Wah Dem Seh… (What the people say…)

I love how as time goes on here, I continue to learn more and more about Guyana, the culture, entrepreneurship, cooking, football, history, myself, and life in general. Every day a new interaction with a stranger or someone I know teaches me new things. Every day I learn more about Guyana and the struggles that a lot of people face here…unemployment, corruption, crime, drugs, sexual abuse, prostitution, domestic violence, poverty, and so much more. Every day you hear about these same things in the news and more: suicides, murders, unwarranted police searches, and unsafe public transportation leading to innocent people dying. And every day you realize that life is never easy but we should appreciate what we have, surround ourselves with positive people, and work hard to improve the world that we live in.

YCG staff on Emancipation Day celebrating the end of slavery

The best part of my time here has been with locals just gaffing and liming (talking and hanging out). I’ve recognized the value and importance of triangulation in terms of cross-cultural work and communication. Ideally, you should get a minimum of 3 different opinions and answers (of course as many as possible is best) about something in order to effectively understand cultural norms and behaviours that you are learning about. It is critical to get as many different opinions about something as possible, especially when learning about a new culture so I make sure to ask several different people here about any question that I have. Below are some common things I’ve learned about from observation, experience, and talking to my Guyanese friends and colleagues. Of course, these observations are definitely not true for everyone in Guyana but they are the things that stand out and are more common…

  • There are a lot of single parents and young mothers. This tends to be related to education levels, socio-economic status, and family. I’ve also been told that some young girls will have children in order to “keep their man”…..but it doesn’t necessarily work.
  • Guyanese can be very fast. Fast = curious. As well, they are a lot more open about certain personal things that Canadians would not be. For example, some people will comment on anything that looks different or funny about you from your hair and clothes, to your weight and the mosquito bites on your legs. Back in Canada we tend to avoid talking about personal things that people might be embarrassed about. Guyanese have told me that they tend to do these things out of concern for the other person.
  • It is very normal, and polite, to talk to complete strangers and greet them with “good morning/afternoon/night” if you walk past them or interact with them in anyway. I really like this because in Canada we really don’t talk to strangers at all and wouldn’t really greet someone randomly on the street. It is the polite thing to do here, and a lot of people will say “good morning/afternoon/night” to everyone as they enter a bus, office, or a room.
  • Guyanese will always call or text you to make sure that you have reached home safely.
  • Some very common phrases that I get asked when I meet some Guyanese men for the first time: Do you have a boyfriend/Are you married? Do you have kids? I find it interesting because I wouldn’t usually get these questions back in Canada, especially not when you first meet someone and at my age (23). However, to Guyanese I could easily have kids and be married at my age. Also, if men meet someone who they are interested in they want to know what they are dealing with right away (i.e. if she has a child-father, boyfriend, or husband). Being single is shocking to some Guyanese people too since some think that a woman needs a man for financial support and a man needs a woman for emotional support.
  • A lot of Guyanese men speak about the importance of being with a woman that knows how to cook and clean. This is something that comes up in conversation often when talking about relationships, marriage, etc. Cooking is high up on the list of things to know how to do if you want a man.

YCG staff fun day

There are two groups of very kind Guyanese men that live and lime on my street that I frequently have conversations with – one group of younger men aged 17 to 34 and another group of older men over 40. Most of them were born and raised in my neighbourhood and have been friends with each other since they were very young. A lot of the younger ones are out of school and not working; relying on their parents, grandparents, or relatives oversees to support them. And some of the older ones do odd jobs here and there if the price is right and they also work in the mines when the opportunity comes up. They all look out for me, help me carry the large 20L water bottles home from the water filter place, and gaff with me every day. I learn a lot from them and after speaking to them more I’ve started to see a recurring trend. Recently two of them told me almost identical stories of how they had to drop out of school (at age 13 and age 15) and start working because their parents couldn’t afford to feed them lunch (lunch is the main meal in Guyana, equivalent to our dinner back home). They didn’t want to drop out but they had to and they never had the chance to go back. They speak thick Creolese, an English-based creole language, with lots of slang and as a result of dropping out of school it is difficult for them to speak English with proper grammar. I can’t always understand everything that they say but I’m learning some Creolese 🙂 I know that there are many young people who have very similar stories. No child should have to drop out of school because their parents can’t afford to support them.

