Guyana | The House on Hadfield Street

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Ingrid GriffithThe author returns to her childhood home on Hadfield Street, Georgetown, Guyana. 2011.

By Ingrid Griffith

The place I once escaped, the one I had sworn off for good, became the place I most needed to feel whole again.

My family hadn’t been back to Guyana in a long time, some of us for 30 years, some 20, and some 10. A reunion trip was scheduled during Easter because of the unique Easter Monday celebration.

Eight of us arrived at Cheddi Jagan International Airport early one April morning. It had just rained and the showers had washed the warm air clean. Cane fields still lined the road from the airport. As a child, I remember the scent of boiling sugar that made me dizzy whenever I went past the Diamond Estate sugar factory on the East Bank of the Demerara River.

As we headed for Hadfield Street, I couldn’t take my eyes off the moments of daily life. Youngsters on bicycles used sticks to steer goats and cows off the street and toward the pasture. Bare-chested, brown-skinned men leaned out windows. Women in house dresses and headwraps swept their yards with pointer brooms made from coconut tree branches.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to return after all these years. Guyana didn’t hold such sweet memories for me. I was seven when my parents left Guyana for America. Those years I lived with my grandmother in Georgetown while my parents were gone left an indelible mark. I remember wishing my homeland good riddance the day the news came in 1974, five years after my parents left, that my siblings and I had been granted visas for America

In the 1960s, my parents, like many of Guyana’s working class, were disillusioned by the country’s politics. They realized that it didn’t matter whether the candidates running for prime minister were Indian-Guyanese or African-Guyanese or whether they were socialist, communist or capitalist. Once someone got into power, their politics amounted to the same. Corruption in the government was rampant and politicians seemed unconcerned or unable to make life more livable for the people of Guyana. The country was freed from its colonial past. Yet, the future looked dim.

My parents were young with three small children. They had dreams and were willing to search elsewhere to find them, even if it meant leaving their children behind. And so in 1969, they moved our belongings from our tiny, two-room apartment to my grandmother’s house, and boarded a plane for America. My older sister, younger brother and myself began our life at grandma Adda’s house.  Its four bedrooms were already filled when we got there. Two of my father’s brothers, who like my father had families of their own, had also left their children with my grandmother before their exodus to the U.S.

Over the years, my siblings and I learned about our parents from the stories Adda told us and the letters and photos we received in the mail from America. The pictures introduced us to their new possessions: a light blue Nova, a house on Long Island, a baby brother. I missed my parents, and felt tricked. Over and over, I replayed the moments leading up to their departure. Standing on the veranda with Adda and the rest of the family, I watched them in their Sunday best place two small suitcases in the back of a waiting taxi before waving goodbye. They promised they’d be back soon.

“…the architecture of that house on Hadfield Street–its tight spaces and wary windows, mirrored the architecture of my childhood.”


Adda was watchful and protective, and would not allow us  to do things that she thought would put us at risk. We had to be escorted wherever we went. Merely looking out the window at night was considered risqué. Now, returning after all these years, those windows were shut tight. The house Iooked like a miniature version of the one I had lived in. The bridge that led from the street over the trench to the house was narrower, more treacherous. The flight of stairs to the front door was no longer endless. As I stepped into the doorway, I felt tremors of the sadness and discomfort of those early years. I scanned the cluttered space. The house held an eerie silence.

The memories were coming back. I realized that the architecture of that house on Hadfield Street–its tight spaces and wary windows, mirrored the architecture of my childhood.

Now, some thirty-seven years later, I returned to Guyana’s soil.  That Easter Monday, I  joined the revelry in the National Park. Memories of kite flying on Easter Monday were magical. It was a time when not only families and generations came together but cultures and religions as well. For me, it was a day I felt most free. With kite in hand I was off and running. I felt the breeze coaxing it to the sky. It dipped and glided and began to climb. The kite tugged. I gave it more twine and watched it soar.

Ingrid Griffith teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in the Communication and Theatre Arts Department. She lives in Manhattan and is currently writing a novel and workshopping a performance piece based on her life. She can be reached at imagami@aol.com.

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Of Note Magazine is a sponsored organization of Artspire, a program of the New York Foundation for the Arts, a 501 (c) (3), tax-exempt organization. All donations are 100% tax-deductible to the full extent of the law.

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17 Responses to “Guyana | The House on Hadfield Street”
  1. christa says:

    Evocative. What a charming piece of writing. Spare and unpretentitious but I could feel the deep surges of love and regret under the surface. And then the end with the kite and the sky! Loved this piece.

