FOB (Continued from ‘Ya tink it easy’) – By Geoff Burrowes

FOB (Continued from ‘Ya tink it easy’)

By Geoff Burrowes

When I left school my first job was at B.G. Insurance Agencies. My boss was a friend of my dad’s,  a big strapping man called Clarence Hill and my manager was Ayube Khan a kind, gentle young man (we were all young then) who taught me the job. We were an Insurance agency representing, among others, Lloyds of London. We insured shipped cargos and when clients requested insurance we has to calculate the premiums. One of the categories was F.O.B. which meant “Freight On Board”! The FOB I’m telling you about was not that!

It meant Fresh Off the Boat! All immigrants experience this regardless of how they got here! In a new country the food is different, customs are different, the patterns of speech are different and we had to know that yachtins are referred to as sneakers and singlets were wife-beaters or tshirts!       

We had a soft landing in Canada as my aunt Doreen and my cousin Mike looked after us from day one. Mike was at Pearson to meet us as and once we had cleared customs he shepherded us into Toronto.  Well that was the plan until I picked up the wrong suitcase from the carousel and we only discovered it when we loaded the car. We had to go back to the carousel where fortunately I found the right bag and we were on our way.

Mike, after showing us to our rooms, told me what cards we needed to apply for, worked out a starting budget and gave me the names of some headhunters who could help me get a job. We had decided that as long as it was practical I would work and Norma would look after our family, which included  three fast-growing boys with gargatuan appetites and a child-like husband who had not a clue about what he was subjecting his wife to!

I was blessed as I found a job in my field within 8 days. My second phone call to a headhunter was successful until, on hearing my Guyanese accent asked me to send him a photograph. When I realized he was asking me that to determine my race I declined. Fortunately on my first call I lucked out! I got through to a vice president of Olivetti who was from Jamaica who was only interested in my selling abilities, not my race. His name was  Mike Virtue and as his name suggested, a stand up guy! After an interview I got the job and started working the following week.

Before I left Guyana, a friend of mine, Desmond Hill, who had emigrated the year before I did gave me a valuable piece of advice. He said “Man distances long here, whatever you have to do without, get a car.” A piece of advice I still thank him for. The day after I got my job I went car-shopping and by a great piece of luck, bought the cheapest car I could find, a Honda Civic. It turned out to be one of the best cars I ever owned! We would pile the car full of the children’s  friends and  go out to the circus or CNE or Pioneer Village and have a wonderful time. I would just like to say this was before seat belt laws, so we often had many more passengers than the law today allows!!

Knowing what I know now I would have applied for a job in the public service when I first arrived. The benefits public servants enjoy in Canada are significant but coming from Guyana I opted for the field I was familiar with – well it allowed me to provide for my family for all of my working life and in my early years I enjoyed selling systems. As I grew older I found it harder. Wha fo’ do?

We have been fortunate to make great Canadian friends, like Graham and Simone Webb and the Heaths and the Frickers and we are still in touch with our family and friends from Guyana like the Drivers, the Da Silvas and Ian Glasford ,the Willems and the DeAbreu’s.

After I had a heart attack I started Mall Walking and found a community that have brightened my old age! Winter is no sport! Particularly when you’re old and the loss of spunk leaves you feeling old and tired. Don’t get me wrong; each morning I thank the Lord for waking me up and giving me the joys of a new day! But as winter approaches it becomes uncomfortable to walk outside and I found out that Fairview Mall provided for old people like me to walk in a sheltered environment.   I met one old friend and made two new friends, a trio who have given me much joy!

When I was 15 years old I was blessed to represent BG at the Boy Scout Jubilee Jamboree in England. One of the contingent was a lively boy from Uitvlugt, Jai Naipaul, who became a friend after we got back home. At Fairview, 50 years later, while walking behind a group that chatted a lot and laughed frequently I heard a cultured Guyanese accent and it turned out to be Jai! He was kind enough to introduce me to his friends and they allowed me to walk with them.The friends were George, a Jamaican Canadian who had been an RAF engineer in Europe before emigrating and Fernando, a Spanish Canadian who had been a successful Resturantuer in Toronto. Jai had been a well respected high school principal and after retiring had started an accounting firm. We are of very different political stripes and this leads to lively debate but we all agree that Canada is a great country and thank the Lord for bringing us here!

