Like so many Indians in Berbice, I grew up in a home in which my parents never attended school beyond the age of twelve. My father, now deceased, was a proud sugarcane harvester while my mother was a reputable seamstress but both could not read or write. My parents relied on oral traditions to guide their day-to-day actions but they were not stupid people. They were simply uneducated. My mother can now read somewhat.
Of the seven children my parents raised, three of them have PhDs, one has a MA, two barely finished high school, and one was pulled out of Form One to take care of the younger ones. The latter was my solitary sister and I am still mad at my parents for depriving her an education.
My family story with regard to education in Guyana has another bizarre twist. None of us attended the University of Guyana. Actually, only two of us have visited the University of Guyana. Instead, some of us have earned degrees from University of Wisconsin, State University of New York, University of Winnipeg, Florida International, and Columbia University.
Then why does the University of Guyana mean so much to me in particular? Or, why am I writing about the University of Guyana? It is this inward hunger to come back home and make up for lost ground through academic contribution. But I did not know where to start. When I told my Nigerian friend in graduate school that I planned to go back to Guyana to live and work he said to me why place unnecessary burden on your life.
My goal of returning home began realistically when I ran into Dr Parsram Thakur at a conference in Suriname in 2004. I was then employed at the University of the Virgin Islands. I did not know Dr Thakur. I found out later that he and my mother were kindergarten playmates. Dr Thakur asked me to come and teach at the Berbice campus. I said I would in a few years.
So far so good but in 2004 my father died suddenly in upstate New York. My elder brother, a Professor at Syracuse University, and I decided that in remembrance of our father we would set up a scholarship in his name at the Berbice campus. We did. However, the scholarship funds were abused and we pulled the plug on it. I doubt whether there is any record of this at the University of Guyana. It is sad, and in some ways, worse than my father’s death.
In spite of this bad experience, I was in 2009 preparing to come to Guyana to work at Berbice campus under the leadership of Dr Thakur but then someone or group of people discontinued this man’s contract with the university. For years, I have tried to find out why and I have gotten nowhere. I even wrote a few letters to one of the dailies inquiring about his termination but it fell on deaf ears.
In 2010, I called the University of Guyana at the Berbice campus and spoke to an individual named Daizal Samad. I expressed my interest in working on that campus and he advised me to send a cover letter and my CV. I did. For over eight months after submitting my information, I tried to contact this man and any time I called the answer from his secretary was that he was busy and he would get back to me. Whenever I was in Guyana in summer months I would stop in at the campus but he was never around. I decided to make one final call using a different phone. He picked up and after a few minutes he slipped into this “Corentyne Creole/dialect” actually downplaying my frustration.
After all these months and almost a year he said I would have to apply to the University of Guyana at Turkeyen. I asked him to forward my application and he said he could not do that. I said to myself this man must be a moron of morons. I was right. A year later he was removed from the job.
What is so bizarre about this experience is that I was going back home against the wishes of my family. I was also giving up an established faculty position at a reputable university in the US. What would have been encouraging to them more than me was that I was willing to accept whatever salary they were offering, which was, below expectations. I wonder how many other individuals have had the same nightmare experience like myself. ([email protected]).