“I GON TELL YOU stories, true, true stories. Like me gran'pa and me nanee and cha cha used to do, and they ancestors too. Take half, leave half, cry or laff. Enjoy the gyaff, what you learn is up to you,” promises Guyana-Gyal on the home page of her flavorful blog, whose posts take the form of short narratives written in Creolese, the local language of Guyana.
This morning I had the pleasure of chatting with Guyana-Gyal via IM – and let me take this opportunity to thank the Guyanese electricity service for not cutting the power during our conversation, as Guyana-Gyal had warned me might have happened! Here's an edited version of our talk:
GP: Hi, Guyana-Gyal. Glad to see you have electricity!
GG: Me too!
GP: Perhaps I could start by asking you why you're blogging under a pseudonym. [Neena Maiya, the name on the e-mail address on the blog, is not Guyana-Gyal's real name]
GG: For now, I like being anonymous. Guyana is way too small for me, and to be honest, I am a coward.
GP: Do people in your immediate community know who you are?
GG: Friends abroad, and family. What scares me is the attention I'd get if I do say anything negative about politicians.
GP: What kind of attention?
GG: I don't know. . . it's just this constant fear. . . of being beaten. . . or worse. . . when the next election rolls around.
GP: Is there a precedent for this? Have, say, journalists who have expressed negative opinions in Guyana been persecuted?
GG: Hm. . . not that I know of. But I think being East Indian in Guyana, East Indian female, can be scary, though not many want to admit it.
GP: Tell me more about the experience of being East Indian and female in Guyana. Why is it scary?
GP: I've known women who were beaten, hospitalised after the last elections, stripped in the streets. I don't want to live like that. That's one of the reasons why I blog.
GP: What are some of the other reasons you blog?
GG: To find a better way to think. To not dwell on the negatives. I'm not saying I want to ignore or escape or to be a Pollyanna. I just want to find a better way to live. I blog to sort out my thoughts, to record the good stuff, though sometimes I do record the “bad”. I started blogging to record, to publish, to share and it ended up being a totally different experience from what I expected.
GP: What does the sharing add to the experience?
GG: First, I must say, I don't think of myself as a “knowledgeable” person. I am SEEKING knowledge. Besides, I am seeing how my experiences are shared by so many all over the world. I think it was C. S. Lewis who said (at least in the movie Shadowlands), “we read to know that we are not alone”. I like knowing that others out there are like me. Besides — I know this might sound frivolous and foolish — I like to know others are out there enjoying life. I like the chit-chat on other blogs.
GP: Maybe now you could tell me a bit about Guyana-Gyal. Who is she? What does she do when she's not blogging or touching iguanas at the bank?
GG: I'm Muslim, East Indian. I think I'm middle class. But as far as slots go, that's all I fit in. I left Guyana when I was 21, went to Jamaica to study Communications with Language and Literature, then stayed to work in TV and advertising. After my Dad died, my Mum was here all alone. . . most of our family gone! And I knew how loneliness felt, and didn't want her to suffer from that PLUS grief, so I came home to mooch off the family business and to write.
GP: Who reads your blog?
GG: Guyanese abroad, family, friends, and lots of folks from the UK. Lots of Canadians and Americans. I have some blogger pals too.
GP: What about Guyanese in Guyana? Are people in Guyana aware of blogs?
GG: Not many are aware of blogs. I also wonder if my blog would be considered too “ordinary”, as in it tells day-to-day stuff they already know.
GP: The unique thing about your blog, at least from my point of view, and also in the Caribbean context, is its consistency. You're one of the few bloggers who seems to be following some sort of thread, or program, if you will. Your posts, for a start, are all written in Creolese.
GG: I guess it's because I tend to think in a straight line. Also, it's the way I write emails to family, believe it or not. And I do have a plan. I would love to pull the best posts together, put them in a book form.
GP: So you tend to express yourself in Creolese — in writing at least. What does Creolese offer that standard English doesn't?
GG: I write in standard English as well, but to write about Guyana, and Guyanese, in emails and on the blog, somehow it all just comes out in Creolese. It just feels right. Besides, I wanted to see if what people say about Creolese is true.
GP: What do people say about Creolese?
GG: Let me tell you a little story. When I was a child I went to see Santa, and sat on his lap and blabbed to him in raw, country Creolese. And I heard someone — I don't remember who — saying, “Couldn't that child's mother teach her to speak properly? I was about four or five. I felt so BAD for my Mum. And it's bugged me all my life. Why is it the way we talk is seen as something shameful? I want to prove now that there's dignity in the way we speak. Also, it bothers me that people only use creolese to crack jokes, to denigrate others. As poor as people here are, they live with dignity. I thought, if I use this language and tell people's stories, I might be doing something different.
GP: The key with writing any kind of dialect is really to capture the flavour and have it be comprehensible even to those who don't speak it, no?
GG: Exactly. I just got a comment from a guy in Poland, who says he's getting accustomed to this strange English. I read somewhere that you have to make the ‘dialect’ readable. I think I'm doing it all wrong and not keeping it “pure”. But I like this experimental time we're going through. And the fact that people are now discussing the use of Creolese and not completely denigrating it. But even family say it can be a bit hard to read.
GP: Is there a community of Guyanese bloggers?
GG: There's bakannal luva and MediaCritic. We chat via blog and emails.
GP: What role do you think blogs and blogging could eventually play in this region?
GG: There's a word out there, I don't know who coined it: blogalization. I first used it in June, then found others have been using it before. In some small way, can blogging for the Caribbean be like globalization? I know globalization has some folks out there who knock it, and I won't get into that. But I think that blogalization can do wonders. What I'm trying to say is that maybe blogalization can be like the positive aspects of globalization. But blogging has helped me in other ways as well. It's given me confidence to express myself, given me a voice, and I've met other writers who share their pain of finding a publisher. One told me she got rejected 30 something times before she got published. I think eventually, voices that usual go unheard might get heard thanks to blogging.