Economic development · Latin America · Literature · Personal Essays

Announcing Nomadic Sojourns: “We are composed of movement”

Dear readers, I applaud my friend and fellow New School for Social Research alumnus, J.K. Fowler, for creating a very interesting and unique journal, Nomadic Sojourns, which takes the subject of movement as its inspiration and overall theme. The first issue came out in September and contains a memoir about my first foray into ethnographic research in Guyana as a 20-year-old college student, as well as pieces of nonfiction and fiction by writers of every shape and size. There will be readings (at which I suspect I will, at some point, read something from my piece), so stay tuned for those–but in the meantime, please take a look at the journal on McNally Jackson’s website, or walk right into their Prince Street shop and admire it on their shelves. Below is an excerpt from my piece, to tease you into shelling out the very nominal $17.99 for the beautifully-designed and one-of-a-kind journal.

“The next morning, the shaman was expecting me. Again his family joined Milton and me inside the hut. Malcolm performed the washcloth ritual once more, and then instructed me to return after lunch.

The same people were there when I came back. There were also a couple of tiny, scrappy puppies flailing about on the dirt floor, so young that they hadn’t even opened their eyes. Malcolm and Mavis were resting in hammocks, having a post-lunch nap. Malcolm’s daughter, who looked to be about five, appeared with a stick of sugar cane, which she peeled and chopped expertly with a machete. I was offered a bit and sat there sucking on it, enjoying its sweetness, watching the puppies, waiting for something to happen, for the shaman to turn his attention to me. But Malcolm and his wife remained in the hammocks until finally, Milton told me that I was to return that evening.

I spent the afternoon, as I did most days, interviewing people involved in the village’s eco-tourism industry. Most told me that it was an exciting step forward for the village and that exposure to Westerners was beneficial to the children—a chance to practice their English, at least–though some complained that it brought in noisy and culturally-different outsiders.

The development of a tourism infrastructure had begun in Surama about eight years ago, with the construction of the guest lodge we were staying in. For some time, the village economy had been depressed, people told me. Guyana had once had a socialist economy, led by the democratically elected, adamantly Marxist Prime Minister, Cheddi Jagan. But after Jagan was removed in a coup in the 1950s, aided by the CIA and the British army (when Guyana was still their colony), Guyana saw the advent of free-market economics as their national policy. And not long after that, Surama and other villages in Guyana’s interior saw a decline in the demand coming from the nation’s urban coastline for their produce. The coast was being flooded with imported goods, and things like Coca-Cola were introduced as well. As a result, what little cash was coming into the Amerindian villages began to wane. Soon, young men who would have been able to raise families in the villages where they grew up were leaving to find jobs in Georgetown, or across the border in Brazil, where they often got involved in the profitable drug trade. “

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