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What Christmas Means to Guyanese

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First Lady of Guyana, Arya Ali, poses with a group of Guyanese men and women dressed in Christmas Clothing

First Published: 25th of December, 2021

Last updated: December 26, 2021 at 18:01 pm

In some countries, Christmas has a predominantly religious significance. Those are countries which have a predominantly Christian population. In other countries, Christmas has only a cultural significance – a time to make merry and spread goodwill in solidarity with Christians around the world. And in some countries, it is a mix of both religious and cultural significance. Guyana is one such country where Christmas is celebrated by the entire population for both cultural and religious reasons.

Christmas is a tradition introduced to Guyanese by European colonists during the days of slavery and subsequent indentureship. Most Africans converted to the religion of the colonial masters, but a far smaller fraction of East Indian indentured laborers converted. Nevertheless, Christianity remains the largest religious group in Guyana with over 50% of Guyanese identifying with one of the many Christian denominations.

In Christian traditions around the world, Christmas is a holiday set aside to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ whom Christians believe to be the savior of the world. And in Guyana, many Christians attend church services on Christmas Day and hold the holiday to its religious significance.

At the same time, non-Christians of Guyana also celebrate Christmas although they pay little attention to the religious significance of Christmas. For those people, Christmas may be a time of sharing gifts – especially to children, cooking special foods, and imbibing in alcohol. Pepperpot is the dish of choice for many Guyanese at Christmas time.

While non-Christians may not be concerned with the religious significance of Christmas, they celebrate it in solidarity with their Christian counterparts or as a time of relaxation and merriment after a hard year’s work. The Christmas Celebrations are, needless to say, closely followed by the Old Year and New Year Celebrations – making the holidays from mid-December to early January a festive season. In the first week of January, it’s back to work and business as usual.

Christmas Day, December 25th, is a National Holiday in Guyana, South America. If the day falls on the weekend, the following Monday is given as a day off from work and school. For example, December, 25th, 2021 fell on a Saturday, and although Christmas will be celebrated on this day, the following Monday, (27th) will be assigned a day off from work and school.

While Christmas is a Christian Holiday, some denominations of the Christian religion, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, do not celebrate Christmas because, they say, the holiday has its root in pagan Roman traditions.

Against the backdrop of its religious and cultural significance, Christmas is largely a commercial enterprise in Guyana. While some celebrate it for religious reasons and some for fun, one thing is sure: people shop much more during the Christmas season than at any time of the year.

During the Christmas season, businesses take advantage of the generous nature of people to push promotions. On Christmas Eve, some towns are jampacked with activities and stores and market places stay open late at nights. During the Christmas season, Guyanese purchase items, such as Christmas trees, Christmas lights, and other Christmas decorations, which they will not use for the rest of the year, and which may often not last until the next Christmas.

Further, the Christmas holidays is a time for parties and staff socials for academic institutions, businesses, government offices etc, setting off a flurry of commercial activities.

Guyanese are generally a united people who stand in solidarity with each other, regardless of their religious affiliations. During Christmas, non-Christians celebrate with Christians for cultural reasons – just as Christians, Muslims, and other religious groups join into Phagwah activities, for example.

The President of Guyana, Dr. Irfaan Ali, and his wife, Arya Ali, who are both adherents of the Islamic Faith, sent out Christmas greetings to all Guyanese and engaged in many charitable and uplifting activities for the Christmas seasons. In the same, business owners across Guyana, regardless of their religion, help to spread the Christmas cheer by sending out greetings, giving in charity, etc.

Stan Brock, Founder of Remote Area Medical

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First Published: 25th of November, 2021 by Patrick Carpen.

Last updated: July 13, 2022 at 17:31 pm

British aviator, businessman, and philanthropist, Stan Brock, passed away in the year 2018. His body was cremated and his ashes were scattered over Dadanawa Ranch in the Rupununi Savannahs of Guyana.

Although Stan Brock spent nearly two decades of his life managing a cattle ranch in the Rupununi, he had traveled to many countries around the world during his long and purpose-filled life, and Guyanese should feel especially honored that he, or his family, chose to have his ashes scattered over Dadanawa Ranch in the Rupununi Savannahs of Guyana.

