also a place of learning. I was alone. I had a lot of time. I loved reading. I
was used to being alone and to reflecting and liked writing down my thoughts.
All excellent ways to conceptualize life experience.
I love the bush and I loved hunting. So every
alternate weekend Peter Ramsingh and I would go on a long drive into the bush
to hunt what we could. Most of this was for the table because in the Kwakwani
of those days, if you wanted variety on your table you had to find it yourself.
And it was not in the Commissary that you would find it either. Mostly, we
hunted the Canje Pheasant found all along the Berbice and its tributary, the
Canje Creek. Another common game bird was the Powis (Curassow). It was as big
as a turkey and good eating. We would also on occasion get an Agouti (Brazilian
Agouti or Red, Orange or Golden Rumped Agouti) or two. And when we were very
lucky, a small Savannah deer. Bush pig, the Collared Peccary (called Javelina)
was also good game and though we both did not eat it, we had many friends who
welcomed our hunts because we were the only people who would shoot a pig and
then give it away.
Peter inherited my yellow Land Rover when the
sawmill started and I got a small Toyota pickup. Peter and I would take turns
driving the Land Rover over the bush trails. It contained in the back,
everything that we needed for our camping and in case of an emergency. A
chainsaw, thick rope, hammocks, spare petrol, an axe, a spade, the ever present
cutlasses and various odds and ends. We would put in a cooler filled with
drinks and some pre-cooked bananas or cassava and off we would go. What would
have been ideal was a cell phone or radio but the first hadn’t been invented
and the second we didn’t have. So we relied on ourselves. What we shot, we
would cook in the bush and eat. What we saved, we would bring home. Sometimes
in the bush we would come across a deep stream and would have to build a bridge
to get across. Sometimes we would get stuck in the sandy soil and would have to
tie the rope to a tree nearby and use the winch on the Land Rover to haul it
out. In the evening we would find a camping place, tie the hammocks to ever
present trees, all conveniently located so that we could tie our hammocks of
course. Then we would light a fire and put on the tea pot. Once we had a nice
cup of tea, we would put on the cooking pot. Peter, meanwhile, would have
cleaned the game of the day. We would get water from the stream nearby, water
that was coffee colored but perfectly clean and tasteless. The bush meat would
go into the pot with salt and chillies, some onions, and as it cooked we would
sit and talk about life.
The big topic of conversation at the time was the
posturing of Venezuela, which bordered Guyana and had a border dispute. There
was some chance that this would escalate to a military conflict. The Guyana
Army was not in a position to face the much bigger and powerful Venezuelan
army, but nobody would admit that. There was some discussion about whether
Guyana would introduce conscription, so Peter was concerned if he would be
called to join the Army. I was a foreigner and so was in no such ‘danger.’ To
speak the truth though, I would have welcomed the adventure. However, as it
turned out, South Americans are far wiser than their northern cousins and the
matter was resolved peacefully.
Another topic was the government of President
Burnham. This was a dangerous topic to talk about in a dictatorship where even
your thoughts would be monitored if they could be, all in the name of freedom
and democracy of course. But we were far away in the bush and Peter was in the
company of a trusted friend. I was therefore the confidant of many ordinary
people who wanted to vent their frustration with the way the country was being
misgoverned. It was amazing to see how a country so rich in natural resources,
so fertile, and with such wonderful people could be run into the ground so
The bush in South America is different from its
counterpart in India or Africa because of the absence of major predators. The
only big ones are the Jaguar and the Anaconda, but neither will actually attack
a person except in special circumstances. So it is possible to actually sleep
very peacefully as long as you are not on the ground.
An hour or so later, once the food was ready, we
would take the pot off the fire, pull out the bread that we had brought, and
have our dinner. Then after some more discussion of world affairs, we would
climb into our hammocks and drift off into peaceful sleep looking at the
stars—possible only because we were at the river bank where the canopy did not
obstruct the view. Those days seem like a dream today. Almost as if they never
happened. And Guyana is so far away from where I am today that it seems as if I
will never see my friends again. Be that as it may, the memories are alive in
my heart and on these pages; they will live on in the minds of those who read
this. We live in the memories that we give others. So it is important to be
conscious of the memories we leave behind. This doesn’t mean that we live a
life for others. But it does mean that we remember one cardinal fact,
‘Everything we choose to do or choose not to do, reflects brand value and
character and is the stuff of memories.’
Remember when you read these pages that if I have
written about a stream, it is there and the water is good to drink. These are
stories of real life, real people, their hopes and loves and fears. And they
will live on until they are remembered.
Peter got another friend Leon Molenuex to build a
flat bottomed boat for me. It was 18 feet in length with a flat bottom, low
sides and a blunt prow. Its back was flat to fix an outboard motor. It had oar
locks and two oars. And it had an ice box in the middle with bench seats, a
plank each on either side of the ice box, forward and rear. Peter and I, and
sometimes Leon would also come along, would load up the boat every Friday
afternoon that we could get away and go up the Berbice River. What did we take
with us? Hammocks, cutlasses, one single barreled 16 bore shotgun each. Rope,
fishing line, hooks and a fishing net. Some rice, cassava, bananas and salt and
pepper. And most importantly some chicken guts in a plastic bag. The last being
what we called our ‘emergency ration’. Not that we ate them, but if we caught
nothing then if you baited a hook with raw chicken guts and trawled them behind
your boat you were sure to get some Piranha. Good eating.
It was a matter of honor for us that we would only
eat what we could hunt or catch. Since neither Peter nor I ate pork, it took
one of the most common items off our menu – Collared Peccary (Bush Pig) that we
would be sure to see. But we never returned hungry. We would trawl as we moved
along and usually caught some Lukanani (Peacock
cichlid, Cichla ocellaris) or Grey Snapper (Acoupa weakfish, Cynoscion acoupa), two of the delicacies of the Amazonian River system and
would roast them for dinner. If we were fortunate then either Peter or I would
also be able to bag one of the several species of Curassows that lived in those
forests. The most common were the Black Curassow (Crax alector) and the
Crestless Curassow (Mitu tomentosum). Or even an Agouti (Cuniculus
paca, Dasyprocta aguti) which is from the Paca family and a relative
of the rabbit and Capybara but much smaller. Game was in such abundance that
there was never a trip on which we had to go hungry but we would also bring
back fish and game for Peter’s family and the families of other friends.
Almost every other Friday evening, we would start
from Kwakwani going upriver, travelling until it got dark. Then we would find a
sandy spot on the river bank and camp for the night. That sounds a bit chancy
when you read it but we had our spots and knew them well so we just headed for
the first one. A sandy bank was necessary because like all the rivers in this
part of the world, the trees of the rain forest trailed their feet in the river
all along its banks. That made landing very difficult and camping impossible.
So you needed to look for a sandy bank. That happened at the bends in the river
where the river deposited its sand and this collected over the years to make
for some very attractive sandy crescents on which we camped.
Our routine was always the same. We would draw the
boat up on the bank and I would collect wood for a fire. Peter and I would then
sling up our hammocks from the trees that bordered the bank, first clearing the
undergrowth around their trunks to ensure that we didn’t end up with unwanted
sleeping partners. We would trawl as we travelled upriver and so we would have
a couple of good size fish in our ice box. Once the fire was lit, Peter would
put the kettle on and I would gut the fish and clean them. Then I would rub
salt into the fish and prepare it for the bake. Taking two large yam leaves (or
any other large leaf), I would wrap the fish securely in it and tie the whole
bundle with a thread. Then I would dig in the river bank for clay and cover the
fish warp with clay and make a ‘brick’ of clay – one for each fish. Once that
was ready, I would remove the kettle from the fire, move the coals aside and
dig in the sand and bury the clay bricks in the hot sand. I would then put the
coals back on top and light the fire again. By the time our tea was ready so
would the fish. We would then dig out the bricks and crack them open, remove
the leaf covering and we had the most delicious baked fish you can imagine for
dinner. There is nothing to beat fresh fish cooked with a little salt, in its
own juices, with a bit of butter melted on top.
When dinner was done, we would climb into our
hammocks and chat about whatever was at top of the mind until I would hear a
snore in response to whatever I was saying. I would know then that Peter was
off on his trip to dreamland. The rainforest is a safe place as long as you
didn’t do anything stupid like sleeping on the riverbank. As long as you are
off the ground nothing bothers you and I am living proof. There are many
animals which are dangerous in these forests but none that will take a human
being by choice. So as long as you stay out of their normal pathways you will
Lying in the hammock waiting for sleep to come, I
would listen to the sounds of the forest and try to identify each one. The
Amazonian rainforest is a rather silent place in the night, unlike Indian
forests. The animals are less vocal and the forest itself muffles sound thanks
to its density – you don’t hear much except insects. If you are near the river
there are not many mosquitos but you do get vampire bats and so you need to
cover up unless you wish to be bitten by one of them. That doesn’t turn you
into a vampire or anything so romantic, but the wound can bleed for a long time
as there is heparin in the bat’s saliva which prevents blood from clotting. In
addition, I am sure vampire bites are not exactly what any doctor would order
so it is better to stay off their menu.
Early next morning, we would start out at first
light, or sometimes even a bit earlier, going over what looks like boiling hot
water because of the ‘steam’ rising from it. That ‘steam’ is the mist that gets
created when the warm water vapor laden air meets the cold river surface and
gives the whole atmosphere an ethereal quality. Engine buzzing with Peter at
the rudder, we would travel in companionable silence, eyes ever watchful for
floating logs. These were the only real danger because if you hit one full
tilt, it would take the bottom out of the boat. A fate not to be contemplated
as the Berbice has Piranha, Cayman, and other interesting forms of life.
The Berbice is a wonderful river that changes its
nature all along its course. Downriver from Kwakwani it is deep enough for
large vessels to negotiate it. Bauxite ore from Kwakwani would be transported
on barges pushed by a tug boat all the way to New Amsterdam on the coast to the
smelter. These tugs would normally have a tow of four barges; each sixty feet
in length which when fully loaded would sink to their gunnels with the weight.
The tug boat captain’s job was a very complex one, negotiating bends in the
river a hundred and fifty feet ahead through frequent blindingly heavy rain
showers and through the night. Since tug boats and barges are about the
clumsiest of watercraft and with the kind of weight the barges carried, this
was no mean task. It was a tribute to the training and skills of tug boat
captains that there had never been any instance of the barges heading out of
the river, cross country across the rain forest.
Going upriver, however, the nature of the Berbice
changes. It is no longer the deep river but spreads wide and shallow with frequent
sandbars; so shallow in places that one could easily wade across. So much so
that on occasion we would have to pull in the outboard motor and drag the boat
over the sandbank. In this also there was a twist. In this river sand, there
were two kinds of dangers. One that it could be quick sand with so much water
under it that if you stepped into it, you could easily sink in over your head
and die a horrible death. To guard against that we would get out of the boat
only one at a time and hang onto the side of the boat until we were completely
sure of our footing. Only then would be let go of the boat and then the other
person would also get off and we would drag the boat over into water deep
enough to float it.
The second danger was that of Stingrays. These are
fresh water rays with a poisonous sting in the tail. Their favorite pastime is
to lie buried and invisible in the sand of sandbars, just under the surface and
wait for something to come within range and then they would sting by shooting a
poisonous spike into it and then wait until it dies to eat it. Their normal
prey is small fish but if you were to step on or close to one of them, then
they would sting you out of fright. I am sure there are more painful things in
life than a stingray sting—I just I don’t know what they are. And if you happen
to be allergic to the poison then 50 kilometers up the Berbice River in the
middle of the Amazonian rain forest is not where you want to discover this.
Even if you are not allergic, the sting means
several days of fever, swollen lymph nodes, swollen foot and almost
incapacitating pain. So what we would do is to put on our boots before we
stepped into the water. Alternatively, you could use a stick and hold it ahead
of you and push it in the sand ahead of you as you walk to ensure that you
disturb the Stingray and drive it away before you get too close to it.
As we went upriver, we would sometimes pass single
houses on stilts on the bank of the river with a little patch of garden at the
back growing cassava, banana, and a couple of jackfruit trees. The house was
one large room built on a high platform with a leaf or grass thatch. The walls
were of woven mat with holes for windows. There would be a couple of dugout
canoes tied to one of the poles with a rickety step going up to the platform.
Children playing on the step or in the canoes would yell and scream at us with
great excitement and delight. If we had time we would stop by and pass out some
sweets or bananas that we would carry for such occasions. Otherwise we would
wave to them and they would continue to wave and yell until we rounded the next
bend of the river out of sight. I always wondered what would make a person go
and live so far up the river in the middle of nowhere, alone without access to
electricity, medical aid, and schooling for his children, and without any
amenities. These Amerindians would hunt, gather honey and balata (wild rubber
latex) and farm a little and would occasionally come to Kwakwani to buy a few
things and sell their balata and honey and some wild meat. But they would not
work at a regular job for love or money nor would they live closer to town.
They preferred to live miles upriver and paddle their canoes several hours to
get to Kwakwani and longer to return, paddling against the current on their way
It was a wonderful experience, buzzing along up
the river hour after hour, listening to the sounds of the forest. Macaw pairs
flying high over the canopy, talking to each other. Macaws believe that
conversation makes for happy marriages and it seems to work for them as they
pair for life and talk all the time. Toucans screaming whatever they scream
about. The booming call of the Howler Monkey sentinel, answered by his
counterpart in another part of the forest. The sudden crash in the undergrowth
as you come around a bend and scare away something that was drinking at the
edge of the bank. From the sound of the crashing you can guess whether it was a
Collared Peccary or a Tapir. Deer and Agouti move very quietly and you wouldn’t
even know that they had been there.
One weekend we decided to go as far as we could
and eventually we must have gone more than a hundred kilometers when we came to
place where the river widened into a huge pool. We entered the pool from the
side that the river flowed out of. On the opposite side where the river flowed
into was a series of rapids and short waterfalls. The sides of the pool were
sandy and made excellent camping ground. We were delighted with the whole
prospect. It was a very beautiful place indeed. Peter and I decided to camp for
the night and pulled onto the sand and dragged the boat far up onto the sand.
No telling if the river would rise in the night and float the boat away. That
is not a prospect to be contemplated, being a hundred kilometers or more in the
middle of nowhere without a boat. Trekking through rain forest is not an
occupation to be thought of easily.
I got the fire going while Peter hung up our
hammocks. Suddenly, I noticed on the far end of the pool near the rapids, a
permanent structure on a concrete platform, a room roofed with corrugated iron
sheets. It looked like a government structure and I wondered what it could be.
Once we’d had our dinner and before it got dark we decided to go across and
take a look at what it was. When we tied up to the little jetty there, an
Indian Guyanese man came down to the water and greeted us. With him was an
American who looked like some kind of technician by the way he was dressed, in
overalls. We made our mutual introductions and it turned out that the structure
was a weather monitoring station with some equipment from Motorola, which
needed repair. The American engineer was from Motorola and had come to repair
the equipment onsite. In the course of conversation, he asked me where I was
from. I told him that I was from India.
He asked me, ‘Where from in India?’
I replied, ‘Hyderabad.’
He got very excited and told me, ‘I have been to
Hyderabad. I have a friend there. His name is J. J. Singh and he works at the
Administrative Staff College. Do you know him?’
I rolled my eyes and said, ‘Do I know him? Of
course, I know him! But look at this, what is the probability that I would be
in the middle of the Amazonian rain forest, hundred kilometers up the Berbice
River, where I would meet an American who I had no idea would be there and we
would have a mutual friend? If there was someone betting on this we would both
be millionaires, man!!’ And we both had a great laugh. Whenever someone tells
me, ‘It’s a small world’, I tell them, ‘Yes, but much smaller than you think.’ And
I tell them this story. To date, nobody has told me a story more unlikely than
Mutual respect are what I call my three Cardinal Principles of happy marriages.
Please notice that I am not using the word ‘love’. Love comes out of these
three things. What is called love is usually physical desire. The shape or size
of someone’s body is not the inspiration for love; it can be the inspiration
for infatuation and lust but not love. For love to happen, the lasting kind
that is, the kind that grows with age and the longer you spend time together,
you need truthfulness, caring and concern for one another – putting the needs
of the other before your own; and mutual respect. Without respect there can’t
be any love. One needs to respect one’s spouse, appreciate their strengths,
make them your role model, icon and be proud of them and proud that they are
your spouse. That kindles love in the heart which grows with time because the
reasons for respect also grow with time. Physical attraction reduces with age.
It is programmed to do so. Nobody grows more beautiful with age. You mature
with age, grow wiser, more mellow, more patient and forbearing and more worthy
of respect. The love that comes out of that also grows with age.
Truth is to express feelings as
they are and not to have any pretensions. Caring is to treat the other with
concern because you know that with you s/he has no barriers or safety nets.
Respect is to acknowledge the value of the trust that is placed in you in
allowing you into that inner most of places in the heart in which nobody else
has been allowed before. To treat that privilege with the respect it deserves
and never to abuse it for any reason.
Is there a formula to be happy in a
Marry someone you believe is worthy of emulation;
someone you can look up to and learn to forgive them. The formula of an unhappy
marriage is to marry someone who you believe you can change. That is a sure
recipe for disaster. When you marry someone who you think needs to be changed
you are accepting that they are not good enough as it is. Also, in most cases
you would not have asked them if they want to change and that too to your
preferred model. And then you will lo and behold that they have other ideas
about changing and your marriage will be the casualty.
The second part of the formula is to be forgiving. We need to forgive one another. What tends to happen in many marriages is that we expect the other person to forgive us, but we hold them to standards that we are ourselves unable to live up to and become curiously blind to this unreasonable stance. That doesn’t work. Good to remember the saying, ‘Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.’
One thing that people should consider while
choosing one’s partner is compatibility of core values. Core values means both
are pulling in the same direction even with their different personalities,
styles of working and interests. Minimizes contradictions in bringing up
children in the domain of values.
Share in each other’s lives. Take interest in what
the other does. Don’t be nosey but learn and add value. Conversation is both
the key to a happy marriage and a metre to judge its health. Marriages that are
getting sick start to lose conversation. When there is nothing left to talk about
after 10 minutes and when your idea of spending time with your spouse is to sit
in front of the TV or stare at your phone in the same room, then you can safely
say that your marriage is falling sick. In happy marriages there is a desire
for the company of the other. Not for the company of others. You hurry home
because your spouse is there. You don’t hit home and bounce off to the club to
sit with your cronies or to some other place to be with other friends. You want
to spend time with your spouse not because otherwise s/he will complain but
because you genuinely want to do it. Because your spouse is your best friend.
How do you make a marriage work?
By working at it. We use this term, ‘Make a marriage work’, but we forget that a lot of it is actually ‘work’. It takes effort, time and energy, is measurable and produces results. Making breakfast for your wife is work. Offering to do her errands is work. Taking the trouble to look nice when your husband comes home instead of like animated laundry is work. Going to the airport to meet his flight is work. You get the drift? Doing what does not come naturally or doing something that is important for the other even if you don’t like doing it, is work. And all of it produces results in terms of appreciation and love.
If you find that you can’t love your spouse any more, be honest and speak to them about it. See what can be changed and what must be accepted. But don’t go seeking solace elsewhere. That is dishonest, dishonorable, despicable and cowardly. If things are at a stage where it is impossible to live together, part company with grace. Not cheat behind their backs, pretending that everything is fine. Those who collude with other’s spouses and carry on relationships with married men and women are slimy invertebrates which must crawl back under the flat rock they came out from under and not despoil human society with their presence. I never cease to marvel at people who allow another marriage to be destroyed by their cheating, but who would be up in arms if their wife or husband did the same. “Just because you have a good excuse does not make a wrong thing right.”
As I say, ‘If I wanted to marry a nag, I would
have married a horse. At least it would have carried me from place to place.’
Nag is a gender-neutral term. There are male and female nags, and both are
equally painful. Finally, companionable silence is also an indicator of a good
marriage. You don’t have to be talking all the time. It is the quality of the
companionship, the quality of the silence. You will know it without anyone having
to explain, let me assure you. But pay attention to it if there is tension or
boredom in it.
How can you try and make an unhappy
marriage a happy one?
This is a tough one because there is a pre-clause
to it. Once you satisfy that pre-clause then it is very easy. The pre-clause
is, ‘DO YOU REALLY WANT IT TO HAPPEN?’ Now that may sound like a strange thing
to ask but I have seen in many years of counseling that all the failures that I
saw were because the partners did not really want to make it work. They were
not sincere and were merely going through the moves with the idea of satisfying
themselves or others that ‘they made the effort’. Now that is a lie because
they never made an effort. They acted a drama with a precluded ending.
Once you are sincere about turning things around
then you need to sit down and write down all that you like about your spouse.
After all there were things about them that you liked enough to marry them.
What were they? Then when you have that list, you write down the problem areas.
Look in the mirror for one of the major ones. Usually that works like magic.
Marriages go bad most often because we don’t appreciate the good enough and are
not thankful for what they have. I often ask couples, ‘How many times a day do
you thank your wife/husband? How many times a day do you hug or kiss them? How
many times a day do you tell them that you love them?’ No, that is not a
Western idea nor is it from Bollywood. Humans are not mind readers and even
those that are, need to be told if you love them. After all, most spouses don’t
hesitate to inform them about the opposite. So, why not this?
Is the idea of a soul mate just a myth – or
is it simple communication between people?
Soul mates are made, not born. And they are made
over time. Sometimes a fairly long time. Then you see them sitting together and
smiling at things that only they understand. Or looks that have meaning only
for each other. Or speaking in a language that only the other understands.
Phrases that they use only for each other and which may even be gibberish to others,
but which touch their hearts. This is the stage when every time you look at her
you fall in love all over again, 30 years into your marriage. And laughing.
Laughing is important. Laughing together at the same things. Showing each other
things so as to add to the joy by sharing.
What kind of initiatives and actions
dictate a happy marriage?
Back to the basics: Truth, caring, mutual respect.
Every action or initiative must pass this test. Are you being truthful? Is her
need coming before your own? And are you showing the respect you feel? I
remember that my grandmother used to serve my grandfather his meals. Every
meal. She would put food on his plate, refill it, offer him the choicest pieces
of meat, watch to see what he needed and give it to him before he asked for it.
She would eat every meal with him, without exception in a house that was a
mansion with several servants. But no servant was ever allowed to give my
grandfather anything directly. They brought the tray to my grandmother and she
served him. All this she did with such a look of love and devotion on her face
that I can see clearly in my mind even today 50 years later and more than 30
years since both of them died. Why did she do this? Just because she liked to do
it. It really is that simple.
He fully reciprocated this. He never did anything
without asking for her advice. He never went anywhere without her. He wore what
she gave him. She had complete control of his money. He never touched it. He never
asked her for any account with a level of trust seldom seen today, even though
it was his money, so to speak. He never raised his voice to her for anything.
He never even looked at her except with love. He never made fun of her and she
never made fun of him. Both laughed together. He was passionate about chess and
played chess every evening with his brother and cousin who all lived together
in the same house which my great grandfather built. She never played chess in
her life. Different interests but the real interest was in each other. She was
his whole life in every sense of the word. In Tamil there is a word for wife –
Samsaram. It is the same word for the world. That is how it was for my
grandparents. They were each other’s world. Complete in themselves, content
with each other, reflected in every moment of their lives.
He loved her and she loved him, and it showed. She
died first. He died three months later of a broken heart. But they left
memories for their children and grandchildren about how to be married and how
to treat your spouse.
How much involvement should parents and in
laws have in a marriage?
None whatsoever. This is the single most potent
recipe for disaster. Parents should be involved in their own marriages. Once
your children are married, they are not children any more. Leave them alone and
let them work out their problems. They are adults and that is why they got
married. The problem with many parents (mostly mothers) especially in our
society (Indian) is that they are most anxious about getting their children
married and then they start feeling insignificant and so become competitors
with their own daughters in law. Remember that if you become your daughter in
law’s competitor, you lose if you lose and you lose if you win. Both ways you
lose. So, get out of the way. Leave them alone. Visit them for 2 days, not
more, every six months – every year is even better. Don’t talk for more than 5
minutes on the phone. Don’t chat on Skype or Yahoo or WhatsApp or anything
else. Don’t ask personal questions. And above all, don’t ask, ‘Are you happy?’
I have yet to see a marriage survive the attention of parents and parents in
At the same time, I would advise young couples
also to take steps to kindly discourage this involvement if you see it
happening. If you are old enough to get married, you are old enough to solve your
own problems. If you are running to your parents with your problems, then put
on your diapers. You are not ready for marriage. If your Mom calls and asks
you, ‘So what did he say when you told him such and such?’ Tell your Mom, ‘Mom,
sorry I won’t tell you what he told me.’ Smile and say it but say it clearly.
Spend time with your spouse, not with your mother. I am not asking you to
neglect your mother or father but remember that your spouse has first call on
your time, once you get married.
How does one make compromises?
