Sunday, September 09, 2012


TRANSLATED from Spanish BY ERIC BLAIR - Volunteers welcome!

A bicycle could be a modest vehicle, but these scrawny metallic structures, given the right amount of force, can vindicate itself as a mighty teletransporting Pegasus. What I lived recently can attest to it. It was a hot and sunny morning in a residential suburb just outside Georgetown, Guyana. We had arrived by land. I was abandoning myself in a bit of zen meditation which implies pedaling and mastering the most accessible version of man's equilibrium. I was looking for a place to buy breakfast. Lau, stretching beneath the mosquito nets, was waiting for me in a house that had been lended to us. It was, like love and magic, instantaneous and never gradual. A breeze blew, filtered out through every kitchen in the neighborhood, and brought to me a curry aroma so heavy it was as if I had been taken by an invisible bridge to India. 

In the moment I didn't want to check the mirror and instead preferred to let the thread of the scent, now transformed into a Herculean arm, lift me and the bike from the ground as if in E.T. After one year of cultural homogeneity in Latin America (Spanish colonial arquitecture, churches always dedicated to Saint Francis or La Merced, the same language with a different accent, etc.) I confess I was happy and I connected with the unfathomable plurality of the planet. In the blink of an eye I sensed India, Laos, and so many other sites where I felt blessed by an untellable sentiment of foreignness. 

Therefore, the high tone of the Hindu singers was added to the smell of the curry. Eventually, in a way that knocked out any pretense of mentally putting myself back in South America and straying from the path of my fantasy, a group of sacred cows, slow like a caravan of dromedary camels from Arabia, came up the end of the street, marching chiefly and chewing the water hyacinths that float in the canals lined by the two-story wooden houses. Maybe I was in India? Each stroke of the pedal brought me closer, in my mind, to the gardens of Taj Mahal. Then, upon turning the corner, a black family greeted me in that Caribbean English where every word seems the spark of a rebellion. I had to get off my horse. I wasn't in India, I remembered, but in the Republic of Guyana, border country of Venezuela and of other worlds all at once.

Now I was able to remember everything more clearly. We had entered the country via Boa Vista, Brazil and traveled through the Rupununi Savannah with Colombian gold prospectors who had no passports but, instead, a washbowl in order to have their adventure in the malaria-infested rivers. Next, we crossed the Amazon jungle in a Bedford truck from the seventies that the branches of the jungle played like a rusty xylophone. There were 560 kilometers of land and swamps in which we counted twenty abodes. The country seemed wrought with nature. In a fluvial customs on the Essequibo River we slept and observed the Amerindian natives drinking Guinness beer, a strange side-by-side brought on by the Anglo-Saxon influence. And, above all, we accepted Danielle's invitation, the owner of the truck, to stay in his second house just outside of Georgetown.

He was the first to explain to me the harmony that the blacks and the Indians (from India) live in, whether they be Christian, Hindu, or Muslim. It was British colonial heritage that threw the stone and left the experiment going, both races introduced to the region and replacing the Amerindians and they constituted themselves into the founding ingredients of the Republic of Guyana. The blacks were --as always-- brought as slaves by the English to work on the sugar cane plantations. When slavery was abolished in 1838 the English --who needed to keep churning out raw materials for their industrial revolution-- looked towards cheap labor from India, another one of its colonies, to hire workers willing to make the trip. The first group of Indians came on two boats, the Hesperus and the Witby. Now they make up 43 percent of the population. While observing Danielle talk about interracial respect and feed his tua-tua birds, I could identify the very same Indian accent that having survived a transatlantic migration, blessed Guyana with a twist of millenary wisdom. This contrasted greatly with the objective fact that we are talking about the second youngest country in South America


It wasn't difficult to discern that Danielle wasn't lying:  the next morning, an Easter Monday according to their own calendar, we went to the Sea Wall, or the coast line, to watch a massive group of people flying kites. No, it doesn't mean the Guyanese suffer a reversion back to their childhood. Rather, it means that the Christians here fly kites as a symbol of Christ ascending to the heavens.

Black, Indian, and mestizo families all crowded each other with no distinction to drink sodas to help fight off the heat while their children, armed with balls of twine, shared the sky which is wide enough to be the home place of Allah, Shiva, and Jehova. Each one pulling on his cord invited a colored ethereal mark, and the sky turned into an infinite plaza where people could play and not into a theological battlefield. In one instant, the Afro-descended minority tried to impose its own laws. They would not give you a job unless you had a Christian name.