This leads me to say that while emigrating is not easy, life in Guyana has suited me well to fit into Canadian society. The good values I learnt growing up in Guyana have stood me in good stead and most of the Guyanese I know in Canada have been valuable citizens of Canada. I was very blessed to grow up in BG and Guyana in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s and that foundation has led me to have a rich and fulfilling life. My wife Norma who bore the brunt of our move to Canada has in addition to being a splendid wife and mother, reared four fine children, our three boys who were born in Guyana and our beautiful daughter Mary Leigh who was born in Branson Hospital in Toronto.

Brian our eldest son is a graphic artist who has talent as yet untapped and has become a movie producer, Dave who is inventive and who keeps acquiring new skills as he moves through life is a successful executive with one of the largest contracting companies in Canada; Our youngest son Ian is a talented musician who manages other musicians, who composes and plays music and according to his older brother Brian is the best drummer in Austin, Texas the music capital of North America. Our native born Canadian, our daughter Mary Leigh doesn’t receive accolades gracefully so she is going to chastise me for this! Like all Burrowes women she is a strong character and while she is kind, generous and well loved by friends and family she has chosen to work in a male-dominated industry and holds her own very well!

Our children are are loving and supportive of us, their ageing and (they think) dotish parents and they and our wonderful daughters in law, Kari, Heather, Jennifer and our grandchildren, Mercedes, Drew, Megan and Dylan, Baxter and Cruz keep us as young as you can expect grandparents in their seventies to be!

I am blessed by my brother Peter and his wife Cheryl and my fine nephews Andrew and Ryan and Veronica my lovely neice Dianna. How lucky can one man be?

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  • Reginald Chee-a-tow  On 05/02/2019 at 5:57 am

    Thanks Geof for this nostalgic piece.Wonderful writing.The Jai Naipaul mentioned is a fellow villager and a good friend as well as mentor of mine.

    Sent from my iPad


  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On 05/02/2019 at 1:41 pm

    I share Mr. Burrowes’ sentiment when he says:
    “This leads me to say that while emigrating is not easy, life in Guyana has suited me well to fit into Canadian society. The good values I learnt growing up in Guyana have stood me in good stead and most of the Guyanese I know in Canada have been valuable citizens of Canada. I was very blessed to grow up in BG and Guyana in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s and that foundation has led me to have a rich and fulfilling life.”

    I felt the same when I moved to Brazil. I also gained appreciation for the person I had become in growing up in a multiracial society with all its problems of divisive racial politics.

  • Trevor  On 05/02/2019 at 6:57 pm

    Canada has changed for the worse. A racist young man shot up a mosque in Quebec, murdering several worshippers.

    The Caucasians from the USA, Canada and Europe are overnight millionaires judging by the way they party it up at Marriott Hotel and living lavish lives, which I suspect, the Guyanese taxpayers will have to pay because of the oil contract.

    Even in Canada and Sweden, anyone who is a darker shade of milky white is told to go back to where they came from, but why are Caucasians traveling first class, and sometimes from private jets into Guyana, Suriname and T&T for the oil?

    Someting to tink about as Guyanese flee to these racist countries in droves and told to go back to where they came from by the same people who are stepping on their business class flights to GEO, POS, and Suriname Airways to pillage.

  • wally n  On 05/04/2019 at 9:51 pm

    On the internet, dem GUYANESE smartest in the whole world.

    No English dictionary has been able to adequately explain the difference between these two words -“Complete” or “Finished”.
    In a recent linguistic competition held in London
    and attended by, supposedly, the best in the world, Samdar Balgobin, a Guyanese man, was the clear winner with a standing ovation which lasted over 5 minutes.
    The final question was, “How do you explain the difference between COMPLETE and FINISHED in a way that is easy to understand?
    Some people say there is no difference between
    Here is his astute answer:
    “When you marry the right woman, you are COMPLETE. When you marry the wrong woman, you are FINISHED.
    And when the right one catches you with the wrong one,
    He won a trip around the world and a case of 25 year old Scotch!

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