Helena Number 2

Photos by Joanna Dhanraj

Patrick Bourne playing a game of dodgeball with his grandsons

Helena Number 2 is a village situated in Mahaica and close to the Mahaica River Bridge which separates it from another village called Wilhelmina. The village is situated east of the Mahaica River, north of Good Hope, south of Helena Number 1 and west of farmlands. Helena Number 2 is a sister village of Helena Number 1. The village’s approximately 200 houses provide shelter for some 1,400 residents.

The village, once a sugar plantation, saw its first settlers in the early 1900s, possibly the 1920s.

The village is seemingly bright since it is situated at one of the junctions in Mahaica. The highway runs through it as well. Yet as busy and bright and large as it is, everyone is familiar with everyone else.

When the World Beyond Georgetown arrived, people seemed to be in a hustle everywhere; at the Helena Number 2 Nursery School, along the road, in the fire station, at one of the shops at the junction and along the road where traffic officers stood directing traffic. Outside of the nursery school stands the statue of Sir James Douglas who was born in Mahaica. Douglas was a trapper and trader in wild animals and fur, who later migrated to Canada and became the Governor of British Columbia. The statue stands in honour of him and his achievements.

Pastor Patrick Bourne of Jesus Elam Revival Centre situated in nearby Jonestown was over at his neighbour’s lending his IT skill.

Bourne hails from New Amsterdam. He had left for some time to live abroad and then returned.  Helena Number 2 then to now, he noted, was less populated but over the years the population increased. The village, he said, has developed in almost all areas.

According to Bourne, he has been pastoring for more than four decades, longer than he’s been living in Helena Number 2.

The main economic activity here is farming but many villagers source their income from other areas; livestock, teaching, driving among other things.

“We are close-knitted. The thing I like the most about here is that they quarrel today and tomorrow they’re good again; it’s a good representation of Guyana,” said Bourne.

An example of an advantage of living in the community, Bourne boasted, is that a stranger would walk into the village and a villager would enquire the reason for the person visiting the area. Though the area is large, he said, people know who belong and who does not and because they look out for each other, seldom can an outsider walk into the village and commit some misdemeanour. “We believe it takes a village to raise a child and so any child can be reproved or rebuked,” he added.

Recalling what he was doing at the time, Bourne said that just as he was using his skill to help a neighbor and that the other people in the village do the same. While talking, he pointed to a man carrying a cahari into another resident’s yard and explained that one man was sharing utensils so that another could make larger amounts of food.

Some of the residents seemed busy and as Bourne said, the many houses without curtains were because residents were in the cleaning spirit as the holidays quickly approach.

As homey and cheerful as Helena seems, the Guyana Power and Light Inc (GPL) often easily dims the spirit with power failures that see foods that should be refrigerated being spoiled and a bigger disadvantage where whenever the electricity goes off, so does the water. Bourne said, “GPL is quick to disconnect whenever there’s any slip up in paying for bills and makes no compromise after all the trouble given. And, when it’s time to reconnect, they take their time to do so.”

Water flowed freely in the village’s trenches and Bourne mentioned that they were cleaned just a week ago after eight months.

After our interview, Bourne, or Pastor as he’s commonly referred to, headed over to play a game of dodgeball with his grandsons living next door.

Deokie Bachan is one of the councillors at the Unity/Vereeniging National Demo-cratic Council (NDC). She was born at Helena Number 2 and said it has always been well populated. The only thing that has really changed, she noted, is the village has developed.

Decades ago almost every day, she walked out of her yard with water containers to the nearest pipe situated on the road a distance away. Bachan attended Helena Number 2 Primary and Nursery.

“This is a residential area. The place is quiet; we don’t have rowdy people here,” said Bachan.

She added that she and others are working on getting their bridges fixed. However, Bachan said, although the drains were cleaned, there are corners that haven’t been completed and the cleaners threw the stuff up along the road and left it there. Pointing to corners of the road, she spoke about the parapet not being weeded clean; stumps of bush were growing in some places.

Helena Number 2 has two public schools, the nursery and primary and one private school. The village has a church and two mandirs although one is specifically for Helena Number 1, but geographically, it is located on the border of Helena Number 2. Bachan attends the Helena Number 2 Shree Krishna Mandir every Sunday.

The village, she said, has a community centre ground which is situated at one end of village. The pavilion needs renovating and plans are already underway to do so.

At a small shop where a group of men drank, Surujdai Persaud was carrying on a conversation inside. Persaud is 67 years old and lives with her 70-year-old husband, Rohit Persaud. Although both of them have passed retirement age, she still keeps shop while he does odd jobs; earlier that day he had been cleaning drains.

Living in this community, the woman cheerfully said, is living in comfort and what makes her experience even better is living among people who see each other as family. Christmas, she noted, is a huge holiday and she would usually host relatives and friends from the village. But just weeks ago they lost a relative and so there will be no Christmas celebrations this year.

Persaud bragged that Helena Number 2 is the best village in all of Guyana. She has never been bothered by thieves, she said, adding that if there ever is robbery in the village it is petty, and usually carried out by outsiders but this sort of offence seldom occurs.

When asked about disadvantages, she said there was none she could think of.

One of the men who sat nearby in the shop, on hearing our conversation, said the only one he could think of is the Mahaica Police Station closing its gates by 6.30 pm every day. He was wrong. When the World Beyond Georgetown passed the police station at minutes to six that afternoon, the gates were already closed.

Chairman of the Unity/Vereeniging NDC Atamdeo Persaud was at home. It was unusual, he said, to find him home in the afternoons on a weekday; in fact it was the first weekday he has been home early in two years.

He said he believed that Helena Number 2 was the second oldest village in Guyana that was sold to Indian indentured labourers.

“In April of 1897, settlers were granted land in Helena Number 2. Twelve hundred and six persons were in possession of land would have included both Helenas but it wasn’t until the 1920s that people first settled on the abandoned sugar cane estate,” he said.

“I like everything about Helena, Mahaica in general. Helena Number 2 is a quiet and homely village. Most of the people living here are the generations of the earlier settlers and we know the lineage, we know everybody.”

He added that the only disadvantage of living there was being far from the city, a 45-minute commute to be exact, but like any village in the country, commuting will always be a disadvantage.

I recalled seeing Cevon’s Waste Management emptying garbage earlier and asked the chairman about this. He said the service was only provided to the community seven months ago. The NDC, he said, is currently working on having this service available to the other areas.

Being  big on farming, residents grow their own vegetables and fruits; and as for groceries, they get them at the supermarket in Helena Number 2 or at the other supermarkets nearby.

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