La Retraite

Story and photos by Jeanna Pearson

Acres of canefields and tractors line the access roads of many villages on the West Bank of Demerara, but there is something different about La Retraite that causes villagers, especially the younger folks, to remain in the place of their birth.

After a long day of doing chores in her home, Carmen Sandbach would clamber up the “back steps” of her daughter’s house around 5pm to listen to the waves crashing against the seawall in her village. She would stay there for hours into the night, inhaling the cool evening breeze, until the sun goes down and the lights on the Habour Bridge are turned on. “That’s why I like La Retraite,” she said.

In the night the lights on the bridge are like “golden candle flies” dancing over the river—sometimes competing

Paddy left to dry along the main access road to La Retraite.
Paddy left to dry along the main access road to La Retraite.

with the lights from ships. Most villagers would sit on their verandas to watch the sea at night and enjoy the solitude of the evening wind.

La Retraite, a small village of about 250 residents, is sandwiched between huge acres of cane fields in the west and the Demerara River on the east. It is about seven     miles from Vreed-en-Hoop.

Two little girls and their pet rabbit
Two little girls and their pet rabbit
Carmen Sandbach and her dog Obama
Carmen Sandbach and her dog Obama

“I moved here with my grandmother on 28th May, 1966— two days after we gained independence—from my mother’s home. I was just a month old. I grew up here and raised my children here. I like it here…especially at nights…the lights are beautiful,” she said.

She said children who had played with her in the village playground were all grown up and building their own families. But over time the playground was neglected and people came and squatted on the land. “Now the children don’t have place to play…they would play on the road,” she said.

She recalled that her fondest memories as a child were centered around the long walk to school every morning with her friends. “School was school in those days…we could never go to school late because Miss Karen – I still remember her name – had a long line of children and she would take out her wild cane. Children were afraid of their teachers in those days. Now, teachers are puny and the children take advantage of them. But we had big strapping teachers.”

She said the village was very safe and cooperative. “We don’t have to frighten anything, we don’t have thieves…everybody lives as one…we ain’t get ‘black’ and ‘coolie’ here…”

Helo Bissoon and her granddaughter
Helo Bissoon and her granddaughter

The life of the village revolves around an old wooden church that was erected since the start of the village. “Everyone use to go to church on Sundays and in the week. It was and still is a pinnacle of the village. But

A section of the canefield
An old rice factory in the village

it use to function more back in the days,” said a tall slender woman. She was the daughter of the Pastor from the early 1980s and 1990s. “We use to have youth fellowships and everyone use to come out,” Esther Bobb said. Her father had passed away a few years ago after retiring from preaching. But Esther continued serving as member in the church. “People are busy now…even the children are busy. Most people work late or finish late from lessons…so the church is smaller now.”

Leaning over her porch, Esther recalled mixing tamarind in a plastic bag and calling out to her friends to leave for school. “We use to make tamarind down the road to school. We would mix it in a plastic bag, me and three other girls and we would go through the village and collect each other,” she said. “When we reach the


A section of the canefield
A section of the canefield
A makeshift swing underneath Beverly Marshall’s  house
A makeshift swing underneath Beverly Marshall’s

person’s house we would whistle or call their names,” she related, noting that they would walk to the La Retraite Primary School, which was at the very end of the village.

And when they returned home in the afternoon, they would play sal-out, tag and the hop-scotch on the road. “All the children would come out and play,” she said.

But as she grew old she developed a love for the river. “I like to watch the river in the afternoons…this village is nice for that…I like it for that,” she said. Esther also echoed Sandbach’s words about the people in the village. “I love the village because the East Indians and blacks live as one. If we need help they would stop and help you…we don’t have nothing like race here…we don’t watch each other by the colour of our skin.”

Nazamoon Hamid, a 72 year-old woman, said she moved to the village 42 years ago with her husband and six children. She said they leased a plot of land and built a small house to live in. “When we move here there wasn’t any canefield. It was a rice field and there was no access road…this road that they have here never existed. It was a mud dam. The only road it had was the road at the back, what we now call the old road,” she said.

“It is a very quiet place except for when the young boys get big music and make noise,” she said.

Nazamoon Hamid
Nazamoon Hamid
The old Christian Brethren church
The old Christian Brethren church
Carrying cake to an engagement party in the village
Carrying cake to an engagement party in the village

Some residents, however, complained of the village having no street lights or working telephone lines. “In my young days it had streetlights but as the years pass it all damage up and now when the night come and we see any strange body patrolling the road we would have to watch and worry because it could be a thief man,” said Helo Bissoon.