They are not called ‘compromises’. They are called
‘adjustments’. It is not the semantics of it but the attitudes that language
indicates and dictates. We make compromises when forced to do so. We make
adjustments to things so that we can enjoy them more. One of the things that
most young couples don’t bargain for is the aspects of sharing ownership, time
and privacy that marriage brings with it. Nobody told them about it, and they
didn’t think about it when they had stars in their eyes. Honeymoons are in
hotels and sharing a hotel room is different from sharing your own bedroom and
your own cupboard. Changing from ‘I’ to ‘We’ is often a difficult process.
Having said that, decide on what is important to
you. Don’t make compromises on issues of principle. Explain to your spouse why
you won’t compromise, and wise partners will respect that. But issues which are
important to the other and which you can live with changing, change. Remember
the point about concern for the other? It is good to remember that everything
is not a test of your masculinity or femininity. By ‘giving in’ to something
you don’t lose face; you win hearts. Do it unless it is something that goes
against your fundamental values.
It is a very good idea to have some frank sharing of
thoughts on what is important to you, before getting married. If you didn’t do
it then, do it now. It will be more difficult but then that is what you chose. When
your spouse is talking, simply listen. Don’t justify, agree, disagree or argue.
Just listen respectfully and then decide what you love, what you can live with,
what you can change in yourself and what you need to talk to the other person
about. Most couples, in the courtship stage are too busy on appearing their
best and get into a pretense mode that has no relation to what they are really
like. Acting can’t be sustained and the mask comes off sooner than later with predictable
results. Speak to each other frankly and then decide if you want to get
married. During this conversation speak clearly and tell them what the
non-negotiables for you are. Don’t try to be politically correct or polite or
whatever and hide or play down things that you really feel strongly about.
Maybe it is something to do with practicing your religious beliefs, or about
family values or that your Mom will live with you or that the cat shares your
bed or whatever. No matter what it is, if it is important, then say it. That is
far more positive and far less painful than having your spouse discover it
later. Some things may seem ‘silly’ to you but if they are important enough for
the other person then they will cause you serious trouble if you don’t respect
When does one know that a marriage is not
working? And when should people do something about it?
A marriage is ultimately an agreement between two
people to live together for mutual benefit. When you find that there is no
mutual benefit and that the living together is causing more grief than joy then
you know that it is not working. Then you must ask yourself the questions:
Am I willing to make it work?
What will it take to make it work?
Am I willing to do what it takes?
If the answer
to all of them is in the affirmative, then get on with it and work. If not,
then it is time to call it a day. The important thing to do even if you decide
to divorce is to remember the first three rules: Truthfulness, concern for the
other and mutual respect. Ensure that you don’t do anything that is not
scrupulously honest and completely above board. Show concern and ensure that
the other person does not leave with any bad feeling. The divorce is bad
enough. Don’t add negative baggage to it. Show respect for each other. You
deserve it and your marriage deserves it. Part company if you must but do it in
a way that is respectful and honorable.
How to make efforts to making a marriage
work – for the man and woman?
It is essential to differentiate between Core Responsibilities
and other things. In my view it is the Core Responsibility of the man to work
and earn a living and take care of the financial responsibilities of the
family. It is Core Responsibility of the
woman to make the home a place of beauty, grace and harmony and to focus on the
upbringing of the children. I know this may sound old fashioned to some but
just take a look at what the result of the Yuppy and Puppy culture is, and you
will come back to the basics soon enough. Having taken care of the Core
Responsibility, naturally the man must help around the home, take care of
children, water the garden, wash the car, mow the lawn, take out the garbage
and not sit in front of the TV with his feet propped up and a bowl of popcorn
at his elbow – or whatever passes as its equivalent in your culture.
Similarly once the Mom has taken care of her Core
Responsibility then it is good if she waters the garden, washes the car, mows
the lawn, takes out the garbage and does not sit in front of the TV with her
feet propped up and a bowl of popcorn at her elbow – or whatever passes as its
equivalent in your culture. I am sure you understand what I mean. Dividing
responsibilities is a very good idea. Do it whichever way you like but do it.
Role clarity is essential in a happy marriage and role conflict causes the
maximum stress on it. It is essential for one of the spouses to be dedicated to
the upbringing of children; teaching them life skills, manners, tools of
thinking, decision making and teaching them core values of life. Today in the
Yuppy and Puppy cultures the idea of bringing up children is to feed them,
ensure that they are washed and dried and entertained. That is what you do with
the dog. Not with your child. Children need a jolly sight more than food, clothing
and shelter if you want to develop a human being who will be your legacy to the
world. I believe you need to dedicate yourself to that because it is important.
If you don’t agree, use condoms. That is far
better than producing children who are a nuisance at best and a painful reality
in the lives of others, as long as they live.
responsibility is it to make a marriage happy?
Naturally it is the responsibility of both people
like in any agreement. It is important to recognize and accept this
responsibility so that you will then do what it takes to fulfill it. As I
mentioned above, I advocate sitting down and having a dialogue before you get
married about what each one is supposed to do. Say it to each other and agree
on it. Don’t leave it to guesswork and discovery. That leads to
misunderstanding and disappointment. A good marriage is a dream. To make it
come true you must wake up and work. If you expect your wife to cook for your
friends who you will bring home from time to time, say it. And say what time to
time means. If you expect your husband to pick up the food on the way home with
his friends from the restaurant, say so. If you expect your wife to make
breakfast for you and sit with you watching you get outside the eggs and toast,
say so. If you expect your husband to bring the eggs and toast to you in bed
(never really liked the idea of eating without first brushing your teeth), say
so. What I mean is that in marriages, it is often the so-called ‘silly things’
that lead to trouble. So silly or not, say it if it is important to you.
My second Cardinal Principle – Concern, is what is
most important to remember. If you apply the Golden Rule – Do unto them as you
would have them do unto you – you can’t go wrong. The virus that kills marriage
is a two-letter word – ME. To get you must first give. What you have in your
hand is your harvest. What you sow is your seed. To get a harvest you must
first sow the seed. Remember that the harvest is always more than the seed. So,
give and give with grace, with love, with joy. And you will get much more than
you bargained for. Show consideration for your spouse. Do things without being
asked. Be aware of what they like the most and do it. Try to please them. Don’t
play power games. The marriage is not a contest to get the better of the other.
You are not in a race or in a WWF wrestling match or in a competition to see
who is more powerful. Remember that every time you ‘win’ the other person
loses. And losing is something that nobody enjoys. So, at some point they will
get tired of losing and you will have no marriage. And that is the biggest loss
that you brought on to yourself. A marriage is a relay race – long term,
passing the baton to the other at each stage and the team – in this case the
two of you – wins.
In today’s times of
pre-nups, fast track divorces and even websites as matchmakers, what kind of
mindset should people have when getting into a marriage?
Today we live in a world where selfishness is not
a sin anymore. However, changing your mind about an evil does not make it good.
You will get sick even if you fall in love with the virus. People wanting to
get married must learn to think about the other and to consciously give him or
her precedence and preference. If you can’t do this, your marriage will break
down sooner or later. Our lifestyles, the internet, social networking and
talking to people across the world from other cultures, the TV with its unreal,
fantasy world of soap operas, are all designed to destroy marriages. They
promote ideas that are either directly destructive or lead to the killing
fields of marriages. Today in the world of social media, Instagram, Facebook,
Twitter, Snapchat and God-alone-knows-what, there is so much pressure on making
public what must be private that no marriage can survive it. People live in a
fantasy world of pictures which show the best, project an unreal lifestyle and
raise expectations that are impossible to meet. You are not in competition with
the Kardashians or anyone else, so get real. A good marriage is about living in
the real world, not in a world that is neither bold nor beautiful.
Is the 7-year itch
based on statistics or research? In your mind, does it exist?
I don’t think there is any such thing. Looking
outside your marriage for companionship which can then lead to a breakup, is a
sign of intrinsic unhappiness. If you feel it, the thing to do is to deal with
it. Not look outside. The problem with 7-year itches is that every 7 years you
are older and less desirable. Then where will you go?
How important are
children to have a happy marriage? Some couples cannot have children, others
choose not to.
I don’t think children either make a marriage
happy or unhappy. It is more their upbringing that makes the home happy or not.
Children give the parents a common interest but for a marriage if the only
thing in common is the children then something is wrong. On the converse side
children take a lot of time and attention and energy and this can be difficult
to handle for many people. But if the spouses share in the work of bringing up
children and take the trouble to bring them up well, with good manners, values
and attitudes, then they can be a huge asset for the marriage.
What can couples do
to keep the bespoke “spark” in the marriage?
Appreciate each other and express this appreciation
daily. Catch each other doing right. Do things for one another only to see the
smile on the face. Invent your own language which only the two of you
understand. My wife and I used to keep a book on a table in the house in which
we would write things we liked about each other or something nice we wanted to
say to one another. We did say it as well but sometimes writing is easier. Give
flowers and chocolates. Men also like flowers, remember. Second most important
rule: Don’t react to everything that the other says. Take ten deep breaths.
Then forget it. Reactions produce reactions and, in the end, it is taken out of
Finally, never go to bed, mad at each other.
Always make up before you go to bed. Cuddle up together and sleep. Never
quarrel in the bedroom. Never in bed. Make this a rule. If you have a problem,
deal with it in the morning. Usually by the morning it would have solved
Well, depends on what is meant by ‘fighting’. If
it means trying to get the better of each other in an argument and using all
kinds of means to do so then it is definitely not healthy. If it means arguing
as in a friendly fencing match between equal intellects that leads to good
feeling, then it is good. Avoid power games like the plague. Many marriages
turn into daily competitions between the spouses to see who can control the
other. This takes many apparently benign and legitimate forms. But they are all
illegitimate, subversive and destructive to the marriage.
Some people use religion as a means of control and
invoke religious rulings and promise the other brimstone and hellfire for
disobeying some whim or fancy of theirs. In many cases it is people (mostly men
in this case) who have not done anything significant in life and are suffering from
an inferiority complex and can sense that they really don’t command any respect
on their own, who use religion and religious rulings to enforce their will on
the woman. Women use religion to compensate for their own feelings of
inadequacy where they feel that they are not loved or desired as much as they
would like to be. ‘Should’ is the most useless word in the language. If people
did what they should then the world would have been a different place. Both
need to look at the real drivers behind their apparent religious orientation
because it has nothing to do with the Almighty. Power games come in many
packages. Spouses use children as pawns in their games at getting the better of
each other. Others use health concerns, eat more, eat less, joint family rules,
cultural taboos and many other things. All are power games, and all are
How important is
money to keep a marriage happy?
Not important at all. Both financial hardship and
plenty can be a source of bonding or a source of drifting apart. It is mutual
respect and concern for one another that counts. And that is a result of
character, piety, learning, nobility of conduct and deportment, confidence,
trustworthiness, dignity and grace, genuine desire to please one another and to
place the need of the other before and above one’s own. None of these are
things that money can buy or that we need money for. Marriages are happy or
break up for reasons other than money. Money problems are not money problems
even when there are money problems; if you see what I mean.
What are the worst things couples can do to
Lie, betray trust, cheat, play power games. Also
making fun of one another as in mocking. Showing disrespect in the name of
humor. Humor is to laugh with someone, not to laugh at them. Lastly but by no
means the least, by being overly self-focused and showing disregard and no
concern for the other. Honesty is still the best policy in 2019 and will still
be the best policy in 3019 if the world lasts that long.
resort to white lies or tiny lies to keep the peace?
There’s a difference between telling lies and not divulging
all the details. Not divulging all the details, for example about your
friendships before marriage, is not wrong and is a very wise thing to do. The
spouse has no need to know and it is something that does no good to the
marriage no matter how ‘broadminded’ the spouse may be. But to tell a lie is
wrong and goes against the grain of all that I have said above. Incidentally
‘white lies’ is a racially color biased term, like ‘black sheep’, ‘nightmare’,
‘black heart’ and so on; the legacy of English which is originally the white
man’s language. Knight in shining armor can be all black too – black shines
even more than white if you notice.
Having said that, telling ‘the truth’
inappropriately or in a harsh manner does no good either. Being silent is an
option that is worth exploring. For example, if the toast is burnt or the food
has no salt or something is not to your liking there are many ways of saying
it. But you also have the option of remaining silent in honor of all the times
that it was delicious. If the husband comes home cranky it is irritating but
you have the option to remind yourself that a nice cup of tea and talking about
something else is probably more productive than saying, ‘Don’t bring your
office home.’ You would be justified in saying so, but sometimes it is better
to be kind than to be justified. Diplomacy and wisdom are great virtues and
most useful in a marriage. Not rubbing their nose in it is wise. Turn away
gracefully. Don’t watch their discomfiture. Spouses realize that they are wrong
but may not necessarily grovel at your feet and beg forgiveness. It is wise to
leave them alone and not demand groveling. People’s dignity is important to
maintain. Be it a management – union negotiation or a domestic disagreement, it
is important to allow the one who is wrong to ‘save face’. To insist on
humiliating them is to burn bridges to future relationship. Remember that you
are also human and will surely be wrong one day. Don’t create a situation where
the other is waiting for that day to return your favor.
