“Everybody plays Phagwah in Guyana,” said Sandra Jeet, a manager at Sybil’s Bakery and Restaurant, a popular Guyanese spot at the beginning of the parade route.
Ms. Jeet’s family history reflects Guyana’s. Her father was a Vietnamese intellectual who was arrested by the French and sent to Devil’s Island, the penal colony off French Guiana. After the prison was closed in the 1950s, he settled in British Guiana (now Guyana) and married a Guyanese woman whose family came from India. Like many Guyanese of Indian descent, her family left after independence was declared in 1966 and tensions rose among the African, Indian and native Amerindian communities.
Shelly Kistnan, a radiology student, does not know where her grandfather lived in India before moving to Guyana to work in British-owned sugar cane fields. But she keeps her ties to her homeland alive in the kitchen.
She grew up south of Georgetown, Guyana’s capital, gathering firewood for the outdoor stove where she learned to cook from her mother. Now she makes Indian food like roti (flatbread), channa (chickpeas) and kheer (milky rice pudding) with an expert hand, toasting and grinding her own spices