“Courage does not mean lack of fear.” – Sara Bharrat

From Rice and Sugar to Oil – How will this change us?

I grew up in Craig, a small village on the eastern bank of the Demerara River, where rice and sugar are an important part of many family stories. Rice provided for our village and then sugar came and changed the drainage and irrigation system in our village’s backlands. And when the land changed, so did the people and their village. Today, oil is the new plantation and it is already sweeping across the land and transforming us.

In the early to mid-90s, I remember walking along Craig Old Road in the evenings with my Nana (maternal grandfather) to hang lanterns which lit the way to our village shop. It’s been ten years since he died and I still walk this same path almost every morning but our village is not the same. And now I wonder if one day, Nana also looked around him and thought the same thing – Guyana is changing.

Nana was a farmer for most of his life. He threw paddy on acres of our family land behind the village and he was a top producer at the Diamond Sugar Estate (which is no more). Tonight, Nani (maternal grandmother) told me that the village looks and feels much different than it was when she and Nana were a young couple with nine children. I don’t know if Nani realizes that she is witnessing history writing itself across the land again.

Knottie and James Bacchus sold their land along Craig Public Road to the great grandfather of my family pandit (Gopi). He opened a rice mill where farmers brought their paddy every crop. There were also rice mills in Buzz-bee Dam and New Hope. These were closer than Bel Air where farmers had to take their produce before. But the Diamond Estate changed everything and the rice farmers became sugar-cane farmers. Now, the rice mills are only memories for old folks in these parts.

When sugar-cane started declining, many farmers including those in my family switched to planting ground provisions, cash crops, fruits or running poultry farms. In the 70s, my family moved to the Public Road (now Craig Old Road) and opened a village shop. Back then it was a vibrant place with pools tables where many a village wife came in search of her husband. By night my uncles gave life to the shop and at the crack of dawn they farmed our land.

The last of the farmers in my family died a few years ago. My mamoo (maternal uncle) Seepaul farmed until he died and Beebee (my younger mamoo) stopped farming when he got sick. Bee left land to his sons, but they sold it because farming does not provide the instant economic gratification that my generation seems to crave. The rich history of farming in my family is now ashes mixed into the soil feeding some other kind of life.

These days with all the in-fighting going on in our country I am not sure what will happen to us. Not knowing is very frightening. Are the changes brought by oil already turning us into ashes which will feed other kinds of life around the world?

Oil is changing us; it is no longer a choice. Our response to this change is the important thing now and for this we need united leadership. While I accept that leading a country this young and with our complex history is no easy task, it does not mean that we cannot shape our own transformation. We need a clear vision and leaders committed to serving and respecting the nation and freedom our ancestors delivered to us.

Without Wax,

Sara

 

Featured Image: Ace Raima

 

Disclaimer:

This article contains the personal views of the author and is in no way connected with any institution or group with which she may be affiliated.

 

A note from the Author:

Given the custom by party loyalists to misrepresent and misuse any type of political commentary to support their own positions, I feel that it is necessary to borrow the following from Thomas Paine (an English-born American political activist, philosopher, political theorist, and revolutionary) with whose work I became acquainted as a student of History at the University of Guyana:

Who the Author of this Production is, is wholly unnecessary to the Public, as the Object for Attention is the Doctrine itself, not the Woman. Yet it may not be unnecessary to say, That she is unconnected with any Party, and under no sort of Influence public or private, but the influence of reason and principle.

Craig Village, East Bank Demerara, August 31, 2019

Do you have a story you’d like to share? You can email me at sarabharrat@gmail.com

A Joint Open Letter to the President and Opposition Leader

A couple days ago a group of young people agreed that being silent at this moment in Guyana’s history is not an option. We wrote a joint open letter to the President and Leader of the Opposition calling for them to work together. I am extremely proud of Ferlin Pedro, Diana Cruickshank, Avinand Rampersaud, Fabrice Williams, Mellissa Bacchus and Athar Khan. Their willingness to speak up will be a lasting source of inspiration for me.

