this is the first time we’re meeting people who accept us

they’re in their 20’s, deep in the throes of sweet first love- smoldering glances, lingering touches and all. they sit as close together as decently possible, ignoring the fruit punch slushifying in the fancy glasses in front of them. the sun is hot hot but nothing compared to the looks that pass between them. although they live in the same village, this is one of the few, rare occasions that they are able to see each other.

the request for help went first to a former co-worker who had since migrated, who reached out to someone who had done some workshop activity in the area years ago, who then contacted us. days went by before the first tentative message came in. “our families don’t accept us.”

guyana is full of montague and capulet families, fighting to the death for reasons unknown or long forgotten. sometimes it’s a race issue. sometimes economic. not forgetting the religious bigotry. land of six people, one nation, one destiny blah blah, but keep to your own kind, hear! is we heritage and we achilles heel and no amount of oil is going to fix that. in this case though, too much of one’s own kind is also a bad thing apparently.

K is the younger and more outgoing member of the couple, an only daughter and “good girl” with 8 CXC subjects who never expected her parents to beat her. “they drew blood from me that night..”

M is the older, quieter one, a former daddy’s girl. “he used to treat me like he son sometimes. i thought, if anybody would be on my side, it would have been him. but since he find out, he stop talk to me.. my mother is more accepting- well, she was telling me about getting married but i asked her if she wanted me to be raped every day for the rest of my life, because that’s what it would be for me- and like that affect her. but she doesn’t want me living around them anymore. people in the village does tell them things.. she always crying..”

king sugar no longer rules in their village. ignorance is still lord though. one heartening thing though is that the police at the neighboring station are not part of the oppression. “they told my parents that no, it’s not against the law for me to be in a relationship with another woman.”

they bring us gifts- purple grapes, pink and white sugar cake, and tiny yellow skinned mangoes like i’ve never seen before. they smell like turpentines but i’ve never seen them this small. mother nature is diverse and full of glorious surprise though. we hug and then hug some more. the shyness evaporates as we gyaff and laff, sharing stories of our own families, first and forbidden love escapades. this is what revolution looks like.

“this is the first time we’re meeting people who accept us.” the thank you messages keep coming in. i get back home, overwhelmed, and go to bed with an aching head. my heart is happy though. two more young Guyanese women have hope for a brighter future. a luta continua.

 

LGBT Guyanese Deserve Better

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Happy PRIDE, Guyana

Pride is about being able to walk the streets of your homeland in peace, without fear of persecution for being and expressing who you are. it was wonderful to see so many people out yesterday, joyfully living their truths. i remember the last time such a parade was attempted in Guyana (yes folks, contrary to reports- yesterday was *not* the first time a pride parade was held; some of us with longer memories would remember a walk organized in 2014 by the late Zenita Nicholson..) Some people wore brown paper bags over their heads then, and we were reluctant to take and share photos. some participants of that 2014 event reported experiencing victimization afterwards- from persons who saw them or their pics. fast forward four years later, and boy, what a different scene it was in Georgetown yesterday! lots of work is still needed- both within the LGBTIQ community, as well as in general Guyanese society- there is still a lot of internalized homo, bi, and transphobia, and intolerance from religious fundamentalists/evangelists and discrimination against LGBTIQ persons still exists in multiple sectors, both private and public (at another event earlier in the week a gay Guyanese man talked about the ostracism he experienced from his family members and his deep pain and sadness at the 19 years he has waited in vain for contact and acceptance by his children). things are changing for the better though (no thanks to the spineless politrickians). it was a very pleasant surprise to find that most of the persons standing on the outskirts of Parade Ground were not our opponents, as we had initially assumed; in fact, most of them turned out to be family members and friends. only two persons refused the free stickers that we were handing out and i only saw one man haranguing us in the name of Jesus as we paraded past him. he got some free dutty wines in response but then we moved on, living and letting others live. Happy Pride, Guyana. #keepprogressing #onelove #liveandletlive #celebratediversity #alutacontinua

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the sexiest woman alive

she’s in her 50’s- a ‘big’ woman as they say here in GT. her skin is jamoon-dark and there is a large scar running all the way down her left cheek. we’re talking about love and madness, why women stay in abusive relationships.

“i does tell myself that i’m the sexiest woman alive!” she declares.  “my chirren dem does laff, but i doan kay! is for me, i does tell them.”

she has raised two sons to do for themselves- “i doan hafta cook unless i feel like it, and if they aint want eat what i mek, they cud hustle they own pot. they does do their own washing too! i tell my daughter not to wash for them, or to mek dem pay her if they ask her to wash their clothes. and when my gentleman comes, he does gotta dish out his own food.”

self esteem is super sexy indeed..