Does it help couples when they talk about
their problems? To whom, a stranger or someone they know?
It is helpful for couples to talk about their
problems to someone they respect and whose advice they are willing to listen
to. Usually it is better to talk to strangers as they are perceived to be
fairer and more objective, as they don’t know either party but really it
doesn’t matter as long as it is someone you respect and who you have decided to
listen to, meaning, to obey his or her advice. As I have said earlier, before
you go to talk to anyone, decide if you are going to listen to what they say
even if they don’t agree with you. If you are going to someone with the
expectation that they must agree with you and support your stance no matter
what it is, then don’t waste your and their time. No self-respecting, honest
arbitrator with any dignity will agree to be biased in favor of one party or
the other. If they do, then they are not fit for the position.
In conclusion I would like to say that a marriage
can be as good or as bad as you would like to make it. It is literally in your
“So, Comrade Baig, you have been living here for two years. What are your impressions about our country?” The interviewer was from Guyana Chronicle, the main English newspaper. I was being interviewed because I was there. Comrade was a gender-neutral term used to address anyone because Guyana was a socialist (communist) country ruled by an iron-man with an iron fist, not always in a velvet glove. My interviewer had come in preparation for a great event, the visit of the President, Hon. Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham who was the leader of Guyana from 1964 until his death, as the first Prime Minister from 1964 to 1980 and as second President from 1980 to 1985. I lived in Guyana from 1979-83 and so in the middle of the reign of the President Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham. We called him Comrade Burnham; meaning we referred to him as that. When he visited Kwakwani, he arrived by helicopter, which was a grand spectacle in itself and for many Kwakwani people, including myself, it was the first time any of us had seen a helicopter. The helipad on Staff Hill was surrounded by people all waving PNC flags and screaming their welcome above the roar of the rotors. As the helicopter landed, the dust thrown up effectively shut everyone’s mouths. Since he was the guest of our company, Guymine, Berbice Operations and I was the Assistant Administrative Manager, it meant that I got to stand to one side with the senior managers including the CEO who welcomed Cdr. Burnham. There was Haslyn Parris, the CEO of Guyana Mining Enterprise (Guymine), Stephen Ng Qui Sang, the Berbice Operations Coordinator, Walter Melville, Personnel Coordinator, James Nicholas Adams, Berbice Operations Administrative Manager and my boss and George Schultz, Berbice Operations Mines Manager. All of them were in the front-line welcoming the President.
Among the things that were peculiar to the reign of Forbes Burnham, (I use the term because to all intents and purposes he was a ‘Ruler’ more than a leader. Some called him ‘Dictator’) was his no-nonsense style, which translated into no-opposition to his policies. Guyana of those days had a pall of fear over it and if you knew what was good for you, you didn’t talk politics. I knew what was good for me. Burnham was dealing with the aftermath of freedom and he and his party chose the socialist way. Guyana was called the Co-Operative Republic of Guyana and was closely aligned with Cuba and Soviet Russia, though it was officially part of the NAM (non-Aligned Movement). This was not to the liking of either the Americans or the British, Guyana’s erstwhile colonizers but that was reality. Guyana paid a high price in facing political blockages resulting in shortages at home. However, in today’s terms, things were easy. Unlike today, Guyana had not discovered that it had oil and so nobody was particularly interested in what Guyana did or didn’t do. There was bauxite and sugar. There was some gold, but it was not really extracted in any big way. There were and are major rivers but no hydro power. There was no organized or large-scale agriculture or ranching though there was land enough and more for both. Guyana was poor. What was also happening was the reality about payback time after any revolution leading to freedom. People who struggled for the freedom remember the promises made during the struggle and are looking to live happily ever after, forgetting that that is only a last line in fairy tales. To develop we need education and very hard work.
Burnham’s policies drove Guyanese out of Guyana and many migrated to the United States, Canada and the UK. As it used to be said at one time, ‘There are more Guyanese in Brooklyn than there are in Guyana.’ True or false, there were too few in Guyana and those that remained were people who really couldn’t leave or were in government jobs where political affiliation counted for more than any competence. The results on the economy and society were hardly surprising or beneficial. On that day Comrade Burnham ascended the podium that had been constructed and spoke, short and clear. I still remember this line in his speech. He said, “A-we Gainese wan far go-va-men to give us everytin while we sit upon we sit-upons and wait. Lemme tell ayo dat if ayo wan devlopmen, ayo gon hav to wok fo it. But we like to sit upon our sit-upons and talk about what the Go-va-men mos do an vat Mistah Bonham mos do but nevah about wa I mos do. That won’t work. Unless we decide to get up and help ourselves, nothing will change.” To me, that made perfect sense. And if someone didn’t like the man because he spoke plainly, well, that is their choice. Burnham was also known for and liked or hated for some of his policies, among which was the banning of wheat flour and the promotion of rice flour. Guyana grows rice while wheat was imported. Naturally this went against the established food habits of people and they didn’t like it. Burnham did it to reduce the import bill, but economic policy succeeds or fails more for subjective emotional reasons than objective logical ones.
Burnham decreed a policy of self-reliance and many imports including food staples were banned. Among the things that were banned apart from wheat flour were also Irish Potatoes, which was rather ironic seeing that potatoes are actually South American and were imported into Ireland. The result was that one night someone came to my house and rang the bell and looking over his shoulder, presented me with ‘forbidden fruit’, three Irish potatoes, smuggled in from Suriname, no less. For an Indian, getting three potatoes as a gift was strange to say the least, but since I lived in Guyana and was totally acculturated, I knew what a great honor and sign of friendship that gesture represented. Forbes Burnham was feared and respected, loved and hated. All hallmarks of strong leaders.
Kwakwani Park Labor Club was an institution. This was a place which had a large hall which doubled as a cinema with a stage at one end. It had a long veranda along one end on which were placed tables at short intervals where people played dominoes with great passion and noise. Inside was the bar, the place for many a meeting, fight and romance. The level of noise in it can only be experienced, not described. The Club could be heard before it was seen. And its smell was never to be forgotten. Playing dominoes in the Kwakwani Club seemed to consist of smashing the domino on the table with all your might and shouting at the top of your voice. I can vouch for the fact that going by this criterion the people who played dominoes in Kwakwani Club must have been world champions. If the game is more than this, then I must beg forgiveness for my ignorance. The Club was also remarkable for its smell. Imagine a combination of stale sweat, beer, and rum floating on heavy humid air in an invisible cloud that came at you as soon as you were within reach. Then it clung to you and entered every exposed pore and remained with you and your clothes through several baths and washes. But this did not seem to bother anyone to the best of my knowledge.
The people of Kwakwani were mostly of African
descent. This, however, is a generalization because in Guyana the racial
mixture is so rich that most people seem to be a combination of many different
races – Amerindian, Chinese, Indian, African, and European. Demographically,
Guyana had at that time about sixty percent people of Indian descent who mostly
lived on the coast. They used to work on the sugar plantations, having been
brought in by the British as indentured labor from India. Another main
occupation of theirs was small time trade. Twenty percent of African descent who
were the descendants of African slaves and also worked on the sugar
plantations. When the emancipation of slaves happened, they walked off the
plantations and settled in the hinterland, engaged in timber extraction and
whatever else they could do. The timber and mining industries are dominated by
them, as are also the Army and the Police. The last twenty percent consists of
the indigenous Amerindian tribes, originally hunter, gatherers who have been
exploited mercilessly by everyone else. They still live in the forests, though
many now live and work on the fringes of whichever town or village that happens
to be nearby. They have the least paying jobs and live mostly by selling wild
meat, fish, honey, balata (wild rubber), and sometimes by working as guides for
In this final section of the population are also
the descendants of the Chinese laborers who were brought by the British to work
on the railway, most of which has fallen into disuse and is rotting away. There
was and continues to be a free mixing of the races though the Indians seem to
keep to themselves and away especially from people of African origin. Indians
everywhere seem to be oriented towards fair-skinned people and practice their
own brand of ‘apartheid’, wherever they live in appreciable numbers, including
in India. The best example of this can be seen if you read the matrimonial
advertisement page in the Sunday papers in India. Almost every single ad will
ask for a bride who above all else is ‘Fair,’ which has nothing to do with her
love for justice, believe me. A very sad practice that harms Indians more than
anyone else, but they have yet to learn this lesson.
Guyana had become independent less than 10 years
before I got there. So, ideology, in this case communist, was still very strong.
As I mentioned earlier, people called each other ‘Comrade,’ which depending on
the tone of voice could be given any kind of connotation from the most warmly
cordial to the positively hostile. As in many such cases, not everyone was a
‘believer,’ but to appear to believe was required. Since ideological alignment
was more important than everything else, efficiency suffered and people who
claimed to be loyalists of the ruling party, the PNC, had personal power far in
excess of their official position.
On Sundays a film would be screened in the Club. Most of the spectators apparently believed that they could influence the outcome of whatever was happening on the screen if they shouted at the actors. So, they proceeded to do the same with great gusto. But strangely nothing seemed to change. The actors continued to do whatever they had intended to do in the first place. Much like government policy in our so-called democracies, which seems to be independent of the screaming and shouting of their poor enslaved populations who have not realized the fact that the script has been written by someone else and will not change with their screaming. Little did I realize while attempting to watch a film in Kwakwani, I would live to see a real-life version of this behavior, thirty years later.
About a kilometer away from Kwakwani Park, up a
small hill was the Officers colony called Staff Hill. In typical British
colonial style, the rulers were separated from the ruled. Even ten years after
independence, Staff Hill was informally out of bounds for ordinary people. It
was meant for Officers, in this case, all black West Indian or East Indian
(people of Indian origin) and though we no longer had a fence and guards as
used to be there in the past, nobody from Kwakwani Park actually came up the
hill except to bring some visiting relative for a short drive to show them how
the other half lived. White and black is not about color; it’s about social
status and attitude.
Staff Hill had two kinds of houses. Bungalow type
houses with 3 bedrooms and a veranda all around them for most of us. And big
wooden houses on stilts with parking underneath them for the really big bosses.
The houses were arranged around a quadrangle with an orange orchard all around
them. There was a swimming pool to cool off. There were tennis courts, a Club
House with a bar, guest rooms, dining room (excellent cooks to boot) with
proper dinner service, uniformed waiters, table tennis table, and a library.
The rules of this Club were very different. The
barman wore a uniform and gloves. You could not play dominos here. And you
could not come to the Club in your shorts and nothing else. You could not shout
at the top of your voice and you could not curse. And no matter that the
British were long gone – as in the case of India, their ways had been adopted
by their erstwhile slaves and upheld as a sign of their own ‘superiority’ over
their own brethren. I am not saying that there is something intrinsically good
about cursing and yelling and unwashed shirts. I am merely pointing at the
reasons we do some things and how we use certain norms to demonstrate our own
superiority over others.
In Kwakwani Park was the hospital where for a year
my father was the resident doctor, Nurse Liverpool the Head Nurse, and
MacFarlane the Compounder. All wonderful people who ran a very good hospital
indeed. Kwakwani was a lovely small town where you knew everyone, and everyone
knew you. There were no strangers in Kwakwani. Everyone knew what was happening
in your life and had an interest in it. And you in theirs. People had the time
to stop whatever they were doing to chat with you when you came past. Nobody
passed anyone on the street without saying, “Aye! Aye! Maan!! Ow ya doo’in!!”
Remember to end on a high note as you say that, to know how it sounded.
They may add, “Ow de Ol Maan?” (Could mean your
father or your husband, depending on who you were). “Ow de Ol Lady?” (wife or
mother). “Ow de Picknee?” (Believe it or not, that means children). And
remember that had nothing to do with whether you were married or not, as I
learned to my own embarrassment one day when I went to the Income Tax office to
file my tax return. The lady at the counter offered to help me fill out the
form, which I gladly agreed to have her do. She asked me at the appropriate
column, “Married?” I said, “No.” She then asked, “Any children?” I said, “I
already told you I am not married.” She looked up at me and said, “Wad de hell
dat ga fa do wid anytin Maan!!” To end this line of discussion, I immediately
accepted defeat and said, “No children.”
The language of the Guyanese is called Creolese.
