As the crow flies Majuro, Marshall Islands to Georgetown, Guyana spans about 1/3 of the globe. It took three days and 10,000 miles but we finally stumbled onto the humid Guyanese tarmac late on the night of 10/15. We arrived to our hotel rooms past midnight with the knowledge that we'd have to set our alarms for a 6:45 am lobby call. Our first day in Georgetown was a blur; 4 radio shows, two television appearances and 4 meetings with various officials and then to cap it off a two hour practice session with young musicians for our concert. As our little van careened down the streets I took notice of the scenery. Georgetown is bustling, heavy traffic is punctuated by a cacophony of beeping and various four legged beasts (donkeys, dogs, horses) meander through the streets. The food in Guyana is an interesting mixture of Caribbean and Indian styles, which is a good illustration of the country's cultural makeup. We were told that we had to try the Roti (indian style bread often accompanied by different types of curry) as well as the pride and joy of Guyana; their rum. Food and drink aside we promoted the show with all of our might and then capped off the first day with the young local musicians. The groups we connected with were “Out of Box Experience” and “Music Unlimited”. There was one song in particular that caught our attention as we got to know one another. Ever since our arrival we had been hearing about how Guyana was in a long running boarder dispute with Venezuela. In the 70's Dave Martin, a Guyanese songwriter wrote “Not a Blade of Grass” to spark national pride and bring the boarder dispute into the limelight. The chorus goes like this:
We ain't giving up no mountain
we ain't giving up no tree
we ain't giving up the river
that belongs to we
not one Blue Saki
not one rice grain
not one Cuirass, not a blade of grass.
Both of the groups performed this song in their different ways. Out of Box Experience did a rock/metal version, while Music Unlimited had a whole dancing choral section! When we witnessed this song sung at our concert by OOBE the next day, all the Guyanese people stood up, singing and clapping along. You could tell that it it evoked a huge amount of national pride in them, which was a powerful thing to witness. Guyana has tons of untapped natural resources (which is partly the reason for the boarder dispute), on our flight to Kaeteur (the largest single drop waterfall in the world, 742'!!) we looked out over the rainforest in wonder. In one hour of flying we barely saw any human activity at all. It was like looking down on a massive broccoli head. We hiked out to the falls and explored the area lead by our guide who was part of a local tribe of indigenous people who had always lived by the waterfall. As we flew home in our small 8 person plane lightening sparkled throughout the sky and clouds banked around the plane. This time I looked down and saw the various holes in the trees where mining operations were slowly eating away at the land and I realized how easy it would be to let it all go for profit. Guyanese people are not rich, they are dealing with a whole host of problems that could potentially be eased by selling off their natural resources. But so far, they've mostly resisted. More and more they are investing in eco-tourism and trying to save what they have from outside forces. With the recent discovery of offshore oil fields, I can only hope that the influx of money and outsiders doesn't change their stance on environmental preservation.
In our short time in Guyana there is one more experience that I feel compelled to write about. Our very last stop was to spend time time in St. Anne's orphanage for girls. We've been to several orphanages in our travels and it doesn't get any easier. The girls were well behaved and you could tell they were in caring hands. They performed some songs for us (Katy Perry's Roar!!) and quietly listened while we sang songs for them. At the end one of the sisters whispered that she would love it if we could give some words of advice for them. What can you say to these children? They've had lives incomprehensible to me, to most people I know. Whatever I stammered was probably along the lines of working hard for your dreams and not letting anyone, man or woman, tell you that they're impossible. That they are valuable human beings, and that they matter in this world. I'm not sure if it made a difference to them, but as they gave us last hugs before we left, each more lingering than the last, I realized that each one of these children made an impact on me. I hope that they find peace and strength, resiliency and contentment in themselves, maybe they'll be the next leaders in Guyana, not afraid of their differences and vulnerabilities. I can only hope they find love.