by Stella Ramsaroop
(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 02 September 2007)
Did you know many people in Iceland believe in elves? It is true. Polls consistently show the people of Iceland believe in these humanlike creatures that live in rocks. This innocuous urban legend is simply an assumed part of their Celtic culture in which some Icelanders believe and some do not.
In South Korea there are many people who believe if an electric fan is left running in a closed room it will suck away all of the oxygen in the air and suffocate those in the room or that the fan slows the person’s metabolism so much that she or he dies from hypothermia. This urban legend is so strong that every electric fan in South Korea is sold with timer switch to shut it off after the person has fallen asleep.
We all grow up with some sort of fantastical stories. I learned of one of Guyana’s urban legends earlier this year when an elderly woman was beaten to death for being an ol higue. Likewise, I have heard stories over the years of other folklore and I am sure there are even more that I have yet to learn about.
There is one legend I hear frequently, especially among the Diaspora – that one day Guyana will rise to her potential and be a great country. It is a legend of hope and desperation all rolled into one.
Sometimes it is so difficult to live in the here and now that it is easier to look beyond the reality of today and find hope in tomorrow. Today there are prison breaks, corrupt government officials, high food prices, rampant crime and a heavy-handed patriarchal system.
I often wonder if the capacity to look beyond such grave circumstances and still see hope in the future is a safety switch humans have to protect them from giving up. I would like to think that as an intelligent woman I do not need to believe in urban legends.
It is my estimation that whatever happens in life should be dealt with as reality and not as a floating moment. However, I must confess when I read Freddie Kissoon’s column from this past Thursday (August 30) entitled, “Inside the mind of a politician,” in which he interviewed one of the old Burnham boys, that I was offended at a particular line that challenged my belief that Guyana will one day be a great country.
In Freddie’s talk with Elvin Mc David, this past week, Mc David reportedly said, “Freddie, you use to criticise the Burnham Government but look what we have now; the situation in Guyana is irretrievable.” Guyana is irretrievable? Oh my! He might as well have told an Icelander that elves do not exist.
Urban legends are funny things because this phenomenon shows how the human mind is often willing to believe something completely outrageous even in the face of fact and logic.
When the people of South Korea were told that no one outside of their country believed in death by fan, there were excuses given as to why this trend affects only the South Korean physiology. Sometimes people will believe what they want to believe regardless the validity of the facts staring them in the face.
For example, as rational and reasonable as I believe myself to be, I would still rather believe in elves and ol higues before I believe that Guyana is irretrievable. Be assured that I am not blind; I can see the writing on the wall as well as any other political commentator. I simply choose to believe the urban legend instead.
I will not play the role of a ditsy blonde either and pretend that all is well with the nation, which is why it is necessary to hold the feet of Guyana’s leaders to the flames daily to make sure someone is doing something productive for the people.
I have come to understand there is a balance between fact and fiction when it comes to Guyana. The facts are not very promising, but that is where fiction helps to keep hope alive. Freddie warned me very early on that I could lose my marbles by dabbling in Guyanese politics.
This is how I sustain my sanity, by choosing to believe in the urban legend that one day Guyana will live up to it’s full potential and be a great nation. I may not believe in Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, elves or that the moon is made of cheese, but I do believe in Guyana.
My fear is that others will follow Mc David’s example and reject the legend of hope for Guyana. Mark my words, if this legend dies – so will Guyana. There are so many urban legends in Guyana (like ol higues, haunted trees that cannot be cut down and the presence of jumbies) that could die over time without much impact on the nation.
However, believing Guyana will one day be a great nation is an urban legend that cannot and should not be allowed to die. If Icelanders can believe in elves and South Koreans can believe in killer fans, I can believe in my own fantastical story too.