Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Thank you, President Jagdeo, for caring about the women of Guyana

(Originally published in Guyana’s Kaieteur News on 23 February 2011)

I heard a host of angels sing as I read the status update on Monday on NCN Guyana’s Facebook page. It said, “President Bharrat Jagdeo is calling on citizens to break the silence to injustice. The Head of State was referring to the issue of domestic violence where persons fail to render assistance to victims.”

This is one of the most beautiful stories of redemption I have ever witnessed. It is nothing short of miraculous! The president is calling on citizens to break the silence concerning domestic violence. Tears are brimming in my eyes at just the sound of that statement. The chorus of angels are still singing.

I even took a screen shot of the status update so I can look at it on days when fighting domestic violence seems overwhelming and remind myself of this beautiful day.

Strangely enough, I did not see this joyous news reported in any of the newspapers on Tuesday and the status update did not say where President Jagdeo made this statement. However, I am not deterred in believing this monumental news. Perhaps it was just that the flooding situation took precedence over the news of the president calling on citizens to break the silence (I just love to say that phrase: the president is calling on citizens to break the silence).

If what was posted on NCN – Guyana’s Facebook page is true – and every ounce of my being is hoping that it is – then how could it have escaped the attention of the local newspapers? After all, it was just two short years ago when the president himself wanted everyone to be silent concerning the treatment of Former First Lady Varshnie Singh.

Ms. Singh was put out of her own home (the State House) with nothing more than the clothes on her back after years of being subjected to various forms of domestic violence by the president. Therefore, my exuberance is justified because the same man who inflicted such harm on a woman has now become a champion for victims of domestic violence.

This is huge! It truly is monumental. It is like hearing Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s womanising prime minister, tell the world that it is wrong to use and objectify women. The implications of this news could mean the so much to the women of Guyana. They will now have a president who will protect them from their abusers instead of one who inflicts abuse himself or sits in silence while they are battered.

Since I am assuming the president will also be breaking his silence, women can now also expect the president to step up and speak out when any of his ministers or leaders in his party beat their wives. I can still hear those angles singing. My heart is elated. My feet cannot find solid ground. The president of Guyana cares about the women of his nation. Let the world rejoice!

I wonder what brought about this change of heart in the president? Perhaps he saw the firsthand evidence of domestic violence from someone for whom he cares (well, other than his wife). I have seen the firsthand evidence and it is heart wrenching. I could understand this conversion if president’s heart was touched by the tortured experiences of a victim (see Freddie, I told you he had a heart).

I am so giddy about this news, though I still just cannot understand why the nation’s newspapers did not pick up this colossal story. Oh, no! What if that status on NCN – Guyana’s Facebook page was in error or a joke? What if someone hacked into that page and posted that status just to taunt women’s advocates like me?

No, I won’t believe it was a farce. I will believe the president really has made this drastic turnaround and I will now look to the president as an example of a man who will from now on protect women from the evils of domestic violence and wipe this scourge from the land.

I wonder if this change of heart also means an apology will be issued to his ex-wife for the way he treated her during their marriage? Since admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery, I am sure the president knows that making amends would go a long way in his healing process.

Oh, I cannot wait to write on that story! I can see the headlines now, “President Jagdeo issues apology to Former First Lady for years of domestic violence.” What a truly heart warming story it will be! It would prove to all those naysayers that the president is a changed man who wants to leave a legacy of hope and goodness as he wraps up his time in office.

Perhaps I can get an exclusive interview with the president about his conversion from an abuser to a protector. It would be an inspiration to all those men in Guyana who abuse their wives to know they, too, can stop the abuse and become a man of integrity.

(If the president is reading this, please just email me the time and date of the interview because I don’t want Freddie to steal my exclusive.)

I feel as if the world has been righted after being askew for such a long and tiresome time. The sky is bluer, the air is fresher and the song of the birds is more light-hearted. I have fought a good fight. I have waged a war against domestic violence and this week a decisive victory has been won.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you, President Jagdeo. Thank you for caring about the women of Guyana.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

What’s cooking?

