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
Sometimes I decide to go to things. Sometimes I get to thinking I should engage/participate more in the larger society out there. So I leave my hammock and my yard of growing things, and- risking my life in the minibuses- I go. Sometimes I’m glad, pleasantly surprised, meet cool people, feel stimulated. This being Independence eve and all, I made the effort. The event description mentioned young people and an environmental organization- that’s why I went; Earth and the future is in peril- I wanted to hear what young people thought and were doing about that. But it turns out that was just the first 15 minutes; the rest of the time was devoted to the Constitution and blah blah blah. There weren’t that many people there- there were competing events- the flag raising, something about oil and gas- undoubtedly more people were at those events. So i forced myself to stay. It was hard for me to sit there though. I twitched my fingers and toes, slumped then pulled myself back up, closed my eyes, rested my head in my hands, just fidgeted. All I kept thinking while man after man droned on about the Constitution and politricks was the little girl I had spent the previous hours of the afternoon with. She was 7 going on 8, in Grade 2, and she couldn’t write a proper sentence. In fact, she was at the ‘cat, bat, rat, hat’ stage of reading/writing. At 7 going on 8. She has never not been in school. It’s public school tho, not private; she’s not from a wealthy family. They have had their share of troubles actually, but she hasn’t been the one directly affected. Physically- as far as the eye can see- she’s fine, healthy. But the learning deficits are unmistakable.
She’s never been assessed though- where does one even go to get that done in Guyana, another colleague/friend and I pondered the other day? I thought of one person who might know; after the holiday we’ll reach out and see (Karen H- is you I thinking of). 51 years of independence. 7 yr olds who can’t read. She’s not alone- when I was volunteering at the Drop In Center- before it burned down killing Joshua and Antonio George- I found many children who were going to school every day, who had notebooks full of notes, but who struggled to read and write basic sentences in English <Charlene, you have to give me tips on how to assess Creolese fluency in writing>. I stopped volunteering after the fire- there wasn’t any suitable place for that at the new location where the surviving children were re-located to, I was told when I visited there. Besides, they reported, most of the children had been sent back to their families. I see them around regularly actually- usually it’s they who “Miss” me. I saw one of the boys last Friday, unloading thrushes of water coconuts from the back of a pickup truck at my weekly neighborhood market. It was around 11am, time when he should have been in school. But instead, he was child laboring. When I asked if he was going to school, he dropped his eyes and lied. “Yes Miss. I just didn’t go today.” I stood there for a few minutes, just watching him silently. When the backs of the adult men directing the operation were turned, I asked him softly if they were paying him. He nodded. These children are everywhere- you don’t have to know or look hard to see them; they are everywhere; clearly visible every day. They’re at the intersections and road corners selling water, soda, and beer. They’re pushing bales of stuff in the market and climbing into storage bonds. They’re running errands for big people and engaging in all kinds of hustles. The girls are a bit more invisible- unless you’re in the bush or a bottomhouse bar. 51 years of independence. And these men are talking about the readability of the Constitution and all the beautiful things it promises the Guyanese people. The environmental organization man talks about how happy he is to have found a job he likes and the awesomeness of nature. About the pristineness of Guyana’s environment and the difficulty getting coastlanders to appreciate it. The young woman on the panel- the only one, someone i know, who blew a kiss to me earlier- talks about love. Love of country and the awesomeness of nature. The other young man talks about his love of the law, and youth coupling with wisdom. He is careful, too careful, already lawyerly-careful, to not blame anyone (the government) for anything. The veteran trade unionist’s 15 minutes feels like an hour and at the end of it I’m completely discombobulated. I want to scream. I want to cry. I leave when another comrade of sorts asks about the lack of a strong civil society response to the abuses of power. My head feels like it’s going to explode; I bolt outside- if it does, I want to at least get one last glimpse of the stars before oblivion. Instead I’m greeted by the sight of overflowing garbage bins and piles of garbage strewn about the pathway. On the other side, inside the GuyOil compound, nice Jamaican music plays and people dance, enjoying the pre-Independence.