Stan Brock was the founder of Remote Area Medical – a non-profit organization which flies sick and injured people in remote and outlying areas to medical facilities in the city. The organization operated in Guyana and several other countries. Unfortunately, just one year after Stan’s death, Remote Area Medical’s operations in Guyana started to nosedive. In 2020, the organization announced that it would close its Guyana operations and in 2021, it was made official when they sold all their planes and ceased all airborne activities in Guyana.

This is truly sad since, for founder Stan Brock, the dream of Remote Area Medical was born in Guyana, but it just goes to show that sometimes, when someone dies, their vision also perishes with them.

“My vision for Remote Area Medical developed when I suffered a personal injury while living among the Wapishana Indians in Guyana, South America. I was isolated from medical care, which was about a 26 day journey away. I witnessed the near devastation of whole tribes by what would have been simple or minor illnesses to more advanced cultures. When I left Guyana, I vowed to find a way to deliver basic medical aid to people in the world’s inaccessible regions. So, in 1985 I established the non-profit, Remote Area Medical or as most people know us – RAM™. RAM is the way I have kept that promise, not only to the Wapishana Indians, but to thousands around the world in similar conditions. In other words, there are Wapishanas everywhere.”

stan brock – founder of remote area medical

Below is an excerpt taken from the RAM website (www.ramusa.org) about the life of the late Stan Brock.

Stan Brock was born in Preston, Lancashire, England. From 1952 to 1968, he managed the world’s largest cattle ranch operation, a 4,000-square mile combination of rainforest and savannah in British Guiana. There, he became a pioneer bush pilot and subsequently acquired numerous ratings and certifications including airline transport pilot. It was during this time that his vision for Remote Area Medical® was born after he suffered a terrible horse-related injury while living among the Wapishana Indians and was 26 days away from the nearest medical care. He then vowed to bring medical care closer to the people who needed it.

In 1968, he began co-hosting NBC’s Emmy winning series, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, one of the most watched television shows in the country, with more than 32 million weekly viewers.

In 1985, he founded Remote Area Medical – RAM® and continued to serve, without compensation, as RAM’s Founder and President until his passing on August 2018. Because of his work with RAM, Mr. Brock has been recognized as the pioneer of bringing free health care to people in need. Today, thanks to RAM’s corps of 120,000 volunteers, RAM has treated close to 1 million women, men, and children providing a total of $120 million in free medical care.

Mr. Brock was instrumental in the passage of the Tennessee Volunteer Health Care Services Act of 1995, which allows health professionals with out-of-state licenses to cross state lines and provide free care. He has been recognized as a CNN Hero in 2012, and most recently, in 2017, he joined the ranks of other prominent leaders like President Jimmy Carter and Mother Teresa when the Lions Club International Foundation recognized him with the Lions International Humanitarian Award.

RAM’s work has been covered by national and international news media including CBS 60 Minutes, NBC Nightline, New York Times, Washington Post, TIME Magazine, The Guardian, and The Times of London.

Stan Brock passed away at the age of 82 in Rockford, TN on August 29, 2018, after dedicating 33 years to his beloved organization, Remote Area Medical (RAM).

“RAM IS THE WAY I HAVE KEPT A PROMISE, NOT ONLY TO THE WAPISHANA INDIANS BUT TO THOUSANDS AROUND THE WORLD IN SIMILAR HEALTH CONDITIONS. IN OTHER WORDS, THERE ARE WAPISHANAS EVERYWHERE.”
-STAN BROCK

American Born, Jennifer Lawrence, Falls in Love with Guyana

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Jennifer Lawrence and her husband, Jenkins Lawrence, in Yupukari Village, Region 9.

First Published: 27th of July, 2021 by Patrick Carpen.

Last updated: July 26, 2022 at 22:32 pm

Jennifer Lawrence (nee Bucolo) was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. She is the second of four female siblings born to Mr. and Mrs. Bucolo. Her dad, John, is a lawyer, and her mom, Kimberly, is a business owner.

Jennifer Bucolo graduated with Honors from Lesley University in May, 2014

Growing up, Jennifer’s dream was to become a successful business owner – owning her own businesses in different countries and traveling the world. After high school, she pursued a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology, Social Change, and Environmental Science at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. During her studies at Lesley University, Jennifer was awarded a scholarship for a Study Abroad Program which saw her traveling to the jungles of South America – a voyage that would later change the course of her life.

