Guyana: Landmarks – By Dave Martins 

 Stabroek News: By

It struck me recently that we become so caught up with all the myriad things that make up our individual lives that we are often unaware of how so many pieces in that maelstrom are operating almost automatically for us like signposts or landmarks that speak to us silently but vividly letting us know when we’re on course and when we’re not. One of the early ones for me, growing up on West Dem, was on my bicycle trips from our house in Vreed-en-Hoop to my mother’s Barcellos family home at Hague, some eight miles away.

Coming back home after a Hague visit, on my Rudge sports model, a sign-post for me on the red dirt road was the twin concrete strips starting at the wide turn at Crane that let me know I was only a mile or so from home. For a youngster like me, 11 years old and riding alone, that was my security signal – almost home.  I doubt anyone else saw the concrete strips that way, but that’s how it worked for me – a landmark.  We have these things operating in our lives, at the back of our minds somewhere, fully on automatic, steering us on in total silence.         

 There is an array of these signposts in our lives. For me, when I started travelling the Caribbean, on my trips flying into Guyana, the first sign I was nearing Guyana, coming in from the region, was the Essequibo shoreline of the mighty river. On a clear day, even at 10,000 feet you can see the wave action taking place on the beach below; the constant shifting of the sea leaving a white fringe of foam on the rim of Guyana; the whole thing looking like a painting when the clouds allowed…landmark. Get your belongings together, we’re only a few minutes out.

Similarly, on the ground now, driving in to the city, the Demerara Bridge on your left is another landmark signaling that your journey to town is almost at an end.  And also, on a separate journey to the east, the Conversation Tree at Mahaica, another landmark declaring you’re roughly halfway to New Amsterdam, all is well.  Another striking sign post on that drive coming back is the solitary brick chimney at Chateau Margot, pointing straight up in the air, visible from a long way off, heading east or west, a remnant of the sugar estate that once operated there…..everything else is gone, but some wise person, with influence, said “let the chimney stay” and so it does, unadorned, but standing at attention in the sky, virtually shouting at us, “Remember your past and your history, remember what once was here, teeming with people, grinding cane and churning out molasses, making their way through life before your time.” It is a silent process, you don’t even think about it; it is like breathing, how these messages arrive. That chimney at Chateau Margot, just a chimney, nothing else, but a grand sight – you can see it from miles away, touching some silent spot in your soul somewhere.

Another moment like that comes when someone shows you a photo of Georgetown, tells you it is Georgetown, but you cannot recognise which area, until you spot the shape of St. George’s Cathedral, or Stabroek Market, seen from above, yes, but they are landmarks for the eye so that you can now immediately pick out High Street and above that Water Street, and back down to the Carnegie Library.  One look, and you know.

 I’ve mentioned before, coming in on a Guyana Airways flight from the interior, and the pilot, at about 2,500 feet, looks down at a house on the ground that tells him he is on course to land at Atkinson Field, straight ahead; the landmark confirms what the gauges in the cockpit show – he’s on course.

In a similar vein, heading for Hague as a school boy on a West Dem bus and falling asleep, only to wake up to see we’re passing the Den Amstel Police Station on the right and you know you’re two minutes from home. What a sudden sweet orientation that is from a mute landmark.

Or, east of Georgetown, the abandoned frame of a koker on what was once dry land but is now in six feet of seawater, and you know what village that is on the East Coast road to your right… the abandoned koker is the sign post. We use them all the time almost fully automatic.  Just recently, an online post from Andrea-Salvador de Caires of a full-grown palm tree and her note saying to someone, “Do you remember how long ago it was when you helped us with this palm placement?  Look at it now!”

Each time, a landmark triggering a secure feeling, a warm memory. They permeate our lives, day after day.
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  • Ron Saywack  On July 22, 2020 at 12:12 pm

    Dave’s Fascinating Memoirs:

    Thank you, Dave Martins, for recounting a plethora of fascinating stories of your illustrious life. I thoroughly enjoy reading them. I am sure most readers can relate to landmarks that were silent reminders of distance to and from destinations. Your memory (and the manner in which you describe your stories), is impeccable and admirable.

    If I may share a few of my childhood memories:

    I grew up in the hamlet of Vigilance on the east coast of Demerara, about 12 miles east of Georgetown. The adjacent village to the west is called Friendship which is connected to Buxton to its west. To the east of vigilance is the community of Strathspey. Further east you will find communities like Non-Pareil and a few more I cannot recall.

