In the villages, when a girl get married, she got to be a virgin. If you is not a virgin, if you mother-in-law nah see a spot of red virgin blood on the bed sheet on the morning after the wedding night, you just got to go back to you mooma and daadie house. Big scandal. Story done. Wedding bruk up. You nah good. You tek maan before you married. Eh heh!
Well, big wedding plan in dis faamily. Plenty food cook fuh all the people what get invite. Ceremony done, and de bride gone up to she bedroom fuh change into she wedding dress fuh go with the dulha and he baraat to the dulhaa house. They gun have more celebration there too.
Eh! Eh! While she getting dress, she mooma come in the room. She ask everybody in the room fuh go out till she call them in back. She now tek out wan small bottle from she pocket full of something. She tell she daughtah something quiet and easy in the gyal ears. De daughtah tek de bottle and push it in she bra right down, down, nice and tight. Nobady ent gun see dat bottle.
Aarite! De dulhaa come upstairs fuh claim he dulhan and they going down stairs.
Everybody throwing rice and flowah and teasing the dulhan and the dulha and swan. Dulhan bend she head and smile. Eh! Eh! Mooma smiling up too. If you see she face. She happy. Everything aarite. Then…..the bride lil niece come fuh get wan lass hug and kiss. De bride bend ovah fuh kiss de lil pickney.
Braddaps! The bottle fall out from the bra and bruk pan de concrete step and red chicken blood pitch up on the white wedding frock.
Dulha – bridegroom
Dulhan – bride
Baraat – bridegroom’s friends accompanying him to the ceremony
De ring did get wan big, black stone that fix into it. People seh dat if you gat problem and you look in de stone, you does know wah fuh do. The stone does be like TV. But nah everybady can see ting in de ring, though. The pandit who own dis ring seh dat only young, lil pickney dem can see ting in dis ring. Pandit RING-MAAN got to get pay fuh leh you see ting in this ring. Pandit is wan business man. Weekend does be busy time.
De people who live in the village got to ketch de bus and go to the stelling and wait fuh de steamah come back from the opposite bank fuh them go over de rivah. Then they gat to ketch wan bus or cyar fuh go to the village weh Pandit RING MAAN live. Laaang trip. Tek whole day fuh go and reach back home. Only important ting guh mek you leff house fuh guh to see Pandit RING MAAN.
Cha-Chee, who live in the village, had wan problem. She did saving money fuh buy wan gold necklace fuh wear to wan wedding. Well now, goldsmith come with de necklace. Cha-Chee go fuh tek out de money from the chess weh she hide it fuh give the goldsmith. Eh! Eh! Money gaan. Cha-Chee search all ovah. No money.
Trouble in the house now. Cha-Chee call husband, pickney, neighbor. All bady seh dem nah know nothing bout no money. Cha-Chee tie up she head-kerchief and put the knot in front over she forehead and she wailin and cryin and beatin she chess till afternoon. By this time, goldsmith gone he way with the necklace cause he know payment nah deh.
Ovah night, Cha-Chee hit on a plan. She gun go to Pandit RING MAAN fuh see is WHO teef she money. She dress she lil daughtah and she self, ketch cyar, cross de rivah with the steamah, ketch wan next cyar and go to Pandit house.
Pandit RING MAAN start asking all kine ah question. Where dis money did hide. Who and who know bout it. How much people live in the house. Who does come, come in de house. If she see anybady spend money.. And swan, and swan.
Pandit put on de ring on he right index fingah and then he call de pickney in front ah he. He seh “Tink about wah happen to you mooma and look in this stone and tell me wah you see.”
Cha-Chee lean forward waiting fuh hear who gun get it from she.
Pandit seh, “Talk wah you see.”
De pickney start fuh talk. “Me see ………(she call she bruddah name) open Ma chess and tek out wan ‘kerchief wah tie up. Look he put am in he pants pocket. Look he closing de chess. Cha-Chee mout open big. Cha-Chee get up. Cha-Chee haul up de pickney and leff RING MAAN house. No money fuh RING-MAAN. Cha-Chee gone fuh deal with the thieving son.