 

 

failing the children

She was 10 the last time I saw her, at the Drop In Center before the deadly fire. She and her 9 year old sister had been named after the famous African-American tennis playing champions, and like them, they were beautiful and spirited. Now 13, she’s still slight and smiley. The big difference that I note right away is her big belly. She’s back home with her mother and 5 siblings in a dwelling in Sophia where locks are regularly broken and a rainy night means getting wet and sleeplessness; she yawns during much of our conversation. It’s a girl, she tells me, due in about two months. She doesn’t know the word ultrasound but nods affirmatively when I describe the procedure. I ask if she’s going to clinic, about her blood pressure, if she’s eating properly. The doctor told her to eat more fruits, she says, but mommy aint getting pay. Her mother is a domestic worker; she hasn’t gotten paid in two months. Di money gotta come from New York, she says, as if that explains everything. She still has dealings with the State- there is some pending court matter, not related to the pregnancy. When I ask if she understands what’s going on in court, she drops her head and admits that no, she doesn’t.

She knows about other things though. She knows about Serena Williams and her baby girl. She even knows Serena’s white man’s name. She knows that her child’s father could be charged for having had sex with her and that she’s not going to be able to put his name on the baby’s birth certificate. She only had sex with him two times, she said, and the first time was her first. He’s 19, she reveals, and Amerindian. She hopes their baby will be cute. He doesn’t have any other children, as far as she knows, although he had gotten one of her friends pregnant before hooking up with her. He broke up with that other girl after she threw away the belly, she tells me and now the girl wants to fight her. She doesn’t know exactly where in Essequibo he’s from though, nor when she’ll see him again. He came to town looking for work but there was none so he’d gone back. He’d given her a ring but don’t ask her where it is now; people are always going through and taking her stuff. She has to get a case like what lawyers have- with a combination- then her things will be safe.

So how y’all managing, if mommy aint getting pay, I ask. Her big sister is working, she says. She’s buying the baby’s things, little by little. The fruits vendor passes by as we’re talking and I buy her some bananas and mango which she eats quickly and quietly. Sometimes she goes to sleep without any dinner, she tells me. Today though, mommy left a tin of sardine which she has to fry up when she goes back home, for her younger siblings. I know about sardine and rice- it’s what I feed my cats. The tins of sardine are expired, I found when I checked- that’s why it’s so cheap in the market. But when you’re on a budget, you take your chances. One tin, mixed with rice, is breakfast and dinner for cats or people. Unless you’re pregnant and throw up if you smell, much less eat certain things.

In a functional society, where leaders understand and care about their people, all pregnant girls and women, especially underage ones, would receive free healthy food throughout their pregnancy and beyond. Clinics, hospitals, and health centers would dispense fruits and vegetables along with injections, pills and advice; heck, there would even be rooftop gardens where patients and their families could assist and learn in before they go home, as part of their recuperation. In a functional society, especially one with abundant and fertile farmland, no one would ever go to sleep hungry. Yes, there is a big yard where she’s living, she says. So you could plant some callaloo and suh, I say. She disregards my suggestion. I try again- even if you don’t like to eat it, other people would use it. You could sell and make some money. She knows the importance of money- who doesn’t in today’s society. But there are still major disconnects. Especially when you’re still a child yourself.

We talk about school; she knows to read, write, and spell she declares, but she’s not interested in books. She tells me about some fancy phone and some other teenage girls in her neighbourhood who have babies. In return, I tell her about birth control, describing the various options. I tell her that abortion is legal and available. She counters with the Bible and sin and what her mother says. I rage at how much we are failing this generation, how poorly the hours in school prepare them for real life, how little we seem to care. I think about all the girl children I knew from the Drop In Center, and how many of them I’ve seen afterwards on the road, with big bellies. There still isn’t any comprehensive sexuality education in public school, much less in the private, religious ones. Predictably, we still have one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the region, and almost half of all children under 16 are still living in poverty in Guyana.

How do you feel about having a baby, I ask curiously, as she prepares to leave. She looks at me, with a tiny smile. No way, she says.

boatbuilding gyaff

sunday morning happenings

mangrove boat building2                            $2Mil GYD will get you a boat in about 6 weeks

Went out for a ride around the hood only to run into a fren of Bheristar building a fishing boat at the mangroves’ edge on the Mon Repos/ Good Hope foreshore. He greeted me like a long lost cousin and we gyaffed for almost an hour. He boasted that he’s the only non-African member of the Ann’s Grove church. “Me di only coolie man in dat chuch! Di onliest! “Why you go there?” I asked curiously. He avoided the q but has no qualms talking about his sexual practices and behaviors. He’s had sex with “plenty auntie-man,” he said. I was shocked to hear him speak so openly. “Yes, I bugger plenty!” He grins widely. “Rape you talking?” “No! I never force nobody.”  After sex, we talked drugs and politricks. We agreed that politrickians are never to be trusted, that the whole thing’s a foolish waste of time/ game, and the white lady is dangerous. He didn’t know ganja came from India but he knows which house on the dam peddles the coke. “Police does come steady,” he said, “but nobody ever gets hold.” “So what the police going there for then?” I query. He looked at me significantly and said, “Yuh kno di ting..” In response to my question asking his thoughts about the oil, he snorted. “Only dem in suit and tie will get benefit from the oil.” Tiger just smiled the whole time, didn’t say a word.

