When I think of Guyana, I am automatically drawn back to my home in Providence. Growing up in Greenfield Park, on the East Bank of the Demerara river in Guyana, was an unforgettable part of my childhood. The compound housed a few original colonial plantation style homes which were once built for the British staff appointed to the Providence sugar estate. My parents built our home there in the late 60’s and I lived there until I left for University in the USA. I think that they chose this spot as it was the perfect place to raise a family. By the time I left Guyana there were twelve houses in our little community which surrounded a central green oval space with swings. Outside our back gate lay the expansive backdam and sugarcane fields. I still remember the row of logie houses that once existed up the dirt road and in the distance, which were built for cane cutters and their families. The old cattle grid at the entrance of the residential area is still functioning. It was put in place since the 1920’s when the original estate houses were constructed. This is proof that once upon a time, things were built to last. It was meant to prevent the cows grazing in the nearby fields from entering the compound and eating the grass and flowers. As we live near the entrance of the compound, I can still remember the clanking sound of the metal bars as vehicles passed over it. As a child, the cane fields dominated the landscape as far as the eye could see. There were acres and acres of sugarcane fields producing Guyana Gold…Demerara sugar. I also remember that there were several ancient Dutch graves in the vicinity which bore a great deal of lore and superstition. It was said that you should never touch a Dutchman’s grave as bad luck and the spirit of the Dutchman would forever plague and haunt you.The extensive backdam road with a newly cut and cleared cane field on the left and an uncut field in the right.
In Greenfield park, everyone knew each other and we lived comfortably and securely in this small community. When I was in Primary school, I finished my homework and was allowed to take my bike and ride around the compound to meet my friends. I loved playing hopscotch with my sister and neighbors Rowena, Nicola and Rochelle. We would draw the shapes on the ground with pieces of slate or chalk and the competition would begin. We also loved Chinese skipping with long elastic bands and the childhood chants that accompanied the game. The boys played marbles or Gam with awarra nut seeds. They also made bows and arrows out of pointer broom sticks to shoot lizards. Cricket was another favorite pastime for both boys and girls. We played quite a bit of that on our lawn as well as in the communal grassy oval in the compound. At Easter, everyone also gathered in the center to fly kites. Sometimes there was a custard block seller who would pass by selling delicious icy sweet treats. We all loved sno cones, but I do not remember any vendors passing by on their ambulent bicycles in our area. There was one house with a pool and the owners were very generous in inviting us over to cool down and have fun. I also remember that after they immigrated from Guyana, their house remained empty for a long while. There was a fabled alligator that had claimed the pool as his territory after creeping in from the nearby cane fields.
Being in the countryside and surrounded by the cane fields and canals, there were also lots of pole fishing opportunities in the backdam. In the company of our gardener, my parents would let us out of the back gate to walk up to the bridge and bait our hooks with worms which we dug up in the garden dirt. My brothers Robert and Sean loved to go fishing, but it was Robert who had the patience to sit and wait for the bite. There would often be fishermen catching fresh water shrimp and hassars with nets in the canals. We would sit on the old rickety wooden bridge waiting and hoping for fish to bite. It usually was nothing big enough for dinner, but that was not the point. It was for the simple pleasure of getting out into nature. No sophisticated fishing rods or lures, just a long wooden stick or branch and a piece of string with a hook and live bait. We were not squeamish or afraid of insects, nor afraid of getting ourselves grubby. We often came home with dirty feet which we duly washed off at the tap outside before coming into the house. Our clothing also covered in sweethearts which stuck like magnets to the fabric from walking past tall grasses along the path. This was Guyana after all, the perfect backyard of nature. The sound of the cane fronds blowing in the wind, the idyllic landscape teeming with wild parrots and birds nesting in the ancient giant trees which stood tall like sentinels watching over us. These timeless parts of the landscape existed here long before we did, since the Dutch plantation days then to the British and after to an independent Guyana. An idyllic scene of a Guyana backdam area with the canals. We would sit on a bridge similar to this one to pole fish.
