My elation at finding an internet café in Bartica was short-lived…that the connection worked on the day I blogged was a fluke, and we returned every day for the next five days but could not get even the most basic homepage to load. At least I managed to inform friends, family, and blog readers about our whereabouts, and let them know that we are fine.
Things are pretty good here, actually. I know I made Guyana sound like a hostile wilderness, and Bartica like a lawless settlement of primitives and cutthroats, but things here can’t be so crudely stereotyped. The truth is that we feel so much safer in Bartica than we ever did in the Philippines (or even some places in Darwin.)
Guyana is actually a pretty trouble-free country. Sure, its capital, Georgetown, is over-dramatically portrayed as a city of constant and widespread crime (although I suspect that if you crunched the numbers you’d find it to be no more violent or crime-infested than any big city in the U.S.) Yes, the apple of the government sector is probably wormy with corrupt, self-serving officials (what country’s government is not?), and yes, there is racial tension between the different groups (especially as some groups are more determined to accumulate wealth than others), but the bottom line is that it’s a really big country, it has plenty of resources—bauxite, gold (15 tonnes per year), diamonds, timber forests, granite quarries, fresh water rivers, agricultural land, shrimp, sugar cane and rice exports—and a really small population (less than a million). There is still quite a lot of the pie to go around, and everyone still manages to get a piece of it.
Seventy-five percent of Guyana’s wilderness remains untouched. Seventy-five percent. The amount of uninhabited, virgin jungles, savannahs, swamplands, and river networks, makes it an extremely precious natural jewel on this otherwise sadly blighted, dying planet. It is a paradise of river rapids, giant waterfalls, freshwater fish (450 species, including the monstrously large arapaima and several species of piranha), fabulous birds (the harpy eagle being the largest), wildlife (sloths, jaguars, giant otters and anteaters, to name very few), highland plateaus so remote that only helicopters reach them. As I said before, this is what the Brazilian part of the Amazon used to be, but is no longer. Guyana is one of the last real wildlife sanctuaries in the world. I’m so glad we’re here to see it now (I wonder how long it will hold out against insatiable loggers, miners, investors, the all-consuming, all-destroying greed that is spreading over the world like a wildfire out of control…)
Guyanese are aways extremely polite. You never walk into a shop to start talking business right away…you always start with a warm “Good mornin’,” and genuinely asking the other person how they are. They don’t just pass over the pleasantries routinely, but listen to the replies and respond personally. In Bartica, the locals are warm, generous, open-hearted folk who start to treat you like family within 30 minutes of getting to know you. At a little eatery for lunch last Friday, after I praised the lady’s cook-up and chicken curry, Pauline took me into her kitchen to show me how they were made, and before I left she hugged me. That’s a lady I bought lunch from for the first time.
Folks aren’t wary or uncomfortable with human interaction, yet, and walk right up to me while I am sketching, sit beside me, start talking…conversations start up so easily, and slide into being cheeky within minutes. How often does one enter a shop to buy a mere pack of smokes, and end up slumped over the shop counter, together with the Indian shoplady—both of you roaring with laughter, tears running down your faces?
Twice, now, these quick conversations have culminated in a spontaneous invitation to visit, straightaway, that person’s home, to meet the whole family, scratch the family cat, to eat Creole food, and to sit for an hour with the family matriarch, going through her photo albums of grandkids. It’s just the most incredibly friendly, accepting, sharing culture. For example, after having lunch and spending four hours with David, a chef and sculptor (who pulled over, got out of his car, and came over to where I was sitting in a playground to introduce himself) and his family, his 84-year-old mother took my hand, leaned close to me, and said “Come back whenever you want…I feel like I known you a long time.”
Is it any wonder that I’ve fallen headlong in love with these people?