Coil : Contemplating home and corpses

Coil : Contemplating home and corpses

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by Vidyaratha Kissoon

“You open de newspapers lately… yuh see wah a guh an?”.. almost midnight at JFK Airport in NYC and the tall man, who left Corentyne for greener pastures a few years after PPP came to power is on a McDonald’s break – eating fries while watching the clock.

He is convincing me that Guyana is a bad place. “How de hell Ramjattan can be home affairs minister, Ramjattan ah defend criminal, even in he own village he defend criminal.. he nah gah wan police fuh wuk.. police in Guyana useless.. my parents were robbed three times.. they are coming up here finally… rice dead.. economy dead”

The news of home when you are abroad can be scary. The prestigious New York Times has an article which starts off “Tangles of brush shroud the cement graves of this city’s major cemetery, among the largest in the Caribbean. Lumps of trash dot the fields. Mourners’ paths are overgrown with weeds. Decomposing bodies left above ground by funeral homes give off a putrid smell…”

If you were reading on your mobile phone while on a McDonalds break.. would you want to read more unless you were really into purifying bodies?

I try to convince the man that well, there are multiple realities – that it is with crime as it is with cemeteries because I live near two cemeteries none of which have decomposing bodies lying around with putrid smells.

“You know Swami [Vidyanand] is on this plane”.. a man tells me.

I feel a little twinge that the plane I am coming ‘home’ in is also a hearse of sorts.

I am puzzled as to the obsession of moving bodies back to ‘home’. Surely home is a place for living bodies to live and thrive in and not to dispose of corpses?

Marlon James , Jamaican born man who won the Man Booker Prize had said that he knew he had to get out of Jamaica ‘whether in a coffin or a plane”.

There are people who ask to come back in coffins in planes.

A woman asked me , since I “choose to stay in Guyana” what I thought of Honor Ford Smith’s article Moving Stones in which she talks of the exile of artists and writers from Jamaica and the Caribbean who left because “…By the late 1980s we were just stuck in one place moving the mountains of stones that the everlasting landslide kept dumping on us..”

I am not an artist or a writer so I might have found ways to “ collude with what stifles us” as a way of surviving.

A taxi man called out ‘gringo’ again – one of the constant reminders that I am an alien in my ‘home’.

Other people ask if ‘I come from India’ or ‘How long I come back’.

Maybe I have escaped in my head and it is showing.

The plane, Caribbean Airlines, fetches a lot of people (and coffins?) to Guyana.

The in flight magazine Caribbean Beat has three stories about Guyana in the last year – two of which are written by the Trinidadian editor.

It is depressing how Guyana and Guyanese cannot be written into an important travel magazine.

The Burnham in me had once thought that given the amount of money Caribbean Airlines makes from shipping bodies to and from Guyana, that Guyanese must make sure there is an article in every edition about Guyana and Guyanese.

Not about decomposing bodies in cemeteries or Venezuelans invading of course .

A gay man in exile in the USA from Guyana is yearning for Guyana. The USA is working out but he feels that there is more he can connect with in Guyana. It might be romantic nostalgia as he weighs up dealing with the violence in Guyana with the potential to connect with more people than he has in New York.

Another gay man in exile in the USA is done with Guyana. There is no turning back. He rarely connects with Guyanese where he is living and working.

Another gay man who is not in exile is also contemplating, after almost twenty years, returning to Guyana as he sorts out things. He is not sure why he wants to come back. Meanwhile Brooklyn is his home. It has nothing to do with putting back decomposing bodies into the cemeteries.

A woman tells me it has been 10 years and she misses Guyana’s creeks. I tell her I have never been to a creek and she says “ You are crazy.. the soothing, healthy, immersion bush bath and all that…”

I have never visited Kaieteur Falls either. If I have to describe Home I cannot really talk about creeks and Kaieteur Falls.

