“My Story” Chapter 17

“My Story” – by Randall Butisingh.

(Reminiscences during my life beginning 1913)

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

My unemployment and enforced idleness was having its effect on my mother.  She worked on a farm, a half acre plot, growing plantains, bananas ground provisions and mangoes.  I went with her one day to help, a distance of about six miles, traveling by a small boat down the main canal of the village – The fresh water Company Canal which was fed by the Lamaha Conservancy.  I saw her dig the rich, loose pegasse soil with a fork and planted the cuttings from the cassava.  I spent some of my time helping her and also climbing the mango trees to eat as much of the fruit as I could.

We worked for some time , then she lit a fire with dried sticks to hang a saucepan on a forked stick.  Then she grated a coconut and washed and squeezed .out the milk which she strained through the cloth like material found on the coconut tree.  She put the milk in a saucepan, then peeled cassava and plantains and with a piece of salted fish she brought from home, and placed them on the fire.  I was very hungry by now.  When the food was cooked, she shared the meal on the broad leaf of the banana plant.  Never had I tasted so savoury a dish. It is said ‘hunger is the best sauce’, and in those days I was more familiar with hunger than anything else; so the freshness of the food, the warmth of it, and the environment all added to my delight.

After eating, I drank of the sweet black water from the nearby canal, sipping from my cupped hands.  This water came from the backlands, which had no inhabitants, and was not as polluted. Then I lay down under the cool shade of an umbrageous mango tree. Mangoes were plentiful in those days and when in season supplemented the diet of the poor.

I did not like work at the farm.  The heat of the sun was unbearable, so also was the heat under your feet caused by the pegasse soil which was a deep layer of rich humus formed over the years by falling vegetation.  It was something like the peat found in Ireland, though not as dense, which could be used as fuel.  Pegasse is combustible and in long droughts there would be spontaneous combustion in places.

I did not return to the farm to help my mother and she forbade me to eat what she had prepared.  I knew her too much and so I refrained from touching anything she had prepared.

It was not comfortable for me at my mother’s house, the house we both had built from our savings.  I was also not in favour of  her separation from my father.  I knew that she had depended on me for financial support; I would have done any work, except teaching which was telling on my nerves, but it was difficult in those days to find work, except you could make your own, but I could not find work.  So I moved in with my father.  I found him in a small one-roomed building with no furniture except an improvised bed of boards on which he would spread jute bags to sleep on.  I lived with him there for some time; thankful that I had a roof over my head and something to eat when the day comes. The village overseer had liked him and he was getting regular employment.

One day he told me that there was a vacancy for a man to open the kokers which drained the waters of the canals and trenches into the sea every day.  This was necessary to keep the land dry as the coastlands of Guyana are below sea level at high tide. Draining the land regularly lowers the water table.  I was very glad to get something to do and I felt sure I would get the job because of my father’s relationship with the overseer; so I applied. But the day when the village council met to make the appointment, my father was present and they thought it was he who had applied; they could not believe it was his son who was a teacher.  He accepted the job.  We then moved over to the watch house, near the sea wall, which we would share with another family whose head would be a co-worker.

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