The cliché about a picture being the descriptive equivalent of a thousand words remains relevant because like every cliché it conveys some essential truth. A stark picture of someone standing in the open air, arms outstretched in despair, besides a dead animal prostrate on the East Coast public road, conveys in an instant, without a single word, our widespread disregard in Guyana for the safety and life of animals, even the ones who serve us faithfully in some way. A photograph of a woman in a Georgetown hospital bed recovering from some horrific assault jolts us into immediate recognition of the stream of violence unleashed by men in our society upon helpless women. To see a grainy picture of the incomplete Amaila Falls Road reminds one, in a flash, of the array of irregularities and confusions that attended and still attend that project. On the recent front page of Stabroek News there is an Arian Browne photograph taken in City Hall showing our “two Town Clerks”, seated mere feet from each other, each trying to achieve territorial control, like two motorists on Regent Street, blocking traffic and refusing to move, both contending “is me parking spot.” In a moment, the picture crystallizes the demise of our city.
The spectacle captured in that photograph, and inevitably elaborated on video, is debilitating; it is pitiful. If not already on the internet, it is certain to end up there. And what a spectacle: persons shouting into microphones, or flinging documents around; voices trying to override voices; adult individuals wrestling over who has the microphone and therefore the highest volume; persons exploding in a cacophony of rage where everyone screams and accuses and not even a morsel of sense emerges.
There have been some shocking descents in the behaviours of our public servants in Guyana in times recent, but this exhibition of rancour last week, in our official edifice in Georgetown, is at or close to the bottom of the barrel. In the last 20 years, while Guyana’s economic conditions have improved, we have ironically gone significantly backward in the way we comport ourselves. In our public behaviours in recent times, we are now beginning to reach the level of yard fowls in our exchanges; that is essentially where we are; one only has to look at pictures of the City Hall confrontation to see the accuracy of the analogy. Indeed, even the fowls might object to the comparison because in their case a dominant rooster would charge in to restore order. In Guyana, no such intervention occurs and the rampage continues, in this case to the ludicrous extent of the police being called in to restore order. Our political behaviours now need to be monitored by the police?
How did we so descend? It is as if the words “shame” and “decorum” have been somehow erased from our consciousness. The picture is made even more painful when one considers that the individuals in the fray, in the camera’s focus and outside, are not in the also-ran or defective category; they are supposed to be among the best we have. They were selected that way to run the business of the nation. They are expected to be aware and committed. From within that group or externally, across the board, a leader, male or female, should be rising up in the middle of that maelstrom, banishing the press, and saying to the combatants, “Hold on, people. This is not deliberation; this is bedlam, and all that comes from bedlam is rubble. Surely we are not here to produce rubble.”
As bad as the Americans and the British are in their own strident political gridlocks, they have not reached the level of disgrace by their representatives that we seem to achieve in Guyana now virtually on a daily basis. If, as it appears to be, it is indeed politics behind our current intractable positions then we clearly have to find a completely new polity for Georgetown, if not the country. At a time when the Ministry of Tourism is launching an ambitious national entertainment event in the Guyana Festival (“the sound and the taste and the soul of Guyana”) in a concerted cultural push to bring visitors here, we have our leaders, in the same week, presenting this pathetic spectacle of the malfunctioning administration of our garbage-strewn capital. And although the constraints of political correctness may have prevented mention of it previously, one can identify the germ acting here in the differing ethnicity of the two representative warriors themselves.
I know without asking that the shame absent these days in the behaviours of many of our political leaders is felt strongly by Guyanese wherever we live. Confronted with the evident trauma in this photograph, all we can do is hang our heads. Explanations falter. Rationalizations become more lame. It is wearing to the spirit. As a Guyanese who is known for upholding Guyana, in a career of 48 years extolling our way of life (I am doing it again soon in Grenada and Toronto), I confess I am deeply ashamed, and I am angry at my own people for such a display where our public servants exhibit this fierce contempt for each other. I would have never dreamed it would come to this. One is reminded of the positive response to tribulation in the Bob Marley assertion, “Don’t worry ‘bout a ting; cause every little ting’s gonna be alright.” It is no stretch to say that if Bob were alive today and were to somehow witness that City Hall melee, he would simply shake his locks, turn on his heel, and say, “Mi cyan deal wid dat, bredrin.”
There are other examples of the dilemmas we face – the Local Elections delay; Financial Management legislation gridlock; the still unknown mysterious key investor in the Marriott; Public Procurement Commission; etc. – and they are formidable. But for some reason that single photograph of two pouting adults, anchored in separate chairs, competing for the same floor space, each adamantly refusing to budge, was like a voice shouting, “That’s what’s wrong with us.” That picture of two individuals, in the employ of the nation, blatantly dismissive of each other, is a striking reflection of the intransigence that is behind virtually every dilemma we are struggling with in this country. It has become rampant. Private funds should be generated to make billboard-size enlargements of that image and mount them around the city to demonstrate the chasm that has developed between the groupings of those who govern us. We should keep that Arian Browne photo; the next time we go abroad and we’re asked to explain some Guyana dilemma, we should simply point to that stark image and say, “That’s the answer.” Not in a thousand words, but in one photograph.