Story and photos by Shabna Rahman
In the otherwise quiet village of Roden Rust, East Bank Essequibo, residents would like to see one thing changed: that is the removal of a sawmill that is causing dust pollution. They would like the peace which is being disturbed by the loud noise from the equipment to be restored.
There are a few other businesses in the village, including a slipway/shipyard, wash bay, jewellers and trucking operation, while a family operates a photo studio.
At the end of the village a group of boys was busy at the wash bay. Afridi Salim established the business over one year ago. He said there was a demand for it in the area and the response had been good.
The residents love to see development but do not want it to be at the expense of their health and comfort. According to them, the dust from the sawmill has resulted in them suffering allergies and skin irritation.
They told the World Beyond Georgetown that ever since the establishment of the sawmill eight years ago, they had objected and called for it to be relocated close to the riverside, where, according to them, sawmills should be built. “It is not fair for them to put it in the middle of the village where they are making people’s lives miserable,” residents said.
They said the proper requirements have not been met and even though the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) visited following their complaints, no action has been taken.
As a result, they are uncomfortable in their own homes. “There is dust all over the house and it even goes into our water tanks and messes up the clothes on the line when we do laundry,” the residents said.
Abdool Salim Razack, 80, is one of the residents who is affected along with his two-month-old great-granddaughter, Maria. He told the World Beyond Georgetown: “I am not against the man [sawmill owner] working but it shouldn’t be in the residential area. A lot of timber is piled up there and it breeds cockroaches and rats.”
However, Razack was happy to share stories of the village and of his life.
His father had bought the two-mile long estate for $6,000. He then offered a friend, Saffie, who had a lot of children, a portion of the land at a cheap cost and brought them to the village as well.
Razack’s father was originally from Wakenaam but moved to Cornelia Ida then Hague, West Coast Demerara, where he did cattle rearing. They were also engaged in farming.
But the older Razack decided that, “if the [his] children cannot elevate higher [in education] they must know a trade. He then invested in tools and equipment to set up a jewellery business.
Razack was proud that in 1993 he was adjudged the best citrus farmer at a World Food Day event. He also did provision and cane farming.
He recalled that they suffered a lot of flooding in the village for years and only got relief when the interim government under Dr Cheddi Jagan constructed the Boerasirie canal.
His son Anwar was relaxing in his hammock. Anwar’s wife, Savitri was cutting up green mangoes to make achar while his daughter, Narissa, 10, was writing on her blackboard.
Another issue for this family was cows getting into their yard and “making a lot of mess.”
Mahadai Fernandes, 78, also told the World Beyond Georgetown about the village being flooded during the inclement weather because there was no drainage. She recalled that it was in 1953, when a contractor named Parkinson was hired to dig the facade and install the kokers.
She said too that residents did not have potable water and had to fetch black water from the trench to cook, clean, wash and do other household chores.
Fernandes was born at Uitvlugt but moved to Roden Rust at a young age. She had left school at the age of 11 to help her parents on their provision and cash crop farm.
She also worked at the sugar estate, “throwing manure” while living with her parents in a “grass house.”
She got married in 1957 to Wilfred Fernandes, now 80 years old, who hailed from Mabaruma, North West District. They too lived in a grass house with the floor and wall made from manicole, which they bought for $18. They rented a plot of land and engaged in farming.
The couple upgraded to a board house not long after, using proceeds from the sale of the produce. They later gifted it to a son and built another house next door.
Wilfred still farms and when he reaps his produce every week, vendors go to his home and purchase it in wholesale quantities.
A pleasant woman, Mahadai, called ‘Maa,’ had a few of her grandchildren around her during the interview. Some of them were hearing details of her story for the first time and were enjoying it.
They laughed when this reporter asked to take her photo and she responded, “With meh yellow hair?” Her hair is grey.
She worked hard in her early life and although she still cooks and cleans, she takes it easy these days. A mother of nine, she has 35 grandchildren and 41 great grandchildren and said they are her “happiness.”
Her grandson, Suraj and his friends, Brandon and Bryan from the nearby village became the self-appointed guides, accompanying this reporter around.
We caught up with Ester Harilall-Da Silva at her home, which overlooks the Essequibo River. She provides slipway and shipyard services, a business established by her late husband. Boat owners would leave their boats there for a fee and also use the yard for repairs while they have easy access to and from the water when visiting the islands.
She took this newspaper for a tour around the compound, which was filled with all types of boats. A few workers and boat owners were engaged in maintenance and other activities. Some of them were camera shy but two, Sudesh and Courtney, were willing to have their photos taken.
The atmosphere was relaxed and there was a breathtaking view of the river while the brown sand beach looked inviting.
Residents refer to the business place as ‘Silva Beach’ [from Da Silva] and would go there at times to swim and for picnics.
We stopped by to see Yvonne Trim who was spray painting a car. The 78-year-old, who was featured in this newspaper last year, is a mechanical student at the Leonora Technical and Vocational Centre.
Her interest in fixing cars started ever since she began driving. The course is free and she encouraged more women to take advantage of the opportunity and “come out and develop themselves.”
She noted: “A lot of women are driving now and at least they should know how to fix their vehicles if they have a problem. If not, they would have to wait a side of the road until a mechanic comes.”
After she completes her course she is willing to pass on her skills to those in the community who are willing to learn. Following her story appearing in the Stabroek News another woman became motivated and started the course as well.
A strict disciplinarian who would often correct the students when they are going wrong, Trim is highly respected and liked by them. Fondly known among them as ‘Granny,’ she said, “I don’t discriminate against race, I pull up any child.”
She is also light-spirited and when one of our ‘guides’ referred to her as an old lady, she humorously looked around and asked, “What old lady? I don’t see any; there’s no old lady in the village.”
The boys also had fun with Trim’s pet macaw that danced when she sang and clapped her hands.
It was also amazing to see how well her pet dogs and cats were getting along with each other and how protective one of the dogs was of a kitten that the children were trying to play with.
One of the dogs also cuddled another cat that the boys put there for her to play with.
Trim commented that the statement about “people living like dogs and cats” when they cannot get along does not apply to “how these cats and dogs are living… here they eat from one plate.”
She moved to the village from Paradise on the East Coast Demerara at age eight. Her parents were farmers and she would help on the farm.
When she got married to Sandy Trim, who passed away 11 years ago, they continued farming and reared livestock for a living.
Trim described the people in the village as “industrious” and said “They all try to make a living without molesting people for a job. Some even provide employment for others.”
Her grandson, Enoch De Souza, 15, also attends the technical institute and is doing a similar course. He studies with his grandmother and says he learns a lot from her. They help each other with assignments as well. He said it “feels great” going to school with her and he sees her as an inspiration to go after his goal.
Enoch’s parents own a photo studio and he has acquired photography and videography skills from them. He would accompany them do recordings for weddings, birthdays, funerals and other events.