We lived in the countryside, away from the hustle and bustle of Georgetown. Life was quieter and wholesome. Cows grazed nearby, and sugarcane workers walked up the backdam road to tend the fields. Their raucous chatter could be clearly heard as they made their way to the fields in large packs at the crack of dawn, during the time of the harvest. We would sometimes eagerly shout out asking for a piece of freshly cut cane. They would kindly reciprocate by giving us long stalks as they passed our gate. In my memory, this season was one of the most disagreeable times in our area. We lived practically amid the cane fields, and this meant that during the cane burning season, our houses were bombarded with cane ash and the smells of the fires and smoke burning in the nearby fields. The wind would wildly blow the “cane trash” and ash dispersing it generously into our yard. The area would be filled with the wispy debris for days. I had to keep my bedroom windows closed and my mother would have a daily battle with the cleanup of the house and yard. The burning season was one which could bring reptile predators in closer proximity to our homes, as they raced from the fields to safety. Among the tall cane grasses and the canals, lived many species like alligators, anacondas, mongoose and yowries. They were all looking for safe places to resettle. Often, this refuge could mean our backyards. Most seasons at least one giant anaconda would be caught and killed by the cane cutters. The writhing body could be a whopping 8-9 feet long and would be paraded through the area triumphantly by several cane cutters. This was an unforgettable and fearful sight.
We have had the unfortunate pleasure of having a few reptiles make their way to our home. I distinctly remember the drama and fear resonating in the household, while some brave adult tried to catch or chase the unwelcome visitor outside. I grew up accustomed to seeing in very close proximity the various reptiles, arachnids and amphibians which could frequent our back yard. Often huge salipenters or black and gold tegus would be audaciously eating our dog food. The indignant dogs would be creating a ruckus trying to fend them off their dinners. These large fast lizards with long claws and sharp teeth could be as big as 3-4 feet in length. They lived in the canefields and near the water. There was a balance in nature between wildlife and humans. Most times the boundaries were respected but sometimes they overlapped. The canals however were an integral part of the reaping operation.They were used for irrigation, as well as for the punt system which allowed the transportation of the cut sugarcane to the nearby factories for processing into sugar crystals. All of the neighboring sugar estates were connected by a clever waterway system devised for efficiency.
Almost every home had children of various ages. The older kids had their own groups, but they were like older siblings to the younger ones. I fell into the middle age group as a tween and my youngest sister Susannah was among the youngest ones in the neighborhood. I enjoyed the best of both worlds being introduced to all the new music and getting mixed tapes made for my Walkman by Billy and Chris, who were like older brothers and the hip dj’s of the time. This was not the era of hand held electronics, internet or Youtube. My generation kept busy listening to music on the radio, playing records or cassettte tapes and playing board games and cards. Our parents encouraged activities outdoors in the fresh air and we developed friendships and our social skills through interaction with real people. We used to have a wonderful movie projector at home and friends who owned cinemas in Georgetown. We often borrowed reels of movies to show at home for movie nights. It was wonderful!! I learned to be a projectionist and manned the machine. We would put a big white sheet up and darken the room and friends and neighbors would come to watch a film feature… even the looney toon cartoon preshows were included. What amazing times those were.Childhood memories of parties in Greenfield Park.
Fruit trees were in abundance in Greenfield park.There was lots of green mango picking and eating with a bowls of salt, vinegar and hot peppers, especially at Joyce’s house. There were two amazing Buxton spice mango trees which would be heavily laden with mangos during the season. In my memory they were the most perfect for making mango chow. Joyce, Twailing, Espi, Margaret, Karen and I would consume green mangoes, golden apples, five finger(carambola), gooseberries and guinepes until our tongues were sore, numb and burning. There were often belly aches which accompanied these bouts of recklessness. My sister Karen was the youngest of this group. She was often a prime victim of these mango chow sessions and always succumbed to the ills of too much of a good thing. She obviously “enjoyed the diggins!”. Her thing was to drink the acidic vinegary salt and pepper water which accumulated at the bottom of the bowl. The home remedy of a few dashes of Angustora bitters in some water was a staple remedy employed by my mother with a scolding about her “hard- ears”. We climbed lots of trees to pick fruit, or pulled them down with long poles fashioned with hooks. The five finger tree in our yard was large, prolific and always seemed to beckon us to climb. It was also notoriously known as a haven for pesky hairy worms. After victoriously climbing the limbs and picking the fruit, we would often run indoors crying with welts of bites. Again my “doctor-mom” had to calm with freshly cut limes, in order to ease the stinging pains.
