Thanks to a well-timed tip from a friend, I scurried to re-work two stories from South America for the Two Minute Tales Writing Contest. The stories were asked to, in five-hundred words or less, describe a travel story that changed you. Here are two of three of my entries.
A New Hope, A New Home
Take a colonial power (England). Then take thousands of indentured slaves from their homes in India (my great great grandparents). Go to Africa and take thousands more. Plop them onto a piece of land, make them toil for decades, then breed racism between the two classes of slaves, subtract the colonial power and what do you get?
The Republic of Guyana, birthplace of my parents.
|Oh hey Dad, what you got there? Dad?? Dad??? DAD???|
Despite the warnings from the Canadian Government that ¨travel to Guyana is not advised due to safety concerns,¨my brother, father and I found ourselves landing on a narrow strip of concrete that constituted an airstrip in Georgetown, Guyana.
Before this trip, Guyana was simply a place on a map where I could tell people my parents were from.
My family in Guyana lives in poverty. That is according to Western standards, anyways. At first, I found it difficult to completely comprehend. But my family was not despairing, or worried about what they did not have. Life was how it always was, and they lived it differently.
It is a culture of giving. I have never drank so much delicious rum, ate so many varying types of curries (sometimes out of a leaf) and felt so much love from strangers who my father told us were family.
We spent long nights on the porch of the house of my great grandfather listening to Dad tell tales of his childhood, while swatting mosquitoes and sipping sugar cane juice. We took walks along the sea-wall, where he and his friends used to play cricket when the tide was out and visited the trenches where they used to bathe, fish and run from anacondas and alligators.
My Dad recounted how before the British gave Guyana its independence, they instigated hate between the Indian and African people who were previously in harmony with each other. Villages segregated themselves according to color, and to venture through the other races village could mean death. Today, that segregation still occurs with all-Black or all-Brown schools, and the two major political parties being composed mainly of persons from one color.
Guyana is a land untouched by foreign investment, tourism and heck, even a decent road to another country. Chock full of mosquitoes, jungle, fruits I will never be able to pronounce, and family I may never see again, it is largely an entity in itself.
To me, its no longer just a place on a map.To me, its both the beauty of the people and the problems of the nation give it the unique flavor that is Guyana.
To me, it´s a second home.
Lions, Tigers and Tim
¨Tim is dying,¨ she said, making my fear a reality.
Tim, a dark brown Wooley Monkey, was rescued from a life of chained horror, forced to sit and be ridiculed by paying patrons at an Ecuadorian circus. His stark, sullen brown eyes pleaded with me as he reached his small furry, black hand through his cage to grasp onto my trembling finger.
¨But I could... we could...¨I stuttered, choking back tears, quieting as I held his cold hand.
¨Welcome to my world,¨ the coordinator continued, with almost no emotion in her voice.
|Two years later, I still think about Tim.|
The first moments at the centre seemed numbing, as the stories of the animals were told. There was a hundred year old Galapagos Turtle whose owner tried to install cup holders in his shell, permanently disfiguring him. We had lions that were rescued from a circus, where patrons were allowed to poke, scream and feed junk food to them. There were suicidal parrots that looked as if they had been through a wash and rinse cycle, losing their brilliant colors due to malnutrition. A house raised Puma was given to us by a family because she was becoming interested in hunting children (go figure). Still others were blinded by cigarettes, de-winged for house keeping sake, or painfully de-clawed for easier ´handling.´
Beyond the stories lied a simple lesson. Despite the cruelty of humanity, the capacity for the animal spirit to give and share affection, human affection, was incomprehensible. For some, it seemed effortless how they could simply forgive and forget. How many times do we hold a grudge for something that pales in comparison to what has happened to these creatures?
After hearing all of the animals’ stories, one of the volunteers stated that ¨sometimes it would be easier to be ignorant. To not know the stories of the animals and more horribly, not care.
|The bribe from the police was too much for us to release this Andean bear.|
What I learned here is that the guilt of being aware of what humanity has or is doing should not be a burden that we carry on our shoulders. One only need to look at the Ecuadorian couple who started this centre for proof of that. They believed in animal rights, and because of their concern, have saved hundreds of animals. It is one small story of hope.
The process of learning these things about the world should not discourage us. It should serve to strengthen our resolve to change.
To make what happened yesterday not happen tomorrow.
Because beyond the confines of this rescue center, lies an Amazon jungle with millions of animals facing the threat of possible extinction. Millions of stories like Tim’s, whose lives hang in the balance of humanity.