Archive for the ‘Travels and exploration’ Category

Here in Toronto with the family. Canada is such an earnest place with a well defined aspiration for common character. Canadians pride themselves on tolerance, acceptance of diversity, their sense of community and I guess their thoughtful, measured approach to public life. Not for Canadians intelligent design or homophobia or privatisation of core public goods such as health care and education.

The place is as cosmopolitan as it gets. Like London, there is someone from every part of the world here, talking all the languages and you wonder how much more diversity can be absorbed and what will the place look like in twenty years. Can it hold together?

But here’s the thing. At some level, it is a country which actively seeks to reproduce its value system, socialising all into the Canada of national imaginings. And this is done in little and big ways.

On the public transit, there are posters exhorting public spiritedness with humour. Some seen:

“Give your fellow driver five fingers. Wave.”

“Don’t carry grudges. They weigh a ton.”

“Real men are measured by the size of their generosity.”

It’s all part of an advertising campaign encouraging people to be good, do good and encourage goodness everywhere.

Go check out the website peopleforgood.ca 


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I left Trinidad on Saturday afternoon. People asking whether I was not going in the wrong direction. Surely I could hear Machel, Kes,  Benjai or Despers calling from Port of Spain. But leaving I was, on my way to Bermuda. It was all good for however long I was there. Very sweet but over. Another way to know that I’z not a true true trini.

Now in Bermuda for the second time. I am startled anew. It has little to remind one of the Caribbean, save that we look the same and there is sea almost anywhere the eye rests, the island being 21 miles long and 1 ½ miles wide. Perfect running country and running weather now. Cool, refrigerator open door cool.

But not too recognizably Caribbean, that is a Caribbean in which signs of  inequality are stamped on the public space, whether with some people adrift (homeless, unemployed), in under-maintained public facilities, in low quality housing stock or in the absence of tended recreational green spaces. Whatever the level of poverty (and understanding that such experiences and perceptions are relative to the standard of living) I did not see poorly constructed and insecure houses, none really unkempt. No garbage or litter. No empty over-grown, weedy lots chock full of rusty cars. No fetid areas. The roads and communities are pristine and there is a dramatic orderliness to the vista. I took off my heeled shoes to go have a look at something down a road. My feet were almost as clean as before the bare-footed walk.

Bermuda is quite regulated. All the houses have, what I understand, is a ‘Bermuda roof”- corrugated slate all painted white. This allows for the rain water to be collected from the roof with little wastage (slowing down the pace of the run off). The white paint, what used to be lime white wash, is meant to act as a filter and the water is collected in cisterns which by law all houses must have.

With a one car per family law, this is a good thing since there are still many  cars and  motorbikes. And there are other ways to sense the care with which Bermudans treat their physical space and enforce plain civility. Everyone who has a car pays an extra $10 towards an insurance scheme for the benefit of persons who are in accidents caused by uninsured drivers. No trucks or heavy equipment can drive on Sundays except with a special license. The police enforce the traffic laws it seems with some zeal.

Perhaps Bermuda is an example of the broken window theory about which Malcolm Gladwell writes. That it is inattention to the small broken things which creates the psychological terrain for descent into lawlessness and anomie.

Actually the country feels rather European.The houses have the look of a certain kind of aged solidity that comes to mind when thinking of old English villages, at least as described in Enid Blyton books. One can easily imagine teas of crumpets and jam on the inside of these chimneyed, solid walled houses.

Most everyone I spoke to has ancestors from the Caribbean. But there is a something of a particular connection to Barbados. I met someone who had been to Barbados 14 times, another who comes always for cricket and will be here in June. Two others who in fact own homes and visit regularly because some sister or brother is married to a Barbadian.  

The social issues of Bermuda seem to be related mostly to the legacy of racism. Bermuda has 60 % black population and 30% white. Well in that way, it seems typical of Caribbean societies.

Here is a statue of Sally Basset, an enslaved African woman burnt at the stake for the offence of attempting to poison the slave owners in act of resistance and rebellion.

This is such a spectacular work of art, evoking powerfully the horror of Caribbean history. And like nowhere else in the Caribbean that I know of, it honours the African woman’s heroism.




