Interviews

What is it like being a Jamaican in Guyana?

Xavier:  What is it like being a Jamaican in Guyana? Hi, I’m Xavier Murphy, founder of Jamaicans.com And today in Jamaicans to the World, I talk to Dr. Tamirand DeLisser. Hi Tamir, how are you?  

Tamirand:  I am fine, thanks for having me. How are you?  

Xavier:  I’m doing good, I’m doing good. So, my first question is which paat a Jamaica yuh cum fram? (Where in Jamaica are you from)  

Tamirand:  All right, so that question is a little bit difficult because I’m not from one place really, I was born in St. Catherine. I spent my childhood days in St Ann, I grew up in St Ann in Watt Town, and after high school, I went to Kingston. 

Xavier:  All right. And which school are you representing? Which high school are you representing?  

Tamirand:  York Castle High School.  

Xavier:  All right. Go York Castle.  

Tamirand:  Yellow and gold, I mean yellow gold and black. 

Xavier:  But don’t meck (let) them get you now, you better know your colors.  

Tamirand: Yes, I think yellow and gold, because we have yellow and gold, but is rarely gold, gold and black.  

Xavier:  All right. Tell us about how you got to Guyana.  

Guyana Falls

Tamirand:  Okay, so how I got to Guyana is; I don’t even know exactly how I got to Guyana it just happened to happen like that. I was studying in Switzerland, and I returned home after completing my Ph.D. I was making this transition to China because I found a job in China, and I literally did everything that I needed to do to go to China. I really, only had to get my ticket, I had my permits, I had a job, I identified where to live. And my professor came to me, my Jamaican professor. In fact, my Guyanese Professor living in Jamaica for umteen (a number) of years, he came to me; 

Xavier:  I hate to interrupt; Are we talking about the same professor in the language department at UWI?  

Tamirand:  Yes, that is Professor Huber Devonish, big up professor Devonish, all the time.  

Xavier:  All right. So, then I know if that’s your professor, you’re into language. If that’s the professor, you’re into languages. 

Tamirand:  Right, I am.  

Xavier:  All right. We’ll get here in a minute.  

Tamirand:  Okay. Professor Devonish he came to me, he asked me, there’s a job in Guyana? Why don’t you go to Guyana? And I’m like Prof, you know that I tell you I’m going to China. He said, oh, yes, you’re going to China. All right. No problem. So, I thought about it for a little bit. And I considered my son, for example, who I’m thinking, okay, going to China it means having him in a new environment, new language. Not that I’m really concerned about the new language, but more so the writing system will be difficult for him; to get him into an international school was really expensive because I checked out these things and I thought that’s okay, maybe indeed it’s better to go to Guyana, it’s closer to home and everything. And I just changed my mind. And I went back to Prof. And I said, hey, it’s a job still available. And he was like, yes, just send your application to whoever, whoever. I did. And that was it. Am now in Guyana.  

Xavier: How many years? 

Tamirand:  I’ve been here since October 2016. October will be five years that I’m here.  

Xavier:  Okay, great. Tell us about the people in Guyana, and also in the same sense, how do the people in Guyana view Jamaicans?  

Tamirand:  People in Guyana absolutely love Jamaicans. You just need to say you’re Jamaican and you can feel the love. It is nice here; the people in terms of culture, it’s pretty similar to the Jamaican culture. They really love or dancehall music. The race is different, because we have more Indians here than we would have in Jamaica. I think it’s like 40 something percent of the population would be Indian. You have 30 something, or I think 29 being blacks. Another 10 percent is Amerindians, and you also have the mixed race. You have Europeans and Chinese and so on.  

Xavier:  Oh, very diverse,  

Tamirand: Very diverse.  

Xavier:  What are the; interims of the people, are they; you know, we Jamaicans, right, if we like you, you going (going to) know, we like you. What is the temperament and how are the people like in Guyana? Are they? You know, I don’t know if they’re similar? I don’t think you find anything similar to us?  

Tamirand:  They are definitely not as, you know, outspoken and outgoing and direct as Jamaicans would be. I find them to be a little bit laid back, let me not say them,  but some of them, because I don’t want to generalize, you understand. 

Xavier: Yes, I understand. 

Tamirand:  But some of them, they are very laid back. They would probably see that something is not necessarily going how it should be, but rather than seeing it as an issue, they would just try to work around it rather than fixing it. One thing they would always say that tends to annoy me whenever things go wrong, it’s like, welcome to Guyana, as if okay, welcome to Guyana; but yeah, they’re definitely not like Jamaicans in that respect. We would always be more direct and outgoing and so on.  