Below are some more things about my life here in Guyana…

Some Creolese…

  • “buddy” pronounced “budd-ay” | A common term used when talking to a friend or stranger
  • “blow” = cheating on someone | “You get blow”
  • “vex”= angry | “I vex with you”
  • “lime” = chill or hang out
  • “gaff” = talk/chat
  • “I gone” = I’m leaving/going
  • “Ah comin” = I’m coming

Some Guyanese Food…

  • Breakfast | Bake and salt fish (a classic Caribbean breakfast)
  • Snacks | This is basically anything that isn’t considered “food” (see below)
    • Lots of pastries….pine tart, cheese roll, pinwheel, egg ball, polari, cinnamon roll,
    • Channa (e.g. Chickpeas with onions, hot peppers, etc.)
    • Plantain chips
    • Hot dogs & hamburgers (yes, these are just snacks)
    • Food | The word food is used to describe large full meals which should include rice (e.g. Fried rice and chicken/fish, cook-up, curry, baked chicken with rice, etc.). Hamburgers, hotdogs, fish and chips, sandwiches, and many other smaller meals are not considered food.

What I’ve experienced…

  • My speech pattern and accent have changed. I’ve even had someone think I was Guyanese (speaking to them on the phone) and everyone laughs and loves it when they hear me say certain Creolese phrases.
  • Lots of people think I’m Brazilian (from my appearance)
  • There are lots of jokes, nicknames, and other “That is so Amanda” comments in the office
    • My most popular nickname at the office is Snowflake (variations include Snowflakes, Snow  and Snowy)
    • Other nicknames include Cotton Tail and White Chocolate
    • New friendships with people of all ages. When you travel or move to a new place you meet a lot of new people which is great 🙂 I now have a lot more older friends who are 30, 35, 40 and even older than that. It is interesting to gaff and lime with them since they have been alive for twice as long as me and the interaction in general is very different than with someone my own age.

Below is a section of Kaieteur News, one of Guyana’s newspapers, that I always like reading because it is the only part written in Creolese. Try to read it and see if you can understand what they are writing about 🙂

Dem boys seh….People mouth gun up


People hiding. Reporters got a hard time getting information from all dem people who know wha going on but who ain’t talking. Is only dem politician in de news these days. When dem boys call people to find out wha going on everybody talking bout how dem prefer to keep a low profile. All of dem get dumb and is easy to understand why. Dem don’t know wha gun happen when de elections done and all of dem want to keep de wuk.

Now dem boys want to know if that is how things does do in a democracy. A man come up to de Waterfalls paper de other day and he did really vex. Something happen along time ago and de government squeeze suh till he couldn’t even afford milk fuh he baby.

People tek notice. Dem decide that dem ain’t talking.

Is like if dem need doctors fuh open dem up. Some doctors would have to cut dem from dem tail because that is wheh some of dem now got dem mouth.

Dem boys seh that it easy fuh talk but it hard fuh face de backlash. Dem know that all de people who talk now getting dem name in a book. It depend on wha dem talking bout. If dem cuss de government then if de government get back in power is problems.

Dem lawyers can talk because de government can’t stop dem criminals from tekking who dem want to represent dem. And is nuff lawyers is politician.

That is why dem lawyers joining all de political parties. Dem don’t have to worry. Was a time when a certain Big Man did want to become a lawyer. He look and he see de money. He also see de easy way how lawyers does mek money. But he change he mind when he hear that he can get de whole cake. And Amaila is a big cake.

Talk half. Lef half.

-Amanda Armstrong, IYIP Intern, Guyana 2011

Source: http://www.kaieteurnewsonline.com/2011/10/20/dem-boys-seh-people-mouth-gun-up/

YCI’s International Youth Internship Program (IYIP) Interns are funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Our IYIP interns spend 7-9 months working with YCI’s partner organizations in Latin American, South America and Africa. The application process to become an IYIP intern is highly competitive. Applications for our 2012 internship positions will open in early November.

For more IYIP blogs, check out our IYIP section.


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