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Published: August 6th 2007
A former bauxite mine
We must have been flying over Guyana's massive land mass for quite some time but we didn't know a thing. You see, it was about 7pm and almost dark and, to make matters worse, we were sandwiched between two layers of clouds. When the doors of LIAT opened we gladly accepted our 'Welcome to Guyana'
from an ancient lightbox just in front of the entrance to immigration. Customs allowed us to pass check-free with nine pieces of overweight luggage and Vibert Sr. (Pops) was patiently waiting for us. After hugs and greetings and in an overloaded car with an open-and-tied-down trunk, we started the two-hour drive from Timehri to Melanie - Vibert's hometown. Pops soon reached his top speed of 60km; his hands gripped the wheel in the textbook ten-to-two position and he horned at EVERYTHING in sight and then some only he could see.
Shanna's eyes were glued outside. Although it was dark, she stared as mile after mile fell away. The people lived close to the road as sometimes it seemed like they lived on the road. Pops deftly manouvered around and between people and bicycles and donkeys and cows. Buildings went from small, dilapidated wooden shacks on
Welcome to Guyana
Sign at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport
to bigger, concrete homes to huge factories and luxury homes then back to small, dilapidated wooden shacks on stilts. Shops and bars, mosques and churches and hindu gatherings with loud music and, mostly likely, lots of food flashed by and the dark Demerara River came up silently on the left. And then, all at once, the street lights appeared and the four-lane road started. We skirted the capital, Georgetown, on route another 13 miles to the East Coast village of Melanie and when we got there around 9 pm, it was too dark to see much. Vibert's mom ('Ma'/'Mama'/'Moms'), his elder brother Robert and Robert's son, Ammiel, were all waiting. It was a good reunion. And when we finally crashed, the mosquitoes buzzed in anger around the mosquito net denied their fill of fresh blood.
It got bright early, say around 5 am. Bob Marley was playing on a neighbour's radio. His background singers were birds, crowing cocks and mooing cows. We lay in bed soaking it in and we got up at 6. The neighbourhood looked rural in daylight. Wooden houses of basically the same design were fenced in big lots filled with various fruit and coconut trees.
These are the traffic Police. On most roads and in the villages you will find cows, goats, horses and sheep. Since they decide when to cross (or move in this case) the locals 'affectionately' call them traffic police
On most roads and in the villages you will find cows, goats, horses and sheep. Since they decide when to cross (or move in this case) the locals 'affectionately' call them 'traffic police'. Cherries and guavas were almost at hand reach from our bedroom window. Outside our fence, cows still made the new asphalt road their beds and toilet. The road was once red-sand and a place where Vibert and his brothers competed fiercely against opponents in inter-street cricket and football matches. The community had seen better times though. Some neighbouring houses were in serious disrepair but some neighbours were still managing to maintain their homes. Ma and Pops managed to have to best kept and brightest house in the street. Tall, untidy grass encroached on the road stretching out from some yards nearby. Maybe the people weren't cutting the grass because it was the rainy season or maybe the new 16% Value Added Tax (VAT) was indeed reducing disposable income or maybe some people were just lazy. We didn't really have time to ponder these mysteries since we were late and almost missed our ride to town. 'Pops' was always on time. Maybe he has some Dutch blood we
were unaware of or maybe his 33+ years in the Guyana Fire Service is to blame. The cows (our local 'traffic police') were not to be rushed, however, and took their own, dear time before letting us thru.
We were Linden-bound. Shanni joined our bandwagon and we started the 78-miles/140km drive. Remember Shanni? We stayed at her apartment in Brooklyn a few weeks ago. She had hair then.
We hurdled back towards the airport and then connected to the Linden Highway. We were immediately impressed.
Before us lay seemingly endless miles of straight road bounded by hills of white, beach-quality sand and emerald jungle. The hills were moderately high with the exception of Moblissa Hill which rose quite sharply. Small Amerindian villages, active sand pits and campsites sped by as did glistening black-water creeks. These were the first black bodies of water Shanna had ever seen and she timidly stuck only a toe in the water fearful that monsters and things-that-go-bump-in-the-dark might grab her.
