2015  Essay Winner

Guyana, Through My Eyes

by Omari Joseph

My Guyana is 83,000 square miles of specially designed adventure. Whether you wish to passively enjoy scenery or actively engage with our culture and nature, we have something for you.

A visitor from the north perhaps will have the most dramatic introduction to my land. As he soars among the clouds he if he is observant enough will notice when the blue sky is no lingered mirrored by the blue Caribbean Sea, he will notice when that aquamarine gives way to the fertile mahogany of the Atlantic ocean.

Not long after he will see life affirming green. Now everyone may know their primary colours and be able to recognise green on a colour palette but I assure you that you’ve never seen green until you’ve seen my green land of Guyana. For fifteen minutes you, my northern visitor are treated to the vision that is our rainforest, verdant green intersected by several of our trailing rivers which together have given us the name land of many waters.

But when you land you are not in the forest. Your first steps in my country, if you enter via plane, will be in Demerara. The smallest yet most populous of our counties is a woman so accustomed to work she knows not how to rest. In her bosom lies our capital city of Georgetown a strip on a colour palette.

Guyana is a country of colours; many hued, multifaceted and unclassifiable colours, all of which fulfil the promise of creation. In Guyana we create. We create food, we create life, and we create an adventure. Our primary colours are not quite named red, blue and yellow, but rather the three green counties are named after the three main rivers (Demerara, Berbice, and Essequibo).

Our busy lady Demerara is the urban swatch on the palette. Sandwiched between the two larger counties, she is cramped for space but still serves as the heart of the nation and the centre of attention. Each day hundreds flow in and out of her streets like blood through the chambers of a heart. The business conducted within her domain oxygenates the rest of the country daily.

Her right hand, Georgetown, is a relic of the colonial times era. Within its sprawling boundaries evidence of our colonial ancestry remain in the Victorian architecture, tree-lined avenues, and renowned buildings like St. Georges Cathedral and Stabroek market. Yet almost in the centre of theses obvious attempts at civilisation Demerara show she is not completely tamed. The nearly two hundred acres of the Botanical Gardens, houses some one hundred and eighty-nine bird species.

Georgetown may not be the city that never sleeps, but while it is awake it certainly is a hive of activity. The people who call the capital home are the cheerful spirit that fills the city. Here lifestyles are forever in motion with very little room for rest. The people are bathed in sunlight, blown by the north wind and have taken up root like the crops which are grown on the coast.

The sugarcane fields are like green frills on the outskirts of the city, providing a smooth transition to the villages as you take a drive along the highway right next to the seawalls. Through the window on the eastbound drive away from town, I see houses becoming scarcer and the trees becoming thicker. The transition leads to the end of Demerara and the banks of the Abary River.

You can’t quite jump over the Abary River, but once you drive over you would have taken a jump back in time to the ‘Ancient County’ of Berbice. If Demerara is our worker bee, then Berbice is our genteel lady capable of running a sprawling plantation but preferring to sit on her veranda and sip a refreshing cup of mauby.

Any day is good enough for a throwback in the county renowned for its antiquity. The county’s long history is primarily influenced by the Dutch, who left behind their architecture. This is embodied in Fort Nassau, found up the Berbice River. There are also colonial buildings like the Mission Chapel building in New Amsterdam.

Berbice is home to the locally famous #63 Beach, as well as Port Mourant, which in itself was home to many prominent Guyanese such as the late Dr. Cheddi Jagan. Berbice also features Blairmont estate, which has retained its original layout, despite progress. A trip up the Canje River will provide another amazing birding experience and offer the opportunity to see the Canje Pheasant, Guyana’s national bird.

Life in Berbice, which is the only county with three towns, retains the town lifestyle with a strong influence of laid back country living. This makes Berbice a ‘pseudo-rural’ experience, the second primary colour on the palette that is Guyana.

Unlike the other counties, Essequibo offers variety that does not pale in comparison to its size. She is our untamed beauty. The only major townships are Lethem to the South and Anna Regina to the North. It is truly the embodiment of rural life. In Essequibo time seems to slowly fade eventually becoming irrelevant once you step into the interior of the county. In places like the Rupununi Savannah the only thing that matters is peace, sunsets and sunrises.

Within the vast expanse of the Essequibo, I see natural wonders which make Guyana that much more memorable. Mount Roraima stands as the tallest peak in the nation. Kaieteur Falls is the largest single drop waterfall in the world. The Iwokrama Forest Reserve is a treasure trove of must-see birds and wildlife. It is the best county to spot the elusive Jaguar. It is also the best county to witness the indigenous people and their culture. All these headline worthy qualities make Essequibo the third and most vibrant county on the palette of Guyana’s landmass.