A man asks ‘are you back home yet’ and I laugh and I write back that ‘Home is really where ever I am’… sometimes it is places with cemeteries with exposed decomposing bodies and other times it is places with broad side walks covered with yellow leaves and with libraries and museums that are open on Sundays and where poor people are gradually being pushed out of their homes.

Halloween night and people are dressed in costumes. The pumpkin in everything is overwhelming.

I am walking down a busy avenue in Brooklyn. Children are tricking or treating – collecting candy from the stores. A Rastafarian woman is sitting outside her shop. I hear her say “Why would you give anybody anything which would harm them?” “How can you do that”. “Why not give them pencils and exercise books”

I hear her say” What do you think Prof?”

I think of the other man in Guyana who calls me ‘teach, prof’ when he passes me on the road.

I stop and ask her whether she celebrates Halloween and ask her what she thinks are the origins.

She says no, she does not celebrate. It is demonic in origin. She grew up in Canada.

Home is there on the Brooklyn pavement smelling the agarbati burning from the woman’s stall and lamenting with her that they should not be giving the children candy to eat because candy is bad for them.

Home is craving anonymity, and on the bus out of JFK hearing .. ‘Hi Mr Kissoon, how are you doing’ … and a few days later walking into a random cafe and seeing a man I had not seen for almost 25 years or so.

The Theatre Guild, thanks to Dr Paloma Mohammed and others , will be home to the Eucalpytus Gardens Theatre.

The Internet has no media record of the launch of the Gardens. The Eucalyptus trees have been there for years. Apparently the eucalyptus plant, like rice, breadfruit and a few other things which are now native were imported to Guyana.

Home for an hour this week was sitting among the foreign eucalyptus trees at the back of the Theatre Guild contemplating the other eucalyptus trees which were flourishing in nearby yards. Home is hoping that the space takes off and that it would be nourished.

There are people trying to make the place liveable. Home is the flowers and the sunlight on the pews in St George’s Cathedral as part of the 121 years of a creation of people who were dreaming of their ‘home’.

Home is trying to connect with the young guard at the Guyana Revenue Authority shouting in the air ‘cell phones, bags, keys over here ‘ – telling her Good Morning and waiting for her to break her litany and put a smile on her face in response so that we could see each other as human.

Home is the faces of the President and Prime Minister smiling down on the organised chaos in GRA.

Home is realising that my attempt to be honest with the GRA has set up a bureaucratic ‘mountain of stones’.

Home is trying to walk on the crowded pavements rather than Regent Street and hearing a loud bhajan and realising the source of the bhajan in midday Georgetown is a music cart with Bob Marley picture and a man beer umbrella.

Home is dodging the water thrown by the man trying to clean the pavement of the muck cleaned from drains by washing some of the muck back into the drains.

Home is trying to pass the man who had told me in 2005 that people like me were responsible for the floods because of the sodom and gomorrah I wanted to bring on Guyana. He had forgotten.

He asks ‘ you does deh pun TV’ and I said yes, I was protesting the salary increase.

And he says “ Why you didn’t protest when Jagdeo was killing black people’ and I say, ‘I protest Courtney Crum Ewing’.

He tells me ‘I know you face from somewhere’.. and I say ‘maybe we wuz in jail the same time’ and as I walk away I hear another man say nah nah not you.. you won’t be in jail’

And after walking past the man, Home is the six horses around the shine shine cleaned up Bourda Cemetery. Six healthy horses grazing near the cemetery without any smells a kind of pastoral scene right in the middle of busy Georgetown.

Home is the minibus man asking whether I had ever gone to the Canje Hospital (Mental) .. he had gone and a man had run towards them with a wood and with one index finger in the air.. the man had wanted a cigarette. ‘We were frightened, they need more security in that place… “

Home is walking to the house on a road without pavements and full side drains in the hot sun and thinking that there is a cold breeze blowing against me as I am walking on a pavement which has dried leaves on it and the drains are clear and out of sight.

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