 

seaside hindu ritual place2

 

 

Reasons the Government of Guyana should stop the HPV campaign and Gardasil vaccination immediately

Dear Editor,

We are writing to share our concerns about the HPV vaccination campaign that the Guyana Ministry of Public Health has once again re-launched, specifically targeting pre-teen schoolgirls.

First of all, please know that we are knowledgeable about the Gardasil vaccine and included among is a public health professional. All of us have a great and abiding commitment to the health, empowerment, and rights of women and children. We are not ignorant crackpots nor people who oppose government actions because we are anti-government. Our objection to this campaign and vaccine stems not from a lack of caring about persons’ health; on the contrary- it is precisely because we are greatly concerned about the wellbeing of women and children in Guyana that we are urging that a stop be put to it.

There are significant harmful side effects from the vaccine that parents of girl children need to be made aware of- data that the MoPH has not shared nor adequately educated parents about. The MoPH has built this campaign around people’s fear of cancer and without any proper public consultation or discussion about the risks of the vaccine. We believe that women and girls must be provided with all the available information so they can be empowered to make the best decision for themselves and their families- not just be browbeaten and bamboozled by the authorities or those who seem to have more knowledge than they do.

Finally, we believe that promoting regular sexual health checkups and cancer screenings such as PAP smears and VIA testing (which have no harmful side effects) is a far more efficient and effective use of the scarce resources of the MoPH and would have a greater long term impact in preventing and reducing cervical cancer among Guyanese women. We urge the MoPH to dedicate its efforts and attention to that front instead and would willingly work with them at such time.

Listed below are some specific concerns about HPV and Gardasil that we urge you to review and share, especially with parents of pre-teen and teenage girl children, so that all may become better informed and more able to make a good decision about safeguarding the health of their children. Do note that all this data is from highly reputable, scientifically accurate sources (references are included so that you may check for yourself).

  • Most HPV infections go away on their own, without treatment, and do not result in cancer. In the United States, where the prevalence of HPV infection is significantly higher than in Guyana, only about 3.4% of all HPV viruses were associated with cervical cancer[1].
  • Cervical cancer is one of the most easily detected and treated cancers[2]. Regular screening- either by PAP smear or VIA testing- is extremely effective at detecting pre-cancerous growths which can then be destroyed before they become cancerous[3]. Notably, VIA testing just uses vinegar; it is a simple test that doesn’t require a lot of training to do or interpret, making it particularly suitable for use in under-resourced regions of Guyana.
  • According to the American Cancer Society- when caught early, the survival rate for women with cervical cancer is 93%[4]. In addition, the World Health Organization notes that early treatment programs in developed countries prevents up to 80% of cervical cancers[5].
  • Gardasil contains genetically engineered virus-like particles as well as aluminum, which have been proven to negatively affect immune functioning[6];[7]. Furthermore- according to the vaccine manufacturer product information insert- Gardasil not been evaluated for carcinogenicity or genotoxicity[8]. What this means therefore is that the possibility exists that this vaccine itself could cause cancer! This cannot be known yet though; many years have to pass first. As such, we recommend that a precautionary approach be followed and use of this vaccine stopped immediately, especially since there are effective and efficient screening methods that have no side effects.
  • The Japanese Health Ministry stopped recommending Gardasil vaccination for their citizens since 2013 and continues to maintain this position[9]. In addition, the US government has paid nearly US$6M in compensation to persons and families whose loved ones suffered serious side effects from this HPV vaccine[10].
  • The cost of this vaccine in Canada is about $405Can per recipient. The Guyanese government has stated that it is aiming to distribute approximately 40,000 doses of this vaccine across Guyana. We question where the funding for this vaccination campaign has come from and ask the MoPH to provide data showing if spending money on this vaccine is more cost-effective than funding regular cervical cancer screening programs. As we said earlier, it is our contention is that it would be a better and more sensible use of our scarce public health resources to strengthen cervical cancer screening programs throughout Guyana- especially in the hinterland regions which are consistently under-resourced- instead of promoting mass vaccination.
  • The HPV vaccine can have numerous harmful side effects including vomiting, dizziness, swollen glands, shortness of breath, chest pain, aching muscles, and prolonged muscle weakness. There have also been cases of women and girls suffering paralysis and death after receiving this vaccine[11]. Please note that we have not said that these side effects are inevitable but the information needs to be shared with parents so that they can weigh the risks and benefits for themselves and not be misled into giving permission for their young children to receive this vaccine without knowing the serious side effects it could cause.
  • Because of the lack of information about side effects overall, as well as the specific lack of this information in indigenous languages, if girls in the Guyanese hinterland- a special target area of this campaign- get sick from this vaccine, it is unlikely that they will receive proper emergency attention and care.