It is an English Patois and as distinct with its own flavor as French Patois is
from French. Creolese has the taste of Cookup, the sound of the Steel Band. and
the aroma of the rain forest. It is a language of the people and reflects their
culture. I used to speak it so fluently that new locals I met wouldn’t believe
that I was not a native.
They would ask me, ‘Weya fraam?’
‘Me-no-da bai, A-mean weya from in Giyana?’
‘Me-na from Giyana, me from India.’
‘Ah! (That is said as an exclamation in a high
rising tone) – Ya tak jus laka-we’
And that was a great compliment. It is really
impossible to render Creolese into text because it is spoken with so much
emotion and voice modulation that without those sounds, it’s not done justice.
It is a language that comes straight from the heart. Creolese has many proverbs
and funny stories with morals that are typical of the language and the people.
For example, there is a famous proverb: Han wash
han mak han com clean (When two people help one another, they help themselves).
Another one: He taak caz he ga mouth (He talks
As for stories, there are several. And in them,
the people of color may appear lazy, but are smart and the White man is the
butt of the joke. Here’s one:
One day a black man (Blak-maan) be ga-in about lookin
for sometin ta eat when he com upon dis garden in de bush. Dey he saw dis great
big bunch of ripe bananas. De man! He very appy! He put he arms around the bunch
of bananas an sey, ‘De Lord is my shepherd and I shall not want.’ He hear a
voice saying, ‘If you don tak ya hands off dem bananas, I gon lay ya down in
Dey bin the owner of the garden watchin over he
garden when dis man go dey.
And knowing the Guyanese, once this happened, I am
sure the owner would have given some bananas to the hungry man to eat. I don’t
know of any Guyanese who would chase a hungry man away. Guyanese have big
Another one involves an Amerindian guide and his
white employer. They are walking through the rain forest. The Vyte-maan (White
man) sees that the Amerindian is walking barefoot, carrying his boots on a
string over his shoulder. So he laughs at him and says, ‘You ignorant
Amerindians are so stupid. Why are you carrying your boots?’
The Buck-maan (Amerindian), he na say nothn.
Then they come to a stream. The Vyte-maan tak off
he shoe and the Bok-maan, he put on he shoe.
The Vyte-maan laugh at he again and seh, ‘This is
really stupid. Now that we have to wade through the water you put on your
shoes? The shoes will get spoilt.’
The Buck-man, he na say nothn.
As they wade through the stream the Vyte-maan get
hit by a stingray. He scream in pain and fall down. The Buck-maan drag he out
onto the other bank and seh, ‘Now who stupid? When me eye cyan see, me na need
no shoe. But when me eye cyant see, is weh I need de shoe maan. So, who stupid,
me ah you?’
Another brilliant one is about this Blak-maan who
goes looking for work. In Guyana, the custom is that the employer feeds the
worker. If the worker works for the full day then the employer gives him a lunch
break and lunch. So, this Blak-maan comes to the mansion of a Vyte-maan. The
Vyte-maan says to him, ‘I have a big tree in the back garden that fell last night.
You must saw it. But you guys are lazy. You take too long to eat lunch. So,
what I’m going to do is to give you food now. You eat first then you work
through till the evening without a lunch break.’
The Blak-maan agrees. The Vyte-maan gives him
banana and cassava and mutton and tea and the Black-maan, he eat like it is his
last meal. When he done, the Vyte-maan tell he, ‘Come over to the back and I
will show you the tree you have to saw.’ The Blak-maan goes around the house
and there is this huge tree that has fallen. The Vyte-maan say to he, ‘Alright,
you see that tree over there, you have to saw it.’
The Blak-maan he look carefully and seh, ‘Me na
see no tree.’
The Vyte-maan can’t believe his ears. ‘What do you
mean you can’t see the tree? It is that great big tree over there!’
The Blak-maan ben down and look heah and deh and
seh again, ‘Me na see no tree.’
Now the Vyte-maan is really angry. So he shouts at
him, ‘You stupid man, can’t you see that great big tree over there?’
The Blak-maan seh again, ‘Me na see no tree.’
The Vyte-maan is in a rage and yells, ‘What do you
mean you can’t see the tree? I saw you see the tree.’
The Blak-maan seh, ‘You saw me see the tree? But
you aint go see me saw it.’
I can still hear the voice of my dear friend and
first boss, Nick Adams telling me this joke and both of us laughing our heads
off. You have to listen to a Guyanese tell these stories with the sing-song
tone of their voice and their actions illustrating what is supposed to be
happening in the story. I can’t put that into this narrative here. But if we
meet one day, remind me and I will tell you the stories in Creolese as they
should be told.
Mail took an average of one month to get to Guyana
from India. That it actually arrived is a marvel of the system which in today’s
email world we seem to have forgotten. But it did come and in the 5 years that
I spent in Guyana, I never had a letter that was lost. As postage depended on
weight, I used to write on very thin, semi-transparent tracing paper with a
very fine nibbed pen to try to get as much matter into it as possible. And
since Mr. Gates had not yet created Windows and laptops were not for machines
and notebooks had 100 pages of 15 lines each, you could not cut & paste or
delete or drag & drop. So, you needed to write after due thought if you
wanted to save yourself the trouble of writing what you wrote all over again.
This is how I learnt to express myself in writing.
The Berbice River was one boundary of Kwakwani to
which it clung in fright from the forest which loomed behind it, threatening to
engulf it in an unwary moment. The mines were the reason Kwakwani was created
and the reason it existed. Kwakwani was owned by the mining company, Guyana
Mining Enterprise, Kwakwani Operations. The Administrative Manager of Kwakwani
Operations was the defacto ‘Mayor’ of Kwakwani. He was not only responsible for
the company’s operations but also for the welfare of the people of the town.
The hospital was owned by the company, which employed the doctor and staff. The
company ran the only store, which was called the Commissary. This store stocked
all basic essentials which, given the resource starved economy, did not amount
to much. The store stocked Dishikis and shirts, cutlasses, axes, pickaxes,
crowbars, hardware and plumbing items, food – mainly staples and some meats in
the freezer section and of course, a very well stocked liquor store. Guyanese
can drink. Man! Can they drink!! The most popular drink is rum; Demarara Rum,
drunk neat or with Coke. A black drink that looks like lube oil. Guyanese eat
large quantities of meat and drink large quantities of rum and they are among
the most friendly and jolly people in the world.
The town was divided in two parts. Kwakwani Park,
which had the workers quarters, some of which were barracks, some twin houses
with two rooms each, and some individual homes in the Self-Help area. Most of
the houses were built with wood, plenty and cheap in Guyana, on stilts with a
short stairway of 6 or 7 stairs leading up to the front door. The stairway
(called ‘Step’) was not only for going up to the house but more importantly for
people to sit on and socialize. Once the work of the home was done, the women
would come out onto their steps and carry on conversations with the neighbors
sitting across the street on their step. In the evening once the men returned
from work, they would carry their drink in their hand and sit on the step and
talk about the day gone by. The Self-Help area was an area that the Government
of Guyana and the company had promoted where people owned the houses they
helped to build. That is why it was called Self-Help. This was a big departure
from the usual norm in Kwakwani where all housing was company built and owned.
Almost all houses in Kwakwani Park had vegetable
gardens; most of them right behind the house in the rain forest which was never
far away. People employed the slash-and-burn type of agriculture, as mentioned
earlier, a method that is widely practiced all over Guyana but is very
destructive to the rain forest. But then again, what do you tell people who
live on the margins and who have to do something or the other to make ends
meet? These gardens provided food for the family as well as some small income
for those who worked harder as they could sell the produce in the market. The
gardens were also a source of protein because they attracted wild pig (Collared
Peccary), deer, capybara, agouti, and curassow. The wily farmer, especially
immediately after the burn when the ash was on the ground and a great
attraction to the animals, would sit in hiding either on a platform on a nearby
tree or on the ground and shoot whatever came. Hearing gunshots in the night
was not uncommon and not anything to be worried about. Some Amerindian farmers
would also set snares with spears and arrows or even sometimes with a stick of
explosive (easily available from the mines) for pig. One, therefore, had to
watch very closely and walk carefully when negotiating a farm in the forest to
avoid becoming an unintended victim of the hunter.
People mostly grew bananas, cassava (tapioca),
pineapple, and sweet potato. The typical Guyanese farmer in Kwakwani was a
person of African extraction; a mine worker in the day who would drive a truck
or some earth moving or mining equipment, or work in the machine shop and then
in the evening he would put on his farming shirt – a much patched, seldom
washed and therefore odoriferous garment smelling of honest sweat – and would
go to work in his farm. He would carry a shotgun in one hand and a cutlass in
the other. He would wear a floppy hat from under which he would look at you and
smile; a smile that would light up his whole face. Then if you said anything
that was even remotely funny, he would shake all over and laugh so heartily
that his whole body would laugh with him; the world would become a better place
for a little while. Laughter and rhythm are the two hallmarks of the African
person. I always say that nobody can laugh or dance like an African. It is
something that is visceral and intrinsic to being African. I have even prayed
behind an African Imam in the US who would do a quiet little dance as he
recited the Qur’an. Highly objectionable in law but then the question is, how
come you were looking at the Imam instead of concentrating on your prayer, eh?
The company had kindly allotted me the house that
my parents had lived in for the year that they were in Kwakwani, so I didn’t
have to move from Staff Hill, which was the senior officer’s enclave. My
father, who started work in Linden at the main Guymine hospital was transferred
to Kwakwani as the head of the small hospital there at about the same time as I
got my job. So for one year we lived together in Kwakwani. Then they left,
returning home to India and I stayed on for three years thereafter. That is how
I was in the house which the company allowed me to retain after my parents had
left – another of Nick Adam’s favors. The house overlooked an orange orchard on
the far side of which was the ever present jungle. Behind the house was a large
open area cleared out of the jungle and then there was the jungle. The orange
orchard used to be well maintained with its grass cut and the orange trees
pruned and fertilized. The orange tree has a lovely shape and on a moonlit
night to sit in my veranda simply looking out across at the orchard was
something that I greatly enjoyed. This was one of the many joys of a TV-less
existence. This orange orchard was also the first time I saw Leaf Cutter ants (Atta cephalotes) at work. I woke up one morning to find one
tree almost completely defoliated. When I went to examine what had happened, I
saw a long line of ants with pieces of leaves in their mandibles busily walking
to their nest. This was a mound about 2 meters in height and double that in
circumference at the edge of the forest boundary. I had read about these ants
and how they use these leaves as a substrate to grow fungi to feed on, but this
was the first time I was seeing them in action. I also knew the cure for them,
which was to collect the refuse from the mound and place it around the base of
the tree, which they then avoid. This, I found to be true. It is said that this
remedy works for up to 30 days but in the case of Kwakwani where it rained
almost every afternoon, it didn’t last that long. These ants have a very
elaborate and complex society and I recommend you read about it.
The house itself was a low roofed bungalow with a
veranda in the front and on one side. It had three small bedrooms with two
bathrooms and a main hall which served both as a dining and living room. It was
very sparsely furnished, so I made some furniture. I got the sawmill people to
saw me a few Wamara planks—with their lovely double colored grain—and got a few
fire bricks and lo and behold I had a complete shelf system in which I used to
keep my books and other some local handicrafts. To one side was the kitchen
with a big gas cooker. The gas cylinder was housed in a small enclosed shelf in
the veranda behind the kitchen and the gas was piped to the stove. I would make
my own breakfast and Naomi, my very large, very concerned, and very domineering
cook from St. Lucia, would come in and make my lunch and dinner. For breakfast
I would usually toast some crackers with cheese on them in the oven and make
myself a cup of tea.
One day, with this intention, as usual, I prepared
my tray of crackers with slices of cheese on them and opened the gas oven to
light it. I smelt something funny, but didn’t give it much thought and struck a
match. Instantly there was a huge explosion and I was thrown back against the
wall. The glass of the oven shattered and my tray of crackers flew out of my
hands. I had a burning sensation on my face but otherwise seemed to be alright.
I ran to the bathroom mirror and discovered that I was minus eyebrows and
eyelashes and my face was very red. The hair on my forearms was also singed
off, but otherwise I seemed none the worse for the shock. What had happened was
that there was a gas leak in the oven and the oven was full of gas. That was
what I had smelt when I sat in front of the oven but hadn’t recognized the
aroma. When I lit the match, it ignited the gas and it exploded. Mercifully, I
had to open the glass oven door to light it and so the glass didn’t shatter in
my face. Having a face full of toughened glass wouldn’t have been any fun. My
beard saved the rest of my face and apart from feeling crinkly with the hairs
being singed, the beard was also intact. It took me some minutes to get over
the shock of having the oven explode in my face and to be thankful for having
been saved. But after that it was off to work with an interesting story to tell
my friends and have them say with great concern in their voice, ‘Man! Ayo
All the truck drivers and bulldozer and earth
moving equipment operators became my good friends and I learnt to drive their
huge machines. To drive a Caterpillar D9 dozer and literally move a mountain
gives you such a kick that I remember the feeling even now, more than thirty
years later. Men can’t move mountains, but they have invented machines that
can. Such are the marvels of technology.