    I had two uncles (my father’s brothers) who lived at Enmore. The younger was nicknamed Karaz. Karaz was always drunk. He loved his rum and coke. Sadly, one night as he was walking home from a rum shop, close to the Enmore Sugar Plantation, someone ambushed him. He was struck on the back of the head, bleeding. Instead of seeking medical help, he chose to sleep it off. He bled to death.

    The other uncle, the oldest of my many uncles, lived on the main road. About a hundred yards from his home was the Enmore cinema house that featured Indian movies. Dara Singh was a big star in those days. Enmore has/had a beautiful cricket ground. Lance Gibbs came there to coach cricket us schoolboys from a large radius of schools. I recall how long his spinning fingers were. For those who don’t know who lance is, he was the greatest off-spinner in the world at the time and one of the first to claim 300 Test wickets.

    I attended Hindu College at Cove and John and rode my bicycle each day to school both ways from our hamlet. From my recollection, it is 6 miles each way. After awhile, I developed very muscular thighs riding against the stiff Atlantic trade winds — which have remained so to this day. On the inbound trip, I knew I was halfway home when I reached the orthogonal (right angular) point in the road which goes north for about a 400 yards towards the seawall before veering back west.

    The fields between the road and the seawall were green and scenic with shallow lakes where waterfowls fed. The sight of white cranes and egrets was serenic and soothing to the soul. It mitigated the task of having to ride 12-mile round trip. Occasionally, some motor cars (as we called it) would fly by and you could feel the rush of wind as the sped by. That was a bit unnerving. But you kept pedaling.

    Our family home was about 800 yards from the Atlantic and nothing but clear open view to observe the large waves crashing and pounding the shoreline.

    Once I got home, I parked my bike, set down my books and walked about a kilometer south to the main road with two aluminum buckets to fetch potable water from a community well for my mother to cook with. Over time, my shoulders and arms, like my thighs, also grew muscular. Throughout my life I have been asked if I was a body builder. No, a hard life has its rewards, too.

    After college, I got my first job at the New Amsterdam Magistrate’s Courthouse where I worked and mingled with people in high society – like the town’s mayor and his lawyer friends and families — for about a year and a half before I was transferred to main Courthouse at Georgetown.

    To be continued.

    Ron Saywack.

    P.S.: It’s nice to get back online. I had no access to my PC for several weeks. Due to the coronavirus changes, I dropped off my PC with different company for repairs and they totally gutted all my priceless files and family photographs — deeply disappointed. I thought about suing them but decided it wasn’t worth the hassle.

  • Ron Saywack  On July 24, 2020 at 3:25 am

    A car journey from Buxton thru Vigilance to Enmore.

    I pulled the above video from the Net and I must say that the area looks wholly unrecognizable from my childhood days many, many moons ago.

    On my penultimate (second to last) visit to Guyana in 1999 (the last was in 2007), my sister Betty (who lives at Industry) and her family took me for a car ride east across the Berbice River past New Amsterdam to well beyond areas I had never been to while I worked at New Amsterdam.

    What stood out along the way was the wide, beautiful verdant countryside where lush ricefields and canefields once flourished but now abandoned like a ghost town as a result of mass outward migration. The vast majority of the former residents (mainly farmers) emigrated to the United States (primarily to New York and Florida), the United Kingdom (London), and Canada (the majority in Toronto).

    I am told that a number of the former residents are returning to find land becoming scare and expensve. My how things can change in a matter of a few years. One can only hope that the country can set aside its existential, internecine battles, grow up and get on with planning and development.

    Guyana’s potential is enormous, needless to say. We can quickly rise from the throes of third-world struggles to the prosperity of the first-world. It is up to us!

    Ron Saywack.

  • Ron Saywack  On July 25, 2020 at 4:31 am

    MEMORY LANE, A FLASHBACK TO THE EARLY YEARS:

    During my year-and-half stay at New Amsterdam in 1974/75, I roomed and boarded at Aunt Gladys’ place on West King St, a short distance from the ferry crossing. On the east side of King St. lived her nephew, the town’s Mayor, Mr. Bhairo Prasad. Both the mayor and his younger brother Oscar were British-trained lawyers who litigated various cases at the New Amsterdam Magistrate Court.

    Oscar was a chain-smoker and a habitual drinker. His lower lip was reddened and blistered from prolonged smoking. One day, Oscar came to court drunk and was reprimanded by the Magistrate, Mr. Funk E. Funk. In those days, the top magistrates were Messrs Rambarran, Ramcharitar, and Funk E. Funk.

