My University of Guyana Convocation Address (Part II)

Dr. Dhanpaul Narine delivers the 2017 University of Guyana Convocation Address at the National Cultural Center in Georgetown, Guyana.
Dr. Dhanpaul Narine with Elsie Harry, the 2017 Best Graduating Student.

By Dr Dhanpaul Narine

I was invited by the University of Guyana to give the 2017 Convocation Address. This is the second part: When you are down, you get up. Yes, young people have problems but killing yourself is not the answer. It’s never the answer. Talking to someone helps and the government should do more to provide help as well.

Ma saw I had my head down. She had her gems ready: hard work brings its own rewards. Manners maketh man. Say please and thank you, it costs nothing. I told her about JFK and Harold Wilson from the newspapers. She said, ‘One day, you will meet big people. Work hard and be honest and good people will appear.’

I took the exam and failed again. Ma had a solution. She always had a solution. I needed extra lessons. She would catch more shrimps and find the dollar to pay for it. I started lessons at Zeelugt at Mr. Ragunath’s house. One day it was raining. She asked me to walk the village with her. She wanted to pay her debts and had me running in the rain to pay ten cents and twenty-five cents.

I then ran to Zeelugt for lessons. One morning, my cousin Satrohan was there to get me with his bicycle. On the way, in the rain, he said Ma had died. Boom! Just like that, my world became dark and blank. Who would beg for me and tell me those gems about life?
I went to live with my parents and found it difficult to adjust. The exams were around the corner and I failed again. My father said it was time to go to work at the sawmill. I threw myself on the ground and cried like a baby. Please give me one more chance, I begged. The villagers, mostly Afro-Guyanese, begged for me as well. My father asked Ms. Enid Abrams for advice. She was the Headmistress of Meten-Meer-Zorg Government School. She said to get a cheap radio and listen to the BBC. She also said that if I ever pass she would give me a job at her school. I made sure that I listened to the BBC news at 7:00 o’clock each evening.

When you are down you must get up. Rise and face the world. I told myself I am a man. I must face the challenge. I studied hard and applied myself. And I got help from an unexpected source. God intervened. When you really want something the universe works its own magic to make it happen.

The week before the English exam I bought a novel called ‘The Shoes of the Fisherman’ by Morris West. In the test a passage came from that book. When the results came out I passed! Ms. Enid Abrams stood to her word and I became a teacher at Meten-Meer-Zorg Government School. Teacher Enid did not see race; she treated all equally. Her staff, mostly Indians, loved her. She is one of my heroes.

There were teachers from my school rushing to catch hire cars. They said they were going to UG. I thought about it and said I should go to UG too. I applied in 1972 and started classes in September. It was the coolest thing I did. I met wonderful people. Many good people appeared in my life. One such person was Sister Noel Menezes in the History Department. I learned three things from her.

The first is that you must do honest research. Let the data guide you, rather than the other way round. She was pointing out the pitfalls of fake news, long before the term became fashionable. Those footnotes and reporting had to be accurate, or Sr. Noel would scratch them up and you have to start over. We would rush to see our grades. In those days the grades were handed in on time.

The second lesson is that every square inch of Guyana belongs to Guyanese. There are no ifs and buts. Guyana is ‘we own,’ and as my good friend Dave Martins would say, every blade of grass is ours. The research proves it.

The third lesson from Sr. Noel is that we must respect our Amerindian brothers and sisters. They have a great culture. So when you see an Amerindian treat him or her with respect. Do not use the B-word to describe them. Do not use the C-word to describe Indians, do not use the N-word to describe Afro-Guyanese. These are offensive terms. Use other nice words and there are many of them in the English language. You have learned them at UG.

In 1975, I was at a Christmas party in Kingston. I was bored. I wanted something to read so I went in the garbage bin and pulled out an old newspaper. There was only one clean page and there was a picture of John F. Kennedy on it. He was my hero from the logie. The article said that JFK went to the London School of Economics to study.

I had never heard about the London School of Economics and the next day I was in the UG Library researching it. I was blown away. The LSE was a world-class institution. I said to myself that if JFK could go there so can I. That became my dream. In 1976, I graduated from UG and there was a job going in the Upper Mazaruni. You had to work with the Amerindians. Sr. Noel had filled my head with so much Amerindian culture that I applied for the job.

I became a Research Officer. My friends said I wouldn’t last two weeks as the caiman, anaconda, piranhas, jaguar and spiders would get me. I ended up spending two years. It was the best time of my life. I experienced at first hand the beauty of our country and the greatness of Amerindian culture. Amerindians are among the most amazing people I have met.

I am happy to say that Gibson and Anita Caesar from Waramadong are still with us. God bless them. They are the parents of Desrey Fox-Caesar, a former Minister of Education. There is a great deal of knowledge one can learn from the Amerindians. What did I learn? The Amerindians taught me to respect the planet. They consumed only what they needed.
Just think what our world would be if there was no over consumption. We wouldn’t have climate change, fossil fuels and gas emissions dotting the landscape, or garbage pile ups on the streets, rising sea levels and holes in the ozone layer. We would have a clean, green planet.

While I was in the jungle I applied to the London School of Economics; to my surprise I received a letter from them. They would be happy to have me. I was over the moon! In September 1978, I left with a shoulder bag for London. It was another world.

(Part 3, next week)