En Route

Greetings from the airport in Georgetown, where I am awaiting my flight to Barbados, first leg of my long journey home. I expect to be back in Ottawa by midnight. Yes, I’m typing this on my pda, even though Guyana does not as yet have GPRS service. It’s my hope to press “send” when we arrive in Bridgetown, land of 21st century communications.

My 3 weeks in Guyana have been instructive. Beyond my role in this very important national health project, the changes I have seen here in just a couple of short years are inspiring. I used to describe Guyana as the genuine Third World –and it still is– but rapid, recent and frequent investments in infrastructure have quelled that status somewhat: the roads are being fixed, the banking, computer and cell networks modernized, the hotel and tourism industries revitalized.

Much of this is due to preparations for World Cup cricket. But some of it is due to slowly increasing wealth, by virtue of foreign investment, ex-pat remittances and some internal industrial improvements. Still, challenges abound. Basic diseases, like HIV/AIDS, TB and filaria are prevalent killers here. And poverty and corruption are still the heartbreaking norm.

On the drive to the airport we passed the farmers setting up (at 4:am!) to sell their wares at La Penitance market. For many, this hard life is the norm. I had memories of my own widowed, impoverished grandmother, forced to raise 5 children on her own by selling her fruits and vegetables for a pittance every day in the city. Lined along the street were scores of such grandmothers, their faces scorched and prematurely aged, their backs bent from hard labour, each flogging a basket of priceless, succulent fruit that will likely sell for less that I paid for my coffee this morning.

Such is the life of the rural poor of the world, and we had better not forget it, especially as we reap the benefits of their sacrifices.

We also passed a lingering image that will always typify Guyana to me: an expressionless young man in pressed pants, white shirt and tie, waiting by the sea wall for a minibus at 4:am, expertly clutching both a briefcase and a live rooster. It is an image of the rural poor working their asses off to earn a stake in the modern world, never entirely sure that they’re doing the right thing.