“When are you going home?” asked a friend. They meant Guyana not London. I was temporarily back in the UK after six months in South America. Up until I’d left in February – apart from holidays and a few longer stays – I’d lived my whole life in the UK. So how is this now home? But I got what they meant.
Growing up with a parent from overseas, especially when that country is foremost in their mind, a part of you is forever somewhere else.
For some people, that’s somewhere else is concrete and real. They regularly travel there (and not just for funerals). They speak the language (or can at least understand when they’re being bad-mouthed). They know the landscape (or as far as their protective family will allow). They can describe their favourite local dishes (and maybe even make them).
For others, like me, it’s a bit more abstract. I first came to Guyana at the ripe old age of 26. And then it was just for a week or so – part of a wider trip through Suriname and French Guiana to Brazil, then briefly back to GT.
My knowledge of Guyana had been cobbled together from stories my dad and aunts used to tell; rare visits to Queen’s College alumni events; discovering the works of Martin Carter, Edgar Mittleholzer, Grace Nichols et al; the occasional titbit at a Guyanese food stall in Brixton or a ‘cultural’ festival (ginips, sugar cane and watery shave ice, usually).
When someone asked: “Where are you from? No, where are you really from?” (i.e. You’re clearly not white. Explain) I would say, “My father is Guyanese and my mother is English”. But beyond explaining where Guyana is (or correcting them when they suddenly started talking about West Africa) there wasn’t much I could add.
So coming to Guyana for an indefinite period was daunting. What was I letting myself in for? Would I just feel out of place? Would I be the weird oddball for choosing a freelance, nomadic existence over being married with children by 30? Would I miss the hectic London pace of life? Would I feel lonely? Would people ask, why are you here?
Yes, at times. But I’ve also been able to discover Guyana on my own terms, in my own way. And having moved so many times in my life, ‘home’ is quite a fluid concept for me. Throw a few pictures on the wall, put on some music, brew a pot of coffee, and it feels like home.
When my sister came to visit, she said: “I couldn’t picture where you were before, now I can… and I understand why you stayed”. Some people assume it’s the sun (and rum) that draws me back. Others (far too many) assume it’s a mystery man. I tell them, ‘It’s true, I’ve fallen in love… with Guyana.” [Cue eye roll from any Guyanese readers who’ve made it this far].
On the plane back to GT, I watched the film Brooklyn, which is about an Irish girl relocating to New York in the 1920s. I picked it purely because I’d read somewhere that Saoirse Ronan, as well as having an amazing name, is fantastic in the lead role. But it turned out to be the perfect choice.
Within about five minutes I had tears running down my cheeks, as Eilis (Ronan) stood on a ship bound for America, waving goodbye to her sister and mum. I couldn’t help but think about the day before: waving goodbye to my parents as their bus left the stop. Giving my nephew one last hug before dropping him at school. Seeing my sisters and friends and brightly saying, “See you next year!” It’s not quite the same as waving goodbye forever, like in Brooklyn, but parting is always bittersweet. Even when you have WhatsApp.
So now I’m back ‘home’. This other home. I don’t know if this ting I’ve got going with Guyana is a fling. Are we dating? Are we in a relationship? Where is this going?
Enough with the over analysing. Guyana is not a man – thank goodness. But right now, it’s where I lay my hat. So I guess it must be home.
I’ve just found your blog, after reading an old interview of yours in the Stabroek News. As a first generation British Guyanese, born in London , who’s just got her Guyanese passport, much of your story resonates with me. Thank you for your work. I’m enjoying your words so much.
Do you have Instagram?
Hi Angelicque, thanks for your message and kind feedback. The feeling of getting a Guyanese passport was very exciting for me, hope you enjoy using yours too! I’m currently back in the UK doing a Masters but you can find some of my older Guyana posts on Instagram at carinyasharples
Very interesting reading your blogs about Guyana. I grew up in Btitish Guiana but we left in 1964. My Dad was a geologist who spent 6 months a year mapping the interior. He was a member of the Colonial Service but also a good friend of Cheddi Jagan with whom he played tennis. I remember our flat being stoned in ‘the riots’ because of this association. Much of this trouble was stirred up by the CIA I understand. But being a small place, everyone knew each other and I can still remember going to a party as a small boy and sitting on Forbes Bunhman’s knee. My Dad loved his time in BG and especially trips into the jungle with Amerindians. He left before Independence so never received a pension for his time there. I always feel my early years in Guyana influenced my life. Living with all those bugs was probably why I became an entomologist. I fondly remember going to Stella Maris school in Georgetown which was run by nuns. I don’t have any Guyanese friends left from those times. I once met Trevor Phillips at Imperial College in London and told him that I also grew up in Guyana, but he didn’t look very impressed! I have never been back. As a zoologist I would probably love it.
How interesting! Thanks so much for your comment and you really seem to have been in the heart of things. I’ve been trying to collect memories of those days for an oral-history project. It’s very early days so far but you may like to follow my progress – or even contribute some photos/memories. The site is guyana50.org. And what a great legacy from Guyana, that it inspired a fascination in nature and bugs. You should definitely make a return visit. If you would like any advice or have any questions, feel free to email me at carinyasharples[at]hotmail[dot]com.
Just got around to read you piece – beautifully written…
Thanks Lata, lovely of you to say.
And then, of course, you can never go “home” again… great piece. I’ve been thinking about the concept of home a bit lately too – finding myself oddly, unexpectedly reluctant to visit Oz because it all feels too hard (and it’s so bloody far!)
Thanks Claire. Was definitely a blog for people living ‘in between’ lives. BTW I forgot to comment at the time I really liked your piece on language and finally being able to have casual chitchat in a shop. Adds a whole new layer to re-locating. So you you feel odd going back to Oz now?
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Yeah, it’s weird. I guess it took me soo long to feel OK here and it was such a rough journey, it just feels as if going back, even for a holiday, could be quite disruptive. I’m not sure I can face the mental and emotional upheaval a month or so in Australia would bring!! It’s been 10 years since we left now… yikes.
Keep up the blog. Love reading your thoughts and experiences. Remain safe! Rod
Thanks Rod. Really appreciate that – and was great to catch you while I was back.