I am exiting 2015 by revisiting the first 7 months of the year for myself. Over the course of the year, I have found myself in five countries, the first of which, from January to July, was Guyana.
Today, while visiting friends and family in New York City, I hopped on the R train in Queens, transferred to the F train, and made my way to Jamaica, Queens, the final stop on that line of the subway. As I climbed out from underneath the street, I found myself back in the diverse neighborhood that I had my orientation for my volunteer corps in back in July 2014. I had spent five or six days in this neighborhood, but the orientation was so structured that I had only been given a small amount of time to get out onto the main street to experience the stores, restaurants and people. I remember taking note of the diversity of the neighborhood. The people were clearly from all different places in the world, and the storefronts emphasized this as well. There were restaurants, bakeries, shops, and stores owned and operated by people from Guyana, Jamaica, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, and Brazil.
I had to look down a number of side streets before I found what I was looking for when I arrived, a Guyanese restaurant run by a Guyanese woman who relocated to Jamaica, Queens. Just as I was about to give up, assuming it had shut down over the course of my year abroad, I rounded a corner and found what I was looking for. The restaurant, called “Kaieteur” after the waterfall in the interior of Guyana, looked exactly as I remembered it. And when I walked in, the woman behind the counter remembered me from when I had visited the restaurant 18 months ago.When I ordered, I told her that I wanted whatever she had that would remind me the most of being in Guyana. I noticed that a lot of the menu was Americanized, which was extremely disappointing, but she directed me to the curry section on the menu and let me know that it would be a safe bet that it would be similar to curry in Guyana. And so I ordered potato curry with a piece of roti to accompany it. The display case with all of the baked goods in it was the best part of being in the restaurant, I recognized everything. There was cassava bread, pholourie, cheese sticks and cheese rolls, salara, and a couple of things that I never learned the names of while in Guyana but had definitely taste tested while in Guyana last year. “Um, I’ll have one of…whatever this thing is.”
While I waited on my food, I chatted with the woman and another worker about Guyana. She was born in Guyana and moved to New York 13 years ago. He was born in America to his Guyanese parents and has not returned to Guyana since he was four-years-old. It’s strange to think that I’ve been in Guyana more recently than the employees of this Guyanese restaurant and bakery, but they certainly are much more aware of what is going on in the country than I am. They have family in Guyana that they keep in careful contact with and they receive news steadily throughout the day about the goings on down there. When I sat down to eat, I read a version of the newspaper I used to read in Guyana, a weekly paper designed for people living in New York who want to know about what is happening in Guyana. It was nice to catch up on the saga of this country that I invested so much energy into. According to the employees of Kaieteur, the new government isn’t doing a good job. However, before I left, I thought they were doing a very fine job turning the country around. Hard to know the truth from such a distance.
Prior to heading out to Jamaica for the afternoon, I had Skyped for the first time with one of my friends in Guyana since I left in July. It was incredible to catch up with them and get the scoop on what has happened since my departure. Whether it’s a good thing or not, it seems as though everything has stayed on course. Everyone and everything seems to have progressed in just about the same manner I would have expected them to over the timeline of five months. I suppose I’m okay with that.
By the time three ‘o clock rolled around and I was back on the subway, stuffed with Guyanese food and thinking about my conversation from earlier in the day, I wondered why all of a sudden I seemed to be back in the Guyanese mindset. Perhaps it had something to do with the year concluding, perhaps it was just a coincidence that by the time I was actually able to Skype with my friend it happened to be the last day of the year. Either way, I like the idea of taking a moment to review what has happened in my life. Time to reflect on the the people that have redirected who I am, the events that have helped shape who I am heading into 2016, is important. I still wish the idea of beginning anew was more universally recognized as something that can happen at any point in time, but we’ll get there. Clean slates are so underrated.
Even though the subway was delayed getting me back to where I have been staying in Queens, I was content in the moment. I had managed to experience a little bit of Guyana without having to deal with the heat and the intensity of the full-blown culture; I was given an opportunity to reminisce. And not only that, but while experiencing the delays, I was able to solidly appreciate the year that was coming to a close. Living in another country is no easy feat, and for more than half of the past year, that is what I did. In the moment, I was so appreciative for my experience and so thankful to be right here in the heart of New York City. It was a moment I easily could have dreamed up for myself while I was ringing in 2015 in Georgetown last year.
On the walk back from the subway to the apartment, I found twenty dollars on the sidewalk. It sounds like a joke, but my good energy was flowing, so whomever lost their money on the street paid for my meal and subway rides for me. Thanks, Universe.