August 16, 2019

Dear President Granger and Former President Jagdeo,

Both of you have been praised for achieving many great national accomplishments during your respective tenure in government. Guyana owes much gratitude to each of you for demonstrating your unwavering patriotism and dedication to serving the public good.  However, over the years both of you have also been blamed for much of the ongoing strife plaguing our nation. Sometimes we are guilty of forgetting our history, where we came from, and how we got to the point we’re at as a people. Although both of you have helped to shape the Guyana we know of today, neither of you single-handedly made Guyana what it is. Our Guyana has gone through tough times, but it was a series of collective struggle and determination which allowed our nation to become a republic and to thrive independently. If it weren’t for our Guyanese ancestors who believed relentlessly in liberty and justice, an independent and free Guyana would not have been possible.

Unfortunately, both of you began to govern our country at a time when there is a stockpile of post-colonial problems inherited from our past. Despite making significant social and political strides, Guyana remains divided among its people by ethnicity or race and suffers because of this segregation.  And so, we ask ourselves, what is the likelihood that both of you will pass these prevailing problems on to the next generation?  We, the people, know that both of you possess the political power necessary to change Guyana’s politics for the better, eliminating the hate, fear, and scourge of ethnic and racial discrimination—though what’s lacking is the will to commit.

Political leaders must keep in mind that they too are Guyanese, and when they demit from office, they are left with the conditions they’ve either overlooked or created while in office, or simply failed to remedy. But we do not wish for two proficient Guyanese leaders to be remembered as not doing much to safeguard our nation from the ills of hate and prejudice. Together, you both hold the hope of every Guyanese, a hope that desires prosperity and equality for not just some of us but all of us. We are part of this generation, this century, this moment in all of history, so we implore you both to work together to secure a better future for everyone. We are confident this much is mutually understood.

Of course, in each of your own way, you both want what’s best for Guyana. So why aren’t you protecting us from the ills of our past? Why aren’t you teaching us important values to progress as a nation under unity? What we ask of you, our elected leaders, is to show us that it is possible to live beyond the script of hate that history has handed to us. This is the very least you can do for the people of Guyana before retiring from your respected political careers.

A couple years ago we kept dreaming of the day when you two would shake hands, smile at each other, embrace your kinship and put history behind you, not that we ask to forget history, but to learn from history to create a better and more unified society. Just imagine what could happen if our most powerful Afro-Guyanese leader and our most powerful Indo-Guyanese leader could find a way to demonstrate forgiveness, brotherhood, and unity. The idea is to show that we are truly one family, and that our differences can strengthen us to appreciate each other for who we are as individuals, and more importantly, who we are as a people.

Were such demonstrations to happen, Guyana would be one of the most outstanding examples of transcending a historically divided nation into a more unified one because of bold political leadership. Such a reality would permanently lay both of you down in history as true statesmen with tales to tell for centuries to come. What could be more worthwhile in politics than to be remembered for accomplishing what was said to be inconceivable?

Fortunately, we have seen many pictures of you both shaking hands, smiling, walking together, talking. We waited to see if it would take us towards a path we’ve longed for. So far, none of the friendly encounters have done so. We felt betrayed. Somehow, your willingness to speak to each other has only divided this nation further. And worse than the division is the hopelessness it has stirred in the hearts of our people. So, we ask, is this how you want history to remember you? As the brothers who continued a family feud spanning decades and ripping apart a nation on the verge of greatness?

We know that what we’re suggesting isn’t so easy to do. We understand the complexities and the fear. But the leadership we seek entails the power to influence necessary change to guide us forward as one indivisible people who stand together across differences. Do both of you not feel what is happening across the nation—the strife, the angst, the intolerance? We live through it every day. The people are concerned about what is happening and they are even more concerned about what might happen. Many feel hopeless, frustrated, and even confused by current events, but helpless at the same time because they don’t know what to do or what they can do as citizens.

We know that both of you have the power to create a national atmosphere different from what we’ve grown accustomed to throughout our Guyanese experience. We believe that together we can accomplish so much more. Without mutual understanding and political maturity, we are afraid that tensions would escalate further among our people, thereby resulting in social instability. So, we the people ask our leaders what kind of Guyana do you want to leave behind? Are you truly willing to sacrifice your political ambitions to deliver what’s in the broader interest of the Guyanese people? How far will you go to ensure lasting peace and prosperity for all Guyanese?

