November 30, 2012

Snippets from Guyana 2012

Well, I've just returned (and am still a bit jet-lagged) from what was my third trip to the South American country of Guyana. My last visit was 4 years ago and I found it very interesting to see how things have developed down there in such a short amount of time. While it is still a mostly poor country, there are a lot of construction projects dotting the landscape and quite a few new buildings and houses to be found.

The thing that I love most about Guyana is the simple, unadorned lives that its people lead. I've been seriously considering becoming a permanent resident of the country after I retire from my job at Stony Brook University (still at least 15 years away). For me, in many ways, I see life there being as it should be. For example, Guyanese people eat very healthy foods and put a lot of care and effort into the cooking process. Preparing a meal is a family affair with everyone getting involved. The adults can be found peeling and chopping the vegetables while the kids make bicycle trips to get ingredients. Everyone gathers around the fireside as the pots sizzle and steam. It's a beautiful sight; far and away superior to the fast-food culture that I am used to in the United States. Their markets are the best that I've ever seen. I love walking through aisles and aisles of the freshest fish, meats, and vegetables. Being that I am somewhat of a seafood enthusiast, I really liked trying all of the different kinds of fish that I found down there -- Gilbaca, Curass, Bangamari, Hassa. I also got to try cashew fruit (sorta like an apple with a very mild flavor). Of course, there's nothing quite as refreshing as sipping coconut water out of a husk that has just been hacked open by a vendor with a machete. None of the foods in Guyana are ever processed, refined, or pumped with growth hormones and preservatives for the sake of profit. Chicken in Guyana tastes quite different from chicken in the United States. It's fresher. Better. More natural. In America, these foods would be labelled "organic" and marked up to a ridiculous price. In Guyana, it's simply food. Exactly as it should be.

Of course, I didn't get to plan this trip ahead of time; I had to fly down quickly to attend the funeral services for my father-in-law. Before I talk anymore about this, I want to explain something -- in the United States, I would never think about taking pictures at someone's funeral. If I showed up at an American wake with camera in hand and started snapping photos of a deceased loved one and grieving family members, I would probably get punched in the eye for being rude. I think it would have something to do with the capturing a person in a moment of vulnerability and it being perceived as an exposing of weakness. Guyanese people are more open and don't view such things as being disrespectful at all. In fact, I was asked to take lots of pictures and make them into a DVD slideshow to share with everyone. Still, with regards to this blog entry, I hope that the few pictures that I will post below aren't too shocking for some. Anyway, on the morning of the funeral, everyone gathered at the house dressed in their finest. One of my cousins bought a beautiful, white Indian kurta for me to wear and I must say that I really loved the way it looked. After some devotional music and inspiring words by the pandit, everyone took off in a procession of cars to the cremation grounds. It was here that I experienced a sight that was absolutely surreal to my American eyes. My father-in-law's body was placed atop a pyre, the wood was sprinkled with some herbs and oils, and the whole thing was lit up. Flames engulfed it within minutes. It was a vision that left me shaken. The following morning, a few of us returned to the cremation site to remove the bone fragments from the still-smouldering ashes. These were transferred to a cotton cloth, ground into a dust, and taken down to the riverside where they were scattered into the water. While all of these events were very unusual to me at first, I also found them beautiful. I think it's always good to see how things are done in other cultures. Rest in peace, Cyril. Love & light...

"Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin."

~Psalm 51:1-2