I walk to the National Library, to check on the banner I put up there day before yesterday. It says LGBT and Guyanese on the same line and it was a minor dream of mine to get a banner like this in this position. This being Guyana though, anything could have happened to it. So I’m going to check on it. I have some more wire in my bag to secure it more if necessary. I hear a sound behind me and turn; it’s just a dog. Still, I’m on the alert. I am a woman, walking alone. I have been mugged before and have no desire for a repeat. Another block and another sound, this one human. Turning I see a man in slippers, one of the numerous street dwellers of Georgetown. Shit. I pick up my pace and search the wire out of my bag, wrapping it around my fist. I could poke him with it if necessary, or strangle him maybe? Yes, these are the things women walking alone on darkened streets think. Under a streetlight I see that he is of indigenous heritage. It’s funny- I had been thinking, in the event earlier, when the environment organization people were talking, about how I would have liked to see/hear an indigenous person’s perspective. So now the universe had sent me someone. Real funny. I cross the street, looking back still. I know he sees me looking at him, judging him a threat. I feel like shit but this is life. Fucked up shit. As we near the library, he greets me. “Exercising huh?” he says inanely. I just grunt. My head still feels like it’s going to explode.
Sign Support and Solidarity Statement here: https://docs.google.com/…/1FAIpQLSdOqmpYkQi-2ghPiN…/viewform <The arrest of Dr. Stella Nyanzi in light of her campaign to provide sanitary pads to young students is an affront, to the fundamental right of all students to continuous education. The arrest seeks to shift focus from the urgent issue of getting sanitary pads to girls who need them so that their education is not disrupted, to respectability and the hurt egos of powerful political elites and people in power.>
to be lesbian, bisexual, or questioning is not the same as being transgender, i know- BUT in societies set up and dedicated to maintaining heteronormativity and the gender binary/status quo, all who do not conform are stigmatized. i share the following quotes from a LBQ survey i conducted last Nov/Dec in observance and solidarity with my trans family. #similarstruggles #bridgebuilding #transgendervisibilitydaycommemoration
This is not a comprehensive list. Many- children and adults- have been maimed, physically and emotionally. Many are still suffering in silence.
Indrawattie Somwar, known as Sharda. 49 years old, mother of 2. Chopped to death by her husband who was consuming alcohol throughout the day. Upon returning home he requested some food which he subsequently hit out of her hands. As a result she told him about his behaviour and requested that he leave the house but he became angry and went into the kitchen where he allegedly armed himself with a cutlass and dealt her two chops to her head.
this sappodilla tree was planted by my Nani (mother’s mother) about 40 years ago. that makes it about as old as me. Nani died in 1986, ten days after the photo above was taken, but the sappodilla tree she planted remains, still bearing bountifully. the fruit is small small but sweet sweet. it’s one of my favorite fruits; not least of all because i’m also small, brown skinned, and sweet- when i want to be (heh). in fact, my father nicknamed me sappy when i was a child..
today i climbed nani’s tree and picked over a hundred sappodillas; leaving hundreds more still to be harvested.the branches are slender and swayed underfoot. i reached for the sweetness i desired, hoping not to crash to the ground. rain had fallen earlier and the leaves shook droplets into my eyes. the sap gummed up my hair and hands. but there were no followmes nesting, so happily, i got no stings and didn’t have to abort picking and jump down hastily- as on previous memorable occasions.
some people- men mostly- say that women shouldn’t climb trees; that the trees will stop bearing. this is sheer stupidness and you can go ahead and tell dem people i seh so- even (and maybe especially) if they are your family members/loved ones. a laaang suck teeth in these circumstances is also warranted.
there is an art to picking sappodillas. ideally, you’re supposed to wait until the little spike on the base falls off, then harvest. but the high winds and breeze had been blowing plenty off the tree and the birds, bats, and other critters have been feasting- as the skins and remnants on the ground attest to. so, to ensure that we humans got our share, i decided to climb and pick some to ‘set’ a couple days in a closed, newspaper-lined container.
it’s tricky tho- fruit that, from the ground look large, shrink when viewed up close. i have to make a calculation between taking a chance and leaving them on the tree to get a little more size, but possibly losing them to the birds etc, or playing it safe and picking them smaller. it’s a tough decision- small and sure vs bigger but possibly bird bitten.. the greedy gambler must come to terms with the fact that no matter how much something is loved and wanted, one creature simply cannot consume all. so i pick some and leave some for the birds, bats, and other critters. 🙂 pachamama provides for us all, sharing is caring, and harmonious living is possible.