Choose wisely because your decisions matter now more than ever before. Let’s give our future a chance and not continue to float in uncertainty because of our current actions. Let’s remind ourselves that we are all in this together, just like our ancestors who suffered together to give us the privilege of liberation. Regardless of ethnicity, race, religion or creed, we are—first and foremost – Guyanese. All else is secondary.

Sincerely and with much hope,

Sara Bharrat

Ferlin Pedro

Fabrice Williams

Avinand Rampersaud

Diana Cruickshank

Mellissa Bacchus

Athar Khan

 

 

Featured Image: Stabroek News

 

Disclaimer:

This letter contains the views of the authors and is in no way connected with any institution or group with which they may be affiliated.

 

Other sources:

This letter has also be published in the August 17, 2019 edition of the Kaieteur News. Click here to access.

What if your son were a criminal?

Reading time: 4 minutes

Crime does not discriminate. It does not care who you vote for or if you are black or brown, young or old, rich or poor. It will take something from you. If we are truly interested in solving crime, we must first accept that it will take time to fix, and that we will have to do one simple thing to start fixing it now. We need to change our mindset about crime.

Crime and the people who commit them are created by things like poverty, unstable political conditions, unemployment, and race hate. Whether it’s a poor boy without a choice or a greedy man with a choice, these conditions create the perfect breeding ground for crime. Our leaders have been in this battle long enough to know what doesn’t work, it’s time to toss those things and move forward with what works.

Last year bandits broke into my elder aunt’s house. She was home alone. They beat her, tied her arms and legs, stuffed a towel in her mouth and threatened to kill her. I cannot imagine how terrified she was, lying there, watching them tear her house apart and waiting to see what they would do to her. Would they kill her? Would they rape her? Would they do both? Can you imagine the terror she felt?

The bandits were young men from right around our village. They were never picked up by the police and every time my family sees one of them passing along the street, I can see anger flash in their eyes. For a while my uncle, my brother, my cousins, they struggled with that anger. I’ve never asked my aunt how she felt about it. I didn’t know how to ask and listen without becoming angry and feeling hate towards these teenagers.

This is not the first time my family was terrorized by bandits. It has happened to us at least five times. After these violent and traumatic incidents, it’s natural to be angry and it’s hard to not let that anger consume you and turn into hate. And when you’re in that state of mind, it’s hard to think about anything other than hurting the people who hurt you and those you love. But I’ve learned that hate and anger do not solve big things like crime. They prevent us from seeing the real problem.

What if you were one of the many Guyanese who live in poverty and your son were a criminal? What if he were one of the young bandits that broke into my aunt’s house? What if someone else had been there with her and they’d shot one of these bandits? Suppose it were your son who’d been shot and he died? Who would be the victim in this? Would it only be my innocent aunt? Or would it be your son who never had a chance to choose another path? And what would be lost? My aunt lost money. You would have lost your son. Your son lost his life. And then there is one cost we often forget, the cost to our country. Guyana would have lost a bit of its future that could have had the potential to be something good, if life were different for you and your son.

I am not looking at this in terms of right and wrong. I am not saying it is right or wrong to hate and kill a bandit. I am not saying that it is right or wrong for a youth who doesn’t think there is another path to survival to become a criminal. Right and wrong will only lead to an endless buse-out. Guyana has had enough of these. Why else do you think we can’t seem to solve any of our problems?

I am concerned about what works and what doesn’t work. It is clear that actions by government, regardless of which party is in power, have not been enough to address poverty, unemployment and race hate. It is clear that actions or lack of actions by other powerful leaders, by communities, by churches, by anyone who has the potential to make a difference have not worked as well as we’d like. It is time to demand better from all our leaders and to do better because we know better.

Without Wax,

Sara

 

Featured Image: Stabroek News

 

Disclaimer:

This article contains the personal views of the author and is in no way connected with any institution or group with which she may be affiliated.

 

A note from the Author:

Given the custom by party loyalists to misrepresent and misuse any type of political commentary to support their own positions, I feel that it is necessary to borrow the following from Thomas Paine (an English-born American political activist, philosopher, political theorist, and revolutionary) with whose work I became acquainted as a student of History at the University of Guyana:

Who the Author of this Production is, is wholly unnecessary to the Public, as the Object for Attention is the Doctrine itself, not the Woman. Yet it may not be unnecessary to say, That she is unconnected with any Party, and under no sort of Influence public or private, but the influence of reason and principle.

