The returning diaspora must manage its expectations

Stabroek News
January 13, 2016

Dear Editor,

The tensions, disconnects, and mutual suspicions between local society and assertive, involved members of the diaspora have been highlighted yet again. The net result is injury to those citizens who need both the most, and the tragedy of lost priorities.

As a once longtime presence in the diaspora and now a serving re-migrant of recent vintage, I think I am in a good position to share a thought or two in an effort to bridge the gaps and ease the disappointments.

Members of the far-flung diaspora seek to serve; they want to give, to give back here. For the most part, they want nothing for themselves; they want no job, no position, and no money. They have had all of those before, and at dizzying heights. All they wish for is to make a contribution and be utilized in constructive ways.

From my own experience local society has a problem with this: It is too good to be true. There is a catch, must have one; some ulterior motive lurks. Take it from me, and those who have shared their frustration, this is the disconcerting reality.

Now I can appreciate that local citizens and groups have grown so jaded and cynical, as to judge and conclude that “dem tings doan happen heah.” To reiterate, it is happening very quietly, very consistently, and most unobtrusively. I know of diaspora people who shared picket lines, give freely out of pocket, give time, give counsel, give heart. It is real; they are real and genuine.

I understand, also, that some from overseas can be overbearing, overpowering, know-it-all, and condescending to boot.

They need to survey the terrain, learn, and adapt. I know that their intuitive gap analyses reveal a paucity of standards, questionable ethics, and an almost native secrecy represented by a circling of the wagons. It behooves the returning diaspora to temper its approach, adjust to circumstances, and manage its own expectations.

The diaspora must be prepared to move on if not welcomed. It must refrain from endeavouring to fix every circumstance, and reconfigure (or conquer) the local world to its well-meaning visions. This is resented and creates considerable angst. It is much more rewarding to spend precious time, energy, and resources where they count and make a difference; where there is a purity of purpose; and where there is joy and appreciation.

My recommendation to local society is that if objectives are powered by altruism, and practices are clean, then there is nothing to fear, and incoming patriots can be a blessing and much needed strength. What the latter seek at this point in their lives is a balance between giving of self, on the one hand, and separate space and time for themselves on the other. I repeat: in most instances, they want nothing from this society. At the risk of offending, there is nothing that this society can offer. There is only the nostalgic indefinable familiarity of a beloved homeland.

Editor, it should be remembered that the clean well-intentioned members of the diaspora who actually return to give, have something to give ? many things. They were successful, are impatient, and take no nonsense from no one; it is part of the individual packages and goes with the territory.

This is an inseparable part of the persona, attitude, and outlook. Sometimes, there is the belief that they can walk on water. Too many times, all of this rubs raw. There has to be some toning down here, some sensitivity, some humility.

Separately, a contributor (M Zamir, SN, January 11) wrote that the diaspora should speak with a collective voice. This sounds good on paper, and is a commendable recommendation.

But there must be recognition of who and what is encompassed here. Here are driven people, fierce individualists, uber-competitors, contrarians, and egoists galore. All of this, and more, has to be muted and managed to attain some compatibility with locals, or else objectives are retarded, contributions wasted, and motives impugned.

A collective voice would be nice, but it is not happening anytime soon: too much energy, confidence, and sometimes hubris. Trust me on this one, I tried.

When a holistic view is essayed, it becomes increasingly clear that society loses the intended benefits, and reciprocal resentment flares. Parties hunker down, others withdraw, and estranged silos proliferate. The optimizing of people and resources falters. The very noble purposes pursued by locals and the interested diaspora suffer from dilution and disfigurement.

My suggestion to local groups is to let the incoming run, let them run with the wind. It is what they know at the core and crave. The trick is to leverage honestly and sensibly.

Yours faithfully,
GHK Lall