Uitvlugt: Where the air fairly hums with activity : –as residents strive to make ends meet

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THE village we visited this week was distinctly different from many of the others we had explored, and certainly had some distinct features that stood out like vivid thorns in a rose garden.

This village was a bustle of activity even in the broiling midday sun, as the fusion of speeding cars, buses and other vehicles in the dusty streets mingled with the colourful bustle and fuss of the people to create quite an amazing spectacle to behold.

We were in the village of Uitvlugt, situated on the West Coast of the Demerara River, lying immediately to the west of Stewartville, to the south of Zeeburg, and about twenty minutes’ travel by road from Vreed-en-Hoop.

The name ‘Uitvlugt’ is Dutch, and was the name of a huge sugar plantation. Unusual for Region Three, the village has seven churches. Uitvlugt today is home to almost 3000 people from various ethnic backgrounds; and unlike other West Coast Demerara villages, there are over seven churches located there.

Villagers say Uitvlugt is divided into various sections, the main ones being Uitvlugt Pasture, Uitvlugt Ocean View and the Housing Scheme. Uitvlugt was also a port many slaves used to escape from their masters during the ‘era of slavery’.

Warm welcome

We stopped off at the very centre of the village, since it was our intention to explore its ‘umbrella bone’ style. This placed us in the vicinity of the Westend Taxi Service, and also quite close to the Uitvlugt Sugar Estate.

The access road to the estate was lined with fast food, vegetable and ground provision vendors, and they were all smiles when we approached them or a little interaction. While many of them actually resided in the village, there were others who came from as far away as Parika to ply their trade in Uitvlugt.

We spoke with these vendors one after the other, and almost all of them agreed that life over the years had improved in the village, and that the village is headed for eventual maximum development.

What was divulged as we carried on our conversations is that the vendors had taken up their stance just outside the gate of the Uitvlugt Sugar Estate, since they would net tremendous sales from the workers traversing the area, especially on pay weekends.

And these people were certainly jovial. We received hugs from two merry, starry eyed female vendors who were more than excited to be associated with and mingling with the media. At the end of our jovial banter, we had to agree that this was by far our best welcome since we began visiting villages around Guyana. It was just full of gleeful fun, a little excitement, and a pleasant feeling of ‘belonging’ as the vendors chatted with us as if we had known each other for many, many years.

In mingling with these vendors, I was starkly reminded of the time when my boss told me that behind every simple smile or forlorn face there is always an interesting story. He had said this to me while we were in West Demerara to interview a seemingly simple man who possessed extraordinary, if not majestic, skills and talents.

This drove me to dig deeper for more from these vendors, and we came up with intriguing stories.

Edward Ramphal

At first, I thought parched-nut vendor, Edward Ramphal was a vagrant, sitting as he did on a koker outside the Uitvlugt Sugar Estate; so, naturally, I was going to pass him straight. But he was staring at me with such intense curiosity, that I just slowed down my pace to take a closer look.

It was then that I noticed the large rice bag perched on a chair nearby, and I realised he was selling something or the other. And the poor man must have never been the focus of the media before, as could be seen from his wide grin, hysterical giggles, and the pains he took in attempting to smooth the many creases on his somewhat muddied garments.
This man was jumping out of his skin with glee, and I decided to let him have his fun and feel as important as he wished to feel.

Sitting gingerly on the very edge of the koker, which was the only seating area, we began to talk like old friends after the customary introductions.
It appeared that Edward was selling parched nuts outside the estate for the past six years. This certainly must have dictated why he could brave the scorching sun without an umbrella or any form of shelter.

Edward explained that things were ‘really hard with him’ and when he would have given up in despair, he was struck with the thought of selling in front of the estate, where the human traffic is always busy.

“Bhai, we does all suffer and reach hard times, and I had me dose of it several years ago. Things were really bad, and at times I just wanted to give up and disappear. Then when it look like everything had failed, I lay down one day and then, like lightning, the thought hit me that ah should sell in front the estate, because people always traversing the area. I was blessed wid ah little money around that time, suh ah invest it and buy peanuts. Today is de peanut sale that has me surviving.”

Edward had toyed with the idea of selling many other items before finally deciding to settle for peanuts. He explained that the nuts were easier to parch, less heavier to transport, and can last for a very long time without decaying or becoming otherwise unfit for human consumption.

This contented man plies his trade in this location every day, and notes that some day’s sales can be poor. However, he said, on those days, although he is disappointed, he ‘thanks the Lord for small mercies’, and makes do with whatever little sales he gets, since he knows sales always boom on pay weekends.

Twenty years and counting

Just as I was just beginning to think that Edward’s tale was touching, vegetable and fruit vendor, Basmattie Sewsankar’s story was even more gripping.