Craig Village, East Bank Demerara, June 1, 2019

Have a question or require further information? You can email me at sarabharrat@gmail.com

Will Guyana survive?

Guyana will only survive if we take our stories back from the people who have weaponized them. These people act stupid but they know the value of a story and they use our stories to serve themselves.

My nana was a cane-cutter at the Diamond Estate for much of his life. For many years, my nani sold our farm produce at Bourda Market. My mamoos and their sisters were never really young. They grew up on back-breaking work. By the time I was born, this story was already a weapon used to breed a perverted sort of loyalty based on insecurity and fear.

We all have similar stories. No matter our skin colour or hair texture. No matter how rich our family is now or if we come from Buxton, Rupununi, Essequibo Coast, Bartica or Leguan. Our stories begin to repeat themselves and they are the veins which give Guyana life.

As we approach our 53rd Independence Anniversary, I find myself dwelling more and more on how our stories have been used against us. Our families went hungry and sweated day after day to educate us. And what did we do with our education? Some of us told stories to rip the nation apart. And no matter how bright Guyana’s future may look now (with the promise of big money from oil), our future will never be truly secure until we stop burning ourselves from the inside out.

If you’ve ever been to a cremation at Kashi Dam, Ruimzeight, you will know the bitter-sweet flavor of the place. The sun beats down on your skin scorching it, but somehow you don’t feel anything. You take a couple deep breaths of the clean ocean air and try to steady yourself. But you can’t steady yourself because your heart is heavy or you feel the sadness all around you and it seeps into the deepest part of your being. This is how I feel tonight.

Ten years ago when we cremated my nana, my chest was heavy. A few years ago when we cremated my Bee-bee, I was lost. A few Junes ago when we cremated my father, I held back the tears until I saw the flames cover his body and then I screamed as if the entire world had torn. Our leaders, across the political spectrum, have inspired feelings like this many times. Sometimes, I think that every time they misuse one of our stories, they throw one more piece of wood on Guyana’s pyre.

It’s not that I am not excited about the possibilities our future offers. It’s not that I don’t have things of which I am proud. If I were not proud of Guyana and Guyanese, then I would not care as much as I do about where we are going. But for right now, it is hard for me to see the silver lining when all I can think of is whether we will survive.

Where is Guyana going? What is our story today? Is it still the same story of the 60s? These are the questions that weigh on my mind tonight. If we listen to the stories we are told today, they sound like the same stories from decades ago. It’s like our story is stuck on repeat at a very bad chapter.

Until we begin to tell our own stories, we will all be at the mercy of those who manipulate us through them. Your responsibility today is to tell them #ItIsMyStory. Take back your stories by telling them yourself.

Without Wax,

Sara

 

Disclaimer:

This article contains the personal views of the author and is in no way connected with any institution or group with which she may be affiliated.

 

A note from the Author:

Given the custom by party loyalists to misrepresent and misuse any type of political commentary to support their own positions, I feel that it is necessary to borrow the following from Thomas Paine (an English-born American political activist, philosopher, political theorist, and revolutionary) with whose work I became acquainted as a student of History at the University of Guyana:

Who the Author of this Production is, is wholly unnecessary to the Public, as the Object for Attention is the Doctrine itself, not the Woman. Yet it may not be unnecessary to say, That she is unconnected with any Party, and under no sort of Influence public or private, but the influence of reason and principle.

Craig Village, East Bank Demerara, May 25, 2019

Have a question or require further information? You can email me at sarabharrat@gmail.com

 

Learn from this Minister why it’s very important to ensure you put thought into what you say to the public

(Reading Time: 4 minutes)

As I opened my creaky kitchen door last night, I could hear her voice blasting from our old TV. I hugged nani and moved closer to the wall-divider. I don’t usually watch the news these days but I couldn’t help it. There was a flash of her face on screen and she continued to speak about grand and petty corruption in Guyana. If the TV wasn’t duct-taped to the wall-divider it would have crashed to the floor in disbelief. What the f**k was Minister of Public Telecommunications Cathy Hughes trying to communicate?