  2. January F says:

    This is a beautifully written piece. Thank you for sharing your story. Too many people do not realize what many Caribbean families had to go through to immigrate into this country. These experiences shape them into the strong people they become.

  3. Dave Young says:

    I want to read more about this subject by this author. Family and personal history is such a difficult subject to write about but so important. What is more important? I would also love to see a documenatry on Guyana and the author’s life. This piece stirred something in me!

  4. Gilda S. says:

    What a lovely and compelling piece! I enjoyed reading every word, and found myself hoping the story would continue. Alas, it ended beautifully, and Ingrid Griffith, I hope, will share more about Guyana and how the early years shaped her character and world view.

  5. Carlton J says:

    Ingrid Griffith brought the gift of `realness’ to `The House on Hadfield Street.’ I was there with her every step of the way. I loved how she ignited something about the country’s history fueled by a very personal journey all seen through her own eyes….Excellent work! Thank you for sharing.

  6. This is very empowering, not only for the author,Ingrid Griffith, but the community of Guyana. We are very proud of her work. Continue writing and we hope to see this documentary in a movie soon. We would love to have you on our TV show. The Audrey Johnson Show. Much Success.

  7. negin says:

    I love the disclosed photo of you and this piece. You really took me with you.
    To the rest!!!

  8. Simone B. says:

    This was such a good reading in the morning before Christmas.
    Your words are so real, and vivi. I really lived it with you and your family.
    Thank you so much!!!

  9. Great reading! Somehow the Author captured the feel of her country. I could feel the warm air and see the cane fields. Beautifully told!

  10. Tuesday Greenidge says:

    Thank you for sending me this piece, its so beautiful, so sensitive, a delight to read. And to hear a little about Guyana. I wanted to read more…. I took it to show Uncle Percy he loved it too. It was a trigger I knew would get him talking and reminiscing about Guyana which I so enjoy listening to through tears, joy and laughter. more please……Thank you.

  11. Joan Cambridge says:

    Every Guyanese immigrant who has experienced the duality of exile should be so lucky as Ingrid Griffith to return home, review the “architecture” of that dialectic; especially in this new era when the relative success of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) together with the Alliance for Change (AFC) in the recent polls, has ushered in a new era of all inclusive politics. In future (hopefully), Guyanese won’t be forced to “search elsewhere” to realize their dreams.

    A well written and thoroughly enjoyable piece.

  12. Valerie A says:

    Next year will be fifty years since I left Guyana. I’ve returned many times, most recently last October. I was only there for five days but I passed by my House on Forshaw Street. It is now an empty lot and is being used to store large pieces of equipment. I stopped and asked the workers what was being done and let them know where my house stood. All that remains are the large breadfruit tree, the mango, genip and coconut trees. Ingrid Griffith’s article touches my heart strings as she has captured so accurately the memories of her House on Hadfield Street, the loneliness when her parents left and the place she had sworn off for good. I hope she tells us more.

  13. June V Farrier says:

    The story of Ingrid Griffith was well written,very original & well said.
    All of her emotions was expressed
    I’m so proud of my sister Ingrid Maxine Griffith. “Good Job” Ingrid .

  14. francis J says:

    It is 3:00 A.M. in the morning and I stumbled upon your story that perked my interest. I was not turned off, but turned on and could not get enough of your journey. Guyana would always be our home for some of us no matter how long we have migrated from their to some other part of the universe. Great human interest story. I am guyanese and just wrote my story in verse form ‘come walk with me from Guyana to north america – a book of verses’, authored by francis yvonne jackson published by xlibris.com. Ieft guyana 1963 and am residing in the US. I was compelled to write my story because I never ‘left home’ fond memories that continued to linger. Comint to America was a new and rich experience, where I have given credit; for me it was the best of two worlds.
    Blessings Ingrid, pls finish writing your story, I want to read the conclusion.

  15. Ingrid Pollard says:

    I too went back to my family house on Hadfield Street 30 years after i left as a child in the 1950’s, but we went to London. Please finish your story I would like to reads it.

  16. Desiree says:

    Hello Ingrid I happened to stumble across your story while looking for a place to stay in May to celebrate 50 years of independence, I was so touched it bought back so many memories of my childhood….keep on writing. As I too went back after 10 years to visit my family house in Bel air after I left for London in 1977. Your story definitely brought back some memories, as I too was left with my great great grandmother.

  17. Bruce Williams says:

    Hello Ingrid,

    Came across your article on Facebook. Very interesting and descriptive story. We used to live at “CC”, was there couple years ago and I remember that house. Would love to read more of your stories and memories.

    Bruce

 

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