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.