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I spent the last two days enjoying Lystra’s hospitality in her Guyanese house, Demerara- windowed, high ceilings, wooden floors and doors. Lovely, calming and cool.

Georgetown is a place of visual contradictions. It is set out in a grid for miles upon square miles, no curving or unexpected streets. Most houses are moated by a canal at least 4 feet wide and people get  to and from their houses via small bridgeways.  Boulevards with waterways down the middle, many now lotus-filled, lend to a spacious ambience. And there is water everywhere. Georgetown being below sea level and flood prone is garrisoned by the sea waal. The place is soggy, water-logged especially now in the rainy season.

GT is not so well-tended. Like other places in the Caribbean, wherever the eye rests, plastic stuff lies recklessly abandoned, soft drink bottles, styrofoam, plastic bags, cups. I believe that in Botswana plastic bags have been banned? Something to think about.

 The Dutch designed the drainage system and Georgetown is necessarily engineered with a grid of canals, parallel to the roads, leading to sluice gates, called kokers at which point the water empties into the Demerara River or other river or sea.  Garbage complicates drainage. The water turgid with debris and muck diminishes the efficacy of the  sluices.

Yet pristine houses charm and distract from the disarray. The architecture of the traditional house, whether humble or grand, is a a feast of wood work design and craftsmanship. With wrap around windows, many are painted stark white and look stately and confident. These wooden houses must require lots of maintenance and in a place that has been suffering through long economic crisis and limited cash flow, families making ends meet or who have mostly migrated, cannot spare the money, time or attention, do not have the luxury of being HGTVish. It is easier to build from concrete and the traditional house jostles now with the more modern look, decorative block work aplenty.

And because it is a wet, humid and tropical, the greenery has a life of its own, creeping up on and through everything, predestined to be many steps ahead of the cutlass and bushwhacker. The flower colours are deep, deep. Ixora bushes, all ixora, no bush. 

 What must have GT looked like in the fifties? What  of the aspirations held by  generations of Guyanese, they of the Caribbean-wide reputation for erudition, creativity and refinement?

Georgetown  can have the feel of a frontier town, unsettled, so many seeking opportunity. The promise though remains, most of all because Guyana, as we say all the time, is brimming with resources, not least its people who are  enriching other countries with their talents and spirit.

Here are a few pictures of homes, including from Lystra’s neighbourhood:




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How many posts can I wring out of two days of Delhi sights and sounds? This is the last.

There are several ways to get about Delhi on wheels- the regular four wheel car way, the three wheel van-like way and the bicycled and two wheeled rickshaw way.



Ites, green and gold taxi

In the bicycled rickshaw, off we went to see the Red Fort. And like lots of people when visiting a land not their own, I gave up my usual cautions, trusting that all would be well. And visitors do that all the time and when they get into trouble, we ask, what were they thinking? Well, nothing really, just in a ‘no need to be in control’ state of mind.

At points, we were being bobbed and weaved amidst big buses with small spaces between them; cars cutting in and out. No protection between me and the metal of the hulking vehicle to my side. But the drivers are on the alert to make allowances for each other. Living closely in large numbers may require that, require some generosity about sharing space. Being uptight about ‘boundaries’, what’s the point? And so for all that last minute, lurching, evasive biking action, I saw no bounce ups.

Same as in Trinidad where I started serious driving. I could not then nor now, drive, well, expertly. But someone would let me merge, another may merely grimace if I gave a bad drive. But no censorious horn blowing.

Another similarity between Delhi and Port of Spain, the ability, no the élan, with which drivers can make traffic-jammed roads hold at least 21/2 cars more than intended to fit horizontally. See the picture below and that’s just the left side.

Yet, although I did not see any, road accidents must be a problem. In the week before there was a road safety campaign. This sign was seen all over Delhi:

And in this last post on Delhi, some street scenes:

Bundled up against the cold

Delhi is the first place that I have seen books on sale on pavements, all over. This picture (not mine)  gives a view which we would love to see in the Caribbean.  

And lastly, a picture taken at Heathrow on my way to Delhi. A man playing an instrument which looks like a cross between a steelpan and a wok. Very soothing sounds.

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Amongst the few things I managed to do was visit the memorials for Indira Gandhi and Mahatma Gandhi.

