Travelling in Third World Countries - Part Three

My husband, parents, brother, and his wife were scheduled to join me the Friday I finished my UNDP Computer Literacy Course. To my surprise, the week flew by. Everyone I met proved eager to show me a different aspect of Georgetown, Guyana’s capital.

My first visit to ‘Main Street’, which turned out to be appropriately named as it was the major thoroughfare of the capital, substantiated all the boasts of my parents. Georgetown was once celebrated as the most beautiful city in the Caribbean (I know it’s in South America, but it has always been culturally considered part of the Caribbean).

The street is divided into two by a series of mini-parks in the centre lined with trees resembling a combination of a weeping willows and stately oaks. This green oasis, nearly double the size of its asphalt border, held fishponds, old-fashioned colonial benches cooled by the shadows above, exotic tropical flowers, and crotons of colors and hues I’d never seen before.

I discovered a couple of days later that this was all the work of volunteers. In a country this poor, ruled by a dictator most considered touched with syphilis-induced insanity, where the population had cheese or fresh butter available only in fits and starts, pride still existed.

Everywhere I went that week the generosity of the population proved overwhelming. One of the most amazing sights occurred on the last day of the course, Thursday. The UNDP personnel insisted I had to visit the famous sea-wall and see the kites. Kites? What’s so spectacular about kites? And what was a sea wall?

Georgetown is below sea level. The first colonists conveniently were Dutch. If any of you have been to Holland and stood on the Afsluitdijk, the dyke that prevents the North Sea from flooding ALL of Holland, you’ll understand what an amazing feat seawalls or dykes are. On the one side of the dyke, you look down and the water is a good forty feet below, and that’s the Holland side. On the other side, the sea is right there, maybe twenty feet below. It’s unnerving.

We arrived at the seawall around 5:00 pm. Every single individual who lived in the capital must have been there, and each one of them flew a kite. The shapes and sizes overwhelmed my senses. No play toys these specimens, but complex, intricate works of art. I saw dragons, butterflies, fairies, monsters, even an elephant.

Imagine around five to six thousand kites, each one more colorful, more elaborate than the other doing a samba in the strong breeze. And dance cannot begin to describe what each person could do with a kite, figure eights, kite battles, circles, hexagons, octagons; my mind reeled as everyone sought to explain the different terms.

That evening my family arrived. One of my father’s childhood buddies invited us for dinner at his home. Housed in a guarded, gated, small community of around thirty houses in mint condition, his friend’s beautiful, well-maintained plantation style mansion with manicured gardens made me think of the path the UNDP driver took to get to their offices daily.

Narrow roads littered with mounds of decaying garbage, rusted food cans, and rotting mattresses. I had never seen such poverty, and I’ve been to every Caribbean island at least once. What broke my heart though were all the bare footed boys and girls playing amidst and sometime on top of the filthy mounds.

When I saw the bountiful spread laid out on a barbeque table in Dad’s friend’s backyard, I flinched. All I could think of was how proud everyone had been at the UNDP the day before because they managed to find cheese on the black market to serve at a thank you party in my honor.

On the way back to the hotel, I wondered how anyone could become accustomed to living in such starkly contrasting conditions: on the one hand so bleak and dismal, and the other so opulent and magnificent. I knew I could never drive through streets with children clothed in tatters, who foraged for food in mounds of garbage, to a magnificent home with servants, and copious, gourmet food.

10 comments

  1. Arkansas Cyndi // March 19, 2009 at 4:34 PM  

    WOW. What a powerful post. How very sad the conditions these people live in. I understand the conflict in your head though. I don't know how I could live in such wealth when right outside my wall is such poverty. But maybe those inside the wall have gotten used to seeing the poor, have become desensitized to them.

    I would be interested in hearing the story from "inside the walls", their viewpoint on their country.

    These have been insightful reports. Thanks!

  2. Mary Ricksen // March 19, 2009 at 4:36 PM  

    It just doesn't seem right does it.
    I can understand the feeling just short of disgust that it must have
    given you to see all that opulence amidst the poverty.
    If I could change the world...

  3. Jianne Carlo // March 19, 2009 at 5:30 PM  

    Thanks for your comments, Mary and Cyndi. The worst and best parts are still to come, and I will end the trip to Guyana with part 4.

    Jianne

  4. Scarlet Pumpernickel // March 19, 2009 at 5:57 PM  

    What a wonderful descriptive blog! I could see the kites and hear the people! Thanks for sharing!

    Scarlet

  5. Mona Risk // March 19, 2009 at 6:11 PM  

    Jianne, what you describe here happen in every country of the third world in Asia, Africa and South America. Unfortunately, that's the way the world is going. The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. Even here inthe US if we watch the daily news and scandals. Have you seen the movie, Slumboy Millionaire? If you have a weak heart don't go.

  6. Liz Jasper // March 19, 2009 at 6:32 PM  

    Love the idea of volunteers doing all that community work. Nice image.

  7. Edie // March 19, 2009 at 8:20 PM  

    Jianne, this left me feeling emotional. The picture you painted of poverty in heartbreaking, especially when compared to the opulence.

  8. Mary Marvella // March 19, 2009 at 10:11 PM  

    Jianne, that post held so much joy and sadness. What a beautiful job of making us aware. I won't soon forget this one.

    MORE!

  9. Joanne // March 20, 2009 at 8:51 AM  

    Jianne,
    I have followed your posts on this from the beginning. Poignant and powerful, and so insightful. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Terry Odell // March 20, 2009 at 10:43 AM  

    Wonderful post. We traveled to South Africa and the contrasts there are heart-gripping. On our excursion from our hotel in Victoria Falls to the Chobe game park (which is in another country, albeit only about an hour away), our driver planned to shop for things like rice and cooking oil -- because these were products not avialable in the local shops. Not banned or anything, just 'out of stock'.

    Seeing billboards encouraging safe sex and saying things like, "real men don't hit their women" makes you reassess what we have here.