In order to stop spying through the key hole of the lock and take on the heart of Guyana we decided to visit a Mandir, a Hindu temple. En Guyana there is normally a mosque, a church, and a mandir in each neighborhood, and they never encounter incidents. Before entering, a woman wrapped in a saffron-colored sari invited us to leave our shoes on the rug as Asian etiquette dictates which happens to govern homes and temples here. In that moment I realized that, in a similar way, I also had taken off my mental shoes before stepping foot into Guyana. 

Why? Essentially, because all the roads traveled before become obsolete baggage--useless. You have to turn the page in order to harden yourself with new winds and understand that America is something more than just Latin America. It seems simple but it is necessary to leave by the wayside the cultural alpha male that we carry inside, perhaps an aftertaste of resentment for the English influence on the continent. Guyana is, in fact, the only country of the Commonwealth on mainland South America and the only where English is the official language. Here no one has heard of San Martin or Bolivar. Bob Marley -a neighbor- is also unknown. In these times where travels from point to point on the American continent are en vogue it seems to me opportune to point out that there is something more beyond Venezuela. We have a Hindu country in South America to which one can reach by land and without a visa. Exploring spirits are wanted...


Returning to the temple, we entered a wide and quilted room where a compact and relaxed group recited Sanskrit songs in front of an altar exquisitely decorated. The Hindu deities, with their marble faces, faced the faithful. There was Shiva --god of creation and destruction--and his consort Parvati, Krishna with his flute, Vishnu, the preserver of the universe. For those unfamiliar with this religion, the figures can seem somewhere between enigmatic and ridiculous. A man with an elephant's head (our beloved Ganesh), another with blue skin, or one with a monkey's face, gods with faces on either side of their head. 

The first thing we did was leave floral offerings at the feet of Ganesh--caretaker of travelers. We wanted to make it clear that we were more than two simple gringos with a camera. We cut the flowers from the neighborhood gardens because, according to what they had told us, the neighbors were aware of the sacred fate of the flowers, and we knew beforehand which ones were the Hindu houses because flags of Shiva can be found at them. Out of the corner of our eyes we saw the smiles of acceptance and we returned to hear the songs. Those in attendance, just like us, understood nothing of what was sung because Caribbean Hindustani, actually Bhojpuri, is different from Sanskrit -the sacred language- many western Indians lost the language of their ancestors generations ago. 

We were left in awe. We could only fancy our imagination with the phonetic enchantment of the hymns. Something that must be said about the Hindu temples is that they are much happier places than churches. There were no dead or crucified people on the walls. Instead, the images reflect human aspects and less heroic ones. In one painting, Shiva watched his woman, Parvati, as a young man might desire a woman while both balanced upon swings of ivy. And she, painted as a sensual geisha with arched brows, gave him the eyes. Anyway, Hinduism helped me quite a bit when I was fighting my inner rebellions.  The Mayan idea of the universe as a creation of thought was good medicine for putting in perspective social expectations. The anchor of sin and its associated blame, are in comparison a matrix dangerously transferable to other dimensions of freedom. This is why so many people feel guilt at the time of carrying out their plans to travel. Despite having the time and the money, something intangible seems to stop them. 

After the songs, the Hindus shared with us some vegetarian snacks and a woman invited us to eat at her house. It was a humble home. Her nephew supported her from Canada. On a kerosene stove she made chicken and curry. And for dessert she gave Laura some clothes that they had sent her from North America. Laura couldn't avoid thinking about that afternoon in Udaipur, India when a woman stopped her on the street to give her bracelets so as to insure that she would have a good image of her city. That kindness was also found in Guyana. Our hostess expressed it in her words. For her, Krishna, Allah, or Jesus Christ are the same thing. The important thing is how we behave with the gods that live inside of us. Hospitality as a bridge between gods: welcome to Georgetown.


Remember, you can order my e-book “Vagabonding in the Axis of Evil – By thumb in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan” with just one clic. Learn more here.

I solemnly promise the book will envelope you as a magic carpet bound for remote lands. Thanks for sharing the message of a more hospitable world!