Stories – wild and scary, funny and astonishing, sad and tearful – abound in the rural villages of my country. They are calculated to scare, to warn, to teach, and to entertain, and even to mock those who fall from grace.
In these villages where are no libraries, no cinemas, no screens, the people find escape in coming together at weddings, religious festivities, funerals and the rum shops where they share stories.
Some of these stories may be considered allegories, metaphors for living. Many are true. This is the first of a few I will relate. Each story will be published in a different blog.
Bear with the few instances of Creolese as I consider it the best medium for the telling.
CAMOUDIE COMES A-COURTING: An allegory
Camoudie aka Python
Long time ago, in one of the far flung villages where life proceeded in mindless days of toil and sweat, there lived a family of husband, wife and children. Travel outside of the village, and strangers to the village were rare occurrences. The villages were self contained units. People existed on what they grew, bartered or managed to sell. Marriages were often arranged mainly with people from neighboring villages. Young girls just out of puberty, did not question their parents’ choice of a husband.
In this family, it was the same. However, there was a wild seed in the home. One of the daughters in the home was never pleased with any of the men chosen by her father. Each prospective bridegroom was turned down. This hopeful was too short, that one too illiterate, ugly, poor, not enough well dressed or employed. The father never gave up hope though.
However, one day there appeared in the village a young man – handsome, well dressed, soft spoken.
He was dressed in a suit and tie. He wore leather shoes, a hat, dark glasses. He swaggered. He caught the eye of the picky-choosy young woman. Oh! she was enchanted. Her eyes and thoughts followed him. She decided that here was the ONE she was waiting for to be her husband for life.
He also looked on her with much favor. So they decided that since her father would never agree to this match with a stranger, they would elope (the villagers referred to it as “ get away”). They got away and set up house together. They were mostly happy. He set himself out to please her in every way. She smiled and fawned on him and soon forgot her family.
Soon, she began to see strange changes in her husband. His eyes were always red and he changed his shape often – he had fangs and a long tail. His skin grew scales. She asked him about it and he was sorely angry.
To her amazement, and right before her eyes, this love of her life began changing his human shape into that of a camoudie snake. He pounced on her.and wrapped himself around her as is usual with his kind. She then realized that he was going to kill her and swallow her.
Oh! How she screamed and begged. As she was being slowly swallowed, she saw a man she knew from her childhood. She begged him to tell her father that her husband was not human, but a snake and that she was going to die.
My daughter’s friend, V. is a wise young woman and a pragmatist. She never hesitates to tell her friend what she thinks. One of her favorite aphorisms to her dear friend is…
“Ting fuh cry, you ah laff.” or as we Guyanese might put it….
“Why some people stay suh?”
I does think bout this plenty. Now, hear nuh? We got Prezzy Biden sharing out plenty money to dem poor people what cyant pay dem bills. Ow ! he sarry fuh dem. Dem pickney guh get food and gun go back to school. I glad. Now dis money going to everybady- Democrat and Republican – all two. They gun stretch deh haan and tek it. Most ah dem gun seh “God bless you, Joe-Boy.” But dem namak-haram Rebuplicans? Eh? Dey gun go and kiss up Trump foot and seh how is HE mek dey get the money.
DAH is contrary. Why some people stay suh? Eh? Why?
De wuss ting is when you got contrary pickney. When one of my brood was small, she did always contrary. People come to visit. We gyaffin. We laffin. Drinking cold drinks. I muss tell you that like plenty ah dem Guyanese people, as soon as they gone I gun stuuups up on them. She now pulling the lady dress. Pullin de lady dress. “You want hear wha me muddah seh ‘bout you?”
I skin up me eye on she, but she ent see me eye yet. Next time, I shouldda duct tape up she lil koka mout.
Da is pickney turning contrary. Shaming up mankind.
Anodda time I juss leaving the house fuh ketch cyar fuh go to work. One ah dem hollering,
“I got to make ninety- six dhall puri fuh carry to school today.” Dah is contrary. Why she tellin me NOW? Why she ent say so lass night? I couldda bile the dhall and season it up , get up early and mash the flour and leave she and the maid to do the ress. Is so pickney does be contrary.
And then again…. Everybady who born in Guyana know that you got to FRY pholourie. Dis odda wan tell he sweet wife fuh bake the pholourie cause he ent like the oil. The bake pholourie hard like cricketball. Cricket ball does do what the bowler tell it fuh do even if is a googly. Not dis pholoutie. It haaaaard. So come he learn quick, quick how fuh treat pholourie with respek.
Talking bout pickney what contrary, hear dis wan.
V. got two son. Waan day, she look out de window and see one of them haulin a car into the front yard. She fly to the door.
“__ where are you going with that?”
Hear the boy. “I buy it.”
By dis time,V deh by the cyar inspecting it. “You buy a stick gear and you cant drive stick gear cyar? Boy is wah wrang wid you?” “Mummy, I buy a stick gear cause I ent want ___ to drive me cyar.” ( he mean he bruddah)
Dat boy real contrary, you hear. De moddah juss leff he. Wah she cyan do? She know she got wan contrary son. But he prappa sweet.
Leh we tek a look at some contrary tings people does do and say.
Leh we start with “Ting fuh cry, you ah laff.”
Look nuh! You deh in the cinema watching de movie. How dis movie story mek you cry . You trying fuh hide eye-wata. Den de lady next to you start fuh laff . Wah she laffing fah? She shame fuh leh people know how de story mek she feel? You see now wah ah mean? Ting fuh cry, she ah laff.
Some people know good how fuh laff when bad ting happen to oddah people .
Some ah dem see wan pickney fall down and bruk he foot and dem ah laff. You ridin’ you bicycle and you fall, them stan up laffing. Big joke. Dis time, you knee well and bruise up.
Some Guyanese people does go to dead-house and dem don’t know how fuh give sympathy. If you see how dem does mek joke with they fren… “kya kya kya” all de time as if they at a party. Nevah mine, the wife and pickney deh inside the house mourning fuh the dead fada.
De wan dem wah does mek me get vex is dem wah ALWAYS finding fault as though them want fuh show you dem know more than you. They gyaffin with you. As soon as you seh something, they open up with NO and BUT.
Contrary. Dah is wah dem is. CON-TRAY-REE
Pickney see old zinc with nail stick out. Wah he do? He walk pan de zinc.. Braddam! He fall and cut he haan to the bone (or almost). Next ting you know …….12 stitches. He ah de same wan wah put corn in he ears and deh complaining bout ear-ache. The doctah pull out the corn almost growing leaf. He muddah well-an-tell he how he haad-aze and contrary..
But is this waan wah does crack me up.
Guyanese people see a sign that say “NO FISHING”. Wah hard bout dat?
But, they now, they andastaan dah fuh seh “Plenty hassa deh heh. Come and throw you net.” Is so we Guyanese people does do. Contrary as the day is long. AND……. when de police come, they saying how they going and carry de fish to LAKE CARAHEE.
I sorry fuh dat policeman, you hear. He wan American.
I want to sing like the birds sing, not worrying about who hears or what they think.
Too often, we allow ourselves to be seduced by societal norms and laws which circumscribe the ways in which we define ourselves.
I am a doctor, engineer, professor….I am the mother/ wife/ daughter / friend of…..mostly someone who is famous or wealthy. Our position in society defines us. We often use our possessions to gain status among friends. The house/properties we own, the car we drive, or the places we go for vacations give us a certain cache among relatives and friends, which mostly is guaranteed to arouse jealousy which in turn, makes us feel important.
If you were to hear, “I am a beggar. I am homeless.“, what might be your reaction to this? It is not jealousy, surely. The beggar and the homeless have no status except that of being ignored. Circumstances have driven them to that place. The essence of that homeless man or the bag- lady is hidden. They do not lack intelligence. Yet we see them through the lens colored by our perceptions of the terms “ homeless” and “ beggar”. Those preconceived notions blind us to the fact that they too, but for the tides of fortune, might be like us. Yet , if tomorrow, the homeless man won a fortune, dressed in Saville Row suits, bought a big house, drove an expensive car, how might our perceptions of him change?
