TRAVELLING: Newfoundland and Guyana

I am soon headed back to Newfoundland from Ottawa where I stopped for a while after leaving Guyana. I’m going through the journals I wrote in Guyana and trying to consider how I will perceive of possible connections between Newfoundland and Guyana when I’m writing from Newfoundland. The following excerpt is a piece I wrote about travel and some commonalities I noted (or think I noted) between Newfoundland and Guyana.


 

Paramaribo, Suriname
Paramaribo, Suriname

Like many Newfoundlanders, many Guyanese (except for those for emigrate/ immigrate) have never left their own country. This might have a lot to do with the fact that visas are often required for Guyanese to enter other countries (such as the US and Canada), but it doesn’t fully explain not going to Suriname, for example, the country just east of Guyana in South America. Though Guyanese do not require visas for Suriname, many Guyanese have not even gone to Suriname. At first glance, one might consider that a trip to Suriname, especially via plane, is prohibitive when one considers the Guyanese wage. The trip by road is long (somewhat quicker and more affordable than by air), and one could easily understand how economics could play into the fact that not many Guyanese have crossed this border. If one works full time, when would the opportunity arise to go to Suriname? It takes a full day to get there, a full day to get back. And, then, there is the cost of staying in Suriname and the higher prices of goods in Suriname. There is also the language barrier (or perceived language barrier) with Suriname operating in Dutch (though one can get by in English).

Perhaps travel is dictated a lot in Guyana by class. Those who have more money are more apt to travel, of course. People in the middle class do travel to Suriname to shop for a weekend or to get a break from Guyana, but I would say the majority of Guyanese who have remained in Guyana to live have never left Guyana. In fact, a lot of Guyanese have never even travelled within Guyana, a situation comparable to the many people I have spoken to in Newfoundland who have never left their island or who have never left their area of Newfoundland (many on the west coast of NL or in smaller rural areas have never ventured to ‘town,’ for instance, the city of St. John’s.)

The reason for staying within Guyana could be said to be mostly economical, therefore. Yet there is also another consideration. The worlds of Newfoundland and Guyana are ‘cut off’ by geography and geopolitics (the need for visas and money to cross borders in the case of Guyana; the physical remoteness of the island, in the case of NL), and I think people do not grow up with the same goals or familiarity with travel as they do in other places. Thus, ‘travelling outside’ might not be a cultural value or goal. Many who would look at this in a pejorative way would deem both places to be insular, perhaps, perhaps even parochial. But I don’t look at it this way. I think such an understanding misses the nuances of realities and how the reality of economics and history play into things. If one does not grow up with travel and journey as an aim, different values are put in place. In both Newfoundland and Guyana, it seems that one strong value that emerges is the need to grow and adopt a careful role (a persona) within one’s own immediate community.

Of course, there is the absolute obverse to consider, too—the numerous people who have access to money and who do go away. In Guyana, because prices of inter-country travel are so prohibitive (much like NL where a flight from the west coast to St. John’s can be as much as $750), this means that when a chance to travel comes up that one goes to Miami or New York (incidentally, places where family members might have immigrated to as well as places where American goods can be bought) rather than to other places within Guyana or even other places within the Caribbean. There are direct flights to Miami, for instance, which are much cheaper than any flight to a country (bar Trinidad) in the Caribbean. When I returned from Martinique and asked random people in Guyana how many had gone there, I did not hear of one person from Guyana who had taken the trip. Martinique is a very different country (complete with a different language) in the middle of the Caribbean, yet Guyanese (and perhaps many from other Caribbean islands) have never travelled there and do not find that an option.

There is a similar phenomenon in Newfoundland. Flights to Toronto are cheaper or about the same price as flights to St. John’s from different rural areas of NL. Thus, it makes more sense to travel to Toronto for a break than to travel to a different point in Newfoundland. And even though St. Pierre and Miquelon sits as France just off the coast of Newfoundland, it is like Martinique in terms of Martinique’s relation to Guyana. Why would one go to St. Pierre and Miquelon for a short break if one could go to Toronto (or, even, Paris, if one’s base is not St. John’s)? Why would one go to Martinique from Guyana if one could go to Miami or New York for the same price?

So, in both places, common phenomena seem to exist: often, one remains in one’s homeland or one leaves one’s community not for other places in one’s own country but for other areas abroad. In this sense, Toronto, Miami and New York are to Guyana what Toronto and Alberta are to Newfoundland.