Xavier:  The welcome to Guyana sound like when we said no problem man, no problem. 

Tamirand:  Yeah, kind a like that, but then when we say no problem, it’s really no problem, you know, we wouldn’t make it a problem, we fix the problem. But they kind of love working around the problem.

Xavier:  All right, I see. 

Tamirand:  I love [inaudible 06:58] feel like, I’m now saying anything.  

Xavier:  No, no, no, no, no. I mean, every culture has their different; you know, from doing this series, I realize every culture has their way about tackling stuff. And we may think it is, you know; everybody thinks their way is maybe a better way or whatever. But no, it’s not. You know, and that’s one of the things I’ve learned from doing this particular series, that everyone is different, and exploring that, and knowing that, gives you a better understanding. if I was to land in Guyana, now I know, or somebody was to come to work in Guyana from Jamaica,  

Tamirand:  Yes, absolutely. 

Xavier:   Would know. You know, and so the information Tamir is just awesome information to know. But I gwine (I’m going to) touch on language; you mentioned, Professor Devonish, so I know, from you mentioned your professor and you mentioned the language thing. We have to get into this, because that’s one of the things I like to discuss, the languages in a country. I know English is the main language there, but are there any other languages that are spoken there in Guyana by people? And is there even a mixture of different, you know, languages itself? We have English, and we have patois, you know, talk to me about that.  

Tamirand:  Well, in Guyana, English is said to be the official language. Normally, Guyana is seen as that country, the only South American country with English as the official language. The truth is that while English may be the official language, 95 percent of the population are not English speakers. They also have the Creole language; the Guyanese Creole amicably call the creoles. And that would be similar to our Jamaican patois. A lot of people you find would be; especially people in the city, you find that they would speak a variety that is probably close to English, but it is definitely not English. And so, they may believe that they are speaking English, but it would be similar to our Jamaican situation. People are talking patios but believing that they’re speaking English. Besides the situation with the Creoles language, we do have other indigenous languages in Guyana. We have ten languages that are spoken by…. 

Guyana Fort

Xavier:  Wow! ten languages? 

Tamirand:  Yeah, the indigenous population. Some of these languages are on the verge of dying. They are spoken mainly by the older set of people. They are really at risk because the young people tend not to be encouraged to speak these languages. Normally, parents would want their children to speak English, because that is seen as a prestigious language, that is seen as a language that you kind of speak if you need to, you know, progress in life. That is how it is brought across to a lot of people. So, you end up finding that the Amerindian or preferably term to use would be the indigenous languages or [unclear 10:41]. They are suffering. Efforts are being made at the moment to revitalize these languages, revitalize simply mean to bring back these languages, to have the young people speaking to them and so on. For example, there is this project that is currently going on with the Waukee Shan language, this is in reach nine, where they have actually been using this language in school as a medium of instruction and interaction for the children at the lower grades; grades one and two. They do have much diversity. They also have in Guyana the other European languages, like Portuguese. Because we are next to Brazil. So, a lot of Brazilians tend to come over and of course, they are not coming over with their language. And also, we have the Venezuelans who would come over with Spanish. So, we do have that diversity. We have Haitians coming over with Haitian Creole also, on the Suriname borders we have people speaking Fronann.  Fronnan is the local Creole that they have in Suriname. And yeah, we do have a lot of diversity in terms of language. [unclear 12:10].
Xavier:  Yeah, it sounds like just a convergence. 

Tamirand:  And I think what is more amazing is because it’s a really small population. Guyana has only about seven hundred and fifty thousand people. It’s really a small population to have this diversity. 

Xavier:  I see. Well, you and I will talk; I’m sure there are struggles. 

Tamirand: Indeed!  

Xavier: With the language and again, I don’t want to get into any controversy here, but maybe they’re going through the same thing where they’re not recognizing something as a language. I have gone through my journey. I started out not believing Patois is a language. But some years ago, after some discussion with linguists and even my communication with Professor Devonish and, you know, just a lot of things. I am a strong believer it’s a language and I know there may be some debate going on there in terms of should this be recognized as a language, and maybe it’s something that you are involved in. I don’t know. Again, I don’t waan (want to) get you in any trouble.  

Tamirand:  No, no, there’s no trouble there. I am really excited with your advocacy, because indeed it is a language. And people need to recognize that there is no difference, absolutely no difference when we speak about the ability; well, what the language can do compared to the European languages, we can do everything in Jamaican and probably even more, but; [inaudible 13:51] languages 

Xavier:  Let me tell you; There are certain things that when you sey (say) it’s in Jamaican, it just sweeta (sweeter), it just nisa (nicer), and it just get the point across.  

Tamirand:  Exactly.  

Xavier:  You can’t do it nuh (any) better.  

Tamirand:  Exactly, our mother tongue, we speak from the heart, is our mother tongue. So, that is it. We really need that for our languages to be seen as equal, to be recognized, to be given equal prestige. I really want to see that day when all Creole languages in the Caribbean in particular are put on that pedestal, and we are equal to the English or European languages. I’m working towards that.  

Xavier:  All right. And you and I will discuss some of this because, as I said, very interesting discussion. I’m going to move on to food, and food in Guyana. I know you and I spoke earlier. You’re a Pescatarian. So, you don’t eat everything that is there. So, my question to you is going to be a little different. You know, first of all, is a food seasoned well? Because I hear people talk all the time about the seasoning. And then the other question I’m going to ask you is this one. It’s two part, how seasoned; is it well seasoned? The stuff you getting. And the other part is, in terms of something unusual; is there something unusual that you, see? You know, Guyanese people eat that, you know, everybody else may say, oh, this is kind of different or whatever. You know, we have our monish water, our goat head soup, you know, wi (our) cow foot, wi (our) cow cod, you know, different things that we eat that people may say, man, this is very unusual. Is there something that you have seen that they eat that’s unusual? 

Tamirand:  Yeah. Well, as you indicated, because I am Pescatarian, and it’s kind of difficult for me to say what exactly and whether the food is seasoned well and all of that. But in terms of the vegetarian food or fish, whatever I eat normally they are Okay. I don’t want to be the person, the signature person talking about their food, though, but they are generally good. They have their food, their Guyanese food, which I guess any meat eater should have once you come to Guyana. And that would normally be their pepper pot, which is some meat cooked in as some sort of sauce. And I don’t know. They actually do this pepper pot, vegetarian pepper pot for me because I’m vegetarian. But it’s an acquired taste for me. I didn’t really like it so much. But yeah, the regular meats, pepper pots would be what Guyanese would be fancying themselves about. And they also have their cook up rice and stuff like that. What is different is, they have this animal, I guess it’s very rare animal in the jungle that I didn’t even know before I came here, which is called a Laba and they would normally eat that. They have this saying that once you eat Laba and drink the creek water, then you will never leave Guyana, because they have these water in the black creeks, and if you drink the water and you eat the Laba, then that’s it; you never leave Guyana. I’m yet to do any of those things. 

Xavier: You get to leave. 

Tamirand: I certainly will get to leave when I’m ready. 

Xavier: In terms of the LABA, and you talk about; you know, because you are in South America, there is the Amazon that is next door to you in Brazil. And so on. Nature: you also talk about a population that is not a huge population. You know, so I’m thinking there is, you know, a rainforest, there is a lot of wild to explore. And the landscape is, you know. So, go ahead, you’re about to talk about that.  

Tamirand: Guyana is huge when you compare it to Jamaica, Jamaica can fit in that now probably like 20 times. So, it’s a really wide landscape. And as you mentioned the Amazons and so on, we do have a lot of forests and so. So, what you find, most of the indigenous population that I spoke about, that they are living in the interior. So, you have the majority of Guyanese are living on the coast, however, when you go into these interior communities, they are really beautiful. I’m talking about nature untouched. And that is what I really like about to this country. I do love home; home is always home. But I also like when you kind of explore, you have a wide space that you can just drive and explore. It is a really great when you can get to go to some of these indigenous communities and you see their way of life and you can just get to enjoy the country as is. On good days, I guess, or probably bad days. I was told that you will probably happen to see a Jaguar or something. I’ve never been lucky. 

You may see deer’s, you may see different things, different animals that we wouldn’t have as exotic animals. Like we don’t have that much monkeys in Jamaica unless you go to the zoo, but sometimes we going into the interior and you’ll see monkeys like lots of monkeys. It’s really nice. It’s really different. They have these black water creeks that I was telling you, if you drink the black water, its literally blackwater. Anybody outside of Guyana or for example, like when I just saw it, I’m like, I can’t even see the bottom of that water, its black, it’s like you’re looking at Pepsi, it’s really black water, but they are really nice, beautiful Blackwater creaks. I really like the interior. When you talk about rivers, Guyana has huge rivers. The first time, because this is not my first time in Guyana. I actually came once in 2006 on a field trip. And my first response when I saw the rivers are; are you sure those are rivers? You can’t see the other side of the rivers. They are huge. It looks like the ocean to me. Yeah. It is really nice. You have like; I think [inaudible 21:26

Xavier: You’re actually touching on my next question. And it sounds like you’re saying that the thing we must see and must do if we come there is explore Mother Nature. 

Tamirand: Right. Explore the interior. That you won’t lose on. But as you have that as your next question, there is the famous Kaieteur Falls which is the largest single drop waterfall in the world that is here in Guyana. [unclear/speak over 22:00] must see.   Xavier: I was going to ask about that waterfall, because I’ve heard about that waterfall, have you visited? and how is?  

Tamirand: Yeah, that also is definitely a must see. I will be real. I’ll admit that based on how I thought about this, I guess I wasn’t as blown away as I expected that I would be. But it is great, it is nice. The day when we went it wasn’t the best day because it was raining, and we had to rush and so on. But it is really a great experience. It’s amazing. You have never seen anything like that in the world? Definitely not in Guyana or anywhere where I’ve been. I mean, not in Jamaica. Sorry. Or anywhere, where I’ve been. 

Xavier:  All right. I was going to ask a little bit about adjustment. What is one of the biggest things you had to adjust to, moving from Jamaica there? And then kind of a two-part, you don’t have to get into too much detail, but is it difficult in terms of the transition of working in Guyana? So, in terms of paperwork and so on? So, it’s a two-part question to an extent. You know, the adjustment and then, you know, if somebody was thinking, you know, I want to come live and work in Guyana; is it like a difficult process? 

Tamirand:  Okay, so in terms of adjustments, it wasn’t difficult to adjust. In fact, I don’t really can pinpoint anything much that I needed to adjust to, because, I mean, it’s not the first that I’m being away from home. I’ve always been away from home. So, coming to Guyana is nothing new, it’s just another place that I’ve been. As I indicated, in terms of culture, it’s pretty similar. You go in town, you see the city is pretty much like downtown Kingston, where you have people on the street. If you’re taking public transportation, you have the buses and everybody trying to get to you in a bus and all that. Culturally, it’s really similar. Adjusting was nothing, really. In terms of the paper works, I guess, because your CSME, you can in fact, get the certification. And with that CSME certification if you identify a job, you would normally be allowed to stay. It’s really easy to get if you actually go intown town. I think you get a police record and a few documents, and you apply for this. Normally you would get a stamp in your passport for six months when you enter as a CARICOM National, and then you’d have to go back to actually get that stamp from the CSME which gives indefinite tenure. 

Xavier:  Okay, great, great. Cost of living? is the cost of living in comparison to Jamaica, even some of the other places you have lived. Oh, is the cost of living?  

Tamirand:  Well, cost of living is cheap in comparison to Jamaica. It would be what I would want to say it’s cheap to live here. Food and so on is cheap. But then at the same time, your salary is also lower than what you would get in Jamaica. That’s another thing compared to where I’ve been. It is difficult to compare it to somewhere like Switzerland, where, you know, everything is much more expensive, but also the salary is also much more money and so on. So, it’s really difficult to compare it to like that, but people can survive here easily. 

Xavier:  Okay, good, good. You know, the one thing I didn’t touch on, with food and I always touch on when it comes to folks; when I talk to my folks who are; I know this is South America, but sometimes we kind of take Guyana as the Caribbean, right? And it’s both places, but; 

Tamirand:  It identifies us both, because we are washed by the Caribbean Sea, and we are part of CARICOM. So, we are very much Caribbean. 

Xavier:  Right. But the fruits I didn’t even ask you about the fruits? Are you getting all the fruits you see in Jamaica, your mangoes and your naseberry and you? Are you getting all your fruits there? 

Tamirand: You have most of the fruits here, like the naseberry, they call it something else, Sapodilla, but is the same naseberry; mangos, they have mangoes, but it is definitely not my Julie mango. That you’ll get your mangoes and so on. But it’s different, it’s not our Jamaican mangos.  

Guyana Landscape

Xavier:  You never find an east-Indian there, or Bombay?  

