Au revoir Guyana
Barbados - All hell broke loose a fortnight ago, when my blog on arrival in Guyana was picked up and picked apart on the front page of a national newspaper.
“Mr Gough makes the description of Guyana that even a half-wit mental asylum patient in the UK would do better at,” claimed the Kaieteur News of 27 March.
One of the newspaper’s columnists – who I refuse to give further fame by naming – took another step the following day.
He said of my parents, who by now were a little worried anyway: "If [they] are alive, then one hopes that they acknowledge that he is an embarrassment to the human race.
“The serpents and gorillas that live in Mr Gough's mind compelled him to descend to a level of pitiful, sickening and Hitleristic journalism about Guyana."
What exactly had I said that caused so much outrage? It took me a few days to work it out, and another few to really appreciate.
Firstly, I highlighted the poverty I saw on the drive from the airport and led into the observation many people would be unable to afford tickets for World Cup games nearby. I made an unflattering comparison between Georgetown’s ageing sea front and that of Skegness. I’m not sure if any publications in Lincolnshire have followed suit in publishing cartoons featuring my unflattering likeness.
I described the town as having a “South American feel”, by which I meant its wide, laid-back streets, although that seems to have been taken as a further barb in a country proud of its Caribbean-ness.
I was less than complimentary about the readiness of the brand new national stadium, although we were told as we flew to Guyana that other venues had been placed on standby just in case.
Oh yes! I mentioned the rain, which poured incessantly during the first 48 hours of my stay.
And I made a particularly poor joke about a colleague fearing a bogus taxi driver was kidnapping him. Prime Minister Samuel Hinds was worried about that when another colleague spoke to him the following day.
I failed to appreciate the amount of national pride that had been invested in building a new stadium, the preparations to host the expected hordes of media and fans and what the entire event means to the development of the country.
I did not write with a superior sneer, but it was clearly read in that way, which is why I apologised the following day.
I feel some critics failed to understand the concept of a blog, which is all about impressions and discovery.
Had I waited a week to record them, I would not have done justice to those first impressions. Had I done more than the amount of research the average traveller would do, my impressions would not have been those of the average traveller.
Over 16 nights in Guyana I had time to explore Georgetown, discovering some very good bars and restaurants along the way, and to visit the national landmark, the Kaieteur Falls, with the flight over rainforest as awe-inspiring as the final destination.
Meanwhile, the columnists kept sniping, but with decreasing ferocity. By last Sunday I was no longer front-page news but “that pesky BBC reporter” on page 31. People said they had seen the issue discussed on TV talk shows, although on both occasions I missed the chance to set the video.
Two Guyanese journalists approached me about the issue, neither of them from the Kaieteur News, leaving me with the impression that newspaper was guilty of the same ill-informed, knee-jerk journalism it had accused me of.
Lots of English journalists approached me, most for a good laugh at my expense!
Although several had tales of being mis-identified as me by people on the street, I only spoke to two people who mentioned the blog. One took some convincing of my intentions; the other was very friendly.
Thanks for your comments – good and bad – on the blog over the last two weeks. It is especially good to see so many Guyanese people who have overcome their initial annoyance to read on. I am sure I will be back in Guyana again, although I wouldn’t repeat the last fortnight for anyone.
I arrived here in Barbados without my luggage on Tuesday, so I think I’ll leave the first impressions for a couple of days!