On these snowy winter days I’m jealous of my brother-in-law who is traveling to Georgetown to stay in the family house there for a couple of months.
As Traveling Ted has already shown in several of his blogs (http://travelingted.com/category/caribbean/), Georgetown and Guyana are full of surprises. First, the country is a real melting pot. Though there are mostly Africans and East-Indians, the population includes Portuguese, Chinese and Aboriginal Indians (Amerindians, local Indian) and many intermarry. It makes for beautiful “mixtures”. Creole and Indian cuisine is often seen together on the dining table. The setback of Guyana is its slim population (about 700,000) and lack of an industrial base. Most of its resources such as bauxite, gold, and diamonds are exported abroad by international companies.
Guyanese rum (Demerara, Bank’s XM,Eldorado etc.) is the best of the Caribbean if not of the world, no doubt about that. I tried several in neighboring Suriname, but no match. Same for the Jamaican Baccardi. Quoted from their website, “the D’Aguiar family in Guyana (Banks) has been there for over 150 years and have been making fine Guyanese rums since the 1840’s when José Gomes D’Aguiar, the founder of the company, started a rum business. Over the years the Company’s rums have been awarded many accolades, including three outstanding awards at the International Wine and Spirits Competition for its 10 year-old rum and XM VXO.” This means something. The only spirit I drink in Guyana is their fabulous rum, and we take quite a few bottles home.
Otherwise, little is manufactured right there because with a population of about 700,000 the critical mass is insufficient. The brain-drain to the USA, Canada and the UK is unstoppable, and local unemployment remains high. Guyanese are well educated and I met several of them in high places around the world. A bright lot, so, no wonder that they leave for better places to put their good minds to work.
As Traveling Ted has already shown the most important sites of Georgetown and Guyana in his blogs, I refer you to his website <http://travelingted.com>.
I copy here a few pictures I took myself during my several stays in Guyana, and while I was loading them up I wished I had taken many more. My main attraction has been the Kaietur Falls, which I consider as good as any of the 8 world wonders. And then there are the impressions of everyday life. If you plan to stay in any of the Caribbean Islands, think of carving out a side trip to Guyana, meet the friendly people in Georgetown. taste the ancient architecture of the town, and go see those falls. They are just overwhelming and better than the Niagara falls because they have not been affected by an influx of tourists: what you see is pure nature. I have shown a few pictures of the falls in my previous blog, but I add these to give a better feel of their beauty.
Some computers will enlarge the pictures if you left click on them. When this succeeds just click on the bakward arrow top left, and you will be back at the blog.
Our friendly pilot Sam
Kaietur falls seen from the airplane
Picture taken by our pilot
Kaietur with flora along the rocks and ravines
Kaietur seen over and in-between plants
Kaitur seen from flying close to it.
Our pilot admires the falls as well
With our pilot at Orin Duik (Dutch for Orin “Plunge”), less than an hour flight from Kaietur. We took a swim under the falls below
Back in Georgetown, at Stabroek market. You see similar markets in India.
Modern transport in Georgetown. Take your time.
Even donkeys do a good job.
Also in Guyana there comes an end to life. Often, the funeral procession is preceded by a loud band that plays Chopin’s funeral march.
A young attractive Guyanese girl going to work in the sunny weather
Some of the more modern residences in Georgetown. Quite pleasant.
Having lunch in Guyana is a delight. I love those puris!
Cattle Egrets populating the coconut trees
The future of Guyana waiting to be picked up from day-care. Working parents have the same problem the world over.
The World Bank office in Georgetown where I spent many a day.
Oh those lovely ladies from Guyana on a leisurely Sunday afternoon.
Bye-bye, see you next time
There are several tour organizations in Guyana. http://www.evergreenadventuresgy.com/ is one. A local airline that has been taking tourists around is http://www.roraimaairways.com/wp/. Trans Guyana Airways, also operates flights between Georgetown (Ogle Airport) and Paramaribo (Zorg en Hoop airport) in collaboration with GUM AIR from Suriname. The flight between Georgetown and Paramaribo along the coast offers a beautiful view of the physical architecture of these countries, in particular in the late afternoon with the sunlight shining over the extensive rice and sugar paddies and the outflows of the mighty Essequibo river.
