Steve Connolly and his stories – an expatriate remembers
DPI, Guyana, Sunday, May 27, 2018
A Guyana-born Canadian who grew up in the bauxite-rich mining community of Watooka, Makenzie, has returned 63 years later to the place he calls ‘Paradise’, to fill a void he says lingered in his soul for over half a century.
Born at Makenzie in 1943, Steve Connolly was just ten when he left British Guiana with his parents, who had come from Canada. The family had lived at Watooka, Makenzie, in a community reserved exclusively for Caucasian expatriates.
On May 24, the now 75-year-old Connolly launched the second of two books, ‘Journey back to Watooka,’ which was released three weeks ago. His first book; ‘Children of Watooka’, was released in 2016 when Connolly made his first journey back to the place where “his navel string was buried.”
I had to come back to Paradise,” Connolly said as he reminisced about his wonderful childhood in Watooka which will forever be etched in his memories.
Connolly said he had to document those memories so that his future generations could have an idea of where his outgoing, hospitable and charming personality was birthed; right in Linden. His love for Guyana is so overpowering that he has re-visited four times in two years, to find closure; to fill that void left in his heart, when his parents returned to Canada.
The memories were unforgettable and too enthralling therefore Connolly felt he had to share this rich history with others. “For all those 63 years, my memories remained here, who could I talk to? Canadians don’t understand Guyana; they don’t even know where it is, so I said I will talk to myself. I said my children would want to know where I was, where I came from, where I was born, so I started to write,” Connolly said.
In his novel, ‘Children of Watooka’, Connolly narrates the way things were back then. Back then Linden was governed by expatriates who ran the bauxite company, class and colour segregation prevailed. Only Caucasians were allowed in Watooka and other Mackenzie residential communities. In fact, only local employees were allowed to cross the Mackenzie/Wismar Bridge. As a result, Connolly and 12 other Caucasian children including his brother Mike, made use of all that nature provided to create an adventurous and memorable childhood. They were the only students of the Watooka Day School at that time.
“What I remembered was a paradise, we didn’t know what was outside, there were about 12 children, my brother and I learned to swim in the Watooka swimming pool (which still stands today), we swam every day in that pool, the girls, the boys, everybody. We went into the rainforest and we were taken there by experts and our gardener Gobin, he was in Indo-Guyanese a wonderful man. There were orange trees, it didn’t matter, and we had to paint them silver. We had to make our own decorations for Christmas. The days were so warm or raining it didn’t matter, we played every day…I remember well,” he recalled.
The bauxite hills, the bushy treks, walking draglines, bauxite trains, RH Cars, the Demerara River flowing and so much more, were all part of Connolly’s little paradise. His most profound memory however that of the Watooka Club House which is now the Watooka Guest House. All of these and much more are recorded in his first novel.
Upon his first return to Guyana, Connolly garnered more information for his second book; his journey back, the warm welcome he received as well as tons of history about the early years of bauxite mining are entwined into personal anecdotes as well as life stories and experiences of others.
He narrated the horrors of bauxite ships being sunk during World War II. Most of the aluminium used to manufacture planes that were used by North America in the war were sourced from Linden. German submarines were responsible for sinking the ships, in fact, the very ship his mother journeyed to British Guiana with, sunk on its next voyage. “One out of every three would have sunk in 1942, there were submarines out there like sharks, then the United States went after them in 1943, about a year later and things greatly improved,” Connolly related.
Connolly described the response of the books as overwhelming especially from Guyanese in the diaspora. The books, he said have created friendships with so many Guyanese who were surprised at his knowledge of Linden, bauxite mining and British Guiana. Many of these are non-white who resided on the other side of the bridge, and now Connolly is free to meet with them wherever he wants. “I tell my friends today, because we can joke about this, I tell them, you think you weren’t allowed in my village, I was trapped inside…..now I know more friends that were raised born and brought up on the other side of the bridge than I have Caucasian friends of my own race, that is fantastic,” he exclaimed.
Say no to disparity
Despite having to involuntarily endorse a system of racial segregation during his childhood, Connolly said that it pains him to see Guyanese still somewhat divided through colour and politics, even though such a system is no longer enforced. He encouraged parents to break barriers and to set an example for their children on living in love and unity.
“My Canadian parents never had to teach me about the value and wonders of diversity, I watched them, they demonstrated it. I saw what they did… I love diversity, people of every kind and every colour,” he said.
The books can be bought from the National Library Linden Branch and at Austin’s Book Store for $5, 000. Connolly expressed his gratitude to Fly Jamaica for bringing the books to Guyana, free of cost so that they can be sold at a reduced price.
By: Vanessa Braithwaite
Images courtesy of Vanessa Braithwaite.