(Originally published in Guyana’s Kaieteur News on 13 February 2011)

This column is going to be on a topic I have never written about before. No, it is not sex…I have written on that topic several times. In fact, I have written on many topics, but there is one love in my life that I have never written about in my column in great detail - cooking.

Cooking is for me a way to relax and clear my head. It is a lot like writing for me in that I find it an artistic expression. I love to cook recipes from all kinds of cultures, but my very favourite is Caribbean food.

When I first started cooking, I felt completely out of my element in the kitchen. My mother did not teach me to cook, so I was lost about so much. Since I married young to my Guyanese husband, some of the first dishes I attempted to cook were those I knew he would like. At that time, I could not even cook a decent pot of rice.

Lots of practice led to feeling of confidence, which led to experimenting on my own until I was proficient enough to play around with almost any recipe to make it something I knew I would enjoy. I made pine tarts without having ever seen a pine tart in my life – and they were pretty good.

However, I have to give a lot of credit to one friend who has helped me whenever I had a question about a recipe or dish. Cynthia Nelson, who writes a column on Caribbean cuisine for Stabroek News, has been a patient mentor for me for years. She also has a blog ( that has inspired me over and over throughout the years.

I am one of those learners who need to see a map to understand where I am in the big picture. My Guyanese family are wonderful cooks, but they cook like most Guyanese do, they just throw this and that into their recipe without measurements or cooking times. They just know when something is right or wrong. This made learning to cook from them quite frustrating.

I did not have that cooking intuition at first, but Cynthia’s recipes gave me the opportunity to explore Guyanese cooking with a map to guide me. Her recipes, both in her column and on her blog, give step-by-step instructions on everything from pepperpot to roti. To a large degree, it was because of Cynthia’s help while learning to cook Guyanese food that I now feel comfortable enough to venture into cooking any and every food culture that strikes my fancy (because I am also an adventurous eater).

Tastes Like Home: My Caribbean CookbookHere is the good news; Cynthia has now put out a cookbook entitled, Tastes Like Home – My Caribbean Cookbook. This cookbook is the most spectacular cookbook I have ever seen. No matter if the cook is well seasoned in the kitchen or a novice who is just starting, Cynthia’s cookbook will inspire with her cooking memoirs and instruct with her easy-to-follow recipes.

I was so excited about Cynthia’s cookbook that I bought one for three family members for Christmas. Two were seasoned cooks and one was new to Guyanese cooking. All three loved the book and were cooking from it from the very first day. This cookbook far surpasses every other cookbook I have seen (and I have seen a lot) in quality, content and instruction. It is truly the premier Caribbean cookbook.

When you see this cookbook, when you run through the pages and read the memoirs and recipes, it will make you proud to know a Guyanese wrote it.

I also bought a copy of the book from Austin’s Bookstore for a friend who was thrilled because she, too, has been an avid reader of Cynthia’s column for years. She intends to have the cookbook signed by Cynthia at the book launching at Herdmanston Lodge on February 20. I would encourage all cooks, both men and women, to go to the launch and get a good taste of Cynthia’s recipes.

Another valuable aspect of Cynthia’s cookbook targets those in the Diaspora who feel the next generation may lose their connection to Guyanese cuisine because this cookbook is essentially a textbook for anyone who has the desire to make great Caribbean food. I cook Guyanese food not just because I enjoy it, but also because I was adamant that my children knew this part of their culture.

It is interesting that my family in the Midwest part of the US said that even after knowing how to cook most of the traditional recipes for years, time and space had forgotten this ingredient or that dish. Cynthia’s cookbook helped to put some of those missing pieces back in place to make sure the tradition of great Guyanese food continues for generations to come.

I know I may seem a bit partial when it comes to Cynthia’s cookbook, but she was there to walk me through my first tomato choka, assured me that I could make a mango chutney and taught me how to make green seasoning so that my chow mein tasted Guyanese and not American. These recipes may seem simple to most Guyanese, but they are not simple for those outside of the Caribbean.

