In Canal Number One, West Bank Demerara approximately six miles from the Vreed-en-Hoop Police Station is a busy little village called Recht door Zee. Although it has been only five years since villagers of Phase Two have been allotted plots of land, the housing scheme has already grown to hundreds.
To visit the village, one can take a car at Vreed-en-Hoop junction just outside the Guyoil Gas Station or at the Number One Canal/Bagotville junction.
“I been living here five years now…. I used to live in La Grange. When I come here, there was no water or light. Two years back we get light and water. When we move in here, it had four houses…. The road was the red loam; progress here was fast though,” said shopkeeper Sheila Khan.
Nearby, children walked along the street and boys were running errands on bicycles, some so big for them that their feet barely touched the pedals and they half-sat on the bar to reach them.
Khan opened the first shop in Phase Two where she sold eggs, bread and soft drinks. She said the villagers and construction workers working on the road at the time were grateful for her shop.
The villagers are close-knit although they were all from different parts of Guyana. The village suffers from rampant crime, but Khan has not been affected. However, she has neighbours who cannot say the same. For security reasons she locks up her shop by 9 pm. Nevertheless, she wishes that the dark streets could be illuminated and that there could be heightened police presence.
She said that though the village has access to electricity and water, blackouts are frequent and when the electricity goes, so does the water and sometimes for days at a time. Prior to my visit, the village had experienced a week of no electricity, no water.
“…I talk to the man from GWI and he say is because of the blackout mek we ain’t getting water and when the current come on, we getting a lot of low shedding. Me ain’t know when they gon fix it. I can’t even wash clothes. Right now, we depending on the rain and is August… is bare punishment for water now,” Khan lamented. She was told by the same GWI official that plans were underway to drill a well that should take care of this issue.
At a house where four little children played, Natasha Sookwah, mother of two of the children, shyly accepted my invitation to talk.
Four years ago, Sookwah arrived in Recht door Zee from Goed Fortuin with her family.
“Recht door Zee, I wouldn’t say is a bad area; it was a very nice area when I move in. It was quiet; I could have go out, leave my door open and come back and reach my things,” she said. Not anymore. Sookwah and her family have been unfortunate, thrice. The first time was last year when robbers carried away her husband’s brush cutter and two phones. It was during the first robbery that the family came face to face with the bandits. Her daughter was away at her grandparents and did not witness all that transpired. According to the woman, the men held guns to her and her son’s heads demanding cash and jewellery. Her husband asked what they were doing and they threatened to shoot him. Not finding much, and angry at their little lot the men gun-butted her husband who fell unconscious. They fled via a car that had been waiting at the nearby culvert. She screamed for the neighbours after the men left.
The next two times—earlier this year—bandits made off with parts of the family’s scooter, a bicycle, a new wheelbarrow, a spade and an empty glass case. They also helped themselves to snacks and soft drinks from her snackette. As she recounted the experience, her son sitting across from us filled in bits of information he remembered. The ordeal has left them all perturbed and any sounds at night make them uneasy and worried. The frequent blackouts make this harder for the family to deal with also.
She added that with or without power failure, the community has trouble getting water and she is fortunate that her land is on a lower level than others so when persons aren’t getting water, she often has no problem. She also lives near a culvert that has a pipe where the water pressure is better so when she doesn’t get water she can just step out onto the road.
Though the woman doesn’t see herself as a Good Samaritan, she is one. Every day children and residents from Lust en Rust, the village beyond, form a queue to Sookwah’s standpipe to fill their jars and buckets. Lust en Rust has no access to water and villagers would have to ride a mile or half for water. She worries that with meters being installed around her community, she will soon have to pay more for water and does not want to turn persons away or charge them for water.
Sookwah goes as far as charging phones and blending seasoning for persons at no cost.
She and other villagers suffer the plight of having to walk half a mile to their houses, sometimes with heavy bags as bus drivers refuse to carry them in unless they pay extra.
At night, it becomes dangerous; persons working the night shift with no vehicle of their own have no option but to walk through the dark streets.
“We need better roads, street lights and for persons to clear the bush from the empty lots. We also need the police to patrol the area more often so people can feel safe; Recht door Zee was never like this,” she said.
Resident Egbert Adams is employed by GPL. He moved in 2012 from Best Squatting Area. When he first arrived hardly any plots were kept clean but this has since changed somewhat. Persons have moved in, but others have left weeds on their land to grow wild attracting dangerous reptiles. He pointed out that all three lots surrounding his place are vacant. In fact, he saw one neighbour in 2012 when he went to clear his land and didn’t see him again until last year when he showed up to do the same. Fearing for his and his family’s safety, he keeps the grass in the nearby lots at a manageable level by cutting and burning.
Adam is attached to the GPL Vreed-en-Hoop branch. Asked about the numerous blackouts, he explained that the fibre optic cable at Vriesland was damaged. The cable is responsible for supplying electricity within the Free and Easy/Nismes area. That same day, GPL sent power to the areas via the fibre optic cable at Vreed-en-Hoop, but it overloaded resulting in a fire. The cable at Vreed-en-Hoop was fixed two days later but to prevent a recurrence the company now supplies different areas at different times.
He noted that Guyana Water Incorporated does not have its own power supply and thus relies on GPL so when there is a power failure, GWI is affected also. Sometimes, he added, the power may very well be on but there might be low voltage and the power may be insufficient to get the water pump going.
Adams, who was on leave of absence was unable to say more, but noted that even he was affected and had lost appliances, but because he was an employee he could call ahead and know when power outages are scheduled for his area and would start his generator before leaving home. He stated that he could not say when the power will return to normalcy and persons should make use of the electricity when they have it as well as conserve on water.
Adams mentioned the caimans in his village. “It got caimans in the drains. In the morning, you see it cross the road to the other drain and in the night, it cross back but they don’t trouble anybody or even fowls or dogs. It’s big now and has been living here since it was a baby,” he said.
Adams stressed that the village has too many stray animals, cows in particular and not one or two but entire herds. At nights, the road is blocked by cows and sometimes they squat in front of his home. He wants stray catchers to pay a visit to his village and get the animals off the roads.
He also faced losses at the hands of bandits. They broke into his house three times already—though never when he was at home—and carted off two gas cylinders, a DVD player, a music set, cellphones and money. At present, Adams is working on his fence so that he can have a few dogs.