I wish I could tell you that I listened in disbelief as she committed a massive public communication mistake. But sadly, with only a few exceptions, not very many of our public officials excel at effective, meaningful and strategic communication. It’s very easy to learn the mechanics of speaking well publicly but it’s difficult to inspire positive change with a well delivered speech. To inspire change, a speaker must be well grounded in both their individual and collective purpose and have a very clear vision of where they’re headed.

The Coalition government has taken some hits for corruption and in recent months, questions have been raised about a Ministry of the Presidency contract awarded to a private video production company with which Minister Hughes is closely linked. Allegations of corruption are an occupational hazard for public officials. Any response to such accusations should be framed in a manner which does not appear to defy the principles of the Code of Conduct for public officials. Minister of Public Infrastructure David Patterson has successfully done this.

In her communication, which responded generally to allegations of corruption against Government, Minister Hughes said we forget that corruption is a culture in Guyana and that it exists not just in government but across our society. She continued to deliver remarks which came across as if she’s attacking the “small man”, accusing him. When the message is framed is this way, it allows room for the listener to infer that the public shouldn’t point fingers at government when they too are guilty of corruption.

If I were Minister Hughes, I would have made the key message about government’s commitment to work on corruption (something she seems to mention only in passing). What has or is government doing to address corruption in Guyana? Is it part of a bigger plan? What is this plan? How far have we progressed with taking the necessary actions to shift this culture of corruption we so easily reference? These are important answers to provide, as honestly as she is able to as a public official.

Guyanese have not forgotten. We know that corruption is a big issue and we are worried about it now that our country is an oil producer. We are not stupid. We know that grand corruption creates the sort of political, economic and other conditions that breed petty corruption. I advise the next public official who speaks about corruption to keep these things in mind.

To even remotely suggest that corruption at the level of Government can be compared to corruption at the level of a policeman taking a bribe is foolish. Let’s examine the police bribery situation a little closer. Why does the police man feel the need to take a bribe? Would a well compensated police force reduce the cases of bribe taking? What drives this behaviour? So you see, it’s not as simple as it may appear.

Without Wax,

Bharrat

 

Featured Image: Corruption Watch

Disclaimer:

This article contains the personal views of the author and is in no way connected with any institution or group with which she may be affiliated.

A note from the Author:

Given the custom by party loyalists to misrepresent and misuse any type of political commentary to support their own positions, I feel that it is necessary to borrow the following from Thomas Paine (an English-born American political activist, philosopher, political theorist, and revolutionary) with whose work I became acquainted as a student of History at the University of Guyana:

Who the Author of this Production is, is wholly unnecessary to the Public, as the Object for Attention is the Doctrine itself, not the Woman. Yet it may not be unnecessary to say, That she is unconnected with any Party, and under no sort of Influence public or private, but the influence of reason and principle.

Craig Village, East Bank Demerara, May 18, 2019

Have a question or require further information? You can email me at sarabharrat@gmail.com

Should President Granger pursue a second term or retire to his family?

(Reading Time: 2 minutes)

I remember the first time I spotted him on the campaign trail leading up to the Coalition’s victory in 2015. He was wearing that green shirt and he wasn’t the one to make a lasting impression on me. It was his wife. First Lady Sandra Granger struck me as a no-nonsense woman who was well acquainted with rolling her sleeves up and getting things done.

When I heard that President David Granger was battling cancer and the whole nation buzzed with the latest gossip (“the President might die within the year”), my thoughts immediately went to his wife and then his family. I couldn’t imagine what it must be like to watch the love of your life suffer.

Since then, I’ve witnessed “debates” (cuss-outs) here and there about whether the President should pursue a second term or retire to his family. I have rarely heard an acknowledgement of just how challenging it is for any human to make a decision like this. Sometimes, I think that many of us have forgotten how very human we all are.

For President Granger, the decision is a difficult one which will really be made by the layers of his family and community. There is no middle ground for him in this matter and any path ahead will require him to sacrifice.

Whether or not President Granger pursues a second term, his service to Guyana will continue as long as he lives. The way I see it, he doesn’t have a choice in the matter.