So yes, I am giving Cynthia’s cookbook a raving review because I have tried and tested her recipes for years and know they are spectacular. I have never written on cooking before and I do not know that I ever will again (after all, there are so many things cooking outside the kitchen in Guyana that I want to write about), but I could not miss this opportunity to write about Cynthia’s new cookbook. I hope you enjoy her recipes as much as I have.

(Cynthia will also be signing her cookbook at Austin’s Bookstore on February 19 from 10:30 am to 1 pm. For those outside of Guyana, Cynthia’s cookbook can be found on Amazon.)

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Down with the dictator!

 (Originally published in Guyana’s Kaieteur News on 02 February 2011) 
I am so inspired by the recent political revolutions happening in the Mid-East. It is as if someone flipped a switch and the whole region decided it was time to challenge the dictators in power. I just love it when people realise that they are the ones who should be in control.
To be sure, there are times when the people are glad to have someone else run everything. They are happy to just go on their merry way, live their lives and not focus too much on the way the country is being ruled. This is part of the ebb and flow of a dictator’s existence. The quiet of the people helps the dictator establish himself in power.
It is the disquiet of the people where things start to change.
The people begin to recognise little things that are wrong or that favour the ruler instead of the people. They start to see the benevolent leader turn into a malevolent ruler. It is a process that has happened over and over in history – and the end result is always the same…the people revolt.
There is something instinctive inside a human that tells them when a leader has crossed the line. I have enjoyed seeing the photos coming out of places like Tunisia, Egypt and now Jordan (The Syrians are calling for protests to begin as well). The photos out of Egypt show a strong showing of women involved in the protests to out President Hosni Mubarak.
The crowds in Egypt chanted, “We’re not going anywhere, Mubarak. You are!” I saw a photo place on a stroller in front of a baby that said, “Enough.” It is these images that inspire me so. It is so very encouraging when people decide that enough is enough and get rid of bad leadership. And there seems to be a domino effect occurring in the Mid-East.
Here is a Washington Post report from yesterday, “Syrians are organizing campaigns on Facebook and Twitter that call for a ‘day of rage’ in Damascus this week, taking inspiration from Egypt and Tunisia in using social networking sites to rally their followers for sweeping political reforms.
Like Egypt and Tunisia, Syria suffers from corruption, poverty and unemployment. All three nations have seen subsidy cuts on staples like bread and oil. Syria’s authoritarian president has resisted calls for political freedoms and jailed critics of his regime.”
In Jordan, King Abdullah II fired his government yesterday (Tuesday) in the wake of street protests and asked an ex-prime minister to form a new Cabinet, ordering him to launch immediate political reforms.
The dismissal follows several large protests across Jordan – inspired by similar demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt - calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Samir Rifai, who is blamed for a rise in fuel and food prices and slowed political reforms.
Really, it is but simple things that people want and need. Food that is priced within an affordable range, inexpensive fuel to get them to work, an economy that provides jobs for all and a political system that favours the people over those who govern the nation. When these very simple issues are ignored – a revolution is in the future.
The protests in Tunisia were successful and saw the end of that dictatorship. The Mubarak regime teeters on the brink. Jordan’s rulers are already changing and Syria is the next on the list. It just makes me want to dance with joy!
To top off this lovely cake with some delicious icing, it is the young people of these nations who are at the forefront of the revolutions. They are using social networks like Facebook and Twitter to spread the word about the protests and to let the world know what is going on during the protests – even as their government tries to cut them off from the rest of the world.
These young people are far more tech savvy than their government though, and they are letting the world know that they are ready to fight for a government that will listen to the will of the people. Just when us old fogies thought today’s kids were lazy and apathetic, they up and transform the world in a matter of a month. Shame on us old fogies.
We have obviously underestimated the young people. They have done what those of our generation have not. I am so inspired and feel so much hope that good has overcome evil. It feels like a new day has dawned and that day has no place for dictators. I say good riddance!
All of this newfound optimism makes me wonder…where will the next revolution be?