It’s been two years since we started going out on the streets of GT and grounding with our fellow Guyanese. The last year of the PPP administration and the first year of the Coalition govt. Two years during which the PPP-led government initiated a Commission of Inquiry into the events of June 13th 1980, the WPA joined with the PNC to oust the PPP from political office, and the Coalition gov’t dilly dallied in releasing the COI report. Two years and most of our Guyanese sistren and brethren we’re interacting with on the streets of Georgetown still don’t know who Walter Rodney was, other than somebody famous, or “the man who got blown up”.. I’m glad we’re still going out on the streets of GT and Grounding with our fellow Guyanese. Sometimes that two hour gyaff is the best, most inspiring part of the whole week, or month. It’s not enough though. Two years later, that’s even clearer.
My first interaction of the day was with a mosquito net vendor man. He wanted my falling apart copy of The History of the Guyanese Working People but when I said how I was sorry but I couldn’t give him, he was content to stand and skim through it. If someone sends me another copy, I promise to find him and give it to him. Several other vendors from around the area came by, happy to collect a free book for themselves or their children. Vending is a hardscrabble life; it’s not every day you get a sale, or enough to cover the cost of transp, or what you have to pay the City Council, so books- especially fiction, and especially when you’re fighting for your survival daily- often get deemed ‘extras’ which cannot be afforded. I’m glad we have books to give away for free, that loved ones from overseas can send us barrels and that we have surplus of our own to share. I feel a way though, about some of the American-themed stories like Clifford’s first Thanksgiving, and Clifford’s 4th of July. We are already inundated with so much foreign crap.. So much more to do..
I wish we had more regionally specific texts, more stories with black and brown people, more educational and skill building books instead of insipid romance and CIA-spy/thriller junk. But I try to make the best of what we have. More people reading more, I tell myself, is overall a great thing and how lovely that we can give them books for free. That’s one of my favorite things about doing the Groundings- the freeness and the feeling that on this day, for these two hours, we are sticking it to capitalism. One day, it must break, will break- this I know. This is what I live for.
In the meantime though, I hold on tightly to my copies of How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Groundings With My Brothers, and The History of the Guyanese Working People. I didn’t get to go to Red Thread to borrow Kofi Badu out of Africa, or Lakshmi out of India; next time hopefully. Deji comes with the other bag of books and is ecstatic to see How Europe Underdeveloped Africa; it’s almost like he’s meeting a good, old friend. He tells me (and anyone who will stop and listen 😉 ) about seeing that book in his father’s bookshelf back in Nigeria but not really understanding what it meant, until he came to Guyana and realized he was in the birthplace of the famous author. He gets more and more fired up as he speaks; I’m loving watching and listening to him. I’m sad though, to realize that most Guyanese- Rodney’s kinspeople- don’t share this same passion and pride.. We have so much more to do.
Amaraydha comes and starts organizing the books lol. Vidya comes with the banner. There’s no place to tie it; I see him later just walking about with it, holding it spread out, kinda like a mad man. But he’s my mad man friend and I’m happy to see both he and Raydha smiling and gyaffing animatedly with people. Mel comes, with Maiya and more books. I am happy to see them. I wish we had more time to gyaff. I will have to make the time. I’m wishing it was less hectic, that I was able to have more quality gyaffing time with people. An African-Guyanese nurse and her son stop the same time as an Indian-Guyanese girl. I ask them what they think the biggest problem facing Guyana is currently and they both say race relations. So how can we change that, I follow up with. The girl talked about praying and having conversations with people, while nursey talked about the need to educate the children. So what do you tell your son, I ask her? Oh, he’s too small yet, she says. Neither she nor the girl look at each other while they are speaking, although they are standing right next to each other. I’m not really satisfied with the interaction, but they both need to go they say.. We have so much more to do. We need to move beyond superficalities and really spend time doing the hard but necessary work. We need more than to simply pay lip service to ideas..
Elton shows up, surprising me and making me happy. A couple people who say they knew Rodney show up but I don’t get to really gyaff with them; somehow I am pulled in other directions. Deji gyaffs with one man and Amaraydha with the other (y’all share the stories, please!). I gyaff with a teacher who’s upset with the state of education in Guyana, but hopeful, she says at the end, that positive change is soon coming. Another mother with a small daughter is also hopeful about the change in government. She’s an especial fan of Dr. Roopnaraine, she says. I’m glad to see and hear from Indo-Guyanese especially, who are happy and hopeful about a non-PPP led government, but there are too many reminders of business as usual for me.. One of my longest and most spirited exchanges is with an Afro-Guyanese sister who’s passionate about Government doing for the people, but totally lacking confidence in individual people’s ability to make change. She’s from Berbice, the Corentyne, so most of her friends are Indo-Guyanese. But she never talks about race with them.. She’s afraid if she does, their relationships would crumble. So she’s willing to just ignore the elephant in the room. Even as it moves around, mashing arms and legs.. Oh Guyana.. Later on, I reflect on her lack of faith in individual people, and mine.
At one point, a big bellied man in an unbuttoned shirt and pants with unzipped fly stops by. The girl he pulls up next to gives him the side-eye. He picks up a children’s book and stands back a little, flipping through it. She holds her space. I don’t get to talk with either of them, but I am pleased nonetheless. This is another thing I enjoy about Groundings- that it brings together- even if just for a few moments- really disparate people. It’s quintessential Guyana; this place is full of contradictions. Like a schoolyard bully, some of them sometimes seem to threaten the very fabric of our nationhood. But sometimes, when one overcomes fear and revulsion and is able to stand up close with them, one realized they aren’t so disruptive after all, that there are shared similarities. I want the engagement to be less fleeting, but it’s at least a starting point, something to build on.
My last interaction of the day was with a young African-Guyanese girl with a beautiful Afro. She had no idea who Rodney was. She listened politely to Vidya who gave bits of his biography then asked if she could take a picture of us. I wanted her to leave with more than that tho, so I tried to tell her about Rodney’s role in the black power movement, something about black consciousness, people knowing their history. But I felt foolish, a gray haired, straight haired, looking at this young Afro’d woman with the blank eyes and camera phone and soon stopped. At least she got her picture..
After she leaves and all the books are gone- with the exception of two in Spanish and one in French- we pack up and hug up each other. Vidya reads one of Patrick George’s poems out loud to Natalie and me, and does a little dance on the street to the calypso that the nearby music cart is playing. But then it changes to Kick in She Back Door and we start cussing and walking away. Much more to do indeed. Groundings Continues.
“the lessons of lauren olamina!! by @lacocoafemme (Ola Ronke) at the church of #shapingchange #becauseofoctavia #shapegod #shapeself” ~adrienne maree brown
thank you, octavia