Schadenfreude in the Guyanese character?
Wednesday Perspective with Freddie
August 4, 2004
What makes a country suffer an overflowing river of wrongs and human rights violations? This is not an easy question to answer. Obviously, you have to look at each specific country in the global family of nations.
In Guyana, we have a comparatively small population. We are just under 800, 000. We don't occupy a large living space. Guyana is 83, 000 square miles compared to the vastly developed yet smaller European countries of Ireland and Holland, the former being 32,000 square miles and the latter, 16,000 square miles. A tiny percentage of that 83, 000 square miles is occupied. Our GNP and GDP make us one of the poorest countries in the world. So why is such a country so filled with the continuing drama of citizens hurting their fellow citizens?
Now I can understand a high crime rate because of poverty. I can understand political instability because of a zero-sum political culture. I can understand an unacceptable illiteracy rate because of the declining resources. What I cannot understand is our high level of insensitivity to human suffering in this country. This social pathology seems to me to be unrelated to our political instability and poverty levels. In other words, I am positing a theory that there seems to be a congenital sadism in the Guyanese character that may not go away even though we may progress into the future and become a successful economy.
Take my work place, the University of Guyana. I have worked for 19 years there, and I am the deputy head of the trade union at the university. I have never seen at any other university, the intense dislike for students on the part of staff and administration on the one hand, and on the other, the degrading contempt the administration have for the non-academic staff than what obtains at the University of Guyana.
Students at UG are shabbily treated and are virtually reduced to little underlings to be barked at and yelled at. Yet this is the future generation. Being educated in an atmosphere where humanity and humaneness do not exist, they graduate and take that sadistic culture with them in their work places. The syndrome of Guyanese inhumanity to their fellow Guyanese continues. I told my union that I am not inclined to participate any longer as a member of the union's negotiating team with the university administration. The wrongs done to workers, the contempt for them, the insensitivity to their rights, are so appalling that they traumatise you and your emotions are devastated.
Why should I put myself through that? I want to live my life in happiness and I want to fight for the rights of others, but I have a choice in how I fight. I don't want to sit around a table and have to bargain for the most essential rights of workers and have to shout my way through that process for something that humans are entitled to. Why should life come to that? Well if life has come to that, I have a choice. I don't want to be part of that environment.
I don't want to have to negotiate with the university administration only to come out emotionally scarred. One of the universities I attended had 28, 000 students and thousands of academic and non-academic workers but yet the environment was peaceful and caring. Malice, animosity and schadenfreude were non-existent.
We tend to take delight in the suffering of others not only at UG but throughout the society. It was a long weekend last week, and I was going to Essequibo with my wife, so Saturday morning, I stopped at the open market on Merriman's Mall to pick up a few items. Once again, I encountered these two elderly female vendors who have been begging me the past two months to write about their plight.
Now every Wednesday and Thursday, Merriman's Mall has open market. This is between Orange Walk and Cummings Street. The vendors come down early to set up their stalls. I have been told by these two elderly sellers that there has not been a Wednesday or Thursday that an early morning robbery hasn't taken place. They told me the violent robbers operate with impunity. At around 5:00 am, they would pounce on unsuspecting vendors and there isn't protection from the City Constabulary.
When dawn comes, the city constabulary comes to collect their rent and the perks they demand from the suffering sellers. One of the ladies showed me the laceration she suffered when the knife was pressed against her neck, last Wednesday. The City Council knows about the violent robberies. The City Constabulary knows too. Both parties have done nothing so far. But why should they? Isn't schadenfreude part of the Guyanese character?
To think that for two consecutive months, vendors are being robbed early in the mornings before sunrise yet the City Constabulary remained unmoved. So far, only women vendors I know have been the victims of these brutal attacks. Yet this country is full of women's rights groups. We also have an Association of Women Lawyers. I wonder if they care to do something for these poor suffering mall vendors? We have women's groups that seek to prevent young girls from being exploited. But what about vendors in their sixties whose only crime is that they make a living on Merriman's Mall before sunrise selling fruits and vegetables.
So off to Essequibo my wife and I went for the long weekend, last week. On the Parika stelling, I met a small businessman and his wife. More stories of schadenfreude followed me. This couple with all their goods in their small van arrived at the stelling at 12.30 pm on Saturday to catch the ferry for Adventure in Essequibo. The vehicles exceeded the space of the ferry so he and drivers were left back. The ferry left at 7.30 pm. He slept through the night with his wife in their van and was hoping to catch the Sunday ferry that leaves at 5.30 p.m. But who says he will make it? When his children hear of the ordeal their parents had to go through just to return to their home in Esssequibo, what reason is there for them to want to grow up here? But even if you grow up in Guyana, you may end up like the victims of Merriman's Mall, the couple on the Parika stelling or even worse. Life never changes in the land of many waters and many wrongs.