From the People’s Parliament and Occupy Guyana [GT]
All photos by Shirlina Naager © Creative Commons
“The fact that we are here and that I speak these words is an attempt to break that silence and bridge some of those differences between us, for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. Your silence will not protect you. Because the machine will try to grind you into dust anyway, whether or not we speak. We can sit in corners mute forever while our sisters and our selves are wasted, while our children are distorted and destroyed, while our earth is poisoned; we can sit in our safe corners mute as bottles, and we will still be no less afraid. I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”- Audre Lorde
“Eh eh, is who that anti-man shaking off?” She rolls her eyes and sucks her teeth.
This was an issue from night one. We’d successfully launched our action and from the initial handful of determined women, our numbers had more than quadrupled. We were ecstatic; Revolution was in the air and we were the righteous warriors, on the side of justice, freedom, equality, and all that was good and right. Though a migraine was forcing me to lie down in the tent with a rag over my eyes, my heart and soul were soaring among the stars. I could not rest; the excitement from the gathering was too palpable. I was also thinking ahead. I knew that many of those now with us would have to leave in the morning, and that the police were sure to appear.
Before police tho, the cross dressers showed up. Many live around the corner from our encampment and they had to pass us to get to their work. I had forgotten about this; we had other things on our mind when we were scouting out the location for our action- proximity to public thoroughfares, transportation, bathrooms, other facilities, security, etc. I’d forgotten all about Leopold St.
“Hello! What is that? Look! Is a man or a woman? These people, boy! Anti-man. Batty bwoy. Fyah!” Suck teeth. Laughter. Damn. The pounding in my head increased. I was pained. This is my community, see, and I felt the taunting personally, as if it were directed towards me. Forget the police harassment and confiscation of our tent, the rain and hot hot sun. Forget the name calling by passers by, the ignoring- all that I can deal with. Harder, is the homo/transphobia of the ‘comrades’.
Revolution brings together strange bedfellows. We who initiated this action knew that we’d have to reach out, grow our numbers in order to succeed. There were just four of us women, several with dependent children, ailing parents, and a multitude of other responsibilities. We knew we couldn’t do it alone. Still, compelled to act, we did, and allies appeared. Strangers at first, who we now spend more time with than our blood relatives and loved ones.
I said nothing that first night, hesitant and unsure how to talk about it. The movement is young still, fragile, and we are just now building community, trust, and understanding. Also, this is Guyana; homophobia/transphobia is just a part of life, right? Don’t tek them on, a friend advised. They don’t have to accept, just tolerate, said another.
There is no discrimination against gay people in Guyana, said the Minister. There is tolerance. Yes, hatemongering goes unchecked. In fact, there is overwhelming silence in the face of widespread injustice and abuse. Gay people simply walking down the street, minding their own business, are subject to daily/nightly harassment. “But is not as bad as Jamaica, they are not getting killed in the streets,” they say. Also- “Is just words; nothing to get so worked up over.” This from comrades in the struggle. “He’s really homophobic, you know. I just pretended not to hear.”
I have a hard time with police and politicians. I try to remember that they are somebody’s son/daughter, mother/father.. It’s not easy. But when we talk about human rights and demand justice and equality, that is for *all* Guyanese- not just the ones that look like us, act like us, think like us, and believe all the same things we do. We cannot have equal rights yet still perpetuate discrimination and intolerance against gay people. Everybody means everybody. Societal transformation begins with the individual- how we relate and deal with each other is at the core of it all. There is nothing more revolutionary than that.
I went home and brought my rainbow flag and pinned it onto the Guyana flag; no more quiet, safe living- it must be all out in the open now. We cannot continue to stay silent any longer, to simply endure. We must stand up and speak out. We exist. We are here, we are an integral part of this movement and this society, like it or not. It will be hard and uncomfortable, but we are going to have to deal with this- you with me, and me with you. Because we’re in this together and we need each other.
The cross dressers still pass all the time. Sometimes comments are thrown, some still taunting, although less than before. We are working though, on taking it from mere lip service to respect and more than tolerance. When a gay man is stabbed the block over, it’s the one among us with the big bible (who seems unable to stop himself from saying ‘fyah’ every time a cross dresser passes) who ends up taking the victim to the hospital. After the pageant, the queen stops by to show us photos and pose by our sign. Others from the community, gay but not necessarily cross dressers, also show their support, in ways both tangible and intangible. And one Friday night- revolution. Three young gay men come and sit down among us.
“My family is real Christian.”
“I got kicked out of the house when my father found out I was gay.”
“I feel really sad about that boy who got killed in Agricola.”
“Next time we come back we’ll bring some food and drink for y’all.”
We are all family. Revolutionary love.
“After Georgie seh officer, officer I get shot, de officer didn’t tek he on. So Georgie now go fah raise up holding he ribs and I hear another shot. When I look at Georgie, I see a bullet to Georgie forehead, which in, he head had a big hole and blood running down.”