The residents of Greenfield park were family oriented and kind. If there was a need and someone could help out, they always did. There was a strong sense of community. People were always generous and shared the produce from their kitchen gardens and fruit trees. My mom gave haircuts to several of the boys in our neighborhood. Her kitchen table was an informal meeting place for a mid-morning cup of coffee and a chat or afternoon tea. She was well known for her kindness and hospitality. I did embroidery, sewing lessons, cooking and baking some Saturdays with two beloved aunts June and Olga.They were masters in their craft and taught with patience and expertise to a few young girls who were interested in learning these life skills. I learned all types of fancy stitching and handiwork which I have found useful in my life. I am so grateful for these life coaching moments which have served me well in my adult life.
We all walked around the compound barefoot and it was acceptable. We did have shoes and slippers, but they were not mandatory attire. During the hot long summer we ran around playing outdoors for most of the day. Our feet burned on the hot concrete and became calloused and dry, but it didn’t matter; it was all part of the fun. The general rule was to always be respectful and that if out in the compound, we had to be home for dinner or before dark. We could stop by a friend’s house and “a Mom” would invite us in for a cool drink, cake or a snack.
During the mid to late 70’s, several of the original families in Greenfield Park immigrated to other countries, this was a growing trend in Guyana. Other families moved in and we made new friends. When I was a teenager, some of my close friends Joyce, Dominic, Alexander and Andrew left for school in England and the USA. What a sad reality for the Greenfield park gang. We were all growing up and just on the verge of taking different paths to adulthood. We all looked forward to the Christmas break and the long Summer vacations when everyone came back home and the fun activities would be in full swing again. With many now having drivers licenses, we could go to town on our own for pizza or ice cream or to visit other friends together. There was always a big theme party at my house every season. I have such glorious memories of those times and the planning that went into realizing these fêtes. Thankfully, my parents allowed my creativity to come into play for the “Black & White”, “Pink & Yellow”, “Leather & Lace” and the “shipwreck” party, to name a few over my teenage years.
On a visit to a Guyana around 1991 in front of our home on our way to the annual Hat show and Tea Party in Georgetown with my mother, sisters and little brother.
My mother God bless her, is the heart of our family. Her nurturing and loving attention to her clan of 6 is legendary. She has always been a powerhouse of support and strength. My parents had their 6th child (my brother Nicholas) as I was leaving for college. I lovingly refer to him as their “only child” as he grew up mostly without the older siblings, being born so many years later. His Guyana memories are unlike mine as we grew up in completely different times. My Dad has always been an adoring and supportive father. I thank him for his steadfast and hardworking examples. He was always an innovator and great man in everything he did. I owe both of my parents my deepest gratitude and heartfelt thanks for the wonderful home and family that they gave me. I try to preserve the special things I have learned in my culture which I now pass on to my own children.
The Guyana of my childhood was so beautiful in its simplicity. I must admit that I think back with nostalgia and some sadness, as so much has changed since I left in 1986. Today Greenfield park is still there and for the most part unchanged. There are two additional homes and some old houses have been renovated. The extended landscape is totally unknown to me. The sugarcane fields are gone!! The large expanses of fields and canals are no more. They only exist in my mind’s eye. In their place are new housing developments which extend far beyond the old wooden bridge where we used to fish. I was so very sad to see my familiar landscape so transformed.
Such is the passage of time. It is the type of transformation that progress and expansion bring. It is somewhat cruel and alienating to those of us who reside elsewhere today. I often feel that the more that time passes, the more I become a foreigner. As the country advances and I mature; the memories become ever more faint and distant. I will always be most thankful for my family and my upbringing. I appreciate the simplicity of the life we had in Guyana and the memories of people whom I love and grew up with. All of these situations and scenarios have in some way forged the person I am today. I am certain that many of us who now make up the diaspora in many countries all over the world may relate to this feeling. The Guyana of my childhood was going through the growing pains of a newly independent country as it was transforming and transitioning into a nation. The generations of the 60’s and 70’s will always remember the creativity and ingenuity of our parents during this time. I will forever value the sacrifices made and life skills we learned growing up during the challenging years in Guyana. It forced us to look deeper, work harder, and rally together more tightly in our communities. It taught us how to hone in on our creativity and to persevere as a generation. I will forever feel a deep love for My Guyana, the one I will forever remember in my heart.