My point is that we are so tied to what others think of us and the ways in which others perceive us based on material things that we give no thought to who we really are. The outward appurtenances of possessions is the face we show to society.. The public image we manage to project is formed on externals and so, these become the things that define us. How much of the inner core of ourselves gets to see the light of day?
What happens if we were to lose our jobs, or our possessions? If these are our truths, it stands to reason that we are in danger of becoming non- entities like the beggar and the homeless. If we cease that frenetic search for material things which are erroneously thought to add gloss to that image we have built up for ourselves, we can begin to be who we essentially are. There is no harm in having these material possessions if that is what you want. The danger comes when we allow them to define who we are , when they become a backdrop for our self portrait.
I would like to think that who I am is not tied to possessions. I have very few of those anyhow. I would also like to think that my image is not tied to my family connections, or a position I hold in some company or to a common currency tied to social norms.
Let my image be of how I think, what my philosophy of life is. The extent to which I subscribe to humanity or the the uplift of the human condition but of these things, I must never boast or allow the world to see because they must not be for the consumption of others.
How often we hear conversations in which participants preface each sentence with ”I”? This ego that must be visible or we sink into anonymity. This is the great fear holding us to ransom.
I favor conversations in which the currency of communication is intelligence, in which no one forces the unpleasant ego on others.
To this, I give you Rumi.
“You think of your self
as a citizen of the universe
you think you belong
to this world of dust and matter.
Out of this dust
You have created a personal image,
and have forgotten the essence
of your true origin.”
In Shakespeare’s play HAMLET, Polonius gives advice to his son, Laertes
“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
Act 1 : Sc 3
Do not be afraid to be who you are if you desire to do so. Put wealth and poverty aside and say to the world, “This is who I am. I am proud of it.”
Be at peace with yourself. Be true to yourself. Be you. Find your place in the world and mark it with honesty, hard work, honor, integrity, wisdom and intelligence. Stand tall and above the common herd in the society in which you live. Of course you will be spoken of and maybe mocked. But you will be celebrating YOU, acknowledging YOU. defining YOU. You will be free.
When you allow others to define you, who you are and how you must act, you become a slave , bound hand and foot, and forever forced to act in ways that confine , ways that are contrary to the real YOU. Why do you want to be forced to be who you are not.? Do not poison yourself by laying this burden on your soul.
I want to sing like the birds sing, not worrying about who hears or what they think. Rumi
Rumi asks us to remember who we were born to be., certainly not an image created out of the dust and the matter of this world. but blessed with the original essence of an individual human soul.
Two poems to celebrate beauty of trees, and the oldest living thing on the planet- a Douglas Fir.
It is strange Standing here Beneath the whispering trees Far away from the haunts of men. Tell me, trees! What are you whispering? When I am dead I shall come and lie Beneath your fallen leaves… But tell me, trees! What are you whispering? They shall bury me Beneath your fallen leaves. My robe shall be Green, fallen leaves. My love shall be Fresh, fallen leaves. My lips shall be Sweet, fallen leaves. I and the leaves shall be together Never parting… I and the leaves shall always lie together And know no parting. It is so strange Standing here Beneath the whispering trees Tell me, trees! What are you whispering?
Wilson Harris. (Guyanese poet)
Listen…When the wind and the leaves whisper to each other.
listen and you will hear stories about things you’ve never dreamed of, places you’ve never seen and things unheard of.
Listen and calm your troubled soul.
Listen, there is music there – the music of the spheres, songs with no lyrics, music that soars above all the cares and the clamor of this place.
Maybe you have heard the story of the bird who tried to put out a flame. If you haven’t, then listen as I tell it to you now. The king, Nimrod, had set a huge fire and thrown the Prophet Abraham into the flames to kill him in punishment for his faith. A bird perched on a tree saw the flames and wanted to put out that flame. .It flew to the river and took a few drops of water in its beak and threