A few months ago, Carinya Sharples wrote an excellent piece about fear in Guyana. She spoke about how Guyanese – both resident and diasporic – are always channelling fearful narratives among themselves. Some of this fear is warranted, of course, but so much of it seems…exaggerated.
I have grown up on a diet of fear. My parents – my mother especially – taught me to stay at home and not walk about too much lest something happen to me. My school taught me that out there, in the public education system, ‘wildness’ and ‘ungodliness’ was rampant. Our media splattered crime across our front pages and TV headlines, sometimes in horrifyingly graphic detail.
All of this helped to reinforce a fear in me: Guyana is not a good place. Guyana is not a nice place. Guyana is a place that you need to run far, far away from. Never come back to Guyana until you have enough money to settle down and be comfortable somewhere ‘safe’.
Yet, so many of these fearmongers in my life would wax nostalgic about just how amazing Guyana was when they were young in innocent colonial and immediately post-colonial times. Those were the days when boys and girls could swim naked together in the trenches that separated their villages. Those were the days when you could do all sorts of dare-devil stunts and brush off the bruises. People never got angry enough to kill back then. People weren’t breaking and entering houses back then. Things were good back then, innocent and pure back then.
Then everything changed, and here we are.
Some say this happened because people moved away from the church, others blame brain drain and a collapsed education system. Others blame politicians and corruption, sometimes by name.
I don’t know which it is. I wasn’t there when things fell apart. I just puzzle over the aftermath as I cower in fear myself. This fear seems to be a part of our culture: it is ingrained in our language of doubt, suspicion and worry. It manifests in our actions – or lack thereof – and hinders our endeavours to change and make change happen.
In many ways, I believe that this internalised fear and the limitations around which I surrounded myself has prevented me from truly living as a Guyanese. I do not go out enough, do not enjoy new experiences nearly as much. I am sometimes ashamed of these things and yet, I cannot shake myself away from this fear and thus, I limit myself.
But I am learning. I am taking more risks. I am daring myself to be brave again. It will take time to unlearn the fear that has cocooned me into this comfortable discomfort and maybe generations to reverse the cultural fear that we have created. I do believe that little by little, we are already eating away at the edges of this fear, even as new ones are created.
It will just take a while to come to terms with it and create a brave new country.