Five days a week, Kameela Doodnauth dons a long-sleeve shirt, gloves, long pants, socks, sneakers and a cap, jumps on her bicycle and rides around sections of Georgetown selling hot and spicy snacks to provide for her family. The garb protects her skin from the hot sun.
Now 59 years old, Doodnauth said it is a job she has been doing since she was 14 and will continue to do as long as she has the strength. Her days on the streets have not been easy and her life has had several cruel turns and twists. But Doodnauth said she has never been one to dwell on the negatives and whenever she was down, she always strove to get back up.
A victim of domestic violence for years, Doodnauth said she never reported the abuse to the police but one day just “end it myself when I put he out.”
And according to her, she made her four children “on me bicycle. I use to ride and sell for all nine months when I getting me children and because I never does come off the bicycle people never know I was pregnant.” Her children are 22, 21, 15 and 12 years old.
“I am talking about my life because I want to let people know that a hard-working woman always come through in the right way and I want them to see that selling can bring in money,” she told the Sunday Stabroek during a recent interview.
She starts her journey at her Warlock, East La Penitence home and rides through Cemetery Road where she has customers; she moves through to the Botanical Gardens where she also sells to persons at Castellani House and the Zoological Park. She satisfies her customers with a variety of goodies inclusive of dhal puri and an assortment of accompaniments, then there are mince-balls, chicken strips, egg ball and the list goes on. Buyers can wash down all these spicy tasty treats with the juices and drinks she also sells.
“The sun does be real hot so anything sour I does mek drink with,” she said. The drinks are carried in a large cooler fitted at the back of the bike while the goodies can be found in a large transparent container at the front.
“I make it all,” she said, “make it in my kitchen by myself. I get up like 2 am and I leave home just before 9 am and by 10.30 am I am back home. I have my special customers that I go to. I have the presidential guard recruits at Castellani House, and they would credit, about 15 of them and when they pay me at the end of the month I would go straight to the bank.
“My business is mostly a trust business [where people take items on credit] and some customers would pay weekly, others fortnightly, some monthly and some who does just run away and don’t pay, but that is business.” She laughed lightly.
Some of her women customers would credit items to take home for their children when things are tight and at month end Doodnauth can collect as much as $60,000.
And while she is on the road five days a week, if she feels she needs to take a day she does. Every year, after Christmas Eve, she would take two weeks off and before she restarts, she treats her regular customers to a free box of food.
Behind Guyana Stores
Doodnauth shared that growing up she used to assist her mother after school; her mother had snack stall behind Guyana Stores. One afternoon, there were quite a few items remaining, and she decided to “jump on meh bicycle and ride around and sell it off.”
It was at that moment that her business started as this became an afternoon routine. And after she finished school, the last of Bibi Zabida Khan’s five children basically teamed up with her in the business.
Her mother moved spots a few times and Doodnauth moved with her, but still ended up on the bicycle selling. Her mother eventually left the country for some 15 years and Doodnauth carried on the business solo but took it completely mobile.
She recalled that one morning she ventured to the Botanical Garden and saw a guard whom she knew. He gave her permission to enter and sell. “I left selling there and I am the lunch lady for the gardens for 30-something years and is three in one: the gardens, zoo and Castellani House so sometimes by the time I lef deh I finish selling,” she added.
Asked if her business is lucrative, Doodnauth pointed out that she pays her bills from the money she makes. She describes herself as a single parent even though later she revealed that she has a visiting relationship with the father of her last child, and he helps out with school supplies for the two school-aged children. But she said her sales provide $18,000 for her weekly market run, $2,000 a day to send her children to school, $6,300 for internet, $6,000 for cable and $2,000 for phone bill.
She does not pay rent as her sister allowed her to put up a small one-bedroom structure behind her scheme house.
“But I still have to eat. I does want to know how I do it, but I does still do it as a single parent,” she said.
Her three oldest children were fathered by a man she shared a live-in relationship with for many years. “But the blows was plenty; he use to beat me bad and he use to drink rum. I was with him since I was a teenager, but he use to beat me so bad and black and blue me eye. But I still use to had to ride and sell just suh because me and me children had to eat,” she shared.
She recalled that the man would leave for work at 7 am and at times would return home at 4 am the next day, but she dared not question him since if she did, he would beat her. When she was pregnant with her second child, she learnt that another woman was also pregnant for the man.
“But I said I was not leaving he because I was with him since I was 14,” she explained. “And when the child born [the other woman’s baby] he use to bring the child to stay by we. I had me baby and me son was just two at the time so sometimes I would find me self changing three pampers.”
Her determination to hold on to the relationship began to wane as the years went on and the physical abuse continued. When she was two months pregnant with their third child, she told him to move out of her home.
“He pack he bag and move out and since then he drinking get worse. He never help to support the children and he would tell people how I cross he life,” she said.
Following their separation, Doodnauth said, she started a relationship with a man several years her senior and while the relationship has always been a visiting one, she is comfortable, and they have a child together.
My own house
For Doodnauth, owning her own home is her ultimate dream and she shared the sad story of how she was tricked some years ago by an unscrupulous individual. A man had sold her a piece of land in Sophia and she laid the foundation for the house just before entering a period of hardship where her bedridden mother died just after she had given birth to her last child. The man then sold the same land, unknown to her, to someone else. “I had no money to fight it,” she said, “because he didn’t go to [the Ministry of] Housing and put the land in me name. But the person he sell back to mek sure he carry he and change the name on the land.”
However, today, with the assistance of her partner, another house is being built for her in Sophia and Doodnauth hopes to move in by Christmas this year.
“This life is real hard, but you have to make it easy to suit you. I am a box-hand holder for 30-something years, and it is a money making something if you take it seriously. If you are a licensed box-hand holder you take a full hand, but if like me you not licensed you take a lil something and I does take $1,000 every week from everybody…,” Doodnauth said.
That money, she said, is saved and she has no intention of touching it until she moves into her new house when she would use it to help purchase furnishings.
She has a brother is deaf and dumb, but who has been of great assistance to her, babysitting her children when they were babies while she was out selling. He lives with her and her four children and because of the space constraints things can get difficult at times. She noted that she only has one small bedroom and they all have to share it. She is unable to buy any real furnishings for their little abode because of the limited space.
“But I have my fridge and computer and printer and so on because I don’t want my children to have to go to no internet café to do what they have to do. But you know what? I never owe Courts or Singers, anything I buy I buy it cash,” she said proudly.
She is also proud of her children, “coming from a mother who can’t read and write.”
She has “never had a problem with any of me girl children.” And while she had an issue with her eldest son as he had a brush with the law, she swears he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“I am a happy person,” she said. “I am content, and I still got a lot of love to give away. I never seek help, I beat it off of me own. It has made me stronger, made me more healthy because I ride every day.”