, and bigged up my cousin for being a good parent.

Later that day, I went to the drop in center. Four year old J, who really needs to be somewhere more age appropriate, who is both the youngest and the loudest child there, who last week ripped multiple pages out of one of the story books, came in and started flinging books around, as usual. He’s going to school, but what he’s learning there, I’m not sure. Not wanting a repeat of the page ripping, I grabbed him and imprisoned him in a wraparound hug. I’d tried this before and he had squirmed out, but this time he stayed. I tickled him a bit and he giggled. Then, when I tried to remove my arms, he reached out and wrapped them back around himself. And so we read, quietly and peacefully. A, who had been running around outside, put on a shirt over his sand-streaked back and came inside to read when I called his name. L, who has also been doing more playing than reading the last couple of weeks came in towards the end and picked up a book. One of the older girls read to one of the younger ones.

Many of the children still aren’t going to school and too many of the ones who are in school are still struggling with the basics, still too far behind where they should be. Troubling also, is the lack of empathy and attention being paid to positive emotional development of the children. J is always screaming and lashing out because he’s always being tormented by the older children. As we read, I asked B, another slightly older boy, to describe the feelings of the people in the picture. “Happy,” he said, when the image was clearly not. “Are you sure?” I asked again and again he said happy. Depressing also was the gaggle of schoolgirls on the bus singing along to the vulgar song lyrics. Still, giving that hug to J, and getting him to sit quietly and engage with a book was my marker of success for Thursday.

Later that evening as I tried to respond without sighing to the UG student as she asked the perpetually aggravating “So, you really never wanted a child of your own” question, I thought about all the people like Anil Nandlall and others who pay huge sums of money to artificially inseminate themselves when thousands of children languish in poorly-run facilities, and all the others in families but who still don’t get the care, attention, and access to opportunities they deserve because of lack of financial resources. While millions are spent on things like Commissions of Inquiry that go nowhere, and accomplish nothing more than distributing state resources to those who don’t need them one whit. And so I awoke yesterday, feeling leaden and melancholyish. I’m not a patient person and waiting for change and justice is not easy for me.

I had been looking forward to this day though. It was our one year anniversary of Groundings. We started last June, by the police outpost in Stabroek. Now, as then, most Guyanese in the street still don’t know much about Walter Rodney- just that he was a ‘freedom fighter’, was murdered, and whatever else they’ve gleaned from the news stories about the COI. Last year, I had taken copies of his books for people to check out and read from, but this day, with my head dull and clouded, it was all I could do to drag myself out of the house. We’d wanted to do something big, but people’s schedules and the wet weather had dampened our spirits and plans; books and Guyanese don’t do so well in rain after all.. And so, without much planning, like salmon simply following their instincts back to their homegrounds, we ended back at the last spot we’d grounded at- on the pavement outside of Parliament building. We’d last grounded the week before the elections, with lots of folks and gyaffing. This time it was just me and Vidya.

I tied the less-than-impressive homemade cloth banner on the iron Parliament fence and we spread out the books on the cloth on the ground. They went quickly; several people taking more than one. I began forcing myself to interact with folks. A woman picked up one of the slim volumes of poetry and I asked her to read a poem to me. She read about the shadow of a strawberry tree and my mood started to lighten. It was as if someone flicked a switch inside my head; it was that immediate and apparent. Amazing. I thanked her and she went on her way. A St. Stanislaus student picked up another of the poetry volumes (thank you btw, Anouska, for all those!). She writes poetry, she said, but it HAS to rhyme. Oh no, I said, and we went back and forth about that for a little while. I challenged her to explore different types of poetry, including the none-rhyming ones and eventually she said she would. Another schoolboy picked up the booklet of Afro Guyanese proverbs and dutifully read aloud to me. I was curious to see if the Creolese ‘translations’ would go over any easier than the ones written in standard English, but he seemed to stumble over them both equally. I encouraged him to read them with an adult or older person (you should have been there, Charlene!) Gyaffed with a couple parents and students what they thought about the private vs public school story and most agreed that the public schools needed to be improved.