I have reason to remember the D9 and its power in
a personal way as well. One day I was driving to Linden and decided to take a
short cut through one of the Linden mines. As I was driving over the sand
over-burden (this is what the soil that coves the ore is called) I suddenly
started to sink in it. I put the Land Rover into 4 wheel drive and thought I’d
get out fast enough. What happened, however, was that the vehicle simply dug
itself into the sand right up to the axels and I was well and truly stuck.
As I stood there wondering how I would get out, I
saw one of my friends in his D9, who having seen me, was driving towards me.
When he came close he shouted over the noise of the engine, “Man! Baigie!! Get
into your car and put it in neutral.” I yelled back at him in alarm, “Chinee!”
That was my friend Morris Mitchell’s nickname as thanks to large quantities of Amerindian and maybe even Chinese genes, he had the flattest face of anyone I have ever seen.
“What the hell do you think you are doing. You
ain’t pushing my car with that dozer!! It will collapse.” “Man!! Ya do wa I
tell Ya na Man!!” goes Chinee. So I got in and put the gear in neutral. Chinee
dropped the blade of the dozer while he was a dozen yards away from the back of
my car and built up a small hillock of sand between him and me. And this
hillock of sand pushed the car out. The dozer did not touch it. Ingenuity of
people who use these machines day in and day out.
The path through the forest that I mentioned
earlier was one of the most interesting nature walks that I’ve ever taken. I
would walk silently and suddenly come upon various animals and birds doing
their own thing. The hummingbird hovering on invisible wings gently probing the
center of a flower for nectar. The wings beat at such a speed that like the
blades of a fast turning fan, they become invisible. Now the path was gone,
claimed by its owner, the jungle.
One day walking down this path, I saw a boa
constrictor, a young one about eight feet long, slow and lethargic after his
meal, lying across the path basking in a rare patch of sunlight that managed to
sneak through the forest canopy. He made a halfhearted attempt at getting away
and then a fairly serious attempt at attacking me as I lifted him up and took
him home. I built a square cage of 1” thick planks nailed together with big
nails. Inside the cage I put a log of wood, which he would use to drape himself
over. He seemed to like the arrangement especially as it was partially in the
sun under which he liked to soak in the mornings. Boas eat only live prey and
so every few days I would put a small chicken into the cage. The snake would
lie as if he were dead. Totally still, so that you could not even see him
breathe. The chicken, initially ruffled about its treatment and protesting
loudly would quieten down and start scratching in the dust in the cage.
Eventually it would hop onto the log right next to the snake. Talk of bird
brains especially of farm grown broiler chickens who have never seen a snake in
their lives. Then, suddenly, viola!! Magic!! In a flash, no chicken and a large
lump in the snake.
I am very fond of animals and so I had quite a
collection in Guyana. Apart from this snake I had a young Collared Peccary (a
wild pig that lives in the Amazonian rain forests). This thing thought of me as
its mother and followed me everywhere. I did not mind that but drew the line at
him following me inside the house. So he would curl up with my boots which I
left outside the door.
I had a young Tapir, which loved cassava (sweet
potatoes) and I had a lot of trouble keeping him out of other people’s gardens,
which would have been decidedly unhealthy for him and myself. But thankfully,
Guyanese being as they are, though they loved tapir meat and hated anyone
tampering with their vegetables, knowing that this thing belonged to me, they
only yelled at it and sometimes at me. All this was done in a very friendly
way. They would say, ‘Man!! Baigie, you should be with the girls. Instead, you
walk around the forest by yourself and collect these animals. Okay, so eat the
thing man!! Or call us and we gonna cook he for you. But na!! You gotta keep he
as ya frien. You need a gyurlfrien man!! Not a tapir!!’
One day one of them asked me, “Man!! Yawar, ya
raas aint got no guyrlfrien, you ain’t married, you don’ drink, tell me why you
alive, haan??” Then he got philosophical and asked me, “A’yo Indians all like
dis man?? Then tell me how come you so many?? How you mak alladem babies man??”
Simple people with good hearts were my friends from Kwakwani.
I recalled how we used to travel from Linden on
the rickety Kwakwani bus with Joyleen Crawford as the conductor and George
Sears the driver. I remember these two very well as they used to bring the mail
from Linden for which I used to wait like a fish out of water….out of breath.
Kwakwani people never understood why I, a bachelor and a very eligible one at
that (young, nice looking, had money, a regular job, etc. etc…..) was never
interested in the Kwakwani girls. Joyleen tells me today (she mailed me one day
in 2010 having seen my address in some other mail and said, “Yawar is that
you??”) that all the girls of Kwakwani used to bet with each other to see who
would get me. None did, and I did get very lonely sometimes. Lonely and
depressed, yearning for companionship that never came through. The night
outside was dark, as I sat on the veranda gazing into the shadows of the orange
orchard, listening to the sounds of the jungle around my home. The night inside
me was darker still, strange forms and shadowy shapes in the murky depths.
Menacing and frightening and I, without the cognitive tools to deal with that.
It is when I reflect on those days that I realize how AllahY gave me the strength and support when there was
nobody else. Today I realize that His plan for me was better than my plan for
myself. I recognized my Rabb in the breaking of my dreams and learnt to trust
Him and the inner voice in my heart more than the noise of my desires in my
In those years, I learnt the meaning of rejection,
parting, and loss. I also learnt how to pick myself up from the depth of
depression and rebuild my self-esteem, not on the shaky basis of other people’s
opinions, but my own assessment and acceptance of myself. I learnt to like
myself, to forgive myself, to hold myself accountable for what happened to me,
and to stop blaming others. I learnt that it was I who was in control of my
feelings. Other people could do whatever they wanted, but that it was I who had
the authority to decide what I wanted to feel about what they did. I learnt the
freedom of saying to myself when someone did something unpleasant, “I will not
allow him or her to decide how I am going to behave or what I am going to
People may be abusive. We choose to feel hurt
because we accept what they say about us. People may reject us or treat us as
less than themselves. But it is we who decide to agree with them and feel bad.
People may feel threatened when they encounter us in work situations because we
challenge them when we demonstrate our own competence. We feel bad about their
reaction, but fail to realize that to pretend to be incompetent to please
someone else’s ego is not an option. I learnt that the key is to realize that
it is we, not they, who define us.
Nobody can MAKE us feel anything. We feel whatever
we choose to feel. People don’t like to accept this fact because with it comes
the understanding that if I am feeling bad about something, then I am the one
who is responsible for it. It is either a frightening or a freeing situation,
depending on how we choose to look at it. It is frightening if we refuse to
stop looking around trying to find someone to blame for what is happening to
us. It is freeing if we choose to realize that if we are in control then we
don’t need to feel bad if we don’t want to. Slavery is comforting and freedom
is frightening to many people, so they go around feeling bad and blaming others
for what happens to them, refusing to recognize their own role and
responsibility in it. Not willing to face the fact that this attitude only
makes matters worse, not better. Typical ‘victim’ mindset.
Another game we play with ourselves to justify
inaction and copping out, is to express the problems we face in global terms.
We talk about the problem as if it is a problem of the world. We say, “This is
the problem with people today.” Whereas the reality is, “This is my problem
today.” Let me illustrate. If I say to myself that the biggest problem for the
Third World is poverty and a lack of education. Then you ask me, “So what can
you do about it?” I feel justified in saying, “Well, I am one man. What can I
do to solve the illiteracy problem of the Third World?” But instead of this, if
I define this problem to say, “Can I educate one child other than my own?” Then
the problem is solvable. If I do this and I spread the word to others and
encourage them to pay for the education of one child, then eventually we will
see the impact of this on the global screen.
We globalize issues because the solution also
becomes global and then we feel justified in feeling helpless and in sitting
idle and taking no action to solve the problem. But if we choose to redefine
the problem in personal terms, we will find that there are solutions where we
did not think they could exist. The issue of course is that it then becomes
very uncomfortable for us to sit by and do nothing. We are forced to take
action and in that is hope for the world.
I decided in those years that I would consciously
choose the ‘Master’ mindset in every situation that life may put me in. I did
not know these terms then. I invented them more than 20 years later. But they
are grounded in the throes of personal growth and the pain of accepting my own
personal power. Strange to see how accepting that you are powerful can be
painful. But there it is!!
If we think about it, in every situation, no
matter how many things are actually not in our control, there are always things
that are in our control. At the very least, how we choose to feel about the
situation is in our control. How we choose to behave in that situation is
always in our control. To ask instead of telling, to offer instead of
demanding, to contribute instead of consuming, to stand instead of running, to
respond instead of reacting, are all in our control. What we choose to speak or
do is in our control. To choose to do nothing is also a choice and that too is
in our control. Take a simple matter like being stuck in a traffic jam. Most
people start fuming, their blood pressure rises, they start getting restive,
then irritated, and then furious because someone accidentally honked. Road rage
statistics in the US show that the maximum number of cases of verbal and
physical violence happen in traffic jams. And at the end, you are still stuck.
However, there are those who use the same situation and time to catch up on reading, some meditate, some pray, some actually start conversations, and make friends in traffic jams. All in the same situation as those who are ready to kill each other. Lesson? It is our choice whether we want to treat our situation as a problem and complain or as an opportunity that hardship provides and take advantage of it. Problems need solutions, not complaints.
I breathed a huge sigh of relief as we loaded the
last railway sleeper on the barge. The
beginning of this particular barge story goes back to when I first arrived in
Kwakwani and saw the mining operations. Bauxite mining was done by the open
cast method, which is one of the most wasteful and destructive methods known to
man. But it made economic sense and long-term effects were not on anyone’s
mind, so it went on. The sequence of operating an open cast mine is as follows.
First the prospecting team identifies where the bauxite ore deposits are. They
do this by drilling holes on a grid pattern, and send back soil samples
sometimes from several hundred feet underground for analysis. This enables the
geologists to create a map of the underground ore deposits. The prospecting
team stays deep in the rain forests away from habitation for several weeks at a
time. Food and supplies would be trucked in to them by Land Rover. Loneliness
was a major issue and alcoholism its outcome. The prospecting teams welcomed
visitors and I would often spend a weekend with them. One day when I was with
one of the teams in the forest, one of the Amerindian drillers came to me
looking very agitated and said, “Man Baigie, I want a week’s leave.” I knew he
had no leave to his credit and told him that he could not take leave. He begged
and pleaded, “Man!! A bin out ‘ere in the jungle too long man. I miss the
ol’lady baad man. You raas na married, wa ya know about all dem ting!” I was
not getting into a discussion about the need for female company so I stuck to
my guns and told him that he had no leave to his credit and so he could not go.
Eventually he became such a pest that I said to him emphatically, “Leon, I told
you, you cyan go.” That got to him. He pulled himself up to his full height of
5 foot nothing and said to me, “Man Baigie, you cyan tell me I cyan go! You can
tell me I cyan come back. But you cyan tell me I cyan go!!” I was so amused at
this obviously logical explanation that I burst out laughing and said to him,
“Alright off with you for three days. I will look the other way. Unofficial
The Amerindians were simple people who lived from
day to day without a thought for the future. They worked when they were hungry
and relaxed when their belly was full. Alcohol was the bane of their lives, but
they were oblivious to that. Once an area had been mapped and it had been
decided to start mining, the forest would be cleared in preparation for the
mining operations. This was done by simply sending in Caterpillar D9 bulldozers
(each the size of a small house) which would push over all the trees into one
big pile which would then be burnt. Sometimes these fires would burn for
months. Then the dozers would clear the overburden, which was mostly sand,
until they reached the hard pan. Then the Dragline Excavator would come in and
start digging. The Dragline Excavator is such a huge machine that it has no
wheels or tracks but actually ‘walks’ on huge feet. It is an amazing sight to
see a Dragline Excavator moving. Eventually a colossal pit would be created
with the Dragline Excavator sitting in the middle of it, deep below the level
of the surrounding forest, like some pre-historic dinosaur working round the
clock digging out the ore. The Dragline Excavator would load the ore into huge
Caterpillar trucks with a payload of 50 tons each which would cart it away to
the crusher. The crusher would crush the ore into a uniform consistency and
load it onto barges that a tug boat would then push down the Berbice River to
New Amsterdam where it would be further processed. It would then be loaded onto
ships to be taken away to Canada and the US for smelting and extracting
I often tried to imagine what the whole operation
would look like to someone from another planet flying overhead. They’d see a
huge hole at one end, a living creature with a long neck and a wide jaw with
massive teeth, which continuously bit large chunks of the earth and spit them
into waiting trucks. Once the truck has its payload it drives up out of the
hole up the carefully graded road often circling the pit a couple of times as
the road climbs out of the depths of the earth. A hairy operation in itself as
the road had no safety barriers (not that any barrier would hold a fifty-ton
truck) and the pit yawned on one side of it. It is a tribute to the skills of
the drivers that in the five years that I lived in Guyana there was not a single
major accident. When the truck comes out over the lip, it drives swiftly
through the forest and eventually dumps its load at the ore dump near the
crusher. Then back to the pit. At the ore dump are the Front-end Loaders; huge
machines on wheels with a toothed bucket in the front. This scoops the ore from
the pile into its bucket, turns around and trundles along a few meters and
dumps it into the hoppers of the crusher. Then it would spin in its track and
back to the ore dump for its next load. In the middle of all this would be
another machine that resembles a large beetle called a Scraper. That is what it
does. It scrapes off the top soil (called overburden) into a hopper that is in
its belly and then it takes it and dumps it away from the main pit.