She started from a small garden in Parika Backlands, which later became a large farm, and was extended to a citrus grove and even a section for ground provision and cash crops. After twenty years of intense toiling, she is one of the more popular vendors on the Westside, and she is indeed making big bucks.

But did her present splendour come magically? Certainly not!!
Basmattie has had her fill of braving cold breeze and rain as she and other family members take their produce to their many customers in areas like Parika, Uitvlugt, Georgetown, and Zeeburg.

She sometimes loses hours of vital sleep, but her trade is the only livelihood that provides for her large family; so, with ‘guts and fervour’, she plies her trade to rake in the much-needed dollars.

“This job can get very tiresome and extremely fatiguing at times, but this is what my family depends on to survive, so we all join forces to keep the business going. At least four times weekly the family wakes up at 00:30 hrs, when the breeze is cold as ever. Rain or no rain, we clean, wash and pack our items for transport to the Stabroek Market in Georgetown. When we get there, we would sell off most of the items on wholesale to ‘retail’ buyers.

“Whatever is left certainly has to be sold, so we sit there from 01:30 hrs until 07:30 hrs to ensure everything is sold. Then we have to rush off to supply our customers at Zeeburg and other villages, before putting up our stationary stall in front of the sugar estate. It’s terrible work at times.”

For Basmattie, too, sales sometimes fluctuate for the worse outside the estate, and she blames this on the fact that employees there are leaving the job very often, so there are always distinct changes in the number of employee, which, of course, eventually affects sales for vendors.

Her largest sales are obtained in the villages of Zeeburg and Parika.

Uitvlugt Village, ‘before time’

Uitvlugt Village in years gone by was not even close to the semblance of what it is today. As stated by village patriarch, 72-year-old Toolsie Persaud, the village was a scattering of small houses and lodgies after the abolition of slavery. He said some areas were a bit swampy, and the few residents had to make do with poor supply of potable water, poor lightning, and bad drainage.
According to Mr. Persaud, shops and stores were things villagers never imagined they would have eventually possessed, and they were forced to travel distances for groceries and other household supplies.

As the years went by, more and more business-oriented individuals came to settle on the land, and the village gradually began to take on an aura of “ongoing economic development”. Vendors in those days would have simply plied their varying trades on plastic and tarpaulin which they would just spread by the roadside.

Persaud said that by the early 70s, the village had taken on the shape of what could be categorised as a ‘decent settlement’. Today, the area is reasonably thriving, and posh houses and business have sprung up everywhere.

Residents can now get their necessities at Alvin’s Grocery and Variety Store, and at Ramesh General Store. And if they desire a little Chinese cuisine, they can pop into the ‘New New Chinese’ Restaurant, or get their cold beverages at the Gold Smith Beer Garden.

For printing supplies and stationery, there is the Paper Mate Printery.

The two popular discos have closed down (Blossom, Chester Discos), but residents are quite content to travel to the Aracari Resort at Versailles Village, or to the many other entertainment joints in Parika and other villages.

Talking rubbish

Garbage disposal was a huge problem for villagers several years ago, but today the Pooran Waste Management Inc. disposes of waste quite effectively for villagers. And today, also, villagers enjoy a thriving car wash facility, three taxi services, and a community centre and play ground.

Ups-and-downs

At Uitvlugt Ocean View and the Housing Scheme, life seemed to be well, judging from conversations with residents there, but in the Uitvlugt Pasture, things certainly seemed to be different.

We stopped to chat with a single mother of four, Jennelle Yansen, who resided in Uitvlugt for forty eight years, and several housewives and other residents shared some grave concerns.

Drainage, it appeared, was an ongoing issue in this area, and residents complained that the area floods easily during rainfall. They added that drains were not cleaned by the NDC body responsible for maintaining the infrastructure of the village, and that also contributed to flooding in the area. Yansen, who resides in a small, one-bedroom house by the roadside, suffers immensely since the house is built flat on the earth.

The woman explained that when her yard floods, water seeps easily into the home, making its occupants uncomfortable and leaving them at risk of contracting water-borne diseases.

“Mista, I ain’t know wha going on heah! In de otha two areas in Uitvlugt, drainage good and de place clean, but like the NDC forget dat we living heah uh.
Yuh see when de rain fall, is suh de whole place flood up; and dem people who get outside toilets have to contend with ‘mess’ floating around in dem yards. Me house deh flat pon de ground, suh you can imagine wha does guh awn deh! I does really frighten that meh four kids would get sick with de wata dat does seep into meh house.”

In this area, bushes are also overtaking the Uitvlught Primary School, and some parents and a teacher related a horrifying tale of many snakes being found in the compound, and one really large one that was discovered in the school toilet.

Some villagers in the Pasture area of Uitvulgt said that the water they were getting was in many cases unfit for drinking, since it stinks at times, and is often discoloured.

