“Cuss wheh ya guh, nah wheh yuh come from.”
That is a saying I grew up hearing. It was one of those quotes that made you think and smile at the same time. It surfaces in my mind every time I get frustrated to the point of wanting to run away from Guyana. Within our culture, it is important to remember such a saying because it reminds us to appreciate our uniqueness as Guyanese and the significance of our foundation, no matter where in the world we may go.
Most Guyanese who migrate do not forget this beautiful land. They do not cast away their pride and deny the existence of this place. You spot the accent in a crowd because it is so distinct. And, when in a foreign land, it is comforting to know that you have company. The number of Guyanese who return home daily is proof that the way of life, the climate and family will always draw the majority back to these shores, even if for a short time.
In 2011, I was a part of a training project for filmmaking and out of that training eight short films were produced. CineGuyana was born with the intention of starting a film industry in Guyana. In August of 2011, I was part of the CineGuyana group that went to the US to show the films we had made. For a Guyanese audience in New York, the nostalgia those films stirred was touching. The thrill when they saw local items, such as kerosene stoves and enamel cups, reminded me how we sometimes take for granted the little things that are part of the Guyanese experience.
There are, however, those who forget or at least pretend to do so. They choose to leave Guyana and vow never to return. They adapt to a new culture. It is quite amazing how quickly some adult Guyanese can change their accents. When we think about the fact that foreigners who come to our land rarely change their accents to sound Guyanese, it leaves an impression that many Guyanese may seem to believe that taking on the culture of another place, be it in the Caribbean, Europe or North America, is somehow superior to what we have. It brings to mind many questions. Why do many feel this way? Are they not proud to be Guyanese? Are such actions to show that they have somehow managed to elevate themselves above what they may see as the simplicity and hardship of Guyanese life? What about our culture? Why are we so quick to praise the culture of other places, but often not our own? Is it because we have no culture? What makes us say things like Guyanese music sucks or Guyanese entertainers “ain’ ready yet?” These questions, coupled with the ridiculously long lines I witnessed while passing the passport office two weeks ago, led me to conduct a small survey recently. I wanted to get an idea of people’s thoughts on migration at this point in Guyana’s history. I wanted to know if Guyanese were still desperate to run away.
There are those who want to leave because the hope they had has transformed into desperation to flee to where they believe they will encounter their time of success. They believe that the system has failed them by not providing the necessary opportunities to support their skills. They cannot adequately take care of their families because salaries are too low and they are tired of living from paycheck to paycheck.
Some are disappointed in the government. They believe that a new day dawned, but the sun has not yet made an appearance within their circle of survival. They want politicians to be accountable, to show the necessary respect for and be answerable to the people. They feel betrayed by some representatives they put their trust in and are dissatisfied that promises were not fulfilled.
Others miss their families who would have migrated ahead of them. With little ties left in Guyana, there is very little reason for them to stay. The longing for better health and education systems are also among the reasons for leaving.
There are those who only want to leave for a while to simply experience life in another place. And then there are those who want to leave primarily for the sake of furthering their studies. Some would never leave if the areas of studies they were interested in were offered here.
What resonated with me were the responses of those who have no intention of leaving.
“Guyana is home and I am comfortable here.”
“I want to stay and help develop my country.”
“I want to be a part of Guyana’s growth.”
“I love my country and have no intention [of] leaving.”
Such words can evoke your spirit of patriotism, leaving you caught between the pull of running away and the movement of shaping and tapping into our full potential as a country. You remember that wherever you go in this world, there will be hardships. The North American and British lifestyles, for many, come with the burden of having to work two and more jobs to make ends meet and/or having to face the best and the worst weathers to make it to work on time every day. You think about the freedoms you have here, the comfort that you know this place and you know what you have here.
But then you are jolted and reminded about the little things that frustrate you.
Things like the blackouts that disrupt productivity and sometimes damage your equipment; not receiving the internet and telephone service you pay for; the arrogance of people who are there to serve you; the pomp and groveling for those who say they care for the people although their actions tell a different story. You compare an overseas salary to a local salary for doing the same job and it depresses you and you want to run away all over again.
Whether we decide to stay and fight or to move on to find greener pastures, the choice is ours. We can do what is best for us as individuals or what is best for our nation. But if doing what is best for our nation leaves us wanting, frustrated and weary—if it steers us away or delays us from reaching the greatness we could be—then it is our choice to make our home wherever we feel free, valued and complete.