Then there is the Grader that ensures that the
road remains clear, level, and smooth so that the trucks can run without
interruption. It is amazing how many of these machines resembled insects. This
process would go on, day and night, continuously. As I mentioned, open cast
mining is perhaps the most destructive operation on earth. In Guyana in those
days there was not even an attempt at rehabilitating the land, so when a pit
had been mined out, it would simply be abandoned. If you drove around you would
come across many such mined out pits filled with the clearest, bluest water you
ever saw. This was the result of the minerals in the water, one of the effects
of which was that nothing lived in the water. The water was good to swim in and
we did that often. The pits were very deep so it was not totally safe to swim
in them, but when you are twenty-some years old and there are others swimming
with you, you don’t think about safety. Not the wisest thing to do, but I lived
to tell the tale.
When I checked, I found that just as I had
suspected these forests had good hardwood trees. Good for making furniture and
construction material, but nobody had the time to do anything about that and so
they simply burnt them to clear the land to get to the ore. What this burning
did to the environment is a different story and to tell you the truth, I was as
unaware in those days about environmental issues as most other people. What was
obviously clear though, was that a lot of otherwise useful timber was being
wasted simply because nobody was interested in doing anything about it. The
core operation of the company was mining and that was all that any of the
managers were interested in. I made a proposal to the company that we setup a
sawmill operation, which would be able to utilize this forest resource and be a
self-sufficient, profit making business.
The management agreed and this sawmill operation
was given to me to run in addition to my regular job as Assistant
Administrative Manager. My boss, Mr. James Nicholas Adams (Nick Adams) was a
remarkable man who was also my mentor and guide. Although he was technically in
charge of the whole operation, he let me run it the way I wanted and that was a
tremendous learning opportunity for me. Nick had a unique way of teaching by
delegating responsibility and then periodically calling me to do a
participative analysis of my own performance. He would then reinforce the
strengths and achievements and encourage me to draw lessons from my mistakes. I
remember my first ever appraisal in 1980. Nick gave me the form and told me to
fill it in myself. I was shocked because I thought appraising was something
that the boss did for you. But Nick’s point was, ‘You know what you did better
than I did. So, write it up.’ I returned with what I thought were my
achievements and then Nick and I had a long chat about them. Thanks to my
Indian cultural upbringing, Nick ended up adding several things that I had left
out feeling that they didn’t really count. I still have that form with Nick’s
signature on it, 33 years later.
One of my major learnings was that responsibility,
variety, challenge, and satisfaction in a job were largely in your hands if you
used your head and could influence people. I was not the only person who saw
the way the forest was treated or who saw that it could become an independent
source of income. I was the only one who translated these thoughts into a
workable business model. The result was that it was added to my responsibility
and I now had an official reason to spend time in the forest. I recruited my
good friend Peter Ramsingh to be the head of this operation and Peter and I
spent the next five years doing what we loved to do anyway – wander in the rain
forest at will. I recruited Amerindian workers, who knew the rain forest of the
Berbice River valley like the backs of their hands, for the sawmill operation.
These people lived a nomadic life in the forests in semi-permanent camps. They
would clear a small area of the forest and grow a few vegetables, and hunt
deer, collared peccary, capybara, and agouti that came to feed on this new
bounty in the forest. They knew the location of each Greenheart, Wamara, and
other hardwood trees in the forest, which they came across in their wanderings.
Ideal people to do the scouting operations that we needed to locate the trees
we needed for the mill. Once they had located the trees, the extracting team
would go and haul in the trees.
Peter Ramsingh was a man of enormous energy,
enterprise, and initiative. Peter got along well with his people and became the
ideal manager of the mill. Peter and I would spend hours in the forests,
accompanying the scouts in their explorations, not because they needed our help
but because we both loved being in the rain forest. Peter’s wife Chandra would
send me things she cooked and would pack us lunch when we took off on our
jaunts. Chandra was Nick Adam’s secretary and a wonderful, patient lady with a
big smile always on her face. To this day, 30 years later, I can still recall
the smell of the vegetation in the dim recesses of the Berbice River forests,
so thick in places that the sun did not penetrate to the forest floor. It was
with great distress that I learnt in 2009 that Peter Ramsingh had died of
congestive heart failure in 2001. One more, dear friend gone forever. Feeling
the pain of parting is the price of friendship. Peter was a truly dear friend
whose memory I honor and will remember every time I think of Guyana.
Once the sawmill had been set up, we went order
hunting and the first big order we received was from the mining railway for
sleepers as they were renovating their tracks in two locations. We were very
excited as this would make our sawmill profitable and prove the point on which
I had projected the whole plan. The only hitch was that the sleepers had to be
sawn and shipped out of the ‘backdam’ (Creolese for forest) to the waterfront
loading point by a particular date, for the barge which would take them to New
Amsterdam. All major material came to Kwakwani by river boat which took back
bauxite ore on the return trip downriver. There was much excitement and lots of
long hours of work in felling the trees from their different locations,
dragging them to the mill and then sawing them into railway sleepers. Once the
sleeper had been sawn it had to have two 8-shaped irons hammered into either
end to prevent splitting. Since we were extracting individual trees of a
particular species from the rain forest, (as distinct from plantation felling)
we had to find the particular tree, fell it, and extract it. The machine used
was called a Skidder, also made by Caterpillar.
The Skidder was a very versatile machine with a
dozer blade on the front end and a large crab-hook at the end with a steel rope
and winch. Once the tree had been felled, the Skidder operator would drive up
to it, in the process making its own track, hook the tree, loop the steel cable
around it and winch it up to the platform on the rear end. Then the machine
would drag it to the mill. Very efficient and fast but also very wasteful as
the machine left huge swathes of crushed vegetation in its wake.
The difference between mechanical and ‘biological’
extraction became even more starkly clear to me when, several years later in
the Anamallais (Tamilnadu, South India), I went to see some timber extraction
operations being done by the Indian Forest Service, using trained elephants.
The way the animals and their mahawats worked with an almost telepathic bond,
was amazing to say the least. And the economy with which individual trees were
extracted was simply delightful to see.
To come back to our story, we had all the railway
sleepers ready and stockpiled at the waterfront in time when the barge arrived.
Now to the tricky part – twenty-four thousand sleepers had to be loaded onto
the barge in 24 hours when it was due to leave. Our innovative solution – work
straight through. And that is what we did. I mean the ‘we’ literally as I
loaded the sleepers, physically, with the loaders. We would take breaks every
two hours, eat bread and cheese and drink large mugs of sweet, milky, tea and
then get back to work.
West Indians being as they are, someone started a
very ribald chant in a catchy tune that others took up and that was the beat we
worked to. Hours flew by, night fell and our willing electrician rigged up some
make shift lights so we could continue to work. And we worked. Come sunrise,
the last sleeper had been loaded. We were all dog tired with aching backs and
bruised hands, but not much the worse for wear. I was young and tough in those
days. We headed off to our homes for a hot bath and eight hours of sleep
What was remarkable about this story was that in
the highly unionized environment of the Guyanese bauxite industry, there was
not a single cry from the union about making people work beyond hours or for
overtime wages or anything at all. Later one of the union stewards told me,
“Maan Baigie! Your raas make aa-we shut up maan. You was dey with de bais
loading sleepers and eating wat dey was eating. Wa cud we say maan?? Your raas
smart!!” Which, translated reads: You made us shut up. You were there with the
boys loading the sleepers with them and eating what they ate. What could we
say? You are smart.”
Now the big secret is that I did not do that because
I was applying strategy, but because that is how I work. I never asked anyone
to do what I would not do myself and as it happened, it is also good leadership
strategy. Leading from the front. Demonstrate the standard, not merely talk
However, this strategy did not always work in
Guyana. I remember my friend, Rev. Thurston Riehl. Father Riehl told me this
story about the time when leading from the front didn’t work. He was an
Anglican priest, Vicar of Christchurch, in Georgetown. The interesting thing
was that Father Riehl had a parish that extended into and up the Berbice River
for more than a hundred miles. He had a motor boat in which he used to go up
and down the river, often alone with only the sound of the outboard motor for
company. He was an accomplished naturalist and had a wealth of information
about the rain forest and its flora and fauna. When he learned that I was
interested in the same things, he and I would spend many hours walking in the
rain forest where he pointed out various things to me. He once told me, “When
God finished creating Hell, he threw all the leftovers in the Amazonian rain
forest.” This referred to the many
charming creatures that live in these parts. From tarantula spiders, to sting
rays, electric eels, piranhas, vampire bats, boa constrictors, anacondas,
bushmaster, black and green mamba, boomslang and an amazing variety of
Of course, the forest has its share of beautiful
creatures as well; scarlet and purple macaws, toucans, parakeets and parrots of
many types, Sakiwinki monkeys (also called Squirrel monkeys – very small with
large eyes), flying squirrels, hummingbirds the size of moths which beat their
wings at a thousand rpm, sun birds whose fluorescent plumage shines in the
gloom of the rain forest. Forest sounds that I used to look forward to were the
booming call of the Howler monkeys echoing in the early morning mist, the
raucous calls of macaw pairs who mate for life, flying to unknown destinations,
talking to each other in flight.
I was (and have always been) very fond of animals
and had all kinds of unusual pets. In Guyana, I had the opportunity to indulge
myself because I lived in the middle of the rain forest and there were no
restrictions on what I could and couldn’t own. If I could catch it, feed it and
keep from being eaten or bitten, I could keep it. I had a boa constrictor (12
feet half grown), a Toucan, a free flying Scarlet Macaw, a Tapir, and a
Sakiwinki (Spider) monkey as pets. I also had a large number of hens, Muscovey
ducks, and turkeys, which were pets until they got converted to food. The ducks
were not very good to eat, too tough and also hard to catch as they were feral
and free flying. But the turkeys and chickens regularly added to the larder.
Female turkeys are obsessive incubators of eggs. They will sit on anything
spherical. I once found a turkey that was trying to hatch an electric light
bulb which to its intense disgust refused to oblige. On another occasion, I was
searching for a missing turkey after a rainstorm and eventually found it
sitting in a hollow in the ground that had filled up with water and covered the
turkey and its eggs. The crazy bird still refused to leave its nest and was
sitting on the eggs with just her head above the water. Such were the incidents
of my life…small pleasures that added value, conversation, and fun.
Berbice was a very poor region with most people
farming in the forest. This consisted mainly of slash and burn agriculture
where people would grow cassava, yams, bananas, peppers, and pineapples. It’s
called slash and burn because that is exactly what the aspiring farmer does. He
slashes a piece of forest, leaves the chopped trees and bushes to dry for a few
days and then sets them on fire. This fire burns for a few days and leaves
behind rich potash with acts like fertilizer. The farmer then plants his crop
in the cleared area and gets a bumper crop from the forest soil rich in humus
and ash from the burnt trees. However, that is only for a couple of rounds by
when the rain leaches out the nutrients and the soil goes to it original sandy
state. Then the farmer moves on to a new patch to repeat his cycle. This is how
the rain forest gets inexorably destroyed, patch by patch.
In the Guyana of the 70’s, ideology (communism)
ruled everything – including what you could grow, sell, or eat. Potatoes were
considered signs of the colonial masters (they were called Irish Potatoes –
even though they had been brought to Ireland from South America) and were
therefore illegal to grow. Some farmers in the bush would still grow them
clandestinely. I remember we would sometimes get a gift of 2-3 potatoes, which
someone had either managed to grow or smuggled in from Suriname. The lesson
that value is in the eyes of the perceiver was something I learnt early in
One of the things Father Riehl wanted to do was to
teach his parishioners some skill by which they could make some more money and
improve their standard of life. As there was a ready market both for eggs as
well as poultry and Guyana is a high rainfall area, he thought that duck
farming would be a viable idea. The only issue was the need for some kind of
reservoir of water without which the ducks wouldn’t lay eggs. His parishioners
lived on the River Berbice but the main river with piranhas and alligators was
not the best place to farm ducks. So the potential duck farmer would need a
reservoir that was safe for his ducks. When Father Riehl mentioned this idea to
his parishioners, they typically said, “O! But father, we cyan do nothin! Whay
awe gonna ged da tank?” I can still recall the lovely sing-song tone of voice
these people of Berbice spoke in. Father Riehl thought that he would teach them
some lessons of self-help by example. He got himself a spade and a pickaxe and
marked out a large roughly circular area and started digging.
He said to me, “Every morning I would start
digging and people would stand around and watch in friendly silence. They would
make appreciative noises and comment to each other, ‘Father Riehl, he wok so
hard!’ They would bring me water to drink and would offer me lunch and dinner.
Nobody more hospitable than Guyanese and out of them, my favorites, the people
of Berbice. I lived among them as one of them and so all Berbice people were
family. The whole day would pass and in the evening when the work stopped they
would make a lot of appreciative remarks about how hard I had worked and the
tremendous progress of the hole in the ground. Then came the day when it was
finished and we let water into the pit.
It filled up nicely and all that remained was to get some ducks. But I
wanted to be sure that they would take this on and replicate this work, now
that they had seen how easy it was. But when I asked them, they said, ‘O!
Father, but we cyan do dis.’ I was flabbergasted. In shocked surprise I asked
them, ‘But you saw me do this. So you see that it is something that you can
also do. So what is the problem?’ They said, ‘O! Father, but you’z differen!!’
Guyana was ‘differen’ in many ways. Amazonian rain forest, exotic wildlife and birds, people who were very friendly, and whose life was as untouched by the rest of the world as is possible to be.
Timehri Airport, Georgetown, Guyana, South
America; a long way from home in Hyderabad, India. My first independent job, my
first foreign country. January, 1979
The plane circled to land at Georgetown, Guyana.
It was an old Boeing 707, which had seen a lot of service and belonged to the
venerable BWIA (British West Indian Airlines also known as ‘But Will It
Arrive’). By today’s (2019) standards, it was a very primitive plane. The seats
were rather cramped, but when you are with a plane load of people from the
Caribbean you forget everything. Not too many places in the world will you find
people who have so little and yet are so content. And so willing to share it
with others. It seems that generosity of the spirit is inversely proportional
to the amount of wealth a person has. The poorer they are, the more generous
and willing to share.
As the plane made its final descent, I looked out
of the window and saw lots of lush green vegetation and the sea the waves
lapping over an absolute flat and featureless black beach. I knew I was looking
at the famous mud flats, mud that was reasonably firm when the tide was out but
as the tide started to come in, the water would make the mud particles more and
more mobile. This made the whole thing extremely treacherous and if anyone was
unfortunate enough to be out on the mud flats at this time, they would simply
sink in the mud to their death. That is why there was nobody on the ‘beach’ in
Guyana immigration was a long, never-ending line.
Once I was through immigration I waited endlessly for my luggage. My two bags
contained the sum total of my worldly possessions and it appeared that both had
been lost. It was not a very auspicious beginning to arrive in a foreign land
with literally nothing more than the shirt on my back. But that was how I
arrived in Guyana.
I was met by a very pleasant gentleman with a huge
smile, which I realized is a typically Guyanese trademark. His name was Neville
and he was the driver that my father had sent to get me. The first item on the
agenda was to get some clothes, so we went to the main street in Georgetown, to
the only department store there called Guyana Stores. Even though I came from
India, which was a poor country, I noticed that the shelves of Guyana Stores
were rather bare. There was not much concern for packaging or display. Fans
stirred the still and humid air while a radio belted out some Reggae music. I
bought a couple of dishikis (a lovely West Indian shirt in colorful prints) and
some toiletries and we were ready for the journey to Linden, where my parents
lived and where the headquarters of the Guyana Mining Enterprise (GUYMINE), the
state owned, bauxite-mining company, was located.
My father had come to Guyana a few months earlier
to work as the doctor in the hospital of GUYMINE, one of the two major
employers in the country. GUYMINE (formerly Linmine) was owned by Alcan of
Canada and when they owned it, it was named Demba. Demba was nationalized by
the PNC Government in 1971 and like in the case of many good socialist
governments, people were given managerial positions based more on their
political leanings than on their managerial ability. The results were
predictable and rapid.
Neville drove his Land Rover like there was no
tomorrow and as we raced on a single track road with almost no traffic, I was
struck by how much the Guyanese countryside was like South India. Thick lush
green vegetation everywhere. Some trees I recognized – Jack fruit, tapioca
(cassava), yams, bananas in plenty, some coconut, and lots of lush green grass;
the Bread fruit tree was new for me. The soil was very sandy. And the water in
several streams and in the Demerara River to which we eventually came, was a
dark coffee color.
Neville did a running Guyana-101 with me as he
drove. He told me that the water was perfectly clean and good to drink but that
the color was due to various dyes that leached into the water from the roots of
trees on the river bank. He also told me not to jump into any river to swim
because most of them had Piranha and also because some are tidal and have some
treacherous currents. When I told him that I was fond of fishing he told me to
be careful when wading across streams as in the sandy beds sometimes would lie
concealed a kind of fish called a Sting Ray, which has a poisonous sting in the
tail. And under the overhanging banks would sometimes be concealed Electric
Eels which could give a shock strong enough to stun you unconscious. I realized
that there was much to be learnt about South America and tropical rain forests
and what lived there.
After a couple of weeks into what was supposed to
be a holiday, the routine was getting a bit mundane. I heard about a job
opening in a mining town, two-hundred miles inland in the middle of the
Amazonian rain forest on the bank of Rio Berbice, called Kwakwani. I applied
and to my great delight was immediately selected. Two days later I was in
Kwakwani. My delight at having done well in the interview was a bit short lived
when I realized a few days later that I had been the only applicant – nobody
wanted to go there. Neville and I drove the 60 miles from Linden to the bank of
the Berbice River. The road was cut through the rain forest with thick forest
on either side such that you could only see a few feet into the forest. The road
itself was not paved and its condition would vary between bad and worse
depending on how much rain fell and how busy the graders were in the mines.
When they had some free time, they would send a grader or two to do the road
work and the road would stay fairly smooth for a few weeks. Then it would go
back to its roller-coaster state until the next encounter with the graders. I
was to get to know that road very well in the five years that I lived in Guyana
and actually held the record for the fastest time on it – sixty miles in sixty
minutes – in my beat up old Land Rover. The road literally ended on the bank of
Rio Berbice such that if you were not alert and were driving too fast, you
could actually come racing out of the forest around the last bent (nothing to
tell you that it was the last bend and any different from the million other
bends just like it) and land straight in the river which was about half a
kilometer wide and perhaps 50 feet deep at that point. Not a happy thought at
When you reached the river bank, you flashed your
lights and hooted your horn until someone at the waterfront diagonally across
on the opposite bank where the bauxite crusher and loading platform was
located, heard you and sent a barge to get you. There was no bridge on the
Berbice River and so you had to drive onto a barge and be floated across to the
other side. The water of the Berbice was also coffee colored, but it was good
to drink. I got out of the car in which Neville and I had driven here and went
to the edge of the river and dipped a few handfuls of water to wash my face and
to taste it.
Neville saw me doing this and said, ‘Comrade Baig,
not sure if you know what a Piranha is, but all our rivers have them in plenty.
They really love your fingers, if you know what I mean.’ I promptly pulled my
hand out and counted my fingers.
As I stood on the bank of the river, I was struck
by the silence of the forest. Not silence as in lack of sound, for there were
many sounds, but silence as in no human sound. I could hear Macaws talking to
each other as they headed home. They pair for life and have great conversations
exceeded only perhaps by Canadian Geese who also pair for life. Lesson:
conversation is essential to a good marriage. Forests breathe and speak and are
visibly and audibly alive. Even if you don’t know their language – and it
differs from place to place – you can still hear them. Then there are the
smells. The smell of the first rain after the dry season. The smell of the
markings on trees of territorial creatures which are meant to warn away
potential threats. The smell of vegetation, growing or decomposing. When you
sit quietly in a forest and let it talk to you, it does. Gently and gradually.
Naturally, it takes a little while because first your ears have to stop buzzing
with the residue of our own noisy, raucous sounds of so-called civilization.
They try to drown out everything that the forest is trying to tell you. But if
you are patient and give it some time, then gradually the buzzing fades away
and you start to hear the breeze rustling in the leaves. You hear water
dropping from the top levels onto the canopy below. You hear the occasional
ripe fruit or dry branch fall to the floor, to become either food or manure.
You learn to tell the difference between a sound made by a living creature –
which may be potentially dangerous or useful – and the sound of something that
is not a living creature. All this and more will happen if you give it some
time, are observant, and are willing to learn. As I looked at the South
American Amazonian rain forest for the first time, there were many sounds in
that forest which I did not recognize at the time but knew later to be those of
Howler Monkeys, Toucans and Amazonian Parakeets. I was thrilled to be there.
There was nowhere else that I would rather be.
Speaking of off road speed records, I was in
Linden very late one night. There was a dinner party at a friend’s house that
went on till midnight. I had driven to Linden from Kwakwani after work and
had arrived by about 7.00 pm. The party was what all such parties are like
– full of laughter, noise, and camaraderie. I had a lot of friends there and so
couldn’t leave as soon as I would have liked to. Also, they don’t serve dinner
until very late to give people a chance to have a spiritual experience first.
By the time I could leave, I was very tired and sleepy. Sensibly, I should have
stayed overnight at the Guymine Linden Guesthouse or with some friend, but I
decided to drive through.
I was driving a Land Rover Defender, which was at
least 15 years old – a light blue color with a rear door that would swing open
every time I went into a pothole at high speed, a fairly common occurrence on a
dirt road. I had developed a technique of simply swinging the steering wheel to
the right and bringing it back to the left and the door would slam shut. That
way I didn’t have to stop to shut the door.
Once I was out of
Linden and entered the Kwakwani Trail as we called it, I floored the
accelerator and held the truck to a steady 60 miles per hour. On a dirt road,
that is fast. The Kwakwani Trail wound its way through the rain forest without
the benefit of a single street light or any form of illumination for its entire
length up to the Berbice River. During the day, you would pass perhaps two or three
cars on this entire journey. At night and especially at the time that I was on
it that night, there was nobody at all. It was as if I was the only human being
The forest all around
was dark and silent. The road was illuminated as far as my headlights reached
and then it was dark. The Land Rover knew the road and drove itself taking the
turns and climbs and slopes from memory. Alright! Land Rovers are not that smart
– it was me. And on we went, the engine a steady roar deepening as we started
up a hill and singing a high pitched whine as we descended the other side.
Suddenly, there was a
huge crash. The Land Rover rose in the air and slammed down off the road on the
sand verge and the engine stalled. I hit my head on the steering wheel and got
a nasty bump but seemed none the worse for it. The headlights had gone off and
there was an eerie silence. All I could hear was the pinging of the cooling
engine. I realized then what had happened. I had fallen asleep at the wheel,
doing sixty miles an hour. As I say, Allah saves fools from themselves and I am
a living proof of that. The truck hit the side of the road, which at that place
was a huge sandbank, went over it and came down on the other side in the loose
white sand of the savanna. If this accident had happened a mile earlier, I
would have driven straight into one of the huge forest giants and wrapped
myself and the truck around its trunk. If it had happened a mile later, I would
have gone off the side of the road into a ravine which the road went along for
quite a few miles from that point on. As it was, I was intact and the car
appeared to be so as well.
There was no point in trying to take the truck out of the sand or to try to drive and risk a worse accident. I decided that the wisest thing to do at that point would be to simply go to sleep in the truck and so locking the doors, that is what I did. I fell asleep almost immediately. When I woke up it was just beginning to get light. I started the engine and it started immediately. I put it into four wheel drive and reversed over the road side barrier and then took off for Kwakwani in the rapidly brightening dawn. As the sun rose, I rounded the last bend and took the slope of the Trail going down to the river, thankful for having lived to tell the tale of this rather hairy drive.