Having traveled the world over and lived in different cultures, I learned there is a huge difference between visiting other people’s societies from the safe harbor of a decent hotel, than actually living among them and adopting their lifestyle, food and cultural habits. As a World Bank official, I usually settled down in a relatively comfortable hotel and got chauffeured or taxied to a government building or private company and returned there after work, then ate and drank in a fashionable restaurant and slept in air-conditioned comfort with a private bathroom. Or I lived as a resident in a comfortable rented house. Even in many field trips, I was relatively shielded from having to leave my comfort zone for long. All sorts of security reasons dictated these rules, but while one may get acquainted this way with the local culture, it does not lead to a true multicultural experience.
A multicultural experience occurs after having gone through the “cultural shock” (the one I experienced the first night when I entered in my wife’s home in Georgetown), something that shakes you out of your comfort zone into a new world where the familiar reference points are lost. This goes both ways, by the way. People from remote cultures coming to the “West” go through the same adjustment process and often find it hard to assimilate. Language, customs, philosophy, food, systems and climate, the things they grew up with and became their life’s trusted beacons, turn out suddenly all different. Those who receive the “displaced” person in their midst expect that person to adjust to their own kin, but that’s easier said than done. Experience shows this really happens only after one or sometimes two generations. In an interracial marriage like ours, it must go a lot faster to sustain the momentum.
As a school kid in Holland, I was told that America was “the big melting pot”. Having lived here for many years, America is full of different races and cultures, but I don’t think it’s melting all that much. Societies still huddle in their own circles along racial and cultural boundaries offering the comfort of their own familiar reference points. Multicultural institutions like the World Bank and the United Nations may be an exception, and being a “World Bank couple” surely helped, but the vast majority sticks to their own habitat, creating the frictions we see repeatedly shown on TV or being used for political posturing.
The great benefit of having crashed through that glass wall of displacement is that the new world one enters offers a wealth of new human experiences that vastly broaden one’s horizon. From little things like feeling that a “cold” shower is actually “lukewarm”, to the larger things of tasting new food and sharing the homes of people who grew up learning math and language as you did but in different settings, you set new beacons and readjust your antennas. Things seen previously as “out of the norm” become “part of the norm”. Feeling comfortable beyond your own comfort zone, and being able to communicate in it as if you had been one of them all your life, and being accepted that way, is the great benefit of a multicultural experience.
Those were the thoughts that went through my head on my way to St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church where the Blessing of the Marriage would take place, accompanied by my new brother-in-law, the esteemed sir Lancelot Jaundoo from London, waiting for the bride who led me to that new world and helped me enter it, accompanied by my new father-in-law, Richard Emerson Jaundoo. (A small footnote: when we traveled through India later, the English spelling of the Hindu name in the telephone books was “Chandoo”, pronounced the same way.)
Get me to the church on time…
St. Andrews Presbyterian Church
Waiting, waiting, waiting
There she comes! With the Father of the Bride
The Bride Taken!
In the newspapers
Cutting the cake with the loveliest bridesmaids ever. I wish I had a harem…
Mother and Father, sister Gwen and husband Lloyd with Renée (left), brother Lance with sister Sandra (right), before the Calypso Ball.
The next days consisted of family meals and visits with traditional inputs of curry and rum.
Uncle Enoch cooking curry and peppers the traditional way
Cramped, learning to drink from a coconut without messing up on the beach near Berbize
A glimpse of New Amsterdam, the town the Dutch exchanged for New York with the Brits. Surely less traffic.
Flying to the Interior to walk along the Potaro River in Essequibo county on the way to the Kaietur Water falls.
The Kaietur Falls are one of the highest in the World (250 meters or some 750 feet) and are a mighty presence of power and beauty.
It has an estimated flow rate of over 660 cubic meters per second. Suggestions to build a hydro power dam are bountiful, but fortunately the pristine nature has so far remained protected by the Kaietur National Park.
Back to the family, more than a year and a few months later:
Young David bites his Mom’s finger
Did we see this somewhere else? (Credit: IRIS – Paris XIVe)
Darwin’s theory proven
Next- Some more pictures of beautiful Guyana.
