Scottish Charity Number: SCO36069
 

11th November 2015

Laura Pennycook: 2nd report from Guyana

Home | News | Laura Pennycook: 2nd report from Guyana

As the little speed boat crossed the Demerara River, the change in landscape was incredible. In the space of 15 minutes we moved from a dirty, polluted dock at the forefront of Guyana’s capital city to the opposite bank filled with…. Nothing. Bush stretched for as far down the brown jungle river as I could see, and we pulled up in amongst a group of brightly coloured fishing boats. Much more picturesque that the coast we had left behind us for 5 days at least.

At only 11am Bryher and I climbed into our third bus of the day, the penultimate leg of our journey to the island of Leguan, 3 river crossings away from Kwakwani.

It wasn’t only the landscape that had drastically changed, with flat stretches of rice fields and tarmac roads lined with lazy palm trees and houses one row deep replacing the claustrophobic forest of the interior. The music drifting out of passing houses (and blasting from the buses radio) was no longer the Caribbean sounding soca I was used to, but chutney, typical Indian sounding music with sitars, drums and wailing voices. The people were different too. In Kwakwani – nay, all of the interior – the population is made up of either indigenous Amerindians, or Afro-Guyanese with roots in the old slave trade, or mixes of the two. Here, everyone I saw was very obviously descended from the East Indian people brought to Guyana to work for pennies after the abolition of slavery. The Indo-Guyanese are renowned for their business skills, so I guess it makes sense for the majority to live on the coast where business (and civilisation) is at its strongest and most evident.

After screaming down a long, straight road past houses on stilts and Mandirs painted in every colour of the rainbow we arrived in the village of Parika, the transport hub of the Essequibo. From here you can get speed boats and ferries up the river to the more westernised Bartica (where Andrew, Tolly and Rach live) and further, across the huge river mouth to Supenaam on the opposing side, or to the various islands littering the estuary.

After a bargaining attempt with the speedboat driver we were off, resigned to paying more due to it being the national holiday of Diwali. But as it turns out, it was completely worth the extra $1000 as while the other passenger and crew used thick tarpaulin to form some form of barricade against the raging, choppy sea water, I let the spray soak me and the wind thrash my hair all around. I couldn’t stop laughing – better than any roller coaster I’ve been on. One broken necklace from the wind, two heads of tangled hair and a soaked-through backpack later, Bryher and I stepped onto the Leguan stelling, our purses considerably lighter and imaginations filled with excitement for the few days to come.

Marie Louise and Mary collected us on their way to the home of a family they know well. Their son had promised to give us a bunch of Dias, tiny little candles that are lit on Diwali every year. The walk took us down a back road almost on top of the sea wall, with everyone we passed remarking on how this was the choppiest they’d seen it – no wonder the boat driver hadn’t been keen to offer our crossing! When we reached the family we found out that we were not being merely handed the Dias. We would have to construct them ourselves. Munching our way through a plate of Indian sweetmeats we began, the whole family joining in ripping up pillow cases and twisting the cloth up tightly to form the wicks. When finished we gave our thanks, but weren’t allowed to leave before being offered part of the iguana in the family freezer. Makes great curry, apparently.

There was some confusion with Diwali on Leguan this year – it is an island full of strict Hindus and with that can come disagreements. The Tuesday we arrived, the national holiday, was when a lot of the islanders celebrated but, because of the time difference with India (birthplace of Hinduism), many thought the right and proper day to celebrate would be the Wednesday. All this meant to us was that we got two days to celebrate and soak in the festive spirit. That evening we walked around to the family of a student taught by Mairie Louise for tea, and the sight was something else. There’s a bit of a competition as to who can light the most Dias and the 10 minute walk was stretched to around 20 due to us having to stop and stare at every yard – one was rumoured to have over 200 of the flickering candles lighting up the pathway. We arrived at the house while the children were still in the midst of lighting the Dias – if we thought it was impressive when we arrived then upon departure, it was magnificent. The mother of the family filled us up with channa curry, dahl puri, vermicelli sweetmeats and juice until we felt we might pop. Then the children took over, thrusting sparklers and steel wool into our hands which we lit and danced along the sea wall with, sparks flaying into the sky and joining the bright, bright stars.

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