Sunday, April 01, 2007

Stella Says…What does a BBC sports writer know of Guyana?

by Stella Ramsaroop

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 01 April 2007)

After reading last Tuesday’s front-page comment by this newspaper about a blog written by BBC Sport Journalist, Martin Gough, as well as the blog itself, I decided to go to the Website in question to do some further reading.

It turns out that Gough was taken aback by the response to his blog and offered an apology for angering the Guyanese. He said in his blog the next day, “If you took offence, I apologise. I am in Guyana for 14 more days, during which time I expect to have far more positive experiences to pass on and I hope it won’t all be taken in the same way.”

In truth, it seems to me that Gough’s hurtful remarks were done more from sheer ignorance than pure arrogance – although the latter played a significant role as well. This is typical of Western attitude – and I should know. I see this attitude far too often.

For example, he probably did not know that the statement about his “rudimentary hotel” would have people seething because the nation at large was proud to offer him a comfy place to stay – even if it was not up to his lofty standards.

A year ago, Guyana would have not had the capability to house even the teams, much less the media. Obviously, Gough did not realise how much hard work Guyana has put into making sure it was ready for the CWC or how much financial strain it has been under with such an undertaking.

So allow me to take the precious time necessary to explain a few things to Mr. Gough, so that he will not make this same mistake in another country. You see, Martin (May I call you Martin? Thanks ever so much.), Guyana may not have very much - yet, but it is quite proud of what it does have.

This nation has been in constant struggle, each and every single day, since their independence. If it is not one thing that pulls them down, then it is another. They have had a healthy share of despots for leaders, Martin. The entrenched poverty sends many of their best minds to the shores of other countries.

The racial division, initiated by the nation’s previous despotic leaders from your very own country, also divides the people politically and drives a tangible fear into their hearts around every election time.

Yet despite all of these – and many more – barriers, the Guyanese still remain strong and forge ahead, hoping one day to find a way to make their nation great. This is why they have sacrificed and invested so much to bring the CWC here in the first place, and why they were so insulted at your haughty statements.

This whole nation has been waiting with bated breath to finally have the world say something kind about the land they love so much. They have always believe that if the world could see how beautiful Guyana truly is, then everyone else would love it just as much.

Then you came along and the first words they hear about their beloved Guyana is from a sports commentator who is so spoilt that he does not have the sensibilities to connect with the nation before doling out off-handed remarks or the common sense to research a country to which he was assigned for his insight into a mere game.

Your blog says you have now taken the time to go to Kaieteur Falls, a trip most Guyanese have not even been privileged. That should have adjusted your view of Guyana a bit. A boat ride down the Essequibo River would do the same. Moreover, the local cuisine is to die for.

Allow me to share the sentiments of a fellow Brit with you about Guyana. In 1860, this is what Anthony Trollope said concerning Guyana:

When I settle out of England, and take to the colonies for good and all, British Guiana shall be the land of my adoption. If I call it Demerara perhaps I shall be better understood. At home there are prejudices against it I know. They say it is a low, swampy, muddy strip of alluvial soil, infested with rattlesnakes, gall nippers, and musquitoes [sic] as big as turkey-cocks; that yellow fever rages there perennially; that the heat is unendurable; that society there is as stagnant as its waters; that men always die as soon as they reach it; and when they live are such wretched creatures that life is a misfortune… There was never a land so ill spoken of - and never one that deserved it so little. All the above calumnies I contradict; and as I lived there for a fortnight – would it could have been a month! – I expect to be believed.

…For Demerara is the Elysium of the tropics – The West Indian happy valley of Rasselas – the one true and actual Utopia of the Caribbean Seas – The Transatlantic Eden.

The men in Demerara are never angry, and the women are never cross. Life flows along on a perpetual stream of love, smiles, champagne, and small talk. Everybody has enough of everything. The only persons who do not thrive are the doctors…

Martin, almost a century later, Guyana was free from Britain, but not from the innate problems left behind by its colonial masters. While you have been living in a virtual political and social bubble across the ocean, the Guyanese have been trying to build a goodly nation. A nation you had the audacity to deeply hurt with your careless words.

On your blog, you seemed taken aback by the reaction of the locals to your quick evaluation of their nation. That is because you did not understand them or how much weight your words carried at this crucial point. They have a lot resting on the CWC.

Maybe you will understand them a little better now and appreciate that “rudimentary hotel” for the true miracle it is to the people of Guyana. If not, then it would behove of the BBC to find a sport commentator with the ability to truly appreciate the finer things in life, which have nothing at all to do with hotel rooms.

By the way, you have a typo in your now infamous blog.

Email: StellaSays[at]

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