What’s that noise? A shrieking crank of a rusty water-pump perhaps? But why would somebody continuously pump water in the night? Or was somebody practicing the violin for a Schoenberg concert? No, not in Georgetown Guyana. A loud record of the Lady and the Tramp in the Disney movie howling at each other? The One Hundred Dalmatians let loose in town? Delirious. What’s the first plane out? Those were the thoughts of a displaced modern “Saïdjah” transplanted from his comfy habitat into a totally unknown world.
Both protected by a romantic mosquito net, his “Adinda” was sleeping peacefully beside him, unaware of the rambling thoughts of her recently acquired hubby, who was knocking on his compass to find out where he was. After a six-hour journey, the plane had landed at a slightly lit airport on a late evening in April 1974. Hit by a fire wall of steamy air, accompanied by some 24 suitcases with stuff needed for the Blessing of the Marriage – including champagne – we were whisked along immigration and customs agents as if we were a royal couple, into the arms of enthusiastic family members, waving wildly at “Adinda” and looking curiously at that white fellow from Amsterdam. Did he look like the former Dutch colonial masters? Or a bit like those British imposters who followed later?
Packed in various cars, we trucked in pitch dark over a potholed old airport road. The airport was built during World War II by the American Army Engineers to protect their access to Guyana’s rich bauxite mines for their fighter planes and to protect them against German attacks that were after these resources as well. (Since then, this road has been substantially improved.) We traveled 45 minutes through sparsely lit villages with Dutch names (such as Soestdijk), along sugar fields and sweet-smelling rum factories, into Georgetown. Under Dutch colonial regime, it was called Stabroek, after a gentleman who was the Governor of the Dutch West Indian Company (WIC) in the 18th Century. When the British took over Guyana after one of the many European wars in the 19th century, Stabroek became Georgetown, named after the British King George III. But many of the old Dutch names were kept, like “New Amsterdam”, and so were the colonial administrative structures in Demerara and the Berbize. Stabroek market is still Georgetown’s main market.
Somewhere around mid-night, “Saïdjah” entered the home of his “Adinda”. Definitely a much better situation than in Multatuli’s bitter story. Houses in Georgetown, some still dating from the Dutch colonial period, are built on stilts because of the often high waters (torrential rains and rising mighty rivers coming from Brazil’s Amazon forest.) Even though the Dutch built many dykes and sluices, ground floors get often flooded. At the top of the stairs stood a fierce mother-in-law, staring at him, piercing eyes like laser beams. “Now we finely meet,”she said, offering a suspicious smile after our phone-calls from Washington D.C. (Who was this guy? What the heck did her daughter fall in love with?) “Yes we do,” he said, standing half-way on the stairs on shaking knees, looking up, feeling naked.The great father, an exemplary gentleman, smiled encouragingly. That helped. One sister, a “late-comer” who still lived in the house, talked in Guyanese that he could not comprehend. What would the morning bring?
Exhausted from the flight and the long homecoming, we went to bed almost immediately. Houses in Guyana are self-air-conditioned. Walls reach two-thirds to the high ceiling, leaving the top open, and air circulates around, pushed by the outside breeze. Much like the chambrettes in the dorms of my boarding school, though much larger. Very ingenious, but what if I let a fart? Or snored? Or what if you made love and they heard the stumbling on the bed and sexy screams and squeaks?
Thank God that in the tropics light starts at 5 a.m. Saïdjah’s curiosity to see where he had landed became untenable. First, to the bathroom. This is part of the community-architecture: open at the top, for everyone to hear. Again, what if I let a fart? They would know it was me! Only Dutch people fart like that. I just put my fingers in my ear, as if it did not happen. Best in multiculturalism is to fool yourself you’re in your own place. Then I trotted to the front of the house. It looked out on a T-crossing with a narrow street ahead, lined with green patches of grass and colorful homes along it.
Small cars and green buses wriggled through, as well as wagons pulled by horses and sometimes donkeys, transporting wood and bags of cement.
Dogs (must’ve been the ones that barked all night) crossed the street in suicidal mode but they were doing that all the time, as they smartly avoided getting run over by traffic. Kids dressed in green, blue and yellow uniforms walked to school, chatting, with broad smiles. Women walked to the market, men drove to work. People on bikes peddled along, as if they had all the time.
A most peaceful view of a most peaceful town, so to see, with flamboyant trees in full bloom.