Without Wax,

Bharrat

 

Featured Image: Copyright Aubrey Odle (Check out his work @APro)

 

Disclaimer:

This article contains the personal views of the author and is in no way connected with any institution or group with which she may be affiliated.

 

A note from the Author:

Given the custom by party loyalists to misrepresent and misuse any type of political commentary to support their own positions, I feel that it is necessary to borrow the following from Thomas Paine (an English-born American political activist, philosopher, political theorist, and revolutionary) with whose work I became acquainted as a student of History at the University of Guyana:

Who the Author of this Production is, is wholly unnecessary to the Public, as the Object for Attention is the Doctrine itself, not the Woman. Yet it may not be unnecessary to say, That she is unconnected with any Party, and under no sort of Influence public or private, but the influence of reason and principle.

Craig Village, East Bank Demerara, May 7, 2019

Have a question or require further information? You can email me at sarabharrat@gmail.com

No-confidence motion or not, we still have to secure Guyana’s future

I did not believe that the no-confidence motion would go in favour of the Opposition because I refused to entertain the idea that our political culture of party-over-country had suddenly shifted. The 33rd vote which passed the motion is not an indicator that there is any interest in placing country above partisan interests. At most, it suggests that one group is better at playing checkers.

I have little interest in examining what led to last Friday’s outcome during the 111th Sitting of the National Assembly. I have far less interest in attempting to determine what could have been done to avoid such an outcome. And I have absolutely no interest now in exploring legal loopholes in an attempt to suggest that the motion is null and void. While there is certainly learning-value in deconstructing anything, prolonging this type of conversation requires investing time that Guyana no longer has.

Both the President and Leader of the Opposition, based on media reports I’ve seen, seem to agree that we should move swiftly and peacefully in three months (from December 21, 2018) to General and Regional Elections. I agree. We don’t have time to become so absorbed in our internal battle that it costs us the war that is surely coming from the outside.

In five or six decades when our historians look back at the current decade and the next, they will perhaps mark them as an important period in the evolution of our race-based political culture to one which will be built on the principles and values we wish for today. But if we do not learn to act swiftly as a unit after the next elections, this could become the period in our history that doomed our future.

We know that loyalty to party above country is a problem. We know that lack of transparency and accountability plague us. We know that the balance of power offered by the current Constitution is far from ideal. We know that racism built on and perpetuated by decades of fear needs healing. We know that strengthening governance and so many other things is vital to our survival. We know what the problems are. We spend too much time deconstructing them, blaming each other for them, dwelling on them.

Right now, Guyana needs solutions. Even if our solutions are not perfect, we still need to set the ship sailing. If it sinks halfway across the ocean, it doesn’t mean that we’ve failed. It means that we’ve learnt what we need to know to make half the journey and what prevents us from making the other half. It means we’ve acquired information we need for success. A few ships have been set to sail already. We need more, a massive fleet of solutions to take us into the future.

While it is important for us to continue calling for peace, fighting racism, demanding commitment to constitutional reform yet again, demanding better, being vigilant, we must be practical about what we can achieve over what timeline and even more practical about Guyana’s immediate needs (I will share my thoughts on this soon). We must also be steadily aware of our new place relative to the rest of the world and the challenges this brings from the outside.

Our work does not pause now and it will not pause in the future. After elections, we will  still have a Government and if we have any good sense left, we will commit to working together and across differences to secure Guyana’s future.

Without Wax,

Bharrat

 

Featured Image: Copyright Keno George (Parliamentary Stories)

 

A note from the Author:

Given the custom by party loyalists to misrepresent and misuse any type of political commentary to support their own positions, I feel that it is necessary to borrow the following from Thomas Paine (an English-born American political activist, philosopher, political theorist, and revolutionary) with whose work I became acquainted as a student of History at the University of Guyana:

Who the Author of this Production is, is wholly unnecessary to the Public, as the Object for Attention is the Doctrine itself, not the Woman. Yet it may not be unnecessary to say, That she is unconnected with any Party, and under no sort of Influence public or private, but the influence of reason and principle.

Craig Village, East Bank Demerara, December 23, 2018

Have a question or require further information? You can email me at sarabharrat@gmail.com