The memorial to Indira is at her home where she was gunned down. The home features are preserved. You can see the bedroom, her study and living room. Lots of books everywhere. Also, there are pictures of her taken throughout her life. In one display case, a document found with her papers which shows how aware she was of the possibility of her assassination. 

Document written by Indira Gandhi

“I have never felt less like dying and that calm and peace of mind is what prompts me to write what is in the nature of a will.

If I die a violent death as some fear and a few are plotting, I know the violence will be in the thought and the action of the assasin, not in my dying — for no hate is dark enoughto overshadow the extent of my love for my people and my country;no force is strong enough to divert me from my purpose and my endeavour to take this country forward.

Also a poem by Rabindranath Tagore which she kept in a folder on her desk:

Where the mind is without fear
And the head is held high
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward
By thee into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom My father,
Let my country awake.

The pictures on the memorial walls  of Indira with other world leaders cause pause, evocative of a time of such promise of liberation and social justice. And of some promise gone awry. Pictures with Ho Chi Minh, Nkrumah, Kenyatta, Nixon, Castro, Mugabe (in post Rhodesia liberation) Brehznev, and yes, yes, Burnham!

Then there are the pictures of Indira, delightful ones in her mother and grandmother roles. 

No doubt, she was one tough lady of expected complexity. 




And another surprise, an item found in her study, a pin with the logo signifying the fight for gender equality, development and peace.

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I was totally ignorant. Not appreciating that there was a New Delhi and an Old Delhi. Turns out, the distinction is the same as for New Kingston and Old Kingston. The new part, a patina of hotels, diplomatic corps residences, malls, wide streets and boulevards. The Old Delhi, a cacophonous, exciting messy, colourful, vibrant, chaotic, over-populated, traffic-bound, litter-strewn, small street mélange.

The people in Delhi come from all over India. All those I spoke to were in the service industry in one way or the next, none were native to Delhi. They came from the Punjab, from Mussoorie, Bangalore, Agra. All over. And all the ones that I spoke to were men, who had left their homes to look for work. They supported their families and visited, but not always often.

“So do you mind if I ask, do you have a special friend in Delhi?”  “Yes, I have a girlfriend”. “And your wife in the Punjab, she has a friend too?” “Oh, my God!” the taxi driver gasped.

Everywhere, people working or hustling for work. In the hotel, a level of service that can disquiet, the workers alert to the least suggestion of need or demand of the guests. Someone is wiping the stairs with a damp rag. Another, in the hallway making sure that you think that the room is in order. A chance meeting in the hallways between guest and employee evokes hesitance, a deferential flattening against the walls, hands clasped prayer-like. Or the taxi driver who works 24 hour shifts, one day on, one day off. So, what do you do on your off day? Madam, I sleep in my room.

Such are the conditions in an economy with such high levels of ‘surplus labour’. The workers are thankful for a job. The fact is they are better off than their unemployed counterparts. The pay, according to one young man, is much, much better than where he comes from.

This is a place for shopping. Markets galore. Deals to be made. And no price is inviolate, it is all up for the bargain until the fulcrum point, at which the seller discerns that buyer is committed to acquisition. The power balance shifts and the seller will go no lower. You can never know if you have a deal or not. But for sure, it is expected that the first price will go down. No madam, I bought it at 250 rupees, I have to make some profit too. OK, OK, best price, 200 rupees, take 2 and I will give you for 400.

The arts and crafts are so beautiful, everything looks antiqued and treasured, no matter how recently mass-produced. I asked a man, is this lamp old? Old? Yes of course. Six months old. No matter, all beautiful. And every store has the best quality, not like the other store with the exact same thing. Same thing? Looks so madam, but the quality is not good. The dyes will run, it will not last. This is the finest Kashmir shawl, rug, tablecloth. I am from there and my cousin makes these rugs madam.

Madam, meaning, you damn cheap twit, come to India and want to get this wonderful something for next to nothing when you know in your country it will cost five times more than the price here. Madam, indeed.

Delhi is exciting and a mixture of old, gracious and beautiful sights, burgeoning real estate development, transit works ever more (Commonwealth Games preparedness) and of course the poverty.

More anon.

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