i wash and parcel and then spend long minutes cleaning my skin of the sap. half dozen of the already ripe ones satisfy my soul. when i was younger and more foolish, i used to use a knife to cut the fruit and a spoon to scoop and eat. now that i’m older and wiser, i use my thumb to split the soft brown skin and just suck. sometimes i even eat the skin.
tomorrow, i will transplant the seedling that’s growing in front of the old pit latrine. i won’t have any descendants but hopefully the trees i plant today will feed some creature(s) some day.
thank you, nani. #sweetmemories
“How much of this truth can I bear to see and still live
How much of this pain can I use?”
“And I find I must remember that the pain is not its own reason for being. It is a part of living. And the only kind of pain that is intolerable is pain that is wasteful, pain from which we do not learn. And I think that we must learn to distinguish between the two.”
“One of the hardest things to accept is learning to live within uncertainty and neither deny it nor hide behind it. Most of all, to listen to the messages of uncertainty without allowing them to immobilize me, nor keep me from the certainties of those truths in which I believe. I turn away from any need to justify the future- to live in what has not yet been. Believing, working for what has not yet been while living fully in the present now.”
“I have found that battling despair does not mean closing my eyes to the enormity of the tasks of effecting change, nor ignoring the strength and the barbarity of the forces aligned against us. It means teaching, surviving and fighting with the most important resource I have, myself, and taking joy in that battle. It means, for me, recognizing the enemy outside, and the enemy within, and knowing that my work is part of a continuum of women’s work, of reclaiming this earth and our power, and knowing that this work did not begin with my birth nor will it end with my death. And it means knowing that within this continuum, my life and my love and my work has particular power and meaning relative to others.”
“Every Guyanese a child protector”
This is what is written on the Child Care and Protection Agency’s (CCPA) signboard, outside their office at the intersection of Broad and Charles St, in Georgetown.
What does it mean to care for and protect children? Does it mean taking them out of unsafe living conditions? Undoubtedly. Removing them from the care of people who abuse and mistreat them? Definitely. How are those situations assessed though, and those decisions made? Are CCPA staff trained enough to differentiate between deliberate abuse by individuals and systemic abuse perpetuated on families by poverty? To differentiate between parents who purposely starve their children and those who are simply too poor to afford three solid meals a day?
What responsibility does the government have to provide quality employment to their citizens? After more than a year in office and after giving themselves a salary increase, how many jobs has this government created? I’m not just talking training half a dozen people in half a dozen communities or employing people to pick up trash and clean nasty drains one or two times; I’m asking about large scale, systematic job creation programs. How much longer do Guyanese have to wait for those?
What are those Guyanese currently unemployed to do in the meantime? How are they supposed to feed themselves and their children in the meanwhile?
And to those self-righteous ones who will say that “she mus close her legs or bear the consequences if she want have fun”- i ask: where are the free vasectomies for men, the safe and affordable abortion services at public hospitals nationwide, or the education around consent and sexual and reproductive health/rights in schools? Where are the social and religious leaders (Other than Rev. Pat Sheerattan-Bisnauth) who are encouraging and talking openly/unashamedly about contraception and family planning (including termination of pregnancy if/when necessary), or the congregations that don’t just collect alms to build bigger churches/temples/masjids but that provide significant financial support and jobs for needy families in their midst? Who is doing the widespread cultural deprogramming that tells women and girls that they don’t *have* to all become mothers, that it’s not every girl/woman’s BIOLOGICAL DESTINY to bear children, that they are not misfits, freaks, or lesser beings if they choose not to have children? Where is the training for men and boys about fatherhood, about not being just sperm donors and deadbeat dads? How well is the child support law working?
Why is there more judgement and condemnation than support for economically disadvantaged women and families? How much support is there for working families anyway? How many parents have to leave their children home alone or in the care of others as they go to work? How many parents are working 8+ hours a day and still unable to meet all their basic expenses, save, or lift themselves out of poverty? How many workers are exploited by their employers and how much recourse to justice is available to them, or ever achieved? How many feel that they have no choice but to accept the abuse? How many drown their sorrows in alcohol and take their frustration out on their children and partner?
