by award winning columnist Vidyaratha Kissoon
“I just come from wuk. Some days de wuk so damn hard, ah doan get a chance fuh tek a drink” said the veteran public servant I call Uncle. . I said . ‘Man, that sounds like a good thing’ and he said “Nah, nah.. must tek a drink”
Earlier in the week, the Minister of Finance did not talk about rum or alcohol in the 2015 Budget Speech “A Fresh Approach to the Good Life in a Green Economy” There was no mention of rum or alcohol in the 2014 budget either even though rum and alcohol dominate Guyana’s economy and life.
Chicken sausages in packets (and not in tins?) are in the Budget – they are now VAT free, but the hot dog rolls still have VAT. Hot dogs might remain at the same price.
The woman sold out of the hot dogs she was selling outside the National Cultural Centre the night after the budget . She said she had noticed that people were not coming to shows, even the free ones. She was surprised that night though. I asked if it was because of advertisement, but she said no no, the shows are advertised.
The National Cultural Centre should be part of the good life. The beautiful entrance with the glass doors is fiercely barricaded by two signs “DRESS CODE IN EFFECT” .
I had been boycotting the NCC for its dress code and maybe others have been doing that. I felt like going home even though it was a free show. I grumbled to the Usher who probably hears this all the time. They are nice, apologetic. The usher said that ‘No, no.. it seems that they are going to keep the dress code, they want to keep standards” . The man on the PA system who talked about how the audience should behave did start with talking about DRESS CODE.
This FRESH START in this new economy probably means that no matter what, no matter how many theatres and performance spaces around the world have no dress code mandate but focus on the quality of the productions and the experience of those who wear slippers and shorts and want to pay money to see the productions, that Guyanese artists and performers would probably starve than take money from people in slippers, tee shirts and short pants and perform for them.
This GREEN ECONOMY will ensure that the DRESS CODE will be an example of STANDARDS and people who are not dressed properly are not supposed to imbibe any of the culture on offer at the National Cultural Centre.
I was scared to ask the woman selling hot dogs what she thought about the DRESS CODE and the impact on audiences. I did not want to have to deal with the risk that she might agree with it as I am yet to build up the courage to do one on one radical revolution beyond getting people to stop beating their children.
The woman said she hoped that people would send their children to the Youth Day activities because “..they could learn something. Is holidays, so they could come and learn something”. She was going to send her grand children. She had them with her, involving them in the selling and the business. This week the education of Guyanese children discussion came up again after the CSEC results were announced.
In 2010 16,351 children wrote common entrance. Five years later, this year, in 2015, 12,606 wrote CSEC . So 3,745 children did not make it to Fifth Form in Guyana
In 2009, 18,613 students wrote common entrance. In 2014 – 13,724 students wrote CSEC , so 4889 children might not have made it to Fifth Form in Guyana.
In 2008, 17,630 students wrote common entrance. In 2013 – 13654 students wrote CSEC so 3976 children might not have made it to Fifth Form in Guyana.
Over the last three years then, with adjustments for those repeating, and using the CIA migration rate of -8.2 per 1000, there are at least 12,000 young people who did not get the 5 CXC subjects usually taken as a standard for employment and for furthering education. There are probably thousands more from the previous years who are not qualifying. There is this belief that if ‘yuh cyan tek book, yuh can learn a trade’ without realising that with the technological advancements, that being good at the trade requires ‘book knowledge’ . A man who reminded me I had shown him how to use a computer back in the day when he started his electrical trade, now writes computer programmes for some of the systems he installs. In Canada.
I met one of the boys who left school in fourth form in Corentyne. Now 19, he was working as a security guard while waiting for crop to start back at Skeldon. He had to leave school due to his father’s abusive behaviour and ‘teking on his parents’.
He said that life was settling now as he got the work sorted and the violence at home had stopped as his mother and father separated and he stood up to his step-father. He was thinking of going to school but the shift work meant he could not attend regular classes and help might not have been available. His life skills were good – he stopped drinking , he decided to use a condom because he was not ready for children – things he said he learned at school. He is determined that his younger sister would complete high school.
