IN our quest to search out and highlight villages and towns in Guyana, and bring to light the positive and negative situations residents encounter on a daily basis, our trek took us along the very treacherous Region Eight (Potaro-Siparuni) interior trail to the beautiful and still developing location called Mahdia.
The overland journey to this location entails encountering mesmerizing scenery of lush and towering mountain ranges contrasting with breathtaking green valleys plunging hundreds of feet into gorges which are close enough to the trail as to spike one’s adrenaline level to alarming heights in like manner as a rollercoaster ride.
Vehicles rush past a variety of beautiful fauna grazing along the trail, seemingly unperturbed by the noise the machines generate, while pork-knockers, bulging muscles glistening in the scorching sun, trudge along resolutely, carrying bottles of fuel or other supplies.
Mahdia is a small community in the Potaro-Siparuni district of Guyana, located near the centre of the country at an altitude of 415 metres (1,362 ft).
Commerce, centred around the area’s gold and diamond mining operations, responds to, and is affected by, periods of economic booms and busts, and attracts immigrants, both local and foreign, to seek their fortune in the mythical ‘Land of El Dorado’.
Mahdia’s present population comprises 4,200 individuals from 600 households, made up of three groups, namely: The Patamonas, an indigenous Amerindian tribe involved in farming, hunting and mining; the ‘Coastlanders’, residents from the coastland of Guyana who have migrated to the hinterland to seek employment, mainly in mining; and the ‘Islanders’, immigrants and their descendants from Caribbean islands, especially St Lucia and Dominica. This latter grouping focuses primarily on farming and burning charcoal. Within recent times, however, there has been an influx of a new group, the Brazilians, who are also involved in mining and other businesses.
On September 10 annually, the Amerindians celebrate Heritage Month in the community of Campbelltown, Mahdia, while the Islanders celebrate the La Rose Festival, originated in St Lucia, at the end of August. The Coastlanders generally join in celebrating these festivities.
Being the regional administrative centre of Region Eight, Mahdia has the following relevant infrastructure: A cottage hospital; nursery, primary and secondary schools; a commercial sector which includes dry goods, boutiques, a fuel station, eleven restaurants, four hotels, two guest houses, and four brothels; a police station, post office, two artisan wells, a Regional Administrative Office, and an airstrip.
Residents still depend on rainfall and water from the Salbora Falls for their potable supplies, while electricity is currently provided by local businessmen.
Mahdia was established in 1884 by freed Africans after Emancipation. Most of them had travelled from the County of Berbice and the East Coast of Demerara in search of gold. The British Consolidated Mining Company expanded its mining exploration to Mahdia, and established colonial administrative offices there. During this period, Mahdia was accessible only by waterways.
Bridging the gap
In November 1933, a bridge constructed over the Garraway Stream facilitated linkage between Mahdia and Bartica by trail. This bridge, suspended by cables, was named the Denham Suspension Bridge after the then Colonial Governor, Sir Edward Denham. It is still in use today, and has become a tourist site.
There are 150 land dredges in the mining district of Mahdia. Most miners use excavators to move the overburden, and gravel pumps to extract the gravel and gold from the pits. On most occasions, the pits are not refilled, which causes the Anopheles mosquito to breed and so increase the spread of malaria.
Recently, the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) embarked upon reinforcing the amended Regulations 2005 for environmental management, and this has instantly created an impact on the community by curbing the pollution of waterways and encouraging soil reclamation by replanting trees in areas where there had been deforestation.
While Mahdia residents partially enjoy the fruits of their labour in the gold fields, many are peeved about several issues, which they readily discussed with the Chronicle.
Many feel that Mahdia can indeed be made the ideal tourist destination in Guyana if more attention is paid to the location by parties that should be dealing with its development and economic growth.
Their concerns also included poor garbage disposal; the deplorable condition of several poorly repaired roads; and what they say is the misallocation of funds away from education to other areas of less importance.
Moreover, they feel that with the amount of royalties collected from Mahdia and contiguous areas through gold mining, the settlement should have been much more developed.
There is now also fear that that there would soon be a shortage of nurses and teachers, because the already poorly paid workers are being told that they have to pay for their own electricity and water.
Grave water problems
Mahdia is usually supplied by the Salbora gravity water system, but of recent weeks, the prolonged dry season and the discovery of seepages have caused the reservoir to be operating at only about 35% of its storage capacity.
The loss of volume has seen concomitant reduction in water pressure within the distribution system, to the effect that the water only reaches a section called “Water Dog”, located approximately two miles from Central Mahdia.
During the past couple of days, the regional Public Works Department, along with volunteers from Mahdia and Campbelltown, embarked on a desilting and cleaning exercise at the reservoir and throughout the distribution system, resulting in the volume of water at the reservoir gradually increasing. This intervention has allowed the distribution system to be pressured for the approximately two remaining miles to Central Mahdia, making it possible for certain sections of the town to receive water, although for a very limited time. But over the past few days, the situation has worsened to the point of total disruption of the service.
Residents now rely on private contractors for delivery of water.
The regional administration has indicated that the loss of volume at the reservoir is normal at this time of year, never mind that factors associated with the current weather pattern and climate change have caused the water level at the facility to be unprecedently low.
Entertainment in the town seems to be on the rise, since, just recently, the town came out to witness its first-ever Miss Mahdia Gold Rush 2012 pageant, which was won by GT&T’s ‘Feel the Beat’ winner, Nadata VanCooten