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By GHK Lall
If we were always one nation that is the story of two societies because of race divisions and race-based politics, we are beyond any doubt, totally so now. This was in a recent birthday celebration that underlined this point and then took it and rammed it like a dagger into our eyes, for those who can see, and in the hearts of those Guyanese who had some sensation of feeling left in them. The power of oil has brought us to this bewitching place; special days enjoyed and cheered in extraordinary manner by some register the long dark shadow of another feature of Guyana’s oil curse.
Some can dress in their Armani suits and Rolex watches for appearance at these celebrations, but rank and file Guyanese struggle for a sack to cover their nakedness, a stitch sometimes that is just not there, as in within reach of desperately grasping, clawing hands. They struggle painfully for a slipper on their bare, tortured feet to trek to catch the minibus that they can’t afford, but hope for the charity of cut fare from an accelerating stranger. Our people-poor and weary and dragged down with disillusionment-shrink from thinking of going to the greens and veggies markets due to prices that make those basics rise to the preciousness of killing desires that just can’t be had.
It is called the rising and torturing cost of living that now terrorizes our weak, our walking wounded who stumble forward aimlessly and dispiritedly, for in their hearts they know that this is the way that it could be for a long time to come. In contrast, those near to this oil, empowered still further by its incomparable local riches live in sparkling extravagance. Birthdays, weddings and gatherings are but a sample of the way things are, what is going to be. That is, unless the other side of traditional national oil madness is laid bare in its rawest form, and unleashed with a mighty roar and arm.
This sharp, piercing tale of one country stark in the glittering darkness of its ongoing revelations of two societies fused into one, but which are not of one, is both part of the oil curse, and its cruelties also. The cruelties as evidenced in the wantonness of those who celebrate without a care for the painful plights of those just beyond the threshold of their gaudy festivities. In some ways it is the near sacrilege of a rich and powerful neighbor blaring his music insultingly, and flaunting flings with unfettered abandon, while next door there are the keening dirges of heartfelt cries over the loss of a loved one.
The mourning of what is lost, and of the still greater difficulty that must somehow be faced with the mainstay of the family now no more. Life can be as callous as that when care and compassion have fled from the hearts of almost all at the helm and those close to them. The loud raucous voices, the sounds of high-heeled dancing feet, the clink of glasses replenished with the rich wine from the richer nectar of oil make all this possible, and are of what echoes down the streets of the impoverished village. One set, one class, one group celebrating, while a national community of citizens and neighbors grieve. The dead will be buried, but just how and just now are both beyond contemplation.
This in a land of untold riches, which is what Guyanese have been told, found thrilling in the hearing. Yet, to gather the family around the table is a daily trial all by itself because there is not enough to go around. Not enough that could have been accessed from the sellers, whose numbers are beyond shrunk, thin pockets. Still, friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens-the favored few, the connected few, the powerful few-feast on the fruits of this black gold that lights up their plates with what can only be imagined in their rich imported delights. It is of gulping palates gathered around lush tables groaning under the weight of plenty. It is the heights where there is plenty for the powerful, but lower down the line where there is poverty and want, there is that which leaves empty and sickly and in agony.
These are but a few glimpses in this two-headed society of those who have and those who don’t. It is fitting to lump them together and call them Guyana’s Desperate Poor. The prestigious World Bank and those other smart, sophisticated institutions of financial calculations and fabled money wisdoms have a term of art for where Guyana is today: it is Gross Domestic Product, not the GDP that means Guyana’s Desperate Poor. If I have to make a call and go with the men in suits boxing the books, or the mass of wretched Guyanese boxing with life’s realities and its long knives, then the choice is obvious, such a no brainer it is. Suffering Guyanese always winners for me in such circumstances. As for the rest in life’s race, they are firmly stuck at the bottom and way to the forgotten back.
Our race toxins slowly destroyed us in the decades of our freedom experience. The curses of our oil poisons swiftly punish us, then put us even more rapidly into the ground in the brutal span of a few short years, not even a decade. There is a global virus that frightens; Guyanese grope to coexist with their own divisive and devastating national virus, which is the flight and direction that this oil has taken, and how it takes them down.
It is part of the savage history of oil that wherever its rears its head and its rich intoxicating breath (some would say radioactive wind) gushes forth, there has been blood, copious amounts of blood. We are poor, we are hurting, we are lost; of hopes and dreams once held, those too are lost. What is there left to live for? What is there to lose? That always means trouble.