Many people have travelled the world and seen its many treasures. They may have even seen the Seven Wonders of the World. Though I have not seen as much as they have, it is clear to me that anyone seeking warmth, nature or an experience to treasure for a lifetime has to cut some time out of their schedule to come see Guyana, the land of many waters.



2014  Essay Winner

Guyana, South America Undiscovered

by Omari Joseph

Take a few minutes away from the “hustle and bustle” of everyday life; just a moment to think of an unforgettable holiday. Imagine yourself cruising through Guyana specifically Georgetown, the capital city, absorbing the attractive combination of colonial and contemporary architecture. When you grow tired of the perplexity of the city, take a drive in either direction along the two hundred and seventy (270) mile long coast; relish the beaches, ocean and rice fields of the peaceful countryside which are but the beginning of the adventure. Perhaps you crave a more compelling landscape; if so take flight into the interior and watch the land gradually abandon all signs of civilisation until it embraces the untameable forest teeming with countless varieties of flora and fauna. After you clear the fringes of the forest and reach the south-west regions you’ll witness the sprawling beauty of the interior savannahs surrounded by the breathtaking peaks of the Kanuku Mountains. Where could all this be? Where can one find both beaches, pristine forest and widely diverse natural formations? This must be one of the Caribbean islands. Of course not! You’ll unearth enough beauty to satisfy the heart and eyes in “Guyana, South America Undiscovered.”

Guyana (as Guyanese would pronounce it gai-AH-nuh) is a relatively small republic in South America commonly confused with its far removed African cousin, Ghana, on postage letters, barrels and other international shipments while being generally overshadowed by the success and drama of its neighbours. To the west there is Venezuela who has long been under the prying eyes of the world for its regular success in international beauty pageants and continuous political drama. To the east you’ll find Suriname, a country with a unique combination of Dutch influence and cultural diversity. Southward lies the world renowned Brazil, the land that always lands itself in the sports headlines and gets all the tourists flocking to see Christ the Redeemer and Rio’s famous beaches. Don’t be overwhelmed by the traits and accolades of Guyana’s neighbours; Guyana is very special to tourists because it has all the qualities of its neighbours though they are often hidden behind the veil of its neighbours sparkle.

The dictionary defines special as different from what is normal or unusual in a good way. Guyana certainly fits the bill for the criteria to be special. You ask what makes it unlike the simply an endless kaleidoscope of cultural diversity, enamouring natural beauty and a combination of bold and subtle adaptations of external culture.

Encased in Guyana’s minute population are many ethnic identities. Guyana is comprised of persons of African, Amerindian, Chinese, East-Indian, European, Portuguese and Mixed ethnic backgrounds. Each ethnic group has an established community and identity in Guyanese culture. This exclusive blend, which is found in very few countries, creates the cultural mosaic that is Guyana. This mosaic is the perfect backdrop for something found in very few other places; a seeming assimilation of unique cultures into one people yet with each culture maintaining its distinctive identity. In Guyana our varying ethnicities ‘mingle but do not mix’. Cuisine is the perfect example for such a concept. One may go somewhere in Guyana and eat Curry, an Indian dish, but this curry can never be found in India. This curry is a Guyanese curry, a Guyanese Indian curry seasoned with spices and prepared using methods that have never graced that subcontinent. The curry may have a laba instead of chicken a decidedly Amerindian addition and it definitely will be seasoned with our own meri weri pepper and perhaps a touch of the Chinese or African. Each different culture would incorporate its own combination of spices, or method of preparation or both. This results in a dish with strikingly diverse tastes and sensations, quite like the culture which birthed it.

Quite a few tourists are likely to stumble across a dish as common as curry; after all, curry is found on every continent. However, Guyana offers something as common as curry as well as less common foods indigenous to its people. Such examples would include metemgee, a mixture of assorted meat, salt fish, and large dumplings (called “duff”) with coconut milk, cassava, yam, plantains, okra, onions, thyme, and hot pepper sauce. Another example would be Guyanese pepperpot; traditionally a Christmas dish derived from the Amerindians made with meat (beef, pork or mutton), flavoured with cinnamon, casareep and Caribbean hot peppers. Dishes such as these would provide a flavourful and exotic experience for the palates of tourists. But one can’t have a pepperpot or any other meal without a cold drink to wash it down. Have no fear, because a tourist will never run out of refreshing options. If you like something intoxicating you can try the commercial brews which include, the world famous El Dorado rum or some Banks beer. There are some local alternatives to the alcoholic beverages which include pineapple wine, jamun wine and cherry wine. For those who can’t drink alcohol the options are even more extensive. Many locally grown fruits are used to make juices. There are also drinks brewed from other sources; the most famous are mauby (made by brewing mauby bark with other spices) ginger beer and sorrel (made by brewing the calyx of the sorrel plant). After sampling the fare available in Guyana one recognises that the palate is only one swatch on the palette of experiences available for tourists in Guyana.