Jennifer poses for a photo in her adopted home of Yupukari Village, Region 9, Guyana, South America.

The ideals in Guyana are completely opposite to those of the United States. The United States is obsessed with materials, money, and accumulating more and more of everything. In Guyana, the people take pride in their country. They are happy and thankful to be Guyanese and to have the land, water, and animals that they have. Two cultures could not be more different.

jennifer lawrence

In the year 2011, while serving as a teacher’s assistant, Jennifer approached the president of her college to apply for funding to take her students to an environmental conference off the coast of Massachusetts on an island called Martha’s Vineyard in the USA. The president politely declined her proposal but recommended that she apply for a scholarship for the 3-month Study Abroad Program to the jungles of Guyana. She did. And that same year, she was overjoyed to learn that she had been awarded a scholarship to study wildlife for three months in the interior of Guyana.

At that time, I knew almost nothing about the remote South American country of Guyana – the country that time and fate would transform into my new home. I was thrilled, thankful, excited, scared, happy, anxious, all at the same time. Full of positive energy and emotions, I started packing for my trip to Guyana.

In June, 2011, the ambitious college student boarded a flight from JFK International Airport in New York City to the Cheddi Jagan International Airport in Guyana. After resting for two nights at a hotel in Georgetown, she, along with the three other students, boarded a Trans Guyana plane to Lethem, Region 9. There, they were picked up and transported via 4-wheel drive vehicle to the Caiman House Eco Lodge in Yupukari Village, Region 9.

In Yupukari, Jennifer spent three fruitful and fulfilling months of her life studying big cats such as Jaguars along with environmental impacts, conservation, wildlife management, and environmental science. All too quickly, it was time to say goodbye, and Jennifer, along with the rest of her group, boarded a return flight out of Guyana.

While in Guyana, I was blown away and so fulfilled by all the beautiful flora and fauna in the area.

A Facebook Message that Changed My Life

Seven years later, in August, 2018, while she was working as a social worker and skill-building specialist for the Pennsylvania state government, Jennifer received a Facebook Message from a friend whom she had met during her three-month stint in Guyana. This friend’s name was Cindy Holland and Cindy invited Jennifer to come back to Guyana for a holiday.

Several transformational things were happening in my life at that time. I had lost my step brother, and I came to the realization that I needed to go back to Guyana as soon as possible to unwind and spend time with old friends. 

Jennifer returned to Guyana and traveled inland once more to Yupukari Village. It was during this second visit to Guyana that Jennifer met her soulmate, Jenkins Lawrence, for the first time. At that time, Jenkins was working as a PAC (Protected Areas Commission) ranger and the two went on frequent adventures: trips into the rainforest, boating, fishing, swimming in the river, etc.

Their frequent adventures made Jennifer not just fall in love with her environment, but also with the young man who was reintroducing her to nature and the village of Yupukari.

I was blown away and amazed at the beauty of the Guyanese lifestyle.

Later, Jennifer and Jenkins got engaged, and started building their house. She flew back to the United States for two weeks to visit her family, sell her car, get rid of her apartment, and she subsequently made the permanent relocation down to Region 9, Guyana, South America, fully aware of the fact that she would not have adequate access to jobs, internet, or transportation for a very long time.

At one with nature: Jennifer and her husband built their house in the middle of a natural setting in Yupukari Village, Region 9.

I was risking it all for love. I sacrificed the growth of my career path for something I knew was going to be much more difficult, but all the more worth it in the end.

Jennifer and her husband, Jenkins, got married in Guyana during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Consequently, none of her family members were able to attend the wedding, which, she says, was very emotionally difficult for her at that time. 


Now Jennifer and her husband have their house, their various business connections, and they are starting a family together.

I was fascinated with the possibilities of evolution and change available at my fingertips living in the interior of Guyana, separate from the society of millions of people that I grew up in. 

In Yupukari Village, Jennifer Lawrence is now connected with:

Save the Giants – A Community Driven Conservation Initiative. Save the Giants has a mission to protect the critically endangered Giant River Otter and make sure their populations are stable in their range through South America by 2025.

