"You'd never get away with shouting `BLACK BOY, BLACK BOY,' in England," he'd say, stroppily. He became so uneasy that he couldn't face the simplest of tasks, such as ordering in shops. So he volunteered me: "You ask, Rog, you're one of them, mate."
But although I was the right colour, I didn't fit in either. Just walking through the market I would find myself attracting unwelcome attention. Once it was a group of local men. They stopped me, pointed to my hair - which came just below my ears - and asked acerbically: "Are you a boy or girl?" My clothes and hairstyle made me almost as conspicuous as Tony.
But things started to look up when we took a day trip to Kaieteur falls by light aircraft. My brother Ron, who was unsure of his flying legs, stayed quiet as we boarded the minute plane. Strong winds and sporadic bursts of rain meant numerous clouds and plenty of sudden drops in altitude. We were a ll quite relaxed as Ron vomited abundantly into numerous plastic bags.
The eternally lush, emerald interior seemed infinite, broken up only by numerous waterfalls. Soon we saw the formidable, gushing Kaieteur, covered by a spooky mist of cloud. It falls from the highest peak of the forest, and at 741 feet is one of the greatest single-drop waterfalls in the world - nearly five times the height of Niagara. We watched in awe from Johnson's Ridge as the Potaro river valley steadily received the iridescent cascade of mineral-rich gallons. We had discovered the paradise we longed for.
Our tranquillity was short-lived. A few days later, Tony and I succumbed to exhaustion and dehydration and fever took hold. My dreams were lucid: I was surrounded by natives with painted faces and shark's-teeth anklets dancing to an ever-increasing rhythm of far-off drums. Then things got really bad: Tony started asking for his mum. We saw a doctor and were diagnosed with dengue fever.
Many antihistamines and antibiotics later, I began to have a more positive outlook on life. I became increasingly attached to Grandma. "This bay na eat!" she would scold, trying to force some more fried fish down my throat. We took to sneaking fags together behind the backs of my seriously anti-smoking parents. We would chat and drink rum until she, exhausted, would declare: "Me go tap," and retire to bed.
I also began to develop a better understanding with my cousins. We went on an outing to the fair, where Ravi introduced me to the "Aunty Man" (homosexual). He led me to a group of onlookers gathered round a couple of men dressed in saris and the full attire of headdress, anklets and nose rings, who were dancing in a very provocative manner. I was surprised. I had expected this male-oriented society to frown upon such femininity in men, but here was the crowd applauding, heckling and joining in with these gifted "lady boys".
Another day, I decided to treat the children to Western junk food at Kentucky Fried Kitchen, a meaningful experience which was not without its culture clashes. The first conflict of ideas occurred before we even set off, when Drupatee, my grandmother's adopted daughter, was told to stay behind and "tend" to the needs of the adults while the rest of the children came along. This led to a small, decisive confrontation, after which I found Drupatee face down on her bed, bawling, and told her that she would indeed go to the ball. I felt like crying myself as I saw her face illuminate, brighter than a thousand Diwali candles. Ravi, Anil and Kenneth brought tears of a different kind to my eyes - their first encounter with sensor taps and automatic hand-dryers in the restaurant's toilets brought me to my knees in hysterical laughter.
During the last week, I spent a night with Uncle Dennis and his numerous house lizards, enjoying his completely relaxed attitude to life. He epitomised Guyana's good aspects - its simple folk who go to the garden, kill and pluck a chicken for dinner, then share a bottle of Five Star Rum out on the porch. In Guyana, an evening's entertainment centres not on the television but on the hammocks, where people "form law and break law" (set the world to rights) around bottles of rum, "gaffing" away.
When I left, my belongings found grateful new owners. "Mustn't forget to write," they said, and enquired when I would return. I was intentionally vague in reply. In Guyana, I had discovered my roots, a way of life so unlike my own and yet one which might have been quite natural to me had things been different. But in the ample time I had had for contemplation in this slothful, backwater retreat, I had come to an emphatic conclusion. I was homesick! I missed London! I needed a doner kebab, a pub and a night's sleep, interrupted by good old police sirens and the lager-induced shouts of punters at my local, rather than ravenous insects and farm animals. As I boarded the plane, my heart leapt in anticipation of the urban jungle.Reuse content