She said she lived in the village for over fifty years. “Me worked and watch my children grow and build a life here and build my future and I’m living good, but we need some lights on the roads and telephones.”

‘I glad if they put in street lights in the village because the road does be dark and thieves can come in the village and rob us,” said Beverly Marshall. She is a vegetable farmer, who has to provide for six children. She has been living as a widow for five years and said she found it hard. “The village is nice and quiet but we need telephone and street lights ’cause the road would be pitch black in the night.”

She said people in village had their telephones lines set up for the past three years but GT&T is yet to install a working system.

Residents also complained that a section of the sea defence was broken. Sandbach said a section of the wall cracked some three years ago and the Public Works Ministry had promised to fix it.

“They come and patch it up with mud and say they will fix it but they never come back. You know how much time we complain and call in to them? Now the salt water coming in and eating away at our land,” she lamented. She added that most of the drains are blocked “so the water does not get to drain off.”

Most of the villagers are cane cutters and teachers in other villages while the others seek work in the city. There are three small grocery shops but many residents shop at the Wales market on Friday. The Friday market is the biggest market day for most villages on the West Bank.

default placeholder

Northern carriageway of Carifesta Avenue closed to traffic

The northern carriageway of Carifesta Avenue has been closed to traffic. This is to facilitate ongoing improvement and lighting works to the thoroughfare.

The newly appointed Deputy Commissioner General Hema Khan (left) with Chairman of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) Board Rawle Lucas. She was introduced during a press conference held yesterday.

GRA sacks heads of Customs, HR

Chairman of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) Board Rawle Lucas yesterday announced a major shake-up in the management of the tax body, including the removal of the heads of its Customs and Human Resources divisions for unsatisfactory performance and the appointment of a Deputy Commissioner-General.

European Union Ambassador Jernej Videtič (left) hands over the Coastal Engineering Design Manual for Guyana Sea and River Defences to Minister of Public Infrastructure David Patterson. (Ministry of Public Infrastructure photo)

$2B in EU funding for sea defences

While urging the swift operationalisation of the Public Procurement Commission (PPC), European Union (EU) Representative to Guyana Ambassador Jernej Videtič yesterday handed over a $2 billion cheque to Minister of Finance Winston Jordan to aid in improving the country’s sea and river defences.

Members of the City Constabulary in their ceremonial dress march along Regent Street yesterday prior to the arrival of the President. (Photo by Keno George)

Put citizens first

With the controversial parking meter contract instigating fractures within the Mayor and City Council (M&CC), President David Granger yesterday reminded city councillors that they are accountable to the citizens who voted them into office.

Injuried: Dhaniram Tribeni

Canal Number One businessman beaten, shot in home invasion

A Canal Number One businessman is now injured after he was beaten and shot early yesterday morning when armed bandits invaded his home and escaped with a quantity cash and jewellery.

default placeholder

City councillor accused of invading Town Clerk’s privacy

A city councillor has been accused of invading the privacy of Town Clerk Royston King and his family after contacting one of King’s daughters about the controversial trip he made to Mexico with the Mayor and other council members.

default placeholder

Chainsaw operator, 16, charged over rape of 10-yr-old

A 16-year-old chainsaw operator was yesterday charged with the rape of a child under the age of 16 years old and later released into the custody of his parents.

Students of Guyana and Suriname who participated in the first Inter-Guianas Spelling Bee Competition, held yesterday at NCERD.

Guyana overall w-i-n-n-e-r in first Inter-Guianas Spelling Bee

Guyana’s students yesterday emerged the overall winners in the first Inter-Guianas Spelling Bee Competition. The Spelling Bee brought together students of Guyana and Suriname, from ages 10 to 14, in a concept of solidarity dubbed “Guianame.” The participants were drawn from several regions in Guyana and from the AlphaMax Academy, which has been the winner of the National Spelling Bee in Suriname for the past three years.


About these comments

The comments section is intended to provide a forum for reasoned and reasonable debate on the newspaper's content and is an extension of the newspaper and what it has become well known for over its history: accuracy, balance and fairness. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments which contain attacks on other users, slander, coarse language and profanity, and gratuitous and incendiary references to race and ethnicity.

Stay updated! Follow Stabroek News on Facebook or Twitter.

Get the day's headlines from SN in your inbox every morning: