Of Banning Apples

For once I’m going to contribute a non-fiction piece to the one word at a time blog carnival. Why would I do such an astonishing thing?
Well, when I saw the word, the first thing I remember was the apple ban.

So what, you ask, is an apple ban? Who could possibly ban apples? Are not apples truly wonderful fruit? Should they not be recommended, perhaps even commanded? (Well, unless you’re in the Garden of Eden as conceived by a medieval artist.)

This happened in 1971. Well, it actually happened earlier than that, but it impacted me in 1971 so, considering I was a teenager at the time, it didn’t really happen until it impacted me. That year, in the fall, I traveled with my parents to Guyana. As I’ve had to explain many times, that’s not Ghana (which is in western Africa), it’s Guyana, South America (which is also not South Africa). I specify all these things because, when I was living in Guyana, my mail sometimes went to those other places. Often it went to South Africa because somebody wrote “Guyana, S. A.” as the last line of the address, and human error proceeded apace.

After we moved to Guyana, my father was taken out of action for a period of time due to emergency surgery (a story in itself), and I got to explore the country alone. George Bernard Shaw said that the England and America are two nations separated by a common language. He was, perhaps, right, yet he would have been more right if he’d said this of America and Guyana. We’d been told that people in Guyana spoke English. They do. When they feel like it.

But normally they speak creolese, essentially an English based creole. Back in those days people tended to regard a creole as a sort of illiterate version of a major language. In fact, it’s a naturally developed language that results from mixing of parent languages. And, as with all languages, the ravages of time and the foibles of human beings.

Because of my father’s illness, I got to introduce myself to the country on my own. I got on the bus for downtown expecting to hear English, and I couldn’t understand a word that was said. When I talked to the bus driver in English, however, he spoke to me in English. I had to ask around in order to find out what was going on. Three years of life in beautiful (might I say gorgeous) Guyana, and visiting Americans couldn’t understand me any more, though I could switch to properly cultured English, as any of my Guyanese friends could as well.

So what does all this have to do with the apple ban? Well, very little, except that it was during this time that I learned about it. One of my friends informed me that the government had banned the import of apples. Now apples don’t grow in Guyana. Many other wonderful things grow there, but not apples. So apples had to be imported. And apples were a specialty at Christmas. One had to have one’s apples for Christmas.

The government’s point of view was that they had a balance of payments problem, and anything that wasn’t really necessary didn’t need to be imported. As a generally free trade oriented American–and at the age of 14 I already had many vigorous political opinions–I didn’t think much of this approach, but of course I didn’t have anything to say about it. And to be honest, except that some of my friends were feeling very deprived in that they couldn’t get apples for Christmas, I didn’t really miss them. Papayas, mangoes, pineapples, bananas, and many other wonderful fruits were quite adequate. One of the major benefits of living in Guyana for three years as a teenager is that I got to hear a very different perspective on political issues than I would have heard at home.

I don’t know how long the apple ban lasted. It was still in effect when I left the country. And therein is another story. In addition to banning certain imports, the government eventually decided to ban the transfer of actual currency. By closing off the exchange, Guyanese currency could not be exchanged overseas without government permission, but you also couldn’t get foreign currency in country. When you entered the country, your currency was counted, and you weren’t allowed to exit with any more currency than you brought with you.

We had entered the country before that law went into effect, so I could not take any U. S. currency out of the country with me. I often marvel at the things my parents accepted in my life. I wanted to leave before they did, so they got me the ticket, along with an Ameripass, which would allow me to travel anywhere in the United States by Greyhound bus for 30 days. They also arranged for me to go to the church offices in Miami after I landed and pick up some currency. I had to take a taxi, and I could only pay for it after I picked up the money.

I was 17 at the time. I’m sure my parents’ prayer life increased, but they let me go nonetheless.

Oh, by the way, there were apples in Miami. But after three years I wasn’t in an excessive hurry to eat them. And as I moved north, I started missing all those tropical fruits I had grown used to in Guyana. They weren’t banned, but they weren’t that easy to find.