Iwokrama, and venerable to vulgar in four days -By Dennis Nichols

A country’s worth is evaluated in many ways. Generally, progress (mainly economic) is measured by GDP and employment/unemployment figures. Who cares about bountiful resources and touted potential? Unmaximized like ours. Well, many do, and I am one, regardless of the swinging pendulum gauge that can shift our dial from venerable to vulgar in a matter of days, or even hours.

On the social and political fronts, things don’t look good, but are looking up. Despite poor mismanagement in national affairs over the years, we always had our natural resources, and still do. Oil is our latest boon. But before oil; before gold, diamonds, and bauxite; before rice, sugar, and timber, we had our land.   

The Venerable

A few days ago, I reflected on the beauty and wonder of our relatively unsoiled rainforests as Iwokrama celebrated the 30th anniversary of a pledge made by then President Desmond Hoyte to ‘gift the international community’ with over 371,000 hectares of our country’s heartland. Some of our government leaders’ initiatives come across as dull and uninspiring. That one was visionary.

The late president did so at the 1989 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, when Commonwealth governments issued the Langkawi Declaration on the Environment which focused on environmental problems including the greenhouse effect, land degradation, and species extinction. Mr. Hoyte must have felt more than a smidgen of pride that poor Guyana could at least take some credit for minimal input into that global headache.

So, on Monday, I watched, and listened, as conservationist and Director, Resource Management and Training at Iwokrama, Dr. Raquel Thomas-Caesar, spoke with journalist Leonard Gildarie about the zone that is one of Guyana’s five Protected Areas overseen by the Protected Areas Commission (PAC), the Board of which she chairs.

The nearly one million-acre forest spread, (A Macushi place of refuge) shares its protected area status with four others locally – Shell Beach, Kaieteur National Park, the Kanuku Mountains, and Konashen, home to the Wai-Wai tribal nation. Globally, they share that honour with more than 200,000 other terrestrial and marine protected areas, recognized as ‘major tools in conserving species and ecosystems.’

With folksy competence, Dr. Thomas-Caesar presented an overview of the Iwokrama conservation programme including a brief history of the Guyana Shield and Amazonia, both of which encompass Guyana, and exhibit a huge range in biodiversity for which this part of South America has become famous.

Dr. Thomas-Caesar’s knowledge of conservation, her passion, and love for country are evident. Every Guyanese should watch the presentation. She shares with many nature lovers an awareness that much of our country’s greatest treasures and truest charms lie far from the madding city crowds.

My heart swelled. I have always loved our hinterland even before my first posting as a schoolteacher on the Aruka River in the North West District 43 years ago. There’s just something about ancient forests and highlands, rivers and waterfalls, animals and vegetation, that resonates deep within me, maybe triggered by some primordial gene.

Now For The Vulgar

That was the venerable; now for the vulgar. I know Guyana, and I know my people. In the ebb and flow of humans interacting with other humans in a country like ours, stuff can, and will, happen, suddenly, and sometimes frighteningly. Americans say ‘sh*t happens’. And although some of it may be ‘good s*it’, much of it stinks.

Like many others, I saw the first video posts of two young women ‘expressing’ themselves at a rural police station on Tuesday. A police report said they were being booked following a minor road accident involving a car driven by the younger of the two. Both were subsequently charged with several offences including disorderly behaviour, resisting arrest, and assault of a police officer.

A number of police officers appeared to have been the target of some sassy words that quickly became disrespectful; then obscene, and bigoted. The police appeared to show admirable restraint when things got physical, although some viewers suggest that the girls were also physically assaulted by at least one female rank.

Many feel that the police have brought such disrespect from the public on themselves through corrupt practices. Nevertheless, it was a shocking display by young women who seemed to feel entitled enough to drop the names of a Minister and a senior police officer, in a veiled threat to have some ranks disciplined. Let’s see how this plays out.

Then on Friday morning, I read this jaw-dropping caption “Six-year-old boy allegedly sodomized in school’s bathroom.” Now before I, or anyone else, rush to judgement, take note of the word ‘allegedly’ in the headline, and that no details have been given so far. Facebook broke the story Thursday evening. The police are investigating, and the Ministry of Education is asking the media not to indulge in sensationalizing the matter. Rightly so.

But the trend of violence in our schools is a growing, and worrying, one. That’s putting it mildly. Fighting and bullying have been with our schools for ages, but the kind of blatant and wanton violence we are beginning to see now in institutions of learning is something teachers, parents, the Ministry of Education, and the Police Force need to get a firm handle on. Like yesterday.

The situation is a scary one, especially for female teachers. (By the way it would be interesting to know how many male teachers are left in our schools; my grandson doubted I was a teacher since ‘boys don’t teach’) They may actually need some kind of specialized training in dealing with potentially violent children, including how to defend themselves and protect their charges. This is no joke.

Finally, an outside-of-Guyana shocker. Sexual assaults are among the most prevalent of all crimes globally. Rape keeps trending daily. Now, according to several reports, an Indian filmmaker is suggesting that his government legalize ‘rape without violence’ and that women should carry condoms, and ‘cooperate’ with rapists to avoid getting murdered. What!?

Truth may indeed be stranger than fiction! I think I’ll take a trip to the hinterland, and indulge in both. Possibly the retelling of an Iwokrama Macushi legend.

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