OPINION: ‘Privilege’ and ‘The Decision’ – two articles by Geoff Burrowes


        I recently wrote a story about the Demerara Rowing Club, which was generously published in Guyana Online. One of the comments was by someone who only got one thing from the story: “Only the rich and famous?” I was irritated by the comment and responded “that while I am exceedingly rich I was never famous.” and asked if the reader had ever been interested in rowing?”

        My daughter had enjoyed reading the story and despite being the only “born in Canada” member of our immediate family she is a true Burrowes ! She said ” You all lived a privileged life in Guyana – why are you getting upset about when someone points it out?”       

        She’s right! I think that part of the reason I love Guyana so much is that I had experiences and opportunities that many of my countrymen and women did not enjoy. I am not going to apologize for that, as like all the rest of us I had no choice as to when and where I was born.

        I was very fortunate to be born to a loving and caring mother and father. I was a member of two fine families who loved one another and who enjoyed one another. I was the son of a middle class family who, whi le having the money worries of every family, never had to sit us down to an empty table for meals.

        My family on both sides were civil servants, except for my father who was a cigarette salesman and worked his way up to become the first Guyanese to be appointed manager of the Demerara Tobacco Co. To the best of my knowledge they were all people of integrity who did their best to improve the lives of the people they worked with or for.

        Having said all that we did have a privileged lifestyle  and enjoyed life in British Guiana and later Guyana to the full.

        I am very proud to be a descendent of Guyanese and a Canadian Guyanese and hope that all who read my recollections of our country enjoy them and can accept them for what they are – personal recollections!

        PS I had an email from a friend who mentioned that he had a cup from his grandfather which was awarded for winning a race in the 1890s at the Demerara Rowing Club!

Another friend sent me a picture of the clubhouse which had been taken when people wore straw boaters  and men were dressed in full piece bathing suits!


The Decision

It’s a life-changing decision!

To leave the country of your birth and nurture. To emigrate to a strange country a continent away.

To leave the lifestyle you love and are familiar with.

To leave friends and family!

I swore I’d never do it!

I had never seen the Pomeroon and Essequibo was foreign to me. Resorts were springing up in the jungle both near to Georgetown and far away. I was excited by the programmes to become more self sufficient: Buy Guyanese and manufacture products here, rather than import from abroad at whatever price the manufacturer chose to impose.

And I loved Guyana – I had lived abroad when I was a young man and didn’t want to do that again!

More farsighted members of my family and friends encouraged us to move to another country while we were still young enough to make a go of it. “No!”  I said, ” That’s not for me.”

But I was thinking that the Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Linden Forbes Samson Burnham  had had himself declared President for life. He hated the British so much that he had, since Independence, started to dismantle two of the great institutions that the British had left us. The largely excellent education system and the judiciary. And he was on his way to having the party, the PNC, take the place that the police (law and order) had won over the criminal element in our society. He also seemed to be recruiting that element to his side!

My wife’s cousin who knew the inner workings of the government visited us late one night. “What are you drinking?”  we asked?” He said “I can’t stay long but I felt impelled to tell you that I have been offered a job overseas and will be leaving Guyana soon.” He went on to say “The President has up to now been listening to the advice of moderates but recently is being guided by the more radical elements in the party.”  It was then I think that Norma made her decision but she didn’t try to influence me.

While pondering these things reluctantly I went into the office early one morning and after greeting the  Service Manager, Julian Fisher who was always the first into the office, I started to read the newspaper under the bright lights that lit the long workbenches of the Service Department.

I can’t remember the headline but I will never forget the content of the article.

The President had, the night before, given a speech outlining his vision for the new Guyana. In it he was quoted as saying that the Government was strengthening the National Service. Every year each citizen would be expected to serve a week in the bush, clearing land for new settlements and improving existing settlements. I thought that sounded great and looked forward with anticipation to my week!

It was the next pronouncement that stunned me. The National Service would take the place of organizations such as the Boy’s Brigade, Boy Scouts and Girl Guides and all young Guyanese would be expected to join and be taught the values of the Co-operative Republic. Since we had been teaching our boys Christian values and we didn’t know what the values of the PNC were  we were deeply concerned. It sounded like something Hitler would do – The Hitler Youth before and during the Second World War!

I went home that night and after telling my wife Norma what I had read we called long distance to Canada.

Our family on both sides were close and my aunt Doreen was a remarkable young woman. When her father George Learmond, died young , Aunty D got on her bicycle, secured a clerical job in the  Government and worked to help support her mother and much younger brothers and sisters.

She and my cousin Mike had emigrated to Canada some years before this and successfully settled there. They subsequently visited Guyana to see family. It was Christmas and we had a rollicking good Guyana Christmas. Before she left she said to me “If you ever change your mind and decide to leave Guyana you will always have a home in Toronto.”

The night after reading the disturbing article, when we called I asked her “Aunty D is your offer still open?”

And as simply as that the die was cast and we decided to leave our beautiful country and make a new life abroad!

Those of us who emigrated probably all have similar stories. Thus a lot of enterprising Guyanese left our country, Guyana, El Dorado, The Land of Many Waters and settled in the UK, Canada, the US, Australia and enriched the gene pools of these and other countries with our six splendid races!

To be continued……

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  • Francis Farrier  On 11/18/2020 at 2:17 pm

    Hello Geoff Burrowes. It’s always nice to hear from folks in the Diaspora who reminisce about Guyana in a pleasant way. I am an elder who lived on the East Bank Demerara back in the heyday of the Rowing Club when I was a youngster and would see lots of the action in the Demerara river – especially on Sunday afternoons. I had a mother who guided her children to understand that the fingers on the hand are of different lengths, but that each served a useful purpose. I never migrated, and even though faced many challenges, never really regretted. The fun is, I have seen more of Canada than most Guyanese who migrated there. In fact, I have seen more of Canada than millions of Canadians. British Columbia is the ONLY Provence I’ve not visited – as yet.

  • Phillip Rodrigues  On 11/18/2020 at 8:44 pm

    Geoff,I enjoy reading your articles.Brings back memories. I went to St Mary’s RC with a Peter Burrowes
    Is he your brother ?

    • geoffburrowes  On 11/21/2020 at 12:07 pm

      Hey Francis
      I’m honoured to hear from you. Unfortunately the farthest west I’ve been in Canada is Windsor and with Covid around I don’t know if I’ll see any more. There’s a place in me where even though I’m a proud Canadian Guyana will always be home. I think you’ll find that that is true of most of the diaspora in Canada.

    • Kman  On 01/17/2021 at 3:09 pm

      Did you attend when Mr. McRae was the headmaster?

  • geoffburrowes  On 11/21/2020 at 12:12 pm

    Hi Philip
    Peter is certainly my brother. I’m forwarding this email to him and I’m sure he’ll be glad to hear from you!

  • David Fitt  On 12/11/2020 at 3:33 pm

    Hi Geoff, we remember those wonderful play days at the flats in Brickdam with Peter, as well as Gerry Willems, Jim and Ian Mc Turk, Gerome Mendonca, and was it Leslie Fernandes who lived on the opposite corner? Great memories of a simpler and stress free life.

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