I used to think of pride as this completely negative thing. I thought that pride was bad, no one should have any of it. I thought of pride as something that made a person conceited, too invested in their own small life. But the fact of the matter is, after six months in Guyana, I’m realizing that pride is an okay thing to have, as long as you filter it.
Pride isn’t just smugness, arrogance, and conceit; pride is pleasure, delight, and satisfaction. This is why I’m writing about pride today, because there is more to life than just being humble. Sometimes, you’ve gotten dip into pride and really appreciate different aspects of your life.
Pride is fine, just as long as you filter it. It’s important for a person to have pride in a lot of things. An individual should be proud of who they are first of all, through and through. They should also find pride in things like their work, their family, their community, culture, religion, hobbies, and—just to hammer home my point—their country. I think the Guyanese, in general, really struggle to have pride in their country.
Early on in my time in Guyana, I was beginning to recognize, and then was told by someone who has collectively volunteered in Guyana for over four years, that you’re nobody until you get out of here. That’s the mentality. Being a volunteer, coming here in search of an opportunity, to learn about another culture, it’s really backwards. The Guyanese like to leave Guyana. I’m sure it doesn’t make much sense to them that Americans, who already have complete and total access to America, would want to come here.
The mentality about “getting out”, about leaving Guyana, has serious implications on this culture. The population of this country currently sits below 750,000 people. There’s a reason the population has only increased by a few hundred thousand people over the past century—no, it isn’t because the Guyanese forgo the act of sex—it’s because everybody leaves, everyone makes it their mission to get out.
At this moment, there are more Guyanese people living outside of Guyana than in it. They go wherever they can get approved to go. They go to Toronto, to London, to New York City. The Guyanese make up New York City’s fourth largest ethnic population. The cycle of wanting to get out is perpetuated by the fact that family members and friends who do leave, who do set up new lives for themselves in the developed world, write home to talk about how great things are for them in their new environment. This leaves the people who are left behind, who are living in Guyana, feeling like they’re stuck, like they’ve failed, that their lives are somehow less because they’re here. Geography is an interesting thing—so much of ourselves in dictated by which clump of soil we occupy.
From what I’ve heard, getting out of here is really a roll of the dice. You can apply for a visa at the U.S. embassy, but it’s a crapshoot as to whether or not you’ll be granted the chance to move. It’s even difficult to just get a 90-day tourist visa. From what I’ve heard first hand over the course of this year, there isn’t any rhyme or reason as to who is granted visas and who isn’t. I think proving that you have a large income helps one along in the process, but other than that, it seems random.
But back to pride. Pride isn’t always a bad thing. We just have to filter it. We have to continually check-in with ourselves to make sure that we’re the perfect blend of humility and the positive parts of pride. Forget conceit—focus on the satisfaction. Pride is satisfaction. There are select individuals who really have pride in this culture and this country, but for the most part, the general lack of pride in the culture is ultimately what is holding this country back. One of the teachers that I work with has written textbooks for Guyanese History classes. These textbooks were written with love for this country, mapping each river and coastline for the maps that accompanying the text and photos, which focuses on parts of Guyanese history that, as scary as it is to think, could be lost if someone didn’t take the time to honor them. This kind of love for the country, the pride that this teacher has for Guyana, is a rarity.
I think, in many ways, Americans have pride in the U.S.A. They love their country, they respect the places they live, support the troops, are generally caring people, care about the well being of others. In Guyana, the lack of pride and satisfaction is detrimental to the country. This is why the streets are so dirty, why people drive so fast, why buildings are falling apart, why tourism is low. I wish that the Guyanese would find pride in this country, and then filter it. I wish they would find a love for this land, a fulfillment in it that makes them want to do better, to respect it, care for it, turn it into something with more potential. I don’t want the Guyanese to fall victim to smugness, but I do wish more love would wash over this country. It would begin with citywide cleanups; speed limit signs and laws and a non-corrupt police force to enforce them; elections of political candidates based on a drive and passion for this nation—no more electing people based on their race. We can do it. They can do it. It isn’t out of reach. It’s just a few power plays away. Just a little more prayer. A little more time. A little more love.
Pride—filter that stuff, baby.