It’s Saturday night in Plaisance. For the first time in months, I have an extensive amount of time to myself. I have the ability to sleep when I want. I have personal time. I have freedom. It feels foreign, but only in a way that returning home after a long vacation feels. I’m getting used to it quickly, and I like it.
I awoke from a two hour afternoon nap as the sun was setting this evening. With the rest of the retreat center guests cleared out for the weekend, I knew I had to scramble to get food for myself while I still had a little daylight, although, I admit, Guyana in the dark is kind of fun to navigate. So, I walked out of the retreat center gates just as the last bit of light was fading from the sky. I nodded to the guards, letting them know I’d be back soon, and then took off across the bridge and onto the bustling road.
It was darker than I anticipated right off the bat, but I had walked the road with two of my Guyanese friends the previous night and there was no issue. As I was weaving through the car headlights and trying not to fall into the canals on either side of the road, I noticed four massive black figures marching toward me. Just a family of cows out for an evening stroll. A calf darted passed me next, trying to catch up. The smell was bad, a mixture of burning garbage, swampy water in the canals and gutters, and the smell of the sea being blown in on the breeze a quarter mile or so away. It’s mostly a tolerable scent though, and it’s welcoming in that it helps me time travel right back to 2015 when this place really felt like home. In the early evening, being that it is Saturday, the Hindu families in the surrounding homes play their music, and they play it loud. The high pitched notes being sung by the soprano recording artists remind me of what it’s like to live in a Hindu neighborhood when no one has to rush out to work in the morning hours. As if coordinated, music will dance over the tops of houses and through the trees and down the road, and, just as one song seems to be growing too faint, another house has their music turned up loud enough for the neighborhood to enjoy. The African population on the other side of the neighborhood, where the buses rush through and the people set up their stands to sell vegetables and home-made rice and chicken dishes, also makes its fair share of noise on Friday and Saturday evenings. From the retreat center, all I can here is the thumping base of their party music, mixing sloppily with the high-pitched Indian music.
This, walking around in the countryside in search of a meal–which ended up being a big plate of chowmein (thank you, Chinese influence), came after a day spent in the city. After wrapping up swimming with the boys, I walked them to the bus park, put them on the bus, and then shuffled around Georgetown on my own for a while. It struck me as I loaded the boys up into the mini-bus and watched them pull away that I really have a handle on this whole navigating a country that is not my own. In fact, due to the size of Guyana, and how extensively I’ve traveled it, I believe I know more about getting around Guyana than I do about getting around the United States–there is certainly more to know about getting around a country of that size and I cannot pretend to have seen it all.
Even smack dab in the middle of the Stabroek Market, arguably the busiest and most crowded area in the entire country of Guyana, I felt fine. I felt alive actually. This is the place where all of the buses converge, where they line up by the dozens in designated rows, waiting their turn to be stuffed full of people to take them an hour into the interior to the mining town of Linden, or down the coast toward Mahaica or Corriverton, or maybe just a quick run around Georgetown or a nearby neighborhood. The market explodes on Saturdays. Everything is for sale. Fish are being pulled right out of the sea and Demerara river, thrown up onto wooden boards and sliced immediately. Vendors have every kind of merchandise imaginable splayed out for the city to see–jewelery laid out carefully on the tops of stands, shoes and slippers piled up in heaps on the ground, different food assortments, encased in glass containers to keep the flies off of them: Egg balls, poughlorie, cheese sticks, pineapple slices, channa, mango (green or ripe). Men walk around with some of the most ridiculous things for sale, like steering wheel covers, draped around their necks, with windshield wipers in their hands. They weave in and out of the stop-and-go traffic, hoping someone with their window rolled down will be interested in one of their items.
Far too many taxi drivers react to my white skin as if I’m personally flagging them down, looking for a way out of the market immediately. I hold my hand up to them, decline politely. I don’t even feel like a target in the market. I’m a rarity, for sure, but the city dwellers certainly see white people enough to not need to stare me down. I weave through the crowds, onto the sidewalks and into the streets, glancing at what is for sale, meandering around like anyone else.
I navigated the market enough today to buy fruit, a book, and plantain chips. Then I crawled into a bus without second thought, and rode back up the coast. I’m just so utterly thankful for this country and all that it continues to teach me about myself and the world at large. There were times it was nothing but a challenge. But in the end, I am so grateful.
Now, it’s after midnight and the neighborhood has respectfully fallen silent, handing the evening back over to the chirping of the frogs and the rusting of the wind through the palm trees.
Note: I wish I could whip out my phone and take a video of the market, but that would draw much unwanted attention to myself.