Life Hands Guyana Writer New Material

CRS photojournalist and communications officer Sara Fajardo reports from her visit to Guyana:

If Ansel Watts’ life were a novel it would be listed under three categories: adventure, tragedy, and redemption. When he was 23 he stowed away on a Miami-bound ship that set sail from his native Guyana. After 7 overheated days of no light, his only meals bread and water, the ship stopped. He peered outside and saw palm trees and beaches dotted with luxury hotels. “This must surely be Miami,” he thought to himself and climbed ashore. But Ansel miscalculated, it was one stop too soon. He’d landed in the Bahamas, still an ocean away from his intended destination.

Guyana writer

After being deported from the Bahamas back to his native Guyana, Ansel Watts found himself living on the streets. He turned to the Juncata Juvant Friendly Society, an assistance center for repatriated Guyanese. Photo by Sara A. Fajardo

For the next 20 years the aspiring writer would work his way through construction jobs and bartending gigs in the Caribbean. He ran a homeless shelter for six months in Barbados, built websites, devoured self-help books, and transformed each chapter in his life into stories for others to learn from.

Writing as a way of life for Ansel. It started when he was 19, freshly in love, and intent on wooing a girl through letters and poems that slowly blossomed into a children’s books series idea: “Adventures in Monkeyland,” about the history of Barbados.

He wrote, he bartended, he helped build up the islands through construction. Things were going well for Ansel, until after 20 years of living in Barbados and the Bahamas, he was deported for illegal entry and overstay and found himself back in Guyana without a home, a family, or a job to make ends meet.

In the beginning Ansel made do. He moved deep into the jungle to work in the gold minds. He loved the job, the green landscapes, and life among the other workers. But mosquitoes got the better of him, and after three bouts of malaria, he found himself back in Georgetown with nowhere to go.

His home became a slab of concrete outside the teeming stalls of Bourda Market, his bed a flattened cardboard box. Positioning was everything, too close to the street and he’d get drenched by heavy rainfall, too close to the stalls and he’d have to contend with the rats as large as cats running past him, crawling over him as they scavenged for scraps.

He stuck near a friend, “the Canadian,” a fellow deportee for safety. Meals came from the nearest soup kitchen. Jobs were hard to come by.

He didn’t have the proper clothes for interviews. He didn’t know where to begin. After six-months on the streets, Ansel yearned for a change. His dreams had always been large, and being homeless was not among them.

It took a trip to the Juncata Juvant Friendly Society, a $150, and a pair of several-sizes-too-big work shoes to write a new and more promising chapter in Ansel’s life.

A fellow deportee, Donna Snagg, who is intimately familiar with the obstacles faced by the repatriated, founded CRS partner, Juncata Juvant, which in Latin means, “Things that are joined together are helpful.”

When Ansel walked through their second floor office doors, he wasn’t sure what to expect. He only knew that he was eager for a change.

Guyana writer

Ansel Watts and his girlfriend Linda Fraser. Photo by Sara A. Fajardo

What he got was more than he’d dared to imagine.

Within two days, Snagg had gotten him off the streets and into a temporary home, a job interview and proper work attire. Within a week Ansel was a different man, he met the woman who would become his fiancée, Linda, while working the security job Snagg had helped him land. Two months later he’d saved enough money to move into a small room. Large lace curtains hang from the high ceilings of the living room where he unwinds watching an old TV set.

Light streams in from the large kitchen windows as he and Linda cook-up curries on the series of gas burners. After months of eating what strangers provided, Ansel finds nothing more satisfying than a home-cooked meal. And in his spare time, Ansel sits and reflects on the turns his life has taken.

He hopes to soon begin a book about the homeless in Guyana, many of who are deportees like him.

Without the society, Ansel says, he’d still be in the streets. It’s hard to imagine how little it took to transform his life. Every three days, Ansel polishes the shoes Snagg gave him to a perfect shine. He doesn’t mind that they are too big, or that the children in the neighborhood call him “boots man.” It’s all part of the story, his story, which he crafts and re-crafts with each passing day.

- Sara Fajardo

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2 Responses to “Life Hands Guyana Writer New Material”

  1. Dr Mike Ryan PHd Says:

    I have lived in the USA for twenty five years now and am a citizen, not once have i ever bother to think what a deported person have to endure in guyana.
    while in college for my PHd, i worked at the Immigration court in Florida as a state attorney and have sent back many immigrants from Guyana, never knowing that this is the hardship you would face.

    reading this article just sadden me

    Michael Ryan

  2. Jillian Bakker Says:

    In response to Life Hands Guyana Writer it is good to see that
    Mr. Watts did not turn into a life of crime like so many others who have been deported.
    It is shocking that while Mr. Watts visited all those places and did all those things that he did did he ever remember about other family members that he left behind and did he ever send a small piece for his family now and then.
    I have listened to people claiming that they did not have any money to help relative and then they want a helping hand when something happen to him/her. Then again we do have a lot of superstitious Guyanese who believe that deportees bring bad luck so they don’t want anything to do with them.
    To all the Guyanese out there may it be in the U.S.A or other Caribbean Island please don’t forget about your people that you left behind or they promises you made to them or about Guyana because you do not know what life have in store for you.
    Like Mr. Watts and other deportees who was able to get on their feet with the help of the Juncata Juvant program I hope that when they really get on their feet that they will always remember and try to give back somethings so that others who come behind them can get the same chances.
    People always make promises then as soon as life is good they forget. But always remember you may need that help again. TOMORROW IS PROMISE TO NO ONE. BUT YOU CAN ALWAYS COUNT ON THE ABOVE PROGRAM TO HELP YOU, SO LET CONTINUE TO HELP IT EXIST.

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