I relaxed. My Adinda, dressed in a white shirt and tiny shorts, brought me a cup of coffee. Soon I smelled toast, bacon and eggs. The radio brought the local news and happy Caribbean calypsos. The mother and father came to chat. Did I sleep well despite Georgetown’s nightly noises?
The most interesting experience was my immediate conclusion: “First” and “Third World” differed only in the Third World’s warm climate. I would reach a similar conclusion in my World Bank work. There was no difference in terms of intellectual capacity. Application of that capacity perhaps, and the critical mass of that capacity, but that was very dependent on the political environment. The mother was head of a Home Economics School and had been to the USA on scholarly visits and to Europe with her daughter, now married away, to places I had never been. The father was a business man. “Adinda” had two brothers, one a high-level attorney in the British Government (the highest “non-white”), another an engineer finishing studies in New York. Another sister was a nurse, certified in London, living and working in New York. Her mother said: “it does not matter where you come from, but where you are going.”
The rusty pump during the night turned out the sound of tropical crickets. Also, in Georgetown the night belongs to the dogs and the happy Caribbean music wafting out of bars. You get soon accustomed to that.
I remembered the fortune-teller, whom I met when I started work in Holland, as part of an agreement with a lovely young lady who had a room for rent in her large apartment. The reason I wanted that room was that she had a grand piano, and I could use it to practice on. To my regret, the young lady refused. So I went back to the fortune-teller and asked her why. “First,”she said, “your stars paint you as a Don Juan and that frightened the landlord. Secondly, I also discovered that your lifelong task is one of constant adjustment. Your stars are not stable but in perpetual flux. That frightened her too. While this may hurt you on the way, if you don’t reject your destiny, it will also be your savior.” Meaning what destiny? I sat stunned. Fortune tellers only interpret the stars and do not give clear recommendations.
Horishi Teshigahara’s wonderful Japanese film “Woman in the Dunes”, based on Kobe Abe’s novel, came back to mind. A man is captured by unknown individuals and thrown into a deep pit. The pit holds a house with a beautiful woman. How did she get there? They bring them food everyday. He tries to flee to his previous imagined freedom but cannot climb the loose sand. Eventually he succumbs, falls in love with the beautiful woman and relaxes. When his jailers extend a ladder to him, he does not want to leave the pit anymore. “It does not matter where you come from, but where you are going.” That was it. Destiny reached. The road was clear.
Next – The festivities and country visit.
My curiosity for long-distance enchantment and multiculturalism was born out of a famous story, Saïdjah and Adinda, written by a much-lauded Dutch author, Eduard Douwes Dekker, alias “Multatuli” (“the one who has suffered a lot”) in 1860. His book was about “Max Havelaar, The Coffee Auctions of The Dutch Trading Company”. It agitated against the abuses of Dutch colonialism in the then Dutch Indies (now Indonesia), was widely read in his days and later, reprinted many times, and turned into a Dutch movie in 1976 by film director Fons Rademakers, which got first prize at several film festivals for best foreign film.
Credit: Wikipedia NL.
Saïdjah and Adinda was chapter 17 in this long book. My elementary schoolteacher wanted me to read the story when I was 10 (1947). Its sadness, savagery and underlying beauty of love gripped me forever. As young children, Saïdjah and Adinda were destined to marry. Their friendship evolved into love, but the local colonial master confiscated Saïdjah’s buffaloes he needed for his rice field. Forced to earn a living and cash to marry Adinda, he left the area and went to work somewhere else. Their separation was heartbreaking.
I still see the picture that Adinda had shaped in my imagination: a beautiful slim girl with long black hair, bare footed and a light coffee-brown smooth skin, wide dark eyes and a brilliant smile, the dream girl in the “Dessa” (village). I fell in love with this Adinda. But when Saïdjah came back to marry her, he found her family murdered in their shantung home, and Adinda’s body tortured and ripped open. It was a cry against colonial rule. Her sad image never left my mind.
I read the story when Holland fought its colonial war during 1945-49, which led to Indonesia’s Independence. At high-school from the early fifties, I had several Indonesian friends whose families had fled to Holland during these bitter years. At that time, I learned that my grandfather, Hector van Coehoorn van Sminia, as a young man, had spent five years in the Dutch Indies in the early 1900s to set up and manage a coffee plantation with a business companion. Had he ever seen a girl like Adinda? I wonder. But he didn’t feel that was the type of life he wanted and returned to Holland to find his love and married, going back to speed-skating, horseback riding and breeding Dutch thoroughbreds.
Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to talk to him about his life in the Indies, as he died in 1946, shortly before I read Saïdjah and Adinda’s story. I also learned at that time that a great-uncle, John Paul van Limburg Stirum, had been Governor General of the Dutch Indies from 1916-1921. As a young boy, I met him several times at my grandmother’s house, and I remember him as a very impressive man.
Only when I became 16, I heard that he had been very critical of the Dutch Government for not allowing the local population more political freedom in their own decision making. He took several measures to enhance local political participation, which were later rescinded by a much less visionary Dutch regime. He died in 1948 when the colonial war was raging and I was too small to talk to him about these things.
His vision was the main reason why, in 1962, I wrote my masters thesis for political science about the renewed conflict between Holland and Indonesia regarding Western New Guinea (the Dutch side of Australian Papua Guinea, which was part of the Indonesian archipelago). Holland had kept it out of the 1949 Indonesian Independence agreements as Dutch territory.
The thesis argued against the Dutch Government’s impossible position to keep Western New Guinea (Western “Irian” for Indonesia) out of Indonesian sovereignty. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, especially Minister Luns, was not amused when they heard about my thesis during my research. A month after I completed my thesis, in August 1962, Holland was forced to sign the secession of Western New Guinea to Indonesia, under American mediation (New York Agreement, Ellsworth Bunker, diplomat under President Kennedy).
Meanwhile Adinda had found refuge in my mind. She was the driver of my economic development studies in Paris and my desire to join the World Bank. She probably was also the driver behind my inclination to find her as a life companion despite all the blondes and brunettes that complicated my life and couldn’t keep me committed, spawning deep sorrow and many tears. Ultimately I found her….in 1973 at the World Bank in Washington D.C. An East-Indian beauty from Guyana.
“Adinda come true”
The World Bank is, of course, a multicultural institution by definition. All member nations are somewhat represented and you meet and work with all colors and races, from yellow to black to brown and to white. As English is the main language, everyone works and converses with each other and feels like they are one family regardless where they come from and what color or faces or accent they have. Of course, we make fun of each other, but it’s never hateful. When you exit onto the streets of the USA, locals do not understand that congeniality, as they are still stigmatized into racial differences in spite of many years of activism in this area.
But for us, that did not matter and we married on January 25, 1974.
John and Joy’s civil marriage and the parties
Though left and right our decision was criticized in 1974, after 40 years we still stand while many of the critics failed.
Both children, here pictured at my family residence in Holland, are products of a multicultural colorless approach to life. Both have successful careers, saw a lot of the Third World, and can reach out to all sides and relate to their weaknesses and strengths. Character counts, color does not. They learned to be standard bearers of good family values, keeping up the flag of all peaceful nations under one universal God, whatever name He carries or concept He represents. We are called “the family of the United Nations”, without all the infighting of that body.
The proof is that often derided multiculturalism works, and we will be celebrating this shortly.
Next – Guyana – The Blessing
Sir Tiger is a Jack Russell with an impressive pedigree. He and his brother Sir Kodak were born in 1997 on a sprawling estate, as noblemen often are, in Republican Virginia, surrounded by thoroughbred horses. Sadly, Sir Kodak passed away at Christmas 2012, leaving the family in ashen mood for the year-end festivities and a good deal of the rest of 2013. He was an unforgettable dog, very handsome, who jumped over fences and ran after squirrels, mostly to chase them away as unwelcome intruders, but occasionally he caught one and left it proudly at the doorstep. In his unbridled enthusiasm, he sometimes miscalculated his reach and broke his leg one day.
His brother, Sir Tiger, came from the same esteemed litter, but always remained the “second brother”. Actually, Sir Tiger joined Sir Kodak because Sir Kodak couldn’t stand being alone in the backyard. As a little pup, Sir Kodak screamed and yelped to tell us he missed his brother, so we went back to the Virginian Estate, to get Sir Tiger. Sir Tiger was selected because he was all white, with one brown ear, and smart black eyes. A gentleman by nature, definitely less bossy and adventurous than his brother, and perhaps bisexual. But these alternatives were wiped out, because both were neutered. The vet said that would make their lives a lot happier, being liberated from the ever nerve-wrecking urge to go looking for the opposite sex and cause havoc in the neighborhood siring off-spring left and right, and be chased by furious neighbors, waving damage claims in their hands. On the other hand it was our impression it made Sir Tiger actively gay, as he was seen on top of his brother, licking him to climax and vice versa. Whatever. For privacy reasons, we did not take pictures.
