By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
I recently had a nightmarish experience of being trapped in New York City with no U.S. currency. This happened after I had enjoyed a fun-filled, sun-soaked two weeks in Guyana and had to make a connecting flight from the U.S. to Toronto.
Not being much of a traveller, I did not realize that the travel itinerary should have been printed and kept close to my heart. After making it safely back home and reading the emailed information from the travel agency, I found that it clearly stated that there was an airport change for my connecting flight from the U.S. to Toronto.
Not having noted that information before the plane arrived at the New York City airport, it took a precious few minutes for me to realize the connecting flight was leaving from the airport in New Jersey and that I needed to pay for transportation to get there from the airport in New York City.
Americans are leery of accepting currency from other countries, including their neighbour to the North (Canada). How much worse it is to try convincing them to accept currency from a South American country they may never have heard of.
Thanks to modern technology where money can instantly be transferred from country to country in the correct currency, I was able to pay the exorbitant amount of money demanded by the taxi driver.
The excruciating journey took three hours where I almost bit my fingernails to the quick and was tempted to pull off my head wrap and throttle the taxi driver (that is a joke, I am not a violent person).
As we swept through the Holland Tunnel on the way to New Jersey, the good taxi driver informed me that I had to pay a toll of US$18.00 dollars as well as the taxi fare and tip. Imagine the nerve of this man after I was already stressed from knowing I was going to miss my flight now telling me that I had to add more money to the exorbitant fare.
I was polite. After all, he was in the powerful position of driving the taxi, it was dark and I did not have the phone numbers of my various relatives who live in that area. Some dreadful images flashed through my mind of what could become my fate.
Thankfully, although I missed my connecting flight and had to be on standby for a later flight, I am back in Toronto, in my own home. While I was enjoying the warmth of the sun and being with family and friends in Guyana, I dreaded coming back to the cold. But just the thought of being trapped in an airport in the U.S. with no money makes me happy to be back.
My two-week adventure began on a high note when my sister called and told me that my seven siblings were giving me an early birthday present of a trip to Guyana. I was ecstatic since my last visit there was more than 12 years ago. The plan was for us all (now eight, since my brother, Ras Kelly, transitioned in December 2007) to be in Guyana at the same time (the first time since 1977 that we would all be in our homeland together).
We did not all travel together, which would have been ideal. Beginning on December 19, we left in groups, some accompanied by spouse, children and grandchildren. I was among the last to leave Toronto.
There were six of us traveling on that day. My sister, my brother, his wife and child and my youngest sibling travelled later the same day. Our flight was delayed for a few hours which meant that my youngest sibling arrived at Timehri airport in Guyana just a few hours after we did. That was fortunate for my sister and I, who were traveling to the East Coast Demerara, while my brother and his family were travelling in the opposite direction to Linden.
Some drama began after my brother and his family left for Linden. Aggressive taxi and mini-bus drivers spotted two women waiting for transportation. Although we assured all comers that we had transportation arranged they would not give up in their efforts to convince us to travel with them instead. We had to wrestle our suitcases from a few enthusiastic people. We were thankful when my youngest sibling arrived at Timehri. The reaction from the mini-bus and taxi drivers underwent a change since my youngest sibling is male. There was none of the aggression displayed to which my sister and I had been subjected. Respect was the order of the day from then on and we safely made it to my father’s home.
We did have a grand reunion when everyone travelled to my father’s home the day after we arrived. We visited some of the areas where we had lived on the East Coast Demerara before a group of us travelled to Berbice and some to Linden while others remained with Papa on the East Coast Demerara.
It was the first time that some of the spouses, children and grandchildren were visiting Guyana. There was some anxiety expressed by those who had never visited Guyana before. One very young relative was distressed because she was not sure how she would communicate with the Guyanese people since, according to her, she did not “speak Guyanese”. We thought it was hilarious but her feelings were hurt that her concerns were not taken seriously. She did have a point, though. When I heard a young secondary school student declare “ahbe deese na gat kinna”, I knew that my young relative and the non-Guyanese among us would not be able to understand that the young man was saying “We have no allergies”.
Apart from the language challenges for our non-Guyanese kin, they had to deal with vicious hordes of mosquitoes that seemed to take special delight in attacking defenseless children who all returned to Canada covered in mosquito bites from head to toe. Apparently, the mosquitoes got to them when any part of their bodies touched the netting provided for protection. Since I never lost the art of sleeping carefully under mosquito netting the few times I was bitten happened outdoors when mosquitoes would sometimes settle quietly on your skin without the warning buzz. By the time you realized what was happening it was too late; they had already done the dastardly deed and only the pain of the sting remained.
Apart from the nuisance of mosquitoes, the two-week stay in Guyana helped me to reconnect with my people and my culture. The family get-together, hosted by one of my brothers at his home in Stanleytown, included those who were visiting from Canada, the U.S. and various Caribbean Islands.
Reconnecting with relatives I had not seen in at least three decades was well worth the visit. It was surprising to witness the changes in appearance of people who I knew when they were younger and are now middle aged parents and grandparents. One relative, who I last saw when he was a whiny, crybaby, eight-year-old, is now married with children and, surprisingly, a senior police officer. I thought about reminding him of his whiny, crybaby eight-year-old self but did not want to embarrass the officer within hearing of his family and colleagues.
There were connections and reconnections of family and friends. And there were plans to remain connected through e-mail, phone calls and Facebook.