So Eyes passed by the Africentric Alternative school in West Toronto recently and was greeted by excited students on their way home after their first day of classes in the new school term.
Ah! memories of “small” days in Guyana growing up stupid under the Guyana flag but excited by things cultural -songs, poetry, dance – and the joy of just “liming” with the boys while keeping my faith in God.
Looking back, I realize that school ‘daze’ in Guyana was really a time of the institutionalizing of economic slavery and the perpetuation of racism- towards the East Indian community, in particular, – unless you were the beneficiary of curry favour and “soup- drinking,” as some were. I believe I was kept alive in those school ‘daze’ because of my faith in God.
“Pack up yuh bag and leh we go./ Abi nah come back to Guyana any mo/,” was the refrain among East Indians as I was growing up in a stunted political climate. It came as no surprise that in such an environment many of us were happy to run away from classes.
Let’s go swimming. Let’s go jumping over the koker or sluice.
Or let’s go fox -trotting. Say wha? Well, my friends did.
Still fresh in my mind was the community dance where I observed one of my friends in a courtly manner, bowing to his dancing partner with his right hand held across the chest. So I approached this beautiful African l girl and I did the same. She said to me , and I remembered it well: “Get way from mi yuh coolie bai!”
Lord, ah mercy,! it was a night I wished Guyana had an earthquake and the earth would just open up and swallow me alive.
Allyuh think it, easy? Eh, eh.
Anyway, before starting classes at the Anglican school, Eyes regularly had to go to the Anglican church in the village bought by freed slaves, called Betafuh walkin, oops, Beterverwagting.
More education? Eyes was a good Sunday School student at the Lutheran Church. And later, a happy camper in a theological school in Guyana.
At the Anglican school, Eyes did not sing the song meant to whip up national dictatorial sentiments: “Onward, upward, may we ever go. Day by day in strength and beauty grow. ‘Till at length we each of us will show. What Guyana’s sons and daughters can be.”
Yeah, right, : I sang (along with da boys, African, Chinese, and the rest) : “Onward, upward, Miss Mary had wan goat. Day, by day she tie am wid wan rope. ‘Till at last de goat bust de rope and Miss Mary had to run behind it.”
Yes, put dat in yuh dictatorship Kabaka jumbie pipe and smoke it.
Like Guyana’s widely known poet, Martin Carter, Eyes would not bend to the powers that be seeking to put us in a box, singing songs and worshipping a dictator or the new slave master.
As Eyes sat under a tree, my teacher would read poems which transported me to a higher, you might say, heavenly plane.
Poet and educator Peter Jailall, summed it up this way:
“Flour ban…Rice field abandon..Milk ban..Picknie run dem bed. Refusing to suck dry bubbie. Hungry mangy stray dags howl. Their heads pointing to heaven. Together begging Bhagwan to visit Pharoah wid de meanest angel of death just to make de people free.”
Eyes was growing up stupid as Western European Christianity had impacted Guyana to the extent that you had to be “converted” to Christianity if you were a Muslim or Hindu and wanted to teach in one of the schools in the country.
Looking back, I did not know that the strategy by the Europeans and the local dictator was to destroy my East Indian culture, my humanity. But I was happy to visit the homes of my African and Chinese friends with whom I slept and ate as one family.
From an Anglican school training to Sunday School days at the Lutheran Church, to a student of theology, I became a missionary: one who leaves his culture in order to proclaim the Gospel in a different culture – shedding the light rather than cursing the darkness.
Of course, my idea of a missionary is one who goes to Africa – and I have since served in South Africa as a missionary and journalist- and tells the people to close their eyes and pray in their front yards while digging up their backyards for gold!
Yes, thank God for navigating me through a culture of indoctrination and propaganda towards this work of faith and labour of love as a journalist.