Photos by Joanna Dhanraj
Hampshire on the Corentyne, Berbice is situated 12.7 miles from the Government Buildings in New Amsterdam and is home to hundreds of residents; it is flanked on either side by Belvedere and Williamsburg. It takes nothing less than two and a half hours to get to Hampshire from Georgetown by car.
Many years ago, half of the village was said to be owned by a Portuguese man called ‘London’ the other half was owned persons named Reedy, Carpen, Henson and Butchie.
Hampshire is full of life; everywhere one looks boys can be seen: hanging out at the Hampshire ball field or the barbershop or riding along the streets. Youngsters were playing cricket on the field, while others cheered from the pavilion. In a corner, dozens of bicycles were braced against a fence and across the fence in the nearby lot which houses the Williamsburg Nursery School, older men looked on. Exactly what Sookram Budhram was doing from his hammock in the verandah of his house.
Budhram, who hails from Adventure, farther down, settled in Hampshire 20 years ago with his wife and two sons. His wife is a native of Hampshire. In 1994 when they were married, Sookram said, the village was not half as populated as it is today; most persons lived in the front section while just ten houses stood in the back half of the village.
The people are closely-knit, but as time passed and the women took up jobs outside the village, there was no longer any time for the regular chit-chat anymore. His wife was one who took up selling hassa at the Rose Hall Market.
Business used to thrive back then, said his wife who was downstairs in a hammock. Today people buy from her less and she believes it’s because many of them either work for less or are unemployed. Even her two sons are unemployed. The woman explained that they have been trying for some time to get jobs but to no avail. One of her sons, she said, has been taking letters and test results to Albion Estate so as to be hired but nothing has happened and they are all discouraged. That’s how it is here with youths, she said, they depend on their parents.
Budhram works as a painter. According to the man, sometimes he works just for a day, or two or sometimes five days but once he’s done, he usually waits an entire month before he’s hired again. Most of the older men in the village work at the Albion Sugar Estate.
Apart from unemployment, Budhram complained about the half-cleaned four-foot trench in front of his residence which he says was cleaned by an excavator too small for the job and so the other half was left undone. The trench is also said to be a main drainage canal. One of the NDC councillors, he said, lives in the same village and passes by every day. He mentioned the state of the drain to him a few times and according to Budhram, the man said they would get to it. The villagers are still waiting.
His wife, Budhram said, had mentioned to him a few times that this was the same trench she washed laundry in when she was a girl, as well as swam and took baths. He himself has cleaned his part of the trench before.
Although Budhram noted that Hampshire is a peaceful village, he said also that villagers keep watch for thieves who would be lurking on the streets when it’s dark. He was once robbed by a man who was armed with a gun. What was even worse was the fact that when he turned up at Williamsburg Police Station to make a report, the gates were secured with a padlock. He added that from outside he could see the officers inside glued to the television.
Apart from wanting willing and brave police officers to keep the area safe, he wants also clean drains, more jobs for the young men and streetlights.
Chinese restaurants are a common sight in villages beyond Georgetown but it’s not often that one would find a local cook shop especially one serving three square meals a day.
Rickford Ruben answered my call bringing with him cook-up and fried chicken for my lunch and promising that the chicken curry I had requested would be available in an hour or two.
Ruben owns the cook shop with his wife Sandrama Magalee, who is the sole cook as he works part time.
Ruben left Paruima, Cuyuni/Mazaruni a long time ago when he travelled to Georgetown to attend Campbellville Secondary. It was when he ventured to Berbice to work as a branch manager at DeSinco Trading that he met Magalee. At the time, she was selling food in Hampshire Market; the market isn’t flourishing as it was back then. She had begun selling in 1995 and made a living this way for 13 years.
At their current location they have customers who travel from as far as Alness and Number One eight villages either way. Weekdays are their best selling days at the weekends, Ruben noted, people usually prefer to patronize one of the two Chinese restaurants in the village.
Ruben said that although many persons work at the Albion Estate, there are still many individuals without jobs. There have been rumours of an industrial site being set up in the village, but so far all that has happened is the building of a fence at the proposed site.
Magalee shared that growing up in Hampshire was no bed of roses and while many of her friends played hopscotch and other games she was busy with her mother in the market selling fish, whenever she was not at school. When her father who was a cane harvester fell ill, life became even more difficult.
She said that Hampshire today is much improved, pertaining to roads and buildings.
She is a member of the Jesus Touching Ministry Church in Albion.
Magalee travels to Rose Hall Market once a week to buy ingredients to use in her cook shop. The day I visited was the first Sunday she had opened her business.
Eighty-two-year-old Kalli Ramsammy or ‘Uncle Basil’ as he’s commonly called, had his hand covered in flour when I caught up with him; he was busy making dinner for his sick wife and himself.
Uncle Basil was born in Belvedere and moved to Hampshire when he got married in 1960. Prior to moving he lived two lots away from Hampshire.
One of the former owners, ‘London’, he said, had owned a rice mill and a rum shop in his time. The factory had employed some 15 persons but closed almost a decade ago.
Another man by the name of Julie Khan had a grocery shop.
At the time he moved to Hampshire, Uncle Basil worked as a contractor doing road works.
Life is different from long ago, the elderly man said. One cannot rear much poultry or have a farm as animals and produce go missing overnight. But people are still friendly, he said, and mindful of each other. He said what would help with this issue is to have streetlights installed.
Every year he and his family share clothing to the needy in and outside of Hampshire.
Asking about the rumoured industrial site, Uncle Basil said that he had heard of it and noticed that the area had been fenced off a few months ago. “It would be good if they can open a commercial site, so people can get jobs,” he said.