Some mothers indicated that the water made their children sick, and brought out rashes on their skins. At least two mothers reported that in some cases they had seen wriggling tiny worms in the water coming from their taps.

Then there were those who complained that they were unable to get proper medication when they took their kids to the Lenora Hospital for treatment. Some said they were often told that there is no medication, and therefore they are forced to seek service at other related institutions.

Village ‘throw-down’

Every village has its juicy gossips, or there is always some big throw-down going on somewhere or the other. Uitvlugt is no exception, and the village was buzzing about the tussle and steamy confrontations between a popular female and an outsider.

The housewives gathered around in glee to relate this tale amidst peals of laughter and girlish exclamations. Natasha Semple did not mince matters in voicing her scorn at the treatment of the female species by whom she classified as “a dreadful man”.

“That man(name provided) is a dreadful and heartless beast. He just deh bout de place robbing poor people of dem property after mekking friend wid them, and he get big ones in higher places, suh he paying dem aff in the police force and in de high courts; and in no time, he robbing people of dem things dat deh wuk suh hard fah!”

Livid and burning with curiosity, I urged her to spill more, and in due time it turned out that the ‘female species’ at the centre of all the fuss in the village was indeed the single-parent mom Jenelle Yansen, who had earlier lamented the horrid tidings of flooding in the village.
Tracking down the woman, who had already left the scene, we found her at her old and battered home some distance away, and she swore in despair, lamenting how she had forgotten to tell us that part of her story.

Yansen related that the person at issue is indeed an outsider from Essequibo, who goes from village to village looking for unsuspecting elderly people or those that are poor but would have been left properties by their foreparents or other relatives.

She said the very cunning man would then befriend such persons, and would even help them with food and other items, and then, in due time, would use the police and the courts to swindle the properties right out of their hands.

She related that while the man was known to be sweeping from village to village with the same practice, she was his latest target, and would have been left at his tender mercies and those of his ‘irate workers’ who operate with him, had it not been for the intervention of several villagers.

Yansen related that she has been residing on a double-lot at Lot 4, Uitvlugt Front for several years in a property left by her deceased father. She said that several months ago, this man turned up out of the blues with claims to the property, saying he had purchased the property from her father before he died.

She said that while no document was provided as proof of the claimed purchase, the man and relatives have continued to torment the lives of her family since then.

“This man is crazy! Late last year he came to break down my house, and I was at work. The neighbours called me and I rushed home. There was this man acting like he was crazy. He son came at me with a hammer and I had to ‘duck’ to avoid the blow. Is the neighbours that got in and saved me that day”.

According to Yansen, she reported the matter to the Lenora Police Station, but neither the man nor his son was not arrested. She said she has instead lost her job as a Neighbourhood Police Constable, and two of her sisters who were employed in the police force were transferred to locations far outside their residences.

“This man paying off the police, and dem only attacking me and not doing anything to he! Imagine, a few months ago, he came to the home and my 16-year- old son was there in his uniform, and the man done square up to fight with the child. Me son ain’t back down, and the neighbours start fuh mek nize, suh he hustle out de place quick”.
She said that when she reported the matter to the police, the man had already made a report there, dictating that she had assaulted him, which was untrue.

She said she was dismissed from her job as a result of the ravings of the man, and she is now left to fend for four children.

Scope for employment

The Uitvlugt Sugar Estate is indeed a saviour to many villagers, in that it provides ready employment for those needing it. As a matter of fact, investigations have revealed that at least 75% of the working residents are employed at the estate.
However, there are still youths who walk the road aimlessly, and there are others who would have completed their CXC Examinations and are unable to find jobs, since there is not much scope for the academically qualified to gain employment in the village.

And the village has certainly been receiving overseas attention, as in 2012, the youngest ‘Golden Jaguar’, Trayon Bobb, who also plays with Trinidad and Tobago Pro League side Caledonia AIA, coached by Jamaal Shabazz, made a presentation of gear, balls and bibs on behalf of the T&T side to his home club, Uitvlugt Warriors FC.
Bobb (midfielder) who is also known as the Caribbean version of International Star Messi, is the younger brother of former National Defender Orville Bobb.
The younger Bobb, who has been holding his own ever since joining the ranks at Caledonia AIA, handed over one set of uniforms, a number of footballs, and a set of training bibs to his home team with the aim of the club nurturing the many talented players who would one day go on to represent their club, association, country and even earn professional contracts.

The skilful left-footer handed over the equipment to Vice President of the Uitvlugt Warriors FC, Osmond McKend, who in turn expressed gratitude to Caledonia AIA for the timely gesture, which will boost the developmental programme at the club, which has a solid history of producing top flight players for the association and Guyana.

Room for improvement

Uitvlugt Village has room for improvement; and yes, indeed needs a little sprucing up. But with its natural scenery and alluring appeal, this village is certainly headed for ultimate and economic development.