    Sir Lionel Luckhoo, a soft-spoken criminal defender, was there once to defend an Afro-Guyanese fellow accused of murder. I was part of the court team assigned upstairs for the trial as Sir Lionel weaved his magic. One of the abiding principles of criminal law is to establish reasonable doubt.

    Mr. Luckhoo was a master at that. He is in the Guinness Book of Records for having 245 consecutive homicide acquittals. I was privileged to witness one. I have great and cherished memories of my time at New Amersterdam.

    On the main floor at the courthouse, I routinely worked the desk where men would come in to make alimony and child-support payments which I would then payout to their ex-wives, in addition to preparing arrest warrants.

    One morning as I sat at my desk, I rotund lawyer (whose name eludes me) walked in and stopped by for a brief chat, with a broad smile. He asked, “Did you hear what happened at the brothel on Main St. last night?” “No”, I replied. He chortled, “when she thought he was coming, he was actually going.”

    I laughed and said, “At least he died a happy man.” He chuckled and proceeded to the courtroom upstairs. Priceless!

    Aunt Gladys had two sons, Harold and Lenny. They were a duo of strange fellows, like night and day. Harold was a nice, easy-going chap when he was sober and very quarrelsome when intoxicated. Lenny, on the other hand, was cranky when he was sober but very friendly when he was under the influence.

    Patricia was my new girlfriend as well as the daughter of the mayor’s sister. She later moved to Toronto and we kept in touch by mail. She was special to me. I was fairly good at writing poems. So, I spent one evening penning a love poem to her and left it on the chest of drawers in my room. While I was away one day, Lenny sneaked into my room and lifted that poem and plagiarised it to his girlfriend in New York.

    I was taken aback by such a brazen invasion of privacy and piracy. But I got over it.

    In early 1975, I applied for a transfer to Georgetown. It was approved within a couple of months. The approval document stated that I reassigned to the Georgetown Supreme Court.

    To be continued.

    Ron Saywack.

  • Ron Saywack  On July 28, 2020 at 4:59 am

    Great Memories of Elementary and Middle Schools:

    The first school I ever attended was when I was around the age of 5 at Friendship Village, about a 20-minute walk from our home at Vigilance. The demographical make-up of the school was predominantly Afro with a handful of Indo kids. I recall a few bullies at the school who’d always pick on the younger kids. They weren’t the brightest of the lot.

    On the way to school, you could take the main road west and then north or the shortcut through the burial ground. That was always a scary option. The sight of tombs of varying sizes and embalmed bodies visible was a bit hair-raising. There were a few tall, ancient trees in the graveyard with massive trunks that were more than four thousand years old. In fact, about 4,500 years old.

    On the northeastern part of the graveyard stood a large church (I am not quite sure if it was Anglican or Roman Catholic, I am leaning toward the former). The graveyard also had a scattering of smaller trees which grew bright, colorful flowers seasonally. Other trees were laden with wild fruits and berries which children would occasionally indulge in on the way home.

    Later on, I left Friendship to attend another school at the Strathspey/Bladen Hall area, the equivalent to middle school. There, I was enthusiastically involved in athletics and cricket. There were regular intra-school and inter-school competitions which were exciting.

    Without sounding a bit immodest, I must admit that was an exceptionally fast runner, and very confident. I won every single race at my school in all age categories — the 100, the 200, and the 400-yard dashes. One day, eight runners lined up and then knelt for the countdown to a 200-yard, intra-school dash at the large field immediately across the road and west of the school.

    After the start gun went off, I purposely and cockily staggered to give the rest of the pack a 20-yard head-start before getting up to full throttle. When I hit the tape a few seconds later, I was a good 20 yards ahead of the pack. The incredulously stunned teacher remarked, “This boy is a horse.”

    In inter-school competitions in the 1960s, the four Afro schools always, without fail, finished first, second, third, and fourth in every race; and the four Indo schools, the inevitable loser spots.

    One year, I entered the 200-yard, under-14 inter-school race at Lusignan, with hundreds of spectators on hand. The main road was a hundred yards to the north with a steady stream of cars going in opposite directions.

    In the competition, I took the lead from the moment the gun went off, ahead of the four Afro runners, and the three Indo also-rans, and kept it all the way. As we neared the tape, I purposely slowed down only to hear footsteps behind me before picking up steam to the finish line. I recall that day vividly as if it was yesterday.

    Indeed, yours truly was the only Indo competitor at that time to ever win an inter-school competition in that part of the country a little more than 50 years ago. Absolutely true story!

    Ron Saywack.

    P.S.: I shall soon resume the story from my transfer to Georgetown from New Amsterdam.

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