After more than an hour-and-a-half of hard driving, we banked right and immediately saw the chimneys of Linmine - the bauxite company - belching smoke high above the city. In its hayday Linden was
a busy, progressive town built exclusively on the back of the bauxite industry. But when demand for this major export declined so too did the community. And it showed. The town was still busy but in an idle sort of way. One Lindener said that there were just too many sellers and very few buyers. And it showed. The infrastructure had taken a beating. And it showed. But yet there seemed to be a sense of hope that brighter days would return. There was still laughter and merriment at every corner.
Chinese had recently purchased the company and we, and the whole of Linden, hope that the good days are closer.
Way back in 1996, Vibert, as a young and coming insuranceman, was placed in charge of the Linden Branch Office for Hand-In-Hand Insurance Company. A visit to the office found things exactly the way he left them even with a telephone with his name on it and the same old Hermes typewriter on which he banged out reports for head office. The officer-in-charge now was the same as then and the two caught up on old times. Snaking silently and bisecting the town into two, the Demerara River
A former bauxite mine
had changed its brown color and was now black. McKenzie was on the east and Wismar on the west. But the water was not the same fresh, clean water in the creeks; this water was soiled with the waste of big bauxite ships at the nearby docks and run-off waste from the mining operation. We watched the market scene at the riverside for a bit enchanted by the language and antics of the locals and the covered boats plying the waterway between the two sides. And then we crossed the river at the toll bridge into Wismar by car and did the same thing on the other side. Later, with solicited help from two local youngsters, we headed off in search of the famed 'Blue Lake'.
Thought to be the remains of an old bauxite mine, the lake was, according to locals, unmeasurably deep in places and got its color from the sky's reflection against the white sandy bottom. We turned and twisted several times en route and then on one corner we encountered 'Booma Dan'. Resplendent in a bright red Digicel tshirt and with rasta locks flapping, Booma Dan let rip with some freestyle dancehall and prancing. He
was a lyricist with happy feet. "How yuh go tell me go a wuk when ah don't beg yuh, ah don't rob yuh, ah jus deh down on me luck".
He sang about being fired for singing on his job and how 'Babylon system' had frustrated him into unemployment. The G$1,000 we gave him was the first payment he had ever received for his music. Given a proper break, Booma Dan could rival the likes of Buju Banton and Beenie Man. After a few more twists and turns, we parked and hiked. When we finally crested the second sand hill we were greeted with an awesome sight. Below us, in a gorge that ran for hundreds of feet, was an incredibly blue body of water. Perhaps it was because we had seen the brownish, mud-coloured waters of the Demerara River and the black waters of the creeks that this seemed so surreal and even so much bluer. Or maybe because it just appeared in the middle of nowhere and maybe because the sun was extremely hot (some 103 degrees Fahrenheit). But this lake had a magnetic and enigmatic presence. Unable to resist, Vibert blazed down the steep sand incline stripping
off his clothes as he slowed at the bottom. Not to be outdone, Shanna and Shanni followed suit except, of course, for the stripping part. Our 'guides' were already on a shallow spot quite some distance away and we laboured to swim over. For quite some time we lazed and frolicked in water of near-perfect temperature and tried, all in vain, to touch the bottom. When we finally released ourselves from Blue Lake's hold, 'Fat Poke' overpowered us. 'Fat Poke'
is a lychee-like fruit which grows wild and is almost exclusive to Linden. Shanni dived into the bushes and Shanna sampled suspiciously. Vibert stuffed his pockets and mouth full.
Somehow we managed to find a chicken farm at the back of some trail and in the middle of some bush. 10,000+ chickens were being raised. We asked the farm manager a million questions. To the one about the mortality rate, he said that he was only expecting 5%!t(MISSING)o die. We guess that we probably know more about mortality rates for chicken than the guy did because we were willing to bet on 100%!m(MISSING)ortality especially because of the Guyanese preference for curry. 😊
Shanni and Vibert talked
Bushman and nephew
Terry lives in the interior of Guyana about 6 months a year. He is a 'pork knocker' (he searches for gold for a living).
up a storm on the rest of the journey back. Shanna, overwhelmed by the whole first-day-in-Guyana experience, adopted a familiar position and fell right asleep. Fast. As usual !! 😊
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