Granddads and grannies on the move
March 9, 2004
Travel is good. You learn to use an airport. You get a stamp in your passport. You learn to 'fasten a plane-seat belt' and you see a new country. Then you realize how much your country is better and you come back home.
In fifteen years of traveling back and forth to the United States of America and the Caribbean, that is how I felt. I have always advocated that Guyanese should stay and build this 'land of El Dorado', or go acquire skills and 'come back home.'
I was visiting an elderly couple, who "got through", "picked up their visas", and left our shores for New York in the big US of A. They came back last month "to thaw out" for a while due to the "really cold" winter this year. I was at the airport to receive them "home." I watched as they were helped from the aircraft and put into wheel chairs, pocket books, overweight carry-ons, heavy coats, doggy bag from the flight dinner, and all. Remembering their enthusiasm the day they got their visas, my Guyanese heart was busy saying, "Good for you. At least you got to see the grands and great grands, and the snow, but it's Guyana you had to come back to."
Last week I got a call from Aunt Rose, "You must come, we going back this month-end."
Aunt Rose is 67. She has arthritis and suffers from high blood pressure. Her husband is 71. He has diabetes and has already had one heart attack. Why do these grand and great grand parents want to go live in a foreign country?
Yesterday, I went to visit with Aunt Rose and Uncle. Aunt Rose was smiling and busy in the kitchen. Plastic bottles of pepper sauce and achar were lined up on the counter top waiting to be labelled and taped and wrapped. A big batch of mitai was already fried and the paag (syrup) was boiling in the big kahary. This lady who "planted garden" in Lusignan and sold "greens" at Bourda Market for some 50 years since she was married, was now happily taping and wrapping and packing for her Universal Airlines flight.
So we talked...
Where did she stay when she was in New York? Her big daughter has a house and the basement is "like a whole apartment."
What did she do? Aunt Rose baby-sits her great grands and for two Spanish girls who live next door to her daughter. Aunt Rose was collecting 'green' dollars - US money in her purse.
Despite the 'thousands', she made selling "load" after "load" of bora and lettuce and boulanger at Bourda, yet with pride she told me about her working in the USA as a baby-sitter, in a basement, at age 67.
She and Uncle had applied for social security and some other "old age" benefits. They had health cards with scheduled hospital visits and check-ups. Uncle was linked up to the eldest son's health plan and he did not have to pay for his diabetes testing supplies and the insulin.
She went on to tell me about the washer and dryer her daughter had in the basement. Aunty could wash her clothes and sheets and every thing and get them dried and folded in one hour, and she really liked the "softener sheets", and you have to put them in with the clothes in the dryer so that the clothes would not "cling" in the winter.
And I heard about 'the West Indian stores' you can get every thing from Guyana at the West Indian store, cassava, eddoes, plantain, bora, pak choy, plantain chips, shilling oil, Sari curry powder...etc.
After years of "spreading cow dung manure" with her bare hands, and "forking up the beds", and bending over for hours to "transplant" thousands of pak choy, boulanger and pepper seedlings,
And fetching loaded baskets on her head,
And lighting the lantern in the blackout to "get ready" the "load" at 2.00 am in the morning....
And setting the tub to catch the water whenever "they put it on"
And tying up the mouth of the pipe with cotton, "to strain the rusty water"
And "soaking down" the clothes and scrubbing at the pipe with the beeta and hard brush.
Married at 15 and mother of 6 children, the stories she could tell-
The boy/girl matches she made in the village,
The "wedding house" curry and mitai she prepared,
The "baby haslee" and "naara", she fixed..
I watched Aunt Rose and I felt tired. Gone for a moment was the 'advocate of patriotism.' How could I say to this matriarch, "Stay with us, don't go to that cold place, you can never be one of them."
And then I remembered 2 years ago when Uncle lost two fingers on his right hand.