In conclusion, given the lack of public education and consultation, this campaign to administer Gardasil to pre-teen and teenage Guyanese children is a violation of the Rights of the Child Convention.  We urge all Guyanese parents to join us in calling on the MoPH to:

  1. Stop the nationwide HPV vaccination campaign immediately;
  2. Launch a national public awareness exercise to inform pre-teen and teenage girls and their parents of all the vaccine risks and side effects so that they can make more informed decisions;
  3. Conduct ongoing national public education campaigns to highlight the importance of all sexually active Guyanese women obtaining regular PAP smears or VIA testing as the most effective way to prevent cervical cancer;
  4. Ensue that healthcare facilities in all regions of Guyana are always equipped with skilled staff and materials needed to conduct and interpret cervical cancer screening using PAP smears and/or VIA testing;
  5. Implement comprehensive sexuality education in all schools nationwide so that Guyanese youth are better informed about sexual health and the functioning of their bodies, and gain the necessary skills to communicate openly, honestly, and non-judgmentally with their peers, partners, parents, and healthcare providers about safer sex, consent, and other related topics.

If anyone would like to speak with us directly or have us come and discuss this information further with any group or organization, we can be reached thusly: 653-3734; 223-6254.

Yours very sincerely,

Sherlina Nageer, MPH

Karen DeSouza

Andaiye

Charlene Wilkinson

Mark Jacobs

 

[1] http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/297/8/813.abstract?ijkey=85292b84748848d91264576bb538b4148404c962&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha

[2] https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer.html

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4481740/

[4] https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/survival.html

[5] http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs380/en/

[6] http://info.cmsri.org/the-driven-researcher-blog/are-aluminum-adjuvants-plus-gardasil-a-uniquely-damaging-neuroinflammatory-cocktail

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27421722

[8] https://www.fda.gov/downloads/biologicsbloodvaccines/vaccines/approvedproducts/ucm111263.pdf

[9] https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/861322

[10] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/dec/31/us-court-pays-6-million-gardasil-victims/

[11] https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-144456/gardasil-pf-intramuscular/details/list-sideeffects

thank you massa

heard a minister of government say today that “we have to be ready for the development that’s going to come.” everybody clapped.

also heard today- a young friend’s story of when she was a ward of the state. one day she was sent to a foster home. this was a few years ago, in the beginning of the foster care program; they hadn’t sorted out the stipend part yet. a few mornings later, she got her period. she asked her foster mother for a sanitary pad so she could go to school; she had exams to write. after she finished her exam but before she could go back home, she received a message from her social worker. she was not to go back to the foster home, but to the state-run children’s home instead. “For years afterwards,” she said, “I thought something was wrong with me, that’s why she didn’t want me.. Is only when I got big that I realized she was the one with the problem..

i recognize, in the recent pic of guyana govt misleaders and their minions skinning their teeth at evil exxon’s huston hq pre-hurricane harvey flood- someone who i last saw working at the child care and protection agency. now she jet setting w the unbribe-able politrickians of gt.

aah yes, Guyana, clap and be grateful that the white man has come to save us from the nowhere train that we were on.. cuz we sure as heck were doing a piss poor job of taking care of ourselves, weren’t we? best we go back under all-knowing, all-powerful whitey. i mean, yuh already bleaching, right? just now we’re all going to get a check from exxon every month! think of how much more bleaching cream you cud buy wid dat.

thank you massa!

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a tale of two mothers

a tale of two mothers. the first is trying to slow down time. she gets a year with her newborn before the child is taken away. these simpletons think its better to sever the maternal-offspring bond than bring the child up in prison. but children are born and raised in brothels, sweatshops, and shantytowns the world over. #hypocrisymuch The second mother is trying to speed up time. She’s got a release date, see? she has 3 children- a girl and 2 boys who are both in the GDF (Army). She was busted at the airport with cocaine. She plead guilty right away and has already served 2/3 of her time. She lived 10 minutes away from the prison, she said. She used to exercise around it when she was young; she’d run past early in the morning, tantalizing the big women inside. Now, funnily enough, many years later, she’s a captive, staring out at life going by. #ataleof2mothers #Guyana2017