The Corentyne Highway by Ravi Ken Dre

By @ravidrepaul
The Corentyne Highway by Ravi Ken Dre

#Guyana #politics# Caribbean Writers#India Diaspora

Chapter 2

Fool's Gold

Chp. 2

Guyana, or El Dorado, as the poet and first venturer from the British empire, Sir Walter Raleigh, knew it by:

In the year 1594, the first hint of the existence of a ‘City of Gold’ reached him. He read the accounts of several people including Gonzalo Pizarro, Francisco Lopez and Francisco de Orellana that described the exploration of the Amazon basin and the Lower Orinoco. By the time he decided to embark on a voyage to Guiana, he had become sure of the existence of El Dorado, the city that contained immeasurable wealth and which he dubbed Manoa. In his book, Discovery of Guiana, Raleigh recounts that it was the account of a Spaniard by the name of Juan Martinez, who was serving at the time as master of munitions to Diego Ordas, a Knight of the Order of Santiago, which provided the final proof that he needed.

The Guiana shield and mountain range was also the setting for Jurassic Park (based on The Lost World by Sir Authur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame, whose books are widely read in most middle class homes in Guyana along with Archie comics) and though the country has unique, prehistoric birds, they are somewhat smaller than Doyle’s. The original name Guinana means many waters and a cartographic map reveals a network of arteries within virgin rainforest. 

During the cold war of the 60’s it became a graveyard politics ghetto, raising the dead of Coffey and other slave leaders. Coffy, or Kofi or Koffi, was an Akan man who was captured in his native West Africa and stolen for slavery to work in the plantations of the Dutch colony of Berbice, Guyana. He became famous because in 1763 he led a revolt of more than 2,500 slaves against the colony regime and won. He was from Berbice where most rebels settled from the Coolie Ships that fetched them, the same ships that transported the slaves on long journeys where many died en route. This devastated Africa and India which are only now beginning to prosper economically. But the black hole remains in our consciousness. 

The famous Scottish Guards regiments went to Guiana during the wars with the French and Napoleon and French influences and village names remain, as do the Dutch graveyards and black magic. The most evident signs of Dutch engineering are the canals that parade the once beautiful Georgetown, the capital city, and its gardens. There are also open sewers and no waste control and everything goes into the Atlantic Ocean. The town today is a ********.

Guyana is also attached to Venezuela to the west, Brazil to the south and Suriname to the East. Further East is French Guyana, the furthest part east above Brazil. The closest Caribbean island is the twin republic of Trinidad and Tabogo with its gas and natural resources that were forbidden to Guyana because of International Politics. It is also the home of the devastating V.S. Naipaul brothers, the only Indian voices of the British Caribbean amongst numerous African Caribbean writers like Walcott. 

 

Back in the day the family bought a piece of land called Kilmarnock from Scotish engineers that completed the Kilmarnock estate that my great grandfather controlled. My father, Robert Nedd, himself was named after Robert Burns whose poetry he loved, as did my mother; at least they had something in common. My family were Christians from India, possibly Kerala, and were tall like soldiers. My father’s family are cowboys that love horses, as did my father before he went off to find loneliness in Zürich where he studied with the likes of Freud and Jung and then later specialised in ECT treatment for which he became renowned on his return to Guyana as a doctor with the Vauxhall car he bought in the UK and probably had shipped from Newcastle where he worked. He had lost his hair and experienced some hearing loss due to a poor diet in cold Zürich while his brothers worked hard on the coconut estate and milk business, in particular his youngest brother, Eddie, who had, in his absence, claimed the Kilmarnock land where my father’s nursing home stood.

When my father returned to Guyana after retirement he took his brother to court and my sister Mala, an attorney trained at West Middlesex College, won the case. This was 1995. Foolishly my father pushed her to be a magistrate and she earned little or nothing working for the new Government that had massive international debt and wasted the bulk of the GDP on debt servicing despite a large write off thanks to Prime Minster Gordon Brown of the UK Labour Party.  

Coffey, of course, fought the British some 500 miles inland from where my father lived in Berbice. There is one main road that goes by the Atlantic coast and runs through the village, the road where trains once ran. My grandmother, or “granny,” lived five villages further west on the coast, towards Rosehall town where the prostitutes hang out and where the banks are located. There are also many Chinese restaurants and shops with goods from India and New York and plastic ***** made in China. My granny would often go and hang out with Dr Toolsie who also lived there.