Around this point, two City Constables came up and told us that we’d have to move, that things had changed and they had orders to keep the pave in front of Parliament clear of junkies and the like. But we’re not junkies, I protested and we will move, just as soon as we finish giving away these books. The constables were firm tho- we would have to move, even if we weren’t junkies. Just now, just now, we pleaded. The sky was still overcast; rain still threatened. If it rained, then we’d move, but to do so otherwise would have been a pain in the butt and I just didn’t feel up to it. “I know you all are just following orders, so can I talk to your supervisor?” I asked. No, no was their response. “Go and tell them is Kissoon and Nageer out here,” Vidya tried. Another man who had been gyaffing with us also told them something about “this is the woman who Bheri…” and “they’re good people..” and eventually they walked off. In the hullabaloo, several children passed by and scooped up armfuls of books. Yes, they were going to read all those, plus they were carrying some for other people. Ohk, I said, still mentally questioning the veracity of their statement. There are several used books vendors around and truth be told, the thought had passed my mind that that was one avenue I could explore, if my bills ever got too big. Maybe that was the business these children’s family members were into. I didn’t really mind tho; after all, who can get vexed at children for taking books?

The two City Constables came back. Y’all have to move. I sighed. It’s not that I’m against following the rules really, it’s just that when the rules make no sense and when people use fear and threats instead of reason and critical thinking that I get irked. The constables were clearly afraid of their supervisor. I dug out my cellphone. “I actually have Hammie’s #,” I said out loud. “Should I call him?” I mused. I’ve never done that before- called some bigwig for a favor. “Call, call!” Vidya and the other guy encouraged me. Vidya wanted to witness the karma of Hamilton Green coming to the rescue of a Walter Rodney-inspired Groundings event and because my head was now feeling light light and I too like karmic jokes, I made the call. “Hello, Mr Mayor. I’m, um, having a slight problem here..” Where are you and I’m on my way was his response. I don’t want y’all to get in trouble, I told the city Constables, so maybe y’all can just go around the corner and watch or something. They looked at each other and walked off again.

A man with a pink plastic beaded necklace and some wood in his hands, who looked like he might be homeless, came up and looked at the remaining books. He picked out the one he wanted and I asked him where he lived. On the street, he said. “Are things any better now?” I asked him. It’s cleaner, he said, and he feels better. I wanted to talk to him more, to find out if the city Constables are giving them more or less problems, where he goes when it rains/floods etc, but then he wandered away with his book. Another man with a case of GT beer on his shoulder stopped and asked for a nice book. There were only a couple left. “Um, what you mean nice? You want mystery? Romance? Thriller? You could put down the beer and look at them for yourself, you know,” I told him. But maybe he knows me better. He kept his hands firmly on the case of beer and pointed to The Odyssey. “Oh, you picked a classic there!” I said (don’t ask me to tell you anything more than that heh). He grinned back and cheerily posed for a picture. That’s when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the Mayor’s vehicle roll up. He didn’t get out, just rolled down the window and spoke to the two Constables who had re-appeared. Wave, wave, and he/they disappeared again. 🙂 Neither Vidya nor I got to ask him anything about Walter Rodney, but at least the harassing Constables went away. The last books were snapped up by two women, one with a big Afro. They wanted to know what we were really doing and I told them. Then I asked the woman with the Afro if that was her real hair or a wig. Oh geez you, she laughed, before telling me it was a wig. The end 🙂

Vidya and I stood by the fence a little while longer, gyaffing, until one of our long-lost friends reached. Some people drove by and asked us what we were doing there and Vidya joked that we were chaining ourselves. Another time he said that we were waiting to sneak in. I shook my head and inched further away from him. Another friend came by late but gave us nice nice gifts to share out at the next Groundings. We decided, in the interest of not having any further run-ins with the City Constabulary, that we’d go by the People’s Parliament pavement instead next time. Or, if the weather gets nicer, maybe we’ll finally have that picnic in the Gardens, maybe by 7 Ponds 😉 Look forward to seeing you.

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