Photo above: Kodak and Tiger awaiting “Mom’s” return from shopping (forever).
Photo below: Tiger keeping Kodak warm in his pen during his last days.
Kodak has written a biography of their lives, which I found in the yard, buried with a few bones he hadn’t want to share with his brother. This will be published sometime later and it’s quite a story. I never knew dogs knew so much and were such keen observers of human nature.
Photo above: Kodak and Tiger together on Christmas eve 2012.
Photo below: Kodak looking sad as he knows his days are numbered.
The shrine when Sir Kodak passed away, remembering how he was a puppy.
Back to Sir Tiger. While Sir Kodak jumped fences, Sir Tiger was a sprinter. You see those Jack Russells running after a fake fox-smelling cloth at horse shows: That was Tiger. He ran in large circles over the sports field near our house, literally flying through the air, and he sometimes still does.
He is now about 17 years old. 7 times 17 means 104 human years, an old man you would say. But no. He has a tumor somewhere in his body, arthritis in his hind legs, sees less then he wants to admit, still hears my whistle albeit after repeated trials, but otherwise keeps running with me in the field as if he were still a pup. Because he is small, people on the street , especially young girls, bend over and say, “Oh what a lovely puppy, may I pet him,” and then he growls like an old man, showing his teeth. You should see the terrified reactions, but they love him nevertheless. Until someone, thinking he is a puppy, grabs him from behind the fence in an unguarded moment, to take him home and appropriate him as their dog. This is what we thought had happened when we missed Tiger one late afternoon after coming home with the car from visiting our daughter, who lives nearby.
Joy, my wife, asked, “Is Tiger still in the yard?” I supposed she had let him out after we got back, to do the usual, and took a look, but he was nowhere. Puzzled, I searched for him, but didn’t see him anywhere. I went back and reported the strange event to Joy: all gates were locked, so how did he get out?
Five-star alarm. I jumped in the old Toyota our daughter left in front of the house because she bought a new car, to see if he was scourging the neighborhood for a friend or a left-over bone, which he never does (his brother did this repeatedly). No Tiger. When it got dark, I called the police: “Dog Kidnapped!”. They rushed by with huge torches and searched all over the yard, the neighborhood, even inside the house: no Tiger. Larceny report filed. I called all the animal shelters in the area, in case he was found or dropped when the thieves noticed he was not a puppy but old and sickly and no fun. A sleepless night, sometimes getting up to see if he wasn’t lingering at the front door.
The next day, I scanned a picture of Tiger, took it to a Kinko shop, laminated ten copies with a typed description of Tiger underneath, underlining he needed about ten pills a day for all his ailments and special soft food, and hung them on trees in the neighborhood streets. End afternoon, I crossed the cul-de-sac to tell our friends Mike and Tara, who are with the Alexandria Police, and they came over to have a drink and talk strategy how to find back Sir Tiger, and they sent out an alert with his picture to the whole force.
Nobody called. Tiger was gone. Everybody in hysterics. The house – and the yard – were suddenly very quiet. Since he has a rather shrill bark, some neighbors probably let a sigh of relief.
On the third day in the morning, I had to go somewhere and got into my Jag XK8 in the garage. And what??? There was Sir Tiger sleeping comfortably in my driver’s seat! He looked up, sort of smiling, a why-did-I-take-so-long face, got up and jumped out. Not a poop and not a pee in the car and not one bark for three days!
He had fallen asleep in the back of the car on the way back, and we had totally forgotten to take him out. That is, Joy thought I had, and I thought she had and then let him out in the yard, but in the end none of us had.
And so began the roll-back of the five-star alarm: calling the police, the animal shelters, taking down the signs, telling the neighborhood “Tiger was found.” As for Sir Tiger, he took his habitual place in the kitchen, after eating for three days, and went on with his busy dog-life. At present, he is still active, likes to run on the field, takes extensive naps, and loves car rides.
I’m sure this won’t happen again.