Black skin against a yellow satin background. The marks of violence were still evident on his young face. Left eye bruised and bullet hole still clearly visible on his forehead, even though the undertaker had tried. Murdered by the police, a day before his 18th birthday. Shaquille Grant. Two months ago, it was Ron Somerset, also a teenager, Shemroy Bouyea, and Allan Lewis- all black men, all unarmed, all murdered by police.
There is a regular police roadblock in my neighborhood. Almost every night, right at the corner where I get off the bus, they are there, stopping vehicles and frisking people. Tonight was no exception. As I passed, I saw three men hunched in a circle on the ground, with several plastic bags of stuff in the center. Police- or men in dark blue uniforms with AK-47s- towered over them, menacing. Two of the men were hauled up and taken to the back of another vehicle while the last was ordered to drop his pants. He protested. They shouted, guns at the ready. Grudgingly, he complied, bare buttocks flashing in the streetlight. Jump, they ordered, and jump he did. They pawed through the bags on the ground but finding nothing, moved on to the interior of the car.
At the most, all those men had on them was a lil bit of ganja. And the only ones with the weapons were the boys in blue. In all the time that the police have been carrying out their nightly roadblocks on that street corner, there has been no news of the apprehension of any major criminal mastermind or any astounding drug bust. No, they’re just terrorizing the population, as normal. Wait, clarification- they’re terrorizing ‘ordinary’ Guyanese, of a specific racial group mostly.
I spent last evening visiting my relatives in Lusignan, gaffing into the night. It was dark when I left. The road was clear; there was no roadblock. No menacing men with guns to stop the music-blasting Hummer from speeding down the road. No naked young Indo-Guyanese men jumping on command in public. Lusignan has plenty drug and gun men though. I was astounded the first time I heard that. Lusignan? The lovely, peaceful village of my childhood? Say it aint so! But that is the truth now, sadly.
“Dem boys tell me how to make lots of money quick,” my NY-based uncle reports, two days into his visit. But he is a bad enough Muslim already, he says, and doesn’t need that on his conscience. There are two car dealerships in a village with two main cross streets. The ports where container ships dock to offload their cargo of Lamborginis and Hummers are the same ones where drugs are sent out, even though a million dollar container scanner was commissioned just last year (Skeldon sugar factory anyone?), and a new ‘container control programme’ MOU signed just last month. Packages at the Post Office are cut open and every item inside fingered before it can be uplifted, but millions of dollars worth of cocaine regularly leave Georgetown (in one notorious case last year, the MV Vega Azurit was busted ferrying cocaine from Guyana three times in as many months.)
They’re murdering black youth!”
The day after Shaquille Grant was murdered, a young Indo-Guyanese policeman was executed in Berbice. He had been working undercover, they said, on counter-narcotics operations. The newspapers today showed the President and First Lady paying their condolences to his grieving father. Meanwhile, in Linden, the families of Shemroy, Ron, and Allan wait in vain for justice, over two months after their murder.
Most of the members of the Guyana Police Farce are black men.
We must talk about race, yes, but we must also talk about class and $$.
They said the boys were planning a robbery and shot first (nevermind that eyewitnesses contradict that). And so they shot to kill. The protesters in Linden were blocking the road, preventing vehicles from reaching the gold mining camps and markets. And so they shot to kill. Lives taken to protect property. Money over justice. The 14yr old tortured by police several years ago, his genitals set ablaze, is nowhere to be found in Guyana anymore. There are rumors that he and his relatives are overseas, ‘compensation’ in pocket.
Overseas, to enjoy the land of milk and honey perks, or overseas to work like a dawg, struggling to make ends meet when the money runs out, just like here, but without home comforts. Dreaming of home always, working to build up the vacation days, not wanting to leave when the two weeks are up. But not willing to stay here, to stand up, to speak out, to look out for each other. Paralyzed by fear. Of being victimized, penalized, fired. Or made callous by easy money. This is what Guyana has become. A dog-eat-dog society where each man scrabbles to accumulate as much ‘stuff’ (wealth) as he possibly can, whether by legal or illegal means, just hoping, praying, and bribing his way out of any ‘sticky’ situation. Where every meal may be the young black man’s last, no matter how hard mothers work.
This is not my Guyana though. It may be the reality now, but it doesn’t have to remain that way.
I’ve been having foot troubles for a lil while now. Stumped my right big toe last year and it’s been bum ever since. And now recently, the left one has started tingling, a slight numbness. No pain and I can still walk fine though, so I’ve been mostly ignoring it. Musing about what’s going on and what it might mean, wondering what I can do about it, but mostly just leaving it alone, hoping that it will get better soon, without any major intervention on my part. Walking wounded. This may be how it is now, how we all are, but it doesn’t have to remain that way.
My nose is pointy and my hair is straight. Her nose was flat and her hair was curly. She looked curiously at me and I gazed back, grinning at her two-teeth mouth. She smiled wider, all gums.