The two sellers were returning home after "selling out the load" one Saturday. Three masked robbers trailed them and cornered them in their yard. One held a knife to Aunt Rose's throat and demanded the money. "Whey the 100000, Gimme the 100000!" They knew how much money she had and that it was in her apron pocket. Uncle, then almost 70 years old rushed to the attacker with his bare hands. He was well beaten; lost two fingers and they took all of the money and ran away. Aunt Rose was also cuffed and hit in her head.
The incident shook them up. Uncle had his heart attack one week later and he has never been the same.
As I sat there, my mind wandering and Aunt Rose prattling, Uncle joined us. He was clean shaven, hair neatly cut, shirt in pants with a belt at the waist, he looked like 50.
I told him, "So you're going back Uncle?"
"Yes beta! Me miss them pickney." And he started to tell me about his youngest great grands ages 4 and 7, who he walks to and from school in Queens. He also told me that he had "planted up" the back yard of his daughter's house and they had reaped peppers and cucumbers before the winter.
Then Uncle climbed into his hammock and lay back. And I asked Him, "Uncle don't you like Guy-ana?"
A sigh. "Yes Beta. All me sweat and blood in this land, but life hard hey. You can wuk hard all you life and then them damn bandits just waiting and watching, fuh tek all you got. And is only me and yuh Aunty left here now." He then got quiet and minutes later I heard him snoring.
The Immigration statistics usually reflect the loss of the teachers and nurses and adventurous young graduates and ambitious dreamers. But something so valuable is being drawn away.
Our Matriarchs and Patriarchs are leaving our shores to join their families abroad. We lose their advice, their insights, their warmth, their mitai, their curry...
After 6 months in New York, what was there that called these people back or what was here that 'pushed' them away.
It could be the clean water from the tap, or the clean dry clothes in an hour, or the social security cheques, or the carpeted apartment, or the peaches and cantaloupes, or the great grands, or the dollar stores...
But..looking at these two people, people don't mind working hard and eating a little in a small place but they need to know that they can rock in their hammocks without closing the back gate, and they can sell and count their profits and not be followed home, and they could send their children to school and have them walk home safely.
All people, young or old, need Security. There are no guarantees in life, but citizens of a country expect and deserve "a degree of Security." Without this, they cannot be happy. They cannot stay!
The cold-blooded murder of Deputy Superintendent, Mr. Richard Griffith, and Lance Corporal Ranmarine Lachana, is most regretted and unfortunate, and will leave a bitter taste in our mouths and pain in our hearts as a nation for a long time to come. Our deepest regrets and sympathies are extended to the families who have lost a husband and a father, to the Commissioner of Police, his management and all members of the force.
I believe the Government will do all it can to ensure the education of the children of the families of the officers continues as if their fathers were alive, and that the comfort and security of the family will not diminish. The Government and peoples of this nation must ensure the family enjoy the goodness of life, and not suffer as a result of this dastardly act.
I have had the fortune of knowing both officers. They were professional career oriented men who chose to serve this nation and its peoples, and they have lost their lives for that decision. It is our prayer that their families be empowered, blessed, to accept this sad reality, and that the good Lord, and peoples of Guyana, with the Government, will continue to look out for them.
It is unfortunate that many Guyanese lack that true sense of security and security consciousness. Crime in Guyana has taken a turn for the worse, as a result, people in general, at all levels of society, and in particular policemen and women, and security officers, with and without firearms, need to be extremely vigilant and dynamic, respectful, yet firm. Governmental offices, especially sensitive ones, the courts, and police stations, cannot continue as a 'free for all." Ingress and egress need to be seriously controlled. Persons with weapons, knives, glass bottles and metal objects (which can be used as missiles and batons), should not be allowed to enter. Personalities of individuals need to be assessed (profiled), before entry. Bags need to be searched. Government locations need to stop being penny-wise, and risking their security.
All in all, a constant maximum sense of security needs to prevail, as if one's life is always in danger.