Caiman House Eco Lodge

Guyana Truly Wild

She is also involved in various community development projects such as women in business, women in science, women’s financial development, and education for women and children.

You can connect with Jennifer directly on:

Instagram: www.instragram.com/realgemstudios

By Email: realgemstudios@gmail.com

And with her husband, Jenkins Lawrence:

Instragram: instagram.com/jenkins_lawrence_

Update: Jennifer Lawrence Pioneers Computer Training Facility in Yupukari Village

This article was reprinted in the Guyana, South America Monthly Magazine, June 2022 Edition.

The Post Independence Brain-Drain

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As I mentioned in a previous article, Guyana became a failed state after independence, and that downward spiral continues up to present day, with the exception of a few spikes here and there.

This is largely due to what is referred to as the “brain drain.” Needless to say, intelligent people are needed to run a successful country, but after Burnham and Jagan chased the Europeans out, so to speak, the once booming civilization was left without the cerebral mechanism to function.

The ambition of the average Indo Guyanese man back in the early days of colonialism was to imbibe in a good bottle of rum with loud music and some company – after a hard half day’s work at the Estates. The rum was readily furnished to him through the grinding sugar estates. And the ambition of the average Afro-Guyanese man, after slavery had ended, was to lie down with his hands folded on top of a lofty tree limb – after having enjoyed a hearty meal of cookup rice and beans. This is not to say there were not exceptions to the rule.

As a result of the lack of technical expertise, poor marketing skills and a government now comprised of laymen, the economy started to crumble. Estates started to become dysfunctional and unprofitable. This only compounded the existing problem of a lack of human resources. As many Guyanese fled to other nations seeking a better life, those with some amount of “schooling” were given better options in terms of finding a job overseas with better standards of living.

For these reasons, Guyanese parents encouraged and gave their children every opportunity to acquire a “sound education.” With a sound education, these young people could be admitted to college in the United States, Canada or England – giving them a chance to escape the stagnated economy and harsh life in Guyana.

Canada particularly opened its door to skilled workers in addition to academics, and continues to do so to this day. Consequently, with a few exceptions, Guyana has been left with the remnants in terms of human resources – compounding the economic problem and further facilitating the downward spiral of the country.

It is no surprise then, that the Guyana Parliament is comprised of mostly dunderheads. This was clearly demonstrated in the recent case where the APNU/AFC government went all the way up to Caribbean Court of Justice, using millions of taxpayer’s dollars, to try to prove that 33 is not a majority of 65. Then there is the case of an attorney by the name of Neil Boston talking about “discrepTancies” during a court hearing which was being streamed live. And last but not least, there is the mayor of Georgetown who said “you cannot put ail in people’s hands who already ailed.” Decode.

Guyana’s Failed Independence

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This article was first published on the 4th of April, 2020 by Patrick Carpen.

Last updated: July 10, 2022 at 1:53 am

It is highly evident that Guyana’s fight for independence from Britain was more racially fueled than policy driven. Subjects of the then Queen of England claimed oppression which led to uprisings. At that time, two learned laymen, Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham, teamed up to form a new government of Guyana, but they subsequently split and formed their own political parties even before independence was granted – which largely contributed to the bitter 1964 riots and racial conflicts between East Indian and Africans.

The lowering of the Union Jack and the hoisting of the Golden Arrow Head in 1966 was only symbolic of a plummeting economy and rising corruption. Except for a handful of politicians and businessmen counterparts, the majority of Guyanese suffered from the ensuing post-independence economic decline. Many Guyanese, post 1966, sought refuge on the shores of the United States, Canada, England – yes – the very land against which they had rebelled. But it didn’t stop there, Guyanese fleeing poverty and starvation even fled to the then booming oil economy, Venezuela. Then there were others who fled to Suriname, Holland, Brazil, and just about anywhere else that they could have run to.

Very few choose to stay – or they stayed because they had no option. The declining economic conditions in Guyana led to the brain drain where intellectuals sought employment in foreign countries which promised a better life. Of all countries, the United States was the most welcoming in terms of offering migration opportunities for Guyanese to work and live a better life. In this context, the United States was viewed as the great and mighty savior – a land of opportunity where the streets were paved with gold – but that too was a bit of an illusion once you landed there.

