“Guy-an-a; not Ghana.”
Travelling Guyanese are accustomed to explaining where they’re from in this manner. Much of the world doesn’t know of beautiful Guyana – South American in its geography yet Caribbean in all aspects of its culture. – Khadija Benn.
That excerpt is from Khadija‘s description of her piece exhibited at GroundGlass Collective. I was thrilled when I saw it last week – by the beauty of the work itself, by the sentiment of the description and by her title “Not Africa”. I only found out recently that she had been inspired by my blog which is, obviously, even more thrilling.
I’d like to clarify here that there’s nothing wrong with being from Ghana or the African continent – if you are indeed from Ghana or the African continent. I think we all have a need to be recognised as we define ourselves and, if you are from Guyana, it is understandable that you (may) identify yourself as a Guyanese. Taking back your definition of self from others is not rude (unless you’re resorting to insults) or condescending. It is your right as a human being to be accorded dignity and respect and, for a lot of us, a little bit of that dignity curls up and dies when people say, “Oh, GHANA!” or “India, right?” or “Wow, you speak great English!” I know we can’t be expected to memorise the Atlas and that there are many countries which I am, unfortunately, ignorant of. When I came across a UN representative of Nauru a few years ago, I admitted I was unaware of such a country and I duly apologised. The matter is not whether I should be expected to know all the Pacific Islands. It is that there was an entire country of people that, in my little world, had not existed at all. For that, I was sorry. Similarly, when someone fails to know of Guyana, I feel as though my entire country could disappear and no one would blink an eye. We are not important enough. We are irrelevant. Disposable.
Well, that’s simply not true. So, I correct people. It’s the least I can do, I think. For myself and for the country full of people. Besides, Guyana is an amazing country and I love sharing it with others.
I am still learning to take the question mark out of “I am from Guyana?” but small steps, eh?