Guyana does not have a culture of encouraging young adults to go and finish off their education and move on. Men especially are more likely to see a bill board encouraging them to drink liquor rather than go to a class somewhere. There might some of the other 12, 15, 20,000 who could be nudged back into an education system which is designed to accommodate shift work and other things.
One of the boys around his time said that their class at one of the senior schools in the Region reduced by 60% by the time they reached Fifth Form. Another boy who might not have made it through the school system was begging in the ice cream parlour. There was great intelligence in the begging, in the approach to people. The guilt thing and having the buzz cut to show a scar which needed fixing. He walked around twice, polite and quiet.
Some gave him money. Others like me, did not give. Looked away and mumbled no. I had given a mango earlier to a man who had asked for money outside the insurance building. He said he wanted money to buy water to mix with some flour he had , but he took the mango. I had given the mango because we self-righteous donors know that we do not give money to some beggars because they might buy cocaine or rum or cigarettes with it (like the other man who I gave money to the day after the Budget who the girls had told me, don’t give he no money, he get plenty pension).
Some days, depending on how many sins I commit, I tend to give money more without question, while other days I hold back. Another man who did not give money was in the ice cream shop ,reading. The Mirror newspaper. I wanted to take a picture because the man looked kind of defiant in how he held the paper and kept looking around. Maybe to check to see in the Green Economy who might be watching him. There are not too many people who read in public so I feel good when I see one.
Another woman , a foreigner, was reading a book and did not seem to care who was watching. Ice cream is part of the good life for me , but it is not in the Budget to be zero rated. (Yoghurt is). I did the guilt thing of buying the mangoes thinking that I am contributing more directly to the local economy and buying fruits for the same price as the ice cream which is made from foreign stuff and with foreign flavours and so on. Another foreigner asked earlier this week “Has the coalition done anything positive d’you think?” . I was too lazy to think to answer and be critical.
But I think, well they stir up the Burnham jumbie in me a lil bit and while not radical in the Buy Local thing , I have this more Buy Local and Buy Foreign kind of way. In fact I bought more mangoes than if I was not going to buy ice cream near where the people sell mangoes. Mangoes are still mostly local. There is something about how you can buy either ‘fresh pick’ or ‘set mango’ slightly cheaper and I sometimes show off to visitors how I could tell the difference if it is not pointed out.
It is kind of like real mango or fake mango. The other countries where I have bought mangoes do not have this distinction. Is the ‘Fresh pick’/’Set mango’ a Guyanese cultural tradition?
A visitor who was born in Guyana lamented that Guyana is losing its culture. He was in search of African cultural roots in Guyana in Ithaca and other villages and documenting them because he felt the traditions were dying out and there were no sincere attempts at preservation. He said that one of his travelling companions thought Guyana was recovering from a civil war. He kept asking ‘why is the place so dirty’ , ‘where are the plants and the green’?
There have been three birds nesting under the house this year. There is something thinking that maybe this is a bond with nature and the birds are free to nest anywhere. But this negaholic, self doubting thing – is it that the birds like me, or is it that there are less trees and the birds are evolving into urban dwellers preferring painted spaces for their nests? While the trees might be decreasing in the city, there is also a lot of unwelcome green bush growing rapidly in drains and on pavements and other places. A woman pointed out that the newly zero rated liquid detergent is far from green. We do not know if the fast growth of bush in the drains is related to the liquid detergent use. So as a nation we have to work on growing nice plants while trimming and getting rid of weeds and bush. So this fresh start sometimes, with the bush and the rubbish, is not so much a start as a cycle of maintenance. There might be some hope though as to how the citizens are dealing with rubbish.
I noticed that some minibuses have rubbish bins in them. Minibuses with black drivers and minibuses with coolie drivers. This might have been inspired by the post elections clean up calls. The sight of a rubbish bin with rubbish inside the minibus was uplifting. Yes, hope in rubbish. Maybe, just maybe there might be ways of fixing what was considered fixable? The conductor of the bus whose driver threw his juice bag out of the window said ‘nah ‘ ‘nah’.. when I asked “yall aint get a rubbish bin”. There is going to be a lot of work still to get many people to have a fresh start to be a part of the good life.