What happens after the State removes children from their families? Isn’t the caring and protection supposed to continue after that? How much training do CCPA staff have in child development and psychology? I don’t know where or how the CCPA staff is recruited or assessed, nor do I know anything about the Social Work program at the University of Guyana, but I do have direct, first-hand experience and knowledge of the inner functioning of the Drop In Center, having volunteered there for several years, and I can say with 20000% certainty that the answer to this question is NOT ENOUGH! Over the years, I have seen numerous instances of staff at the Drop In Center verbally abusing the children in their care, as well as threatening and actually striking them physically. I have seen vermin infestations onsite, as well as unhygienic and unsafe conditions (which I reported to both the Director of the CCPA, as well as the Minister of Social Protection, Volda Lawrence). I have seen children in distress and ineffective counseling; children receiving this State ‘care’ for years who end up in no substantially better condition, who are ejected at age 18 with no real skills and left to fend for themselves on the streets, or preyed upon by others. I have also seen children respond to kindness and sensitive attention, children who are desperate for love and caring. I have read essay after essay written by children at the Drop In Center, about their families and their desire to be reunited with their loved ones.
Children need and thrive best in their families’ care- that is beyond obvious; one does not need a PhD to know that. Yes, many families in Guyana need support and assistance; many become parents without necessarily knowing how best to raise healthy children and many are victimized by oppressive socioeconomic circumstances. However, it is the role and responsibility of the State to devote all available resources to improve the conditions of daily life for its citizens; to tell a mother to get a job and better apartment before she will be given back her children is beyond heartless- it shows a fundamental lack of understanding and disrespect for the life and struggles of economically disadvantaged people in Guyana and a mentality that judges and further abuses people in distress, instead of assisting them. The fact is that CCPA staff- from front line responders all the way up to the highest level of management- have a history of bullying and terrorizing Guyanese families, of doing as much harm as good sometimes. This is why families who should, theoretically, be benefiting from the services they’re supposed to be offering, refuse to have anything to do with them, preferring to seek assistance elsewhere or just continue to suffer.
Another serious question that needs asking is what is being done to provide affordable housing to all Guyanese. I’m not talking granting house lots people who have been waiting for inordinate amounts of time- that is nonsense; giving people swamp land, with no infrastructure- no roads, no electricity or water lines, then expecting them to spend millions more dollars to “build up” the land, and construct a dwelling is not what I’m talking about nor what is needed. The question is why-with a population of less than a million persons and a land mass that can fit several of our neighbouring Caricom states- are numerous Guyanese citizens still living in squatting areas, having to “shit and ‘shie’, especially while some wealthy Guyanese and foreigners have multiple house lots? Why haven’t charges been filed as yet against Bharrat Jagdeo and his other peepeepee cronies, 9 months after a SARU investigation and report recommended that? What is the State doing to ensure that all Guyanese who need a safe place to live and raise their families are able to do so?
These are some of the questions that should be asked by all right thinking Guyanese, not where was Red Thread. Civil society could do more, yes. Individuals as well as organizations need to expand their scope, as well as collaborate and support each other more. However, many non-profit organizations are already stretched to capacity. I know that Red Thread in particular- the organization I’m most familiar with- regularly goes above and beyond what others would consider the normal call of duty. I know that for months at a time- almost a whole year actually, Red Thread members worked without pay, continuing to provide services to women, children, and families in crisis, in case and community after community. For a CCPA employee, being paid with tax dollars, to point the finger at this organization is clearly and simply a poor attempt to shift blame. That Kaieteur News reprinted that comment, as well as previous ones disparaging the grieving parents of the boys killed in CCPA care, is just another example of the lack of journalistic integrity of that entity- something that has been demonstrated multiple times over the years.
The facts cannot be erased though- Joshua and Antonio George died while in State care, not their parents’. For this, the Child Care and Protection Agency must be held responsible and by that we mean not just paying for the children’s funerals but opening themselves up to independent oversight, committing to and ensuring that all their staff are properly and regularly trained in all areas of child development and well-being, as well as respectful and empathetic communication, confidentiality and counseling guidelines. Though none of this will bring back Joshua and Antonio, we have a responsibility to demand that their deaths not be in vain and that government officials and State employees do more for Guyanese children and citizens.