“We also need the fires of love to thaw the frozen streams within. We need to look at one another afresh, with new eyes. We need to keep doing that. Every day. We need to tear down the barriers wisely, or else we won’t be able to get out and nothing will be able to come in.” (Ben Okri)
They’ve begun to put in the fence. They want to have more ‘control’ of the space, they say. There are too many ‘junkies’ passing by. They’re afraid that their nice nice park is going to get messed up.
Oh, the irony!
The PEOPLE’S Parliament. High St and Brickdam. Fence or not, we’ll be there. 24/7. Join us. Straight hairs and curly hairs all together as one. What is your vision for the future of Guyana? What are you doing to bring it to fruition?
“WOW, girl i cant tell u the transformation i have had through those continuous dialogues. The thing is though, if more people never come join us then it would be sad but i aint doing this for them. I doing it for me.”
These are the dark days, my love***. Business is at a standstill. Gold miners are not able to carry out their usual mad digging up and extraction of the precious metal (while protecting the rainforest btw. why don’t those white people understand that and give us the $$, damnit?!) Trucks of goods are blocked from going into the interior, and the Brazilians have hiked their prices. In some places, okra is selling for $400/lb.
Oh, and three innocent people were shot and killed by police for peacefully protesting with their community members. Shemroy Bouyea, Ron Somerset, and Allan Lewis. Shot in the heart, one from the back. Unarmed; only weapon their voice. Almost footnotes now, as the already dirty game of politricks gets even nastier.
Black man and Indian- niggers, coolies, and bucks- at each other’s throats again, by design, as usual. Of human rights and justice, nary a mention. Instead, trade fairs, emancipation song and dances, and the Olympics!
Gold, silver, and bronze; men and women celebrate. Even if you don’t win, just making it there is an achievement they say. It doesn’t work that way with everything though. The majority of the students who wrote the CSEC exams failed- 70% in mathematics and 63% in English. Still, “Guyana has a reason to celebrate,” Minister Manickchand
declared. A pilot study to improve scores apparently paid off. Or so they say. O lovely Guyana. The land of many waters and pilot projects. Stamp it Out, Pick it Up, Don’t Beat Up when you Heat Up. Gold medal strategies all. Uh huh.
We’re getting hydro next year, says Sam Blinds. And there is no trafficking of Amerindians, says the former chair of the National Tashaos Council (and a good friend of ex-President, he of the $3million/month pension, Bharrat Jagdeo). Sure, there may have been some cases of Amerindian girls being abused and prostituted in mining camps, in restaurants and clubs in Georgetown, in private homes of businessmen, and of Amerindian boys being kept captive in foreign embassies, etc, but “we have not had the complaints,” says Ms Pearson. Right, because the voices of the victims are always heard.
Where do you reach when for every step forward, there is one back? One laptop per family, but when families can’t afford electricity, what good is a computer? Decades ago, I did my homework by lamplight. Today, this is still the case in many many places. Guyanese pay more for less electricity than almost everybody else in the Caribbean (Jamaica takes the gold in this). We also pay more than Americans and Canadians. More for less.
Hypocrisy is king these days. Georgetown Public Hospital’s neo natal unit has been newly refurbished, they say. Triplets are born. Thankfully mother and all babies survive. Just the day before, 22yr old first time mother Omadara Anthony, healthy up to the day she went into Public, died of ‘cardiac arrest’ while giving birth. But “we refute the notion that unless you pay you do not receive quality health care,” says Minister Manickchand. Who did not go to Public Hospital to deliver her baby. But who likes to fat talk.
Long gone is the time when intelligence was a virtue. “The Private Sector Commission don’t run my office,” says the President. Forget critical thinking and fact checking as well. Now, big checks are paid for flimsy advice, the more rabid the better. Meanwhile the issues of poor people get glossed over.
Communities where unemployment is 70%. It’s not that we don’t want to pay- we aren’t able to. Where’s the money going to come from? We’re already struggling to put food in our children’s mouths. Life pon de dam- medicine or food? Food or light bill? School book or light bill?
Ron Somerset was only 17 when he was killed by the police. He had worked at an internet cafÃ© and had a bit role in a movie that was being shot in his community. Shemroy Bouyea, 24, who was mentally disabled, would run errands for people in exchange for “a small piece”. His mother was coming home from her job as a security guard when she heard that he had been shot dead. Allan Lewis, 46, took ‘whatever jobs came his way’, to help support his mother. Her pension is nowhere near $3million/month. As she mourns her son, this elderly woman worries about her future. Life pon de dam. At age 79.
Teenage girls sell their bodies for some phone credit. Mothers struggling to find money leave their babies home alone to starve and choke to death. To be raped and murdered. But “those lazy people need to pay their fair share,” the PPPites scream. But the ultimate payment has already been made- the blood of innocents.
Police and thieves in the streets. Paid instigators and rogues in in blue and khaki uniforms.
The children finally get a mention when a school is torched. But when the hospital compound was teargassed, there was no comment. We are teaching them well indeed.
These are the dark days, my love.
***From the poem “This is the dark time, my love” by Guyanese poet, Martin Carter