Thursday, 12 November 2009

Trepidation, contemplation, acculturation

A year ago today, I landed in Guyana, alone and bursting with trepidation. Would this be our next home? Did I have the right balance of work skills and gumption to be useful here?

Now I sit, once more alone, in a cafe fifty yards from St George's Cathedral, the tallest wooden building in the world (allegedly). I am in Georgetown getting my head cleared out with nose drops, antibiotics and dental implements. (My sinuses and gums seem to be attempting a mail merge without the approved software). B is back in Aishalton, being cooked for, cooking and as usual being cooked. I am here allowing my head to clear in several senses, unremarkably and without haste.

It is a rare treat in any life, and perhaps more than average in the Guyanese interior, where even a "day off" unavoidably includes the usual roadie-cum-domestic servant duties, to hit 'pause' and rest. The painkillers are working, kind Claire does my laundry, and this time round I am not bursting with anything.

Georgetown looks different now. The market is a beautiful scruffy cornucopia, spilling over with juicy largesse. Catcalls and being called "baby" seem dreamily absurd, like shouting out "hummingbird!" to a rhino, or calling a spade a flibbertigibert. I wander around too smelly and clearly spaced out to be worthy of a choke and rob. The shops are funny- half of the produce looks desirable, the other half comic. Designer handbag for a year's meat and rice price? Why?!?! Next year it will be shamefully out of date, and frankly a lot of them look like a skinned camel's arse with bicycle ballbearing races stitched into them anyway.

I like Guyana's eclectic exigencies of place. Set three of us down in the supermarket, with a trolley each, one shopping for the Pakaraima mountains, one for the Deep South savannahs and one for Georgetown, and you would not believe the three trolleyloads had come from the same shop (or possibly the same planet). I come away bemused by the shop's demand that I make choices, with two cans of fish spray (death to scorpions ha HAAAA!), biscuits containing roughage for B, packet soups that I would not consider stomaching in England but which I now fall upon with a beagling Aunt Dahlia whoop, the same soy sauce I buy in Leeds at three times the price, a bashed Betty Crocker box cake for a fifth of the Aishalton price, mosquito coils and powdered orange juice. Such extravagance. Of course, I only buy non-perishables: I can't buy anything that melts (soap, sweet biscuits, fruit...) or crushes (noodles, crisps, breakfast cereal) as the bus journey back is bumpy, dusty and hot beyond imagination.

Last year I was in portentous mode. Big decisions, marvelling at the exoticism of it all. This year I am mundane in my thrills. Aishalton is home, normality, and Georgetown in contrast feels so developed that I keep forgetting I'm not in England. Buying some bad novels is the limit of my ambitions. I wonder what the relationship is between mundanity and peace? Whatever it is, I like it. I need less. I desire less. I am content with less. Or perhaps it's the painkillers talking!


  1. Wow. Reading this, it becomes clear how much you have acclimatised to life in Aishalton. Or perhaps Georgetown remains exotic but you are approaching it from another direction.

    I wonder whether you will find England just as amazingly different, or whether you will just re-engage a different part of yourself when you are next here.

    Well, they do say travel broadens the mind. Maybe that's not such a cliché after all.

  2. Yes, Christmas may be a bit of a shock to the system...

  3. And I am worried about a Monty mouse! All our days and situations are relative to the richness of our surroundings, whilst the most important things are actually people. Especially the ones we love. Our lives can put marks on our bodies or trouble our minds but inside we are still simply ourselves, if we can but pause to see it.

    A poem to try and put things into perspective -


    Dreaming of her dad,
    She’s part of her dad.

    Lost peg, heart-shaped hole,
    her first love, her dad.

    Her wish list complete,
    none above her dad.

    You’re all things Winston,
    hand and glove, her dad.