But back home in Guyana, the leaders of the two main political parties – PPP/C and PNC/R continued to court race-based politics and political ideologies. The leaders of the PNC/R appealed almost entirely to the Afro-Guyanese population while the leaders of the PPP/C appealed almost entirely to the Indo-Guyanese population. The Amerindians, mixed and minority races provided swing votes for these two main political factions.

We’ll talk more about Guyana‘s failing race based politics in another article, but for now, let’s suffice to say that Independence in Guyana has largely been a failed project. Even with the advent of oil and the promise of great wealth, the future for Guyana appears dismal because of bitter ethnic divide, corruption, theft, greed, and the general inability of the laymen to govern.

Now take a look at this video which shows clippings from 1965 – one year before independence. If you walked through Georgetown and various other parts of Guyana in the year 2020, you will see that, 55 years later, after 54 years of Guyanese rule (or mismanagement) not much has changed for the better – things have only gotten worse.

A Confused and Confounded Leader

Take a look at this video showing Dr. Cheddi Jagan, leader of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic, wondering why the economy keeps declining backward post-independence. He declares that during British rule, they had so much food and milk that they used to give it away. And he asks why, now, decades later under self-governance, Guyana needed to import milk. The answer is, as they say in colloquial language, “you don’t put donkey to blow mouth organ.” This video was filmed in the 90s or late 80s I think.

Disclaimer: This article contains the opinion of the author at the time of writing. The author’s opinion is subject to change as new facts come to light. Further, the views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the general Guyanese population. The views contained in this article are open to discussion and debate.

Contents

Bigger Bills Signifies a Weaker Currency

What Would Have Happened if the APNU/AFC Had Succeeded in Rigging the 2020 Elections?

Guyana’s First Parliamentary No-Confidence Motion

Cultures, Traditions and Religions

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Under this heading I will write stuff related to Guyanese culture, traditions and religions.

The Story Behind Eldorado

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This article was first published on the 4th of August, 2019 by Patrick Carpen.

Last updated: June 15, 2022 at 16:49 pm

Did you know…that “El Dorado” is Spanish for “The Golden”?

Almost all Guyanese have heard the story of Eldorado. In Primary School, students even sing the Patriotic Song, “born in the land where men sought Eldorado….” But the story of Eldorado is not limited only to Guyana’s shores – it is one of worldwide fame – and it is what drew the Spanish, British, Portuguese, and other explorers to Guyana.

The story was told of a “golden” king who anointed himself daily with gold dust and who ruled in a city where the streets were paved with gold. But this city was never found – and the story itself turned out to be both mystical and mythical. In common language, it was all a hoax.

But who made the story up in the first place? Why was it told and to whom? And why would someone invent such a lie?

During my travels throughout the Rupununi, more specifically, Yupukari Village, Central Rupununi, I was taken to the very grounds where the British and the Portuguese had a stand-off during the quest for the city of Eldorado. If the city did exist, the standoff might have escalated into a war – which experts say the Portuguese might have most likely won.

On my way back to Lethem from Yupukari, I had a chat with Mr. Ashley Holland – a tour operator who runs Rupununi River Tours. I asked him “well how did the story of Eldorado come about in the first place if in fact there is no golden city?”

His answer was something I didn’t learn in school. After the discovery of South America, the Spanish explorers landed and started invading the natives. According to Mr. Holland, “they raped and plundered their way through the continent taking back all the gold they could find.”

They were in the process of destroying the Incas in Peru when they were told the story of Eldorado – that there was a golden city “somewhere east.” One legend has it that the Incas fabricated this story to distract the Spanish and send them on a wild goose chase. The Incas of Peru perceived the Spaniards’ obsession with gold and came up with a ruse. And the ruse succeeded. The Spanish swallowed the bait – hook, line, and sinker, and went in search of El Dorado.

The explorers traveled down through the Amazonian trail, and when they reached a certain point in Guyana, the descriptions of the location seemed to match the coordinates on the map. Apparently, as Mr. Holland put it, “they had put 2 and 2 together and gotten 7.”

But who knows if the city really does exist? Who knows if, with all the emerging Satellite technologies, the city of Eldorado will one day be found?

One thing for sure is that if you come to Guyana, you will find Eldorado Rum!