Uniform is the name of a village situated at the far end of Leguan Island. While there are other villages beyond it, Uniform is the last that is inhabited by people. Though the village is relatively big, not many people live there; it has been adversely affected by migration.
Since the island does not have a regular bus service, many people use bicycles. In fact, bicycles and motorcycles have become the main mode of transportation, though some folks use taxis. Uniform is situated less than ten minutes from where the boat docks, but the cost to get there by taxi is $1,000 one way.
When the World Beyond Georgetown visited, there seemed no one around in the sleepy village. Two men at the entrance to the beach stopped on their bicycles, while their much older friend sat nearby in the shade of a cove of trees with a rifle in his hands. It seemed they had just stopped to catch their breaths because minutes later they were on their way again.
Laughter and shouts came from further up the beach. It was the Eid-Ul-Adha holiday, and a group of family and friends had gathered for a fun day. While some older folks sat in the shade of the trees having a drink, others played cricket, often jumping into the Essequibo River to retrieve the ball. Some girls played catch with a beach ball and nearby two toddlers happily played at the edge of the water, splashing every time a wave came in. Nearby, a little girl equipped with a spade was digging in the sand and further out boys could be seen swimming.
Across the river, one can see Wakenaam and even make out some of the houses there.
A horse standing in the bush made low sounds and its owner happily said that the horse was behaving that way because he saw him coming.
One young man making his way into a shop shared his concern about the river defence that had broken away recently. He stated that the people who are fixing the dam are digging from one side of the beach to repair the damage instead of getting mud from elsewhere. Upset about it he said, “How much time will they fix one thing over and over? Do it proper and done instead of gah come back again. How you gon take from the beach to fix the sea defence?”
The taxi driver who took me to Uniform had mentioned that the beach used to be bigger before persons started taking sand away from it.
Lalita Persaud was born a village away at Goed Intent and lived there for three years before she and her family moved to Uniform. Though she is not sure how far back the village dates, she recalled that while she was growing up her grandparents would speak about the Dutch having lived there a long time ago.
The woman noted that many of the houses were locked up or had been sold because persons would have migrated to different parts of Guyana or left the country. She added that part of the reason she remained was because she feels safe. She mentioned also that many persons chose to move mostly because of employment while some did so for want of better education. The village subsists mainly on cattle and cash crop farming. Persaud’s husband is a cattle farmer and she runs a shop to assist in supplementing the family’s income. But even businesses are suffering on the island, the woman noted.
The MV Sandaka which services the island has been down for quite some time and islanders have had the use of another ferry. However, the low ramp, Persaud said, has been damaged and only light vehicles are allowed to cross. Their Canter often has to be transported across to Parika to buy goods for the shop but because of the damaged ramp, they are forced to wait days at a time for the ferry to be travelling during the high tide so that they could use the higher ramp. “Sometimes it take three days to come back with goods. Another businessman from around this same area left since Sunday and was only able to come back today [Wednesday],” Persaud said.
Another problem the woman shared about was the stelling which is in a deteriorating state. The waves shake the almost rotted stelling and when vehicles drive onto the bridge to get on the boat, it gets even scarier. Just when persons were praying that the stelling stayed strong enough for a while, they had a scare when Guyana was affected by the earth tremor. Many who were on the stelling ran off, certain that the stelling would fall. A new stelling has been long overdue.
Unemployment is another dilemma faced by the people of Uniform. The woman said they can only pray that things get better for those who remain on the island.
Just then, five men walked in to grab an after-lunch drink. One man, who hails from another village and currently resides overseas, was among them. The man said he returns every year to visit with relatives and friends on the island and is very disgusted with the situation of the ferry service and the condition of the stelling. On this current visit, he said all the bus he was travelling in was carrying at the time was his two suitcases, but they had to be taken out for the bus to make it across the low ramp. He is pleading that something be done urgently.
Rachael Bhola was at her ‘bottom-house’ chatting with her mom and son. Her mother, Cleo Singh, she said, was considered to be one of the two oldest persons in the village at 82.
She remembers growing up in Uniform and skipping her way along the potholed dam they called a road on her way to St Stephen’s Anglican School. After it was rebuilt, the school was named Richmond Hill Primary; the building houses a nursery department. The school is situated two villages away.
“We moved along the road using bull carts, donkey and horse carts. Some persons used bicycles, but most persons walked. Today people either ride their bicycles or their motorcycles. We have two buses coming a couple of times during the day,” Bhola said. Horse carts still pass through the village a few times during the week selling greens and groceries.
Apart from issues with the ferry and the condition of the stelling, Bhola mentioned that her mother has to visit a clinic at the Leguan Cottage Hospital situated in Blenheim once a month. But when she last visited there was no doctor. She does not know whether the situation is still the same but hopes that there is a doctor now.
“Uniform,” she said, “Is a quiet area. The people are always friendly and cooperative. They always look out for you. If you short of something and they have it, they’ll give you without charging you for it,” she said.
“I’m from Wakenaam but I’ve been living here 25 years now,” Sydney Sooklall said. “Meh like meh Wakenaam but after some time meh get to like it here now.”
After Sydney’s first wife passed he left Wakenaam and his children to take care of an ill friend on the island and eventually settled in Uniform. When he lived in Wakenaam, he shared, he did various jobs with one of his main ones being fishing. He is now a pensioner and does cash crop farming, mostly for him and his wife to get by but he would sell from time to time if persons turned up at his house for a vegetable of some sort he may have. He plants okra, boulanger and pepper.
Though he said it is comfortable living in Uniform and that he has no problems, he did say that he hoped there would be a better ferry service soon.