There aren’t many things more colourful than Guyanese cuisine, but if you want to find something more colourful you don’t have to leave Guyana just yet. Guyana affords tourists the opportunity of witnessing nature in a country with one of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world. Guyana boasts over eight thousand (8,000) documented species of plants and over three thousand (3,000) species of animals. This provides ample intrigue for all types of nature loving tourists ranging from, botanists, bird watchers, sport fishermen or just your average person hoping for a memorable eco-adventure. Tourists always marvel at the many rare and exotic animal and plant species found in Guyana. There is something for every tourist in Guyana’s ecosystem. The Canje Pheasant or hoatzin our national bird will delight the birdwatcher. The extraordinary plumage of the Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock will please the eyes of all who are lucky enough to catch a glimpse. The mighty arapaima dwarfs many a man with its great length. The spectacled caiman, giant river otter, tropical rattlesnake and giant anteater all impress those who get the chance to see them; not to forget the capybara which may scare off those who are touchy when it comes to rodents.
Guyana’s natural beauty extends beyond flora and fauna. The mighty Kaieteur Falls and elegant Orinduik Falls often visited by tourists are perfect examples of non biological beauty. The prominent peaks of the Pakaraima and Kanuku Mountain Ranges, a thrill seeker’s paradise, are epitomized by Mount Roraima, the highest peak in Guyana. Guyana’s biodiversity and largely untouched natural ecosystem make it a very unusual place for tourists. This is unusual in a good way and definitely makes Guyana very special to tourists.

Not interested in eco-tourism; not enamoured with the opportunities to enjoy appetizing cuisine and natural charm then join us as we celebrate. During every festival, massive music systems mounted on trucks roll through the street charging the atmosphere with rhythmic vibrations. Tons of tireless revellers flood the streets to celebrate another republic anniversary on Mashramani Day, February 23, every year. This, the most energetic, vibrant and festive holiday in the Guyanese calendar, is guaranteed to impress all tourists. During Easter, locals and foreigners flock to Lethem to witness bareback riding, cattle roping and bull riding at the annual rodeo and culture fair. Easter also provides a very vibrant display of colours and culture with the thousands of kites which flood the windy sky. Tourists can also test their luck and try to win the kite competition with a kite of their own. Just after Easter, the annual Bartica Regatta runs off. It is a seven days long event which also includes concerts and a beauty pageant. The Rockstone fishing festival which takes place near the end of October is the perfect event for sport fishermen and those who are interested in seeing and tasting fish native to Guyanese waters. Diwali, the Hindu “festival of lights” is celebrated in late October. A few days before Diwali thousands flock to see the dazzling lights and artistic decorations mounted on vehicles at the annual Diwali Motorcade. For those looking for a more commercial festival, GuyExpo which runs in early October is ideal for anyone who would like to see what products Guyana has to offer. . Guyana, the land of many waters is a buried treasure with a fascinating history embodied in the festivals we celebrate.

The greatest place on earth, a true utopia, is a place where time is forgotten and the environment is as pure as it was countless ages ago. This is a place where mankind is a humble observer at the mercy of Mother Earth in all her glory and splendour. This place, however, is only a fantasy. Guyana comes as close as any to the criteria of utopia. The Europeans of times past believed that El Dorado, a city of gold was to be found in Guyana. El Dorado may be a myth, but maybe, just maybe, the true city of gold, the true treasure is one of the last places on Earth where humanity hasn’t scarred Mother Nature in the name of progress. Guyana is a place where colonial buildings serve as quaint reminders of a perilous past; a complex mosaic of many cultures is reflected in the rich cuisine, and in the faces of citizens throughout the country; vibrant cultural and commercial festivals all exist beside unadulterated natural beauty. These all provide opportunities for limitless adventure in “Guyana, South America undiscovered” a very special place for tourists of every kind.