Story and photos by Joanna Dhanraj
Caledonia on the East Bank Demerara is a village that is sparsely populated by people, but home to a variety of fauna living in its areas of untouched vegetation, but also in captivity at Tropical Flora and Fauna Inc, which exports birds, mammals and reptiles.
If you’re travelling from Georgetown, the journey to Caledonia takes approximately 40 minutes, but it is no more than 15 minutes’ drive from the Cheddi Jagan International Airport at Timehri. It is said that Caledonia was once much larger, encompassing from the beginning of Coverden and going as far as Craig. Caledonia today is situated between Pearl and Coverden.
Caledonia has a meagre population of some 15 to 20 persons including only two families who have lived there since the seventies. There are just about five staff houses which accommodate a few men who work at the sawmill in the village. Just opposite Tropical Flora and Fauna Inc is a Guyana Water Incorporated Pump Station and a little further, a wreath marks the isolated spot where Vijay ‘Kevin’ Arjune, 24, and Parbattie ‘Priya’ Mangroo, 19, were found dead in a rented car in a suspected murder/suicide in 2013.
Caledonia, though not well populated is by no means a quiet village. Bird song and the squawks screeches of many different species fill the air. A fusion of this and the engines of vehicles passing by along with a droning sound coming from the sawmill, is what the residents have become accustomed to.
Abdel Bacchus, a Diamond Secondary School fifth form student was born in Caledonia. Bacchus was relaxing at home since it was the week of the annual national schools’ track and field championships and he was awaiting his scheduled time to represent his school in the long jump. He grew up with an older brother and sister and played cricket with them and a few of the children nearby when he was younger. The village, he said, had more persons before the sawmill changed ownership just over three years ago. Then, he said, the few staff houses had some families, but they’ve since migrated and only the men who work at the sawmill stay there now.
Bacchus travels to school every day by bus. Transportation, he said, runs all day long and on an odd day the most he has ever waited was probably thirty minutes.
Black clouds were hanging overhead hinting at rain, but when asked, Bacchus said the area never floods. “If the rain fall very hard, the most you would see is the [overtopping] of the drains,” he said.
He and his family enjoy utility services such as electricity, water, telephone and internet also. For Bacchus, apart from the noisy traffic, the nearby sawmill and the wildlife on the other side, he enjoys the serenity of his village.
After leaving Bacchus, the World Beyond Georgetown went across to Tropical Flora and Fauna Inc, fascinated with all the peculiar sounds coming from there, but was unable to have a view of what it’s like there. A visit to the sawmill, including the staff houses, also proved futile and we were left with the one other family in the village who turned out to be very charming. Robert and Patricia Dalton, have been living in the village for over 28 years. They are the parents of boxer, ‘Deadly’ Denny Dalton, who once defeated the late champion, Andrew ‘Sixhead’ Lewis, a victory they’re so proud of. They live with their two grandchildren who they take care of.
“We used to live in Two Brothers [a village deep in the West Bank Demerara]. We used to sell oranges, broom, and cucumber. We used to sell at the market in Georgetown and you know how women stay; we like to mek we money on the side so I used to walk and sell also [in Caledonia and other nearby villages],” said Patricia.
Robert added, “Sometimes ten to twelve to fifteen thousand oranges we bringing out. We planted about seven hundred to seven hundred and fifty rods into the backdam.”
“We planted as a family. It wasn’t easy. Sometimes three to four bunches of plantains yo fetching. Sometimes we falling down all but wha yo gon do but get up back and go again,” Patricia said. “Then the boats worked with tide. Sometimes Thursday midnight we coming out for the Friday market or Friday nights for the Saturday market. Many nights after we carry we load to Georgetown we used to sleep on the pave with we load,” she added.
One night many years ago before they moved to Caledonia, Patricia said, she had a dream or as she called it, a vision. “I see a land but from selling along the road I remember it well,” she said Patricia has always been a faithful member of the Assemblies of God Church in Pearl. When they lived at Two Brothers, the family crossed the Demerara River for church as often as they could. Patricia said she did a lot of praying. A few years later a friend told her about land that was up for sale in Caledonia. After finding out which land it was she realized it was the one in her vision. “But ah still tell her give it to the church. Leh dem use it. She said, ‘No Patsy, the land is fo you.’ The land was a business land and people was getting a hard time to buy it but somehow we manage to buy it. God bring we hey fo old age because if we was still in Two Brothers, we won’t ah able to cross wid the boat,” said Patricia.
“Being accustomed to the dark place at night in Two Brothers this wasn’t anything strange fo we. We need lights. We have a generator that gives us light when we want but we need the current,” she said.
Robert had an eye operation three years ago, but he is unable to see properly and still wears dark shades to protect his eyes from the light. Because of this he has stopped working on the farm in Two Brothers. Their children help to take care of them. The Daltons plant a little kitchen garden. They have cassava, sorrel, banana, pigeon peas, coconuts among other fruits and vegetables.
“We like living here. I like the idea that nobody can disturb us. We get accustomed to the sawmill next door. I would glad for a Police Station though,” Patricia said. And although she likes being undisturbed, Patricia wishes that Caledonia can become more of a residential area.