Tamirand: No, not east Indian, we don’t have those. We have some other mango that the people themselves don’t even know what the mango name. Sorry, I shouldn’t say that. But yeah, it’s just mango. There are really good mangos, there are sweet mangoes. They look like our mangoes, they taste like our mangoes, but not the Julie, not the east Indian. That’s it. You have the black, you have the stringy mango and so on. The fruits. They have other fruits that we don’t have in Jamaica. So, that I also like. And then some of our fruits, as I was indicating with the naseberry, they call it different names. Like our red apple or Jamaican; 

Xavier:  Otaheite?  

Tamirand:  Otaheite apple, they call it Cashew, And I’m like, Cashew? how you call it cashew? but, cashew is a Nuts. So, we have those kinds of little things. But it’s really similar, is nice being here.  

Xavier:  All right. 

Tamirand:  The things that we have to eat, the fruits and vegetables, they have different names, they have more; well, not necessarily more, but new things, other things that we don’t really get in Jamaica. 

Xavier:  You get to explore some of those things. That’s good. That’s wonderful. I’m winding down. And here is one of the questions I ask; you land in Jamaica get off the plane, what is that first thing you’re doing? Its either, you know, some people say, I’m kissing the ground, I’m going to the beach, I have a Cane man, I have a coconut man a gwine (I’m going to) visit, I have this I’m going to do, a going Kentucky Fried Chicken, I’m going; so, what is that first thing you’re doing? You get off the plane you land in Jamaica. What’s that first thing? 

Tamirand:  For me; I am really not sure. What’s that first thing? I want some Jamaican food, that’s for sure. Some ackee, our festival, our roast breadfruit and our escovitch fish. Those are the things I want my Jamaican food. I know; like my son, the last time when we came home, he was like, oh, he wants a patty because he would eat meat and he wants a patty. I got him the patty and stuff. But yeah, these are the little things: for me is definitely my ackee and my escovitch fish and so on. 

Xavier:  So, you have me open up another question, isn’t there? And I believe it’s Guyana. Isn’t there like a Guyanese patty that is totally different from our patty? Is it Guyana? or no you haven’t encountered that?

Tamirand:  No, they have Jamaican patty here which doesn’t really taste like Jamaican Patty.

Xavier:  All right, I’m a (I’m going to) leave that one alone. Listen Tamir, I appreciate the time you have spent with us, given us so much information on Guyana. Any last words before I ask my final questions? Any word of advice for anyone that’s thinking of making that move there? are making a visit there, but more like a making a move are thinking of working there, any one piece of advice you would give to them?  

Tamirand:  I’ll tell them, go for it. Go for it. It is always good to go somewhere else. Explore, learn about other cultures. And Guyana is one place at this point in time where we expect massive development, especially with the oil finds and so on. There is at the moment lots of projects, lots of works that are happening. And definitely, I would tell you, go for it. Jamaican’s that are in Guyana will definitely embrace you and the Guyanese will also embrace you.

Xavier: All right. Here is how I typically close, and you been into language, I didn’t get into what you do, but I suspect you’re into language department or something to that extent; is, I usually ask my guess to teach me how to say goodbye in the most informal way that they do it in the culture you’re in. It could be in the Creole language there. It could be in another language. But how do people? You know, we will say catch you later, or little more, you know, or the older folks say catch you pon di strong, (on the strong), you know, or something like that. What would be a term you have heard there that they use informally to kind of say, hey, catch you later?

Tamirand:  Now, I have to think, because all the terms that I would use in Jamaica are similar terms that are coming to my head, and I never really found it to be very different, because that’s how we speak back home. So, I’m trying to see if I can find something that is very uniquely Guyanese that we would not say in Jamaica. 

Xavier:  Oh wow! Well, listen, you could, this one;  

Tamirand:  [unclear 33:21] all the Jamaican terms, yeah, definitely; later. 

Xavier:  That’s impressive to know that it’s basically very similar in terms of the terms they may use.  

Tamirand: Very similar: because both the Guyanese Creole and Jamaican patois they’re also very similar.  

Xavier:  I see, alright.  

Tamirand:  There are differences, but they’re really close. So, you can get by, thinking that I’m Jamaican, okay, I can get by, I understand.  

Guyana amazon

Xavier:  All right. Well, on that I will just say then, catch you later. 

Tamirand:  Thanks for having me again. Take care. or walk good.  

Xavier:  I thank you.  

Tamirand:  Or something like that.  

Xavier:  Alright, walk good. I like that one too. 

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Xavier Murphy