by Stella Ramsaroop
(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 25 February 2007)
While on my little sabbatical, a well-needed time of reflection and regrouping, I found it difficult to pull myself away from the goings-on in Guyana. This country is never short on drama - that is for sure.
For example, just during my short vacation alone, the President was caught dressed like he was going to a cricket game as he disembarked from a plane for an international event. It seems a refresher course in protocol is in order for this administration.
Also during my sabbatical, GINA pulled all its advertisements from Stabroek News, VAT was instituted (and boy was that drama) and of course I cannot even count the number of women who were killed during that short few weeks. This has also been a time of great preparation for Guyana as it prepares for the World Cup.
Just this past week we saw more preparations underway as Stabroek Market was cleared of vendors, some of whom had been operating in that location for years and years. On the one hand, I do understand the government’s desire to spruce up the city a bit. It is their job to make potential tourists feel welcomed in the country.
On the other hand, speaking as a person who goes out of my way to shop at such places as Stabroek Market in almost every country I have visited, it is sad to see these vendors go. Markets such as these are the life of the country for tourists in Mexico.
In fact, I go to Tijuana for the sole purpose of shopping at its makeshift stands and haggling in Spanish with vendors who always have a “special price” for the gringa with blonde hair.
Even while living in Guatemala and Costa Rica, I would intentionally forego the walled-in supermarkets for the outdoor markets. It was not only the fresh veggies or the hustle and bustle that drew me to these markets - it was the overall experience.
In Panama, I would stop at roadside stands to buy a coconut to drink, a hammock made by the locals or some tiny sweet bananas that cannot be found in America. Which brings me to the point I am attempting to make, the tourists that will soon be flooding into Guyana will also want to buy stuffs that they cannot find in their own countries.
They will want to sample the local cuisine. They will want the experience of the open market stands. They will want to haggle with the vendors and feel like they have got a good deal. On my last trip to Guyana, I haggled with a Rastaman peddling gorgeous woodcarvings on Main Street.
I talked him down despite my blonde hair and the fact that my husband was dressed in a ridiculous purple dress shirt and tie. However, at the end of the transaction I gave him more than what we had settled on just because he was willing to play along with my game and have some fun with me.
That beautiful carving sits in an honoured place in my home and I still love it as much as I did on the day I bought it. Moreover, every time I look at it, I think about that Rastaman and the fun we had. Just like I think about the street peddler in Barbados who sold me some beautiful jewellery after Paul haggled with him.
The experiences of these transactions are part of what makes the items bought a treasure. Which is why it is so sad to think of all of the experiences the tourists will miss with the disappearance of so many vendors in Stabroek Market. I am all for progress, but not at the sacrifice of culture – and Stabroek Market is part of Guyana’s cultural experience.
Moreover, it has been mentioned that these vendors had spent thousands of dollars sprucing up their stands. No doubt they have already bought merchandise for the World Cup visitors as well. This is where I would go to shop if I were coming for the CWC.
During my sabbatical, I have closely followed all of the arrangements being made for the World Cup, such as the preparations to get the stadium ready, the construction of new hospitality facilities and the street cleaning. Even escalators are up and running the country now.
It dawned on me somewhere at the beginning of January that it took the rest of the world coming to Guyana before any of these improvements took place. I cannot help but wonder why none of this was done just for the people of Guyana? Why not clean up the streets for Guyanese?
Why not make Stabroek Market more appealing for the people of Guyana? Why not make all of these improvements as part of the day-to-day activities of running a nation and then the rest of the world can enjoy it too when they visit?
Moreover, what will become of all of this beautification of the nation when the World Cup is over and the only people left to impress are the Guyanese again? Will the government continue to keep everything nice and pretty?
Will the people demand a better way of life – the type of life the government is gladly providing for the visitors to Guyana, but has never given to those who actually live here? It is great that Guyana is working its way into being a potential tourism nation, especially since it has taken decades for the leaders of Guyana to finally do what the rest of the Caribbean has been doing for a long time.
I just think the people of the nation deserved clean streets all along. They had a right to be able to live here without being incessantly terrorised by criminals. They should have been able to expect their government to take care of them the way it is taking care of the complete strangers who will soon be visiting.
Guyana has the capacity of balancing the culture offered by Stabroek Market and the pride of walking down a beautiful clean street – like what I understand Main Street looked like in the old days. The question is whether all of the money spent on beautifying the nation will mysteriously disappear again after the World Cup is gone.