At 81 years old Sarifari Persaud better known as ‘Aunty Lily’ is content with a life of spending time with her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, which entails travelling overseas, and taking care of her flowers and dog. That is when she is not invigilating at the National Grade Six Assessment exams, which she has been doing for 46 years, since it was known as Common Entrance.
“I enjoy me life, but somehow I does look forward to exam time. I like being with dem children. I never teach or suh, but is long me doing this thing and I don’t want to stop now. Me is now the supervisor at the Enmore Primary School,” Persaud told the Sunday Stabroek in a recent interview.
Persaud was recently recognised by the Education Department of Region Four for her sterling contribution as an invigilator in the region.
A mother of four, grandmother of ten and great grandmother of eight, Persaud related that she was 25 years old, when she first became an invigilator. She shared that her brother first held the position, which he had secured through her friend – the wife of a headmaster – and when he later found a job she was asked to take over.
“When I first start was at the Hindu College [now the Swami Pumananda Primary] and the children use to be under a tent and sometimes when rain fall we move from one tent to a next one and then they get a school building,” she said.
Apart from the primary level examination, Persaud has also invigilated at the College of Preceptors and the General Certificate of Education examinations.
Back then, she received $2 a session for Common Entrance and $3 for the other two examinations and while it may not sound like a lot, Persaud recalled that “it use to add up” and she worked at several schools on the East Coast Demerara.
“It felt good. No mind it was little at first, but you could have buy something with it. I use to cherish it. When I get ten session I use to get $20 and that was plenty money then. When my husband started working in the estate he would get $21 a week, but me lil bit use to help out,” Aunty Lily said proudly.
Asked why she has kept at it for all these years, Persaud said she “really likes it” and noted that as soon as the children see her during the examinations they would say, ‘Look miss coming’ and the respect they showed really made her feel good.
She remembers invigilating when Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo and former minister of finance Saisnarine Kowlessar sat exams as boys.
“They nah guh know me, but at Cove and John I remember when dem write exam and so when me see dem I remember when dem was lil boys. I work with plenty boys and girls and now dem doing good and I didn’t teach dem or nothing, but I does still feel proud of how dem turn out,” she said.
She recalled that a young man moved in next door to her Enmore home and he reminded her that she invigilated when he had written an examination. “I does see nuff a dem especially now that I working at Enmore and none a dem does pass me straight,” she said.
Today, Persaud earns $1,800 a session and she would do sometimes nine or ten sessions.
“I never work nowhere else you know. My husband use to work as a driver at the Enmore Estate and I use to just deh home with the children and do the housework and I use to make sure me husband get he food on time,” was how Persaud described her the days when she did not invigilate.
Her three sons and one daughter all attended the Enmore Primary School.
Speaking about her life, Persaud shared that she grew up in Cove and John, got married at the age of 19 and moved to Enmore. “Cove and John was a mix community and me father use to sell milk and we was four girls and two boys. We use to help we father sell the milk to other villages in the morning and den we use to go to school.”
Asked if her husband was her only boyfriend, Persaud with a girlish laugh responded, “My one and only.”
She described her marriage life as being “in and out, you know we had good days, but you know like all married people we had problems too” but they remained together. Her husband died some 31 years ago.
Persaud recalled that he was returning from work when he fell and was later found lying on the roadway. He was picked up and rushed to the hospital where it was learnt that he had had a stroke.
“Me use to look he after you know, mek sure he go to the doctor, do everything for he but he dead like two years after,” she said sadly, but by then all of her children were adults and had families of their own so she did not have the responsibility of taking care of them.
She surmised that the heat and cold her husband was exposed to as a lorry driver might have contributed to his illness.
Asked if she took another partner, Persaud quickly responded in the negative. “Nah, nah! Wah me wan with dah? Nah nah, a live on with me children. Right now I living with a grandson and he wife because all my children outside. I does go on holiday and see them, you know. I went to Canada and the States.
“But I don’t want to live in dem country. I don’t want to go away from Guyana. I would go for holiday, meh like here. I don’t like dem cold place when you have to cloak up when snow falling.”
She added that her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren take very good care of her.
Asked how she spends her days, Persaud said sometimes she watches over her great grandchildren and she would cook. She wakes up at 6 o’clock every morning because according to her “I can’t sleep more late”. She feeds her dog and waters her plant and then she sits on her veranda and looks out.
“I like flower plants; I get white ones, red ones and yellow ones. I get thyme, ginger, papaw, mango, sugar apple and all dem trees in me yard,” she said proudly.
She described her life as “going smooth” explaining that while her children care for her she still receives financial benefits from her late husband and would spend days going to religious functions and supporting persons who are sick or relatives who lost loved ones, since the village is a very supportive one.
Her pet peeve, however, is some of the youth in her village.
“I can’t tell them nothing; how dem a dress and they does get on I don’t want to tell them nothing. Sometimes how they dress is better dem don’t wear clothes. So I don’t want to give nobody advice. In me days you coulda talk to the children and young people but not nowadays so I just don’t say nothing,” she said.
“When we bin a grow up you never use to pass big people straight you use to say morning or good afternoon but not now. I remember when we use to go to school you couldn’t come tell you mammy or daddy that teacher beat you because it was more licks, but now look what happening.”
Persaud said while she does not believe in children being abused, she feels that some lashes may help them to behave better.
Asked about domestic violence, Persaud said while she has never experienced that she has seen other women being hit by their husbands.
“That time if man run the lady and give the lady two slaps nobody would say anything. I had me children but nothing like that. When me husband bin a live you know teeth and tongue use to bite and he use to drink he lil two shots but never nothing like beating me.
“I like living here when you sick and so, people does come out to support you. And this is me house; me husband build this house so I is a happy woman. I can’t say anything really troubling me.”
Come next week she will be at Enmore Primary doing what she likes best: invigilating.