 When my great grandfather Thomas arrived in Guyana in 1780, one hundred years after Walter Raleigh, the place was mainly jungle, just as it is today with dangerous snakes and malaria. There the British developed the coconut estate and also Bauxite and the sugar bubble. My mother’s grandfather, Dr. Charles Pool Kennard from Wiltshire near Stone Henge, came to the new world to help fight against malaria and there he married a half-Scottish girl whose father worked on the sugar plantation, one Anne Mckennon whom my mother was named after. And thus the fate of the new world called in a desolate jungle place where the Spanish conquistador went crazy looking for gold and the Portuguese and the French and the Dutch and the British fought for the riches of the Caribbean and El Dorado instead of the spices of India, and we became West Indian. 

My mother was a star who travelled to Europe and visited Switzerland possibly while my father was in Zürich, though they perhaps only heard of each other from the village days. While my mother was enjoying life, my father was losing his religion and hair in cold Zürich, and as soon as he could he left for Ireland where he met my mother’s brother, Edward, who was gambling on horses instead of studying medicine, just like his uncle Claude. Both crashed out of Dublin college and remained in London to begin a new life. My uncle, or grandfather, Claude, was a mulatto, half African but wholly English, and was an old-school, fine gentleman whom my mother loved and who was her father’s half-brother after Dr Kennard remarried his African maid and fathered five children in New Amsterdam. One became the Minister of Agriculture under the African nationalist government of Forbes Burhman while the youngest daughter, Bryll, became a poet in Canada.

  

Because of his exile in Zürich and what he might have endured just after the second war, my father became withdrawn and, during his time in England, he only watched his Mahabharata movies and cricket and then began to write poetry. He was born free, he taped himself and listened to it. He loved white people and would only come out of bed when the white side of the family visited. Or he associated with his Indian doctor friends. At this time he was recovering from a second mild heart attack. We had just been given our British passports in 1987, some ten years after arriving. In fact the passports were at the Home Office but we didn’t receive the good news until my eldest brother, also Robert, called the Foreign Office needing to travel with Greenford High School in Ruislip on a school outing. It was now official: we were purple-passport-holding members of the United Kingdom of Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales.

 Today Britain, or more so England, is fighting to keep her union and the Tory party is in control as she looks to withdraw from Europe. A lady from Guyana, whose father hails from Berbice, has taken the UK government twice to court and has won both times. 

Many Guyanese left during the PNC African nationalism that pervaded Guyana in the 1970s and 80s and arrived illegally, or backtack as it is colloquially referred, in North America and in London, any which way, many settling in South London. The exodus of places like Berbice was frightening. When I returned during my first visit to my Granny in 1987, I enjoyed watching the evening parade of beautiful shiny people, but, on returning some five years later, the parade was over and I saw dirty farmers returning from the backdam and many of my cousins from Kilmarnock, teachers and carpenters among them, gone with their children. It seemed all that was left was my Granny and her son Sidney who lived opposite, a strong handsome ex-drunk who once called himself John Wayne (everyone has a call name in the village – I once met a boy called Duck Curry) and who had three children of whom the daughter, after crashing in a minibus, found God and abandoned her medical studies at the new University of Guyana and started a mission in Queens New York which my son Regan attends. My father was to treat Uncle Sidney and, after a visit to the Kali temple, my uncle never drank again. But it was too late; his youngest son was a wreck and stayed in the village never going out, sitting on his balcony and playing with his tractors and spying on us from the opposite, windward side of the road. My father did not trust his mother as they were keeping all the milk money to themselves along with the coconut rent and selling cows willy nilly in collusion with my uncle, Cecil the Judge, who also controlled the horse-racing ground. My eldest uncle, Charles, did not care for this *****. He worked as the chainman of the Rice development Board until his early death at the head of a speeding minibus near Conversation Tree by Prashard Nagar by the seawall. At this time I was still at the Bank of Guyana attending a debt relief symposium, becoming increasingly disillusioned with the country, drinking rum and partying at the Palm Court, a groovy bar once owned by my auntie. On my mothers side there were seven or so in all, the youngest being my uncle Winston who lived with Uncle Edward after medical school in Tottenham.   

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