Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Caribbean Life: First Impressions of Georgetown

Canals flowing through Georgetown

I was interested in Guyana for its lack of population density, but Georgetown is no small town. Sure, the capital city only has a population of roughly 135,000, and it’s refreshingly free of skyscrapers, but it still has the hustle and bustle feel of a city. The streets are crowded with pedestrians navigating their way around motorbikes and cabs and minibuses whose horns play La Cucuracha for some reason when they honk. There are street vendors everywhere, selling fruits, sneakers and DVDs on the side walk, or pushing a cart down the street.

Okay, so the streets don't look so busy this precise moment, but I'm telling you, it gets hectic

I never really figured out how to get around without being run over. A lot of the streets don’t have sidewalks, so you kind of have to walk down the shoulder of the roads, but sometimes those are used as car lanes too. Some intersections don’t have street lights or stop signs, yet drivers still manage to figure out how to take turns driving through. I haven’t figured out the system. I haven’t even figured out which side of the road I should be walking down – I’m still not used to the fact that cars drive on the left side of the road. Eventually I adopted the strategy of waiting at an intersection until a local person also had to cross the street, and then following closely behind them. One morning, I was almost hit by a horse pulling a cart.

St. George's Anglican Cathedral - the tallest wooden church in the world

With respect to physical geography, Guyana is a world of constants, at least compared to the moody seasonal extremes of Canada, especially in the Arctic where I used to live. The sun rises and sets at roughly the same time every day. It always seems to be around 27 degrees.

Promenade Gardens

I call this the Peacock Tree...or Treecock
Promenade Gardens
The one variation is the rain. I had come at the beginning of the rainy season, so it rained a little bit every morning. Later in the season, sometimes it will get so bad it floods. Generally though, I found I didn’t need to bother checking the weather forecast or the sunset times to figure out when I should head home.

Guyana is also a pastiche of multicultural influences. Bollywood music and dance hall. Chow mein, jerk chicken, and msala curry all on one menu, all with their own Guyanese twist. This flows from the history of the country which has come in contact with many nations. The Amerindians were here first for many centuries, but, like the rest of the Americas, European colonies were eventually set up. The French, the Dutch, and the British all fought for control of the country, with the British eventually remaining until Guyana’s independence in 1966. Over the centuries, slaves were brought in from Africa, and after slavery was eventually abolished, indentured labourers were then brought in from places like India, Portugal, and China. All of these places left their mark on Guyana’s culture, and people sometimes refer to the country as the land of six nations.

The entire city has been busily preparing itself for the 50th anniversary of Guyana’s independence. Construction crews are all over the roads making repairs to their infrastructure. It seemed like all of Guyana’s diaspora will be returning from abroad for the celebration, and the country has been getting ready to welcome their loved ones home. This is a big deal – someone once told me that while less than a million people live in Guyana, over two and a half million Guyanese people live outside of Guyana, mostly in Canada and the United States. That’s a huge diaspora.

Georgetown has a series of canals and streams to help drain water during flooding season (a design that I imagine are an influence of the Dutch). Folks tell me that the infrastructure has vastly improved in the last year alone since the new government came in. The canals are properly draining, houses are being painted, roads are being fixed. I was pleased to be able to see Georgetown on the upswing, but disappointed that I was going to be missing the independence activities festivities.

The hotel clerk even told me that he was participating in a fitness program called Fit for Fifty – getting nice and buff in time for the anniversary, I assume so everyone can see how hot one has gotten since they were away. He kindly invited me to join but my last experience at the local gym told me I probably needed to put in a few more sweaty sessions on my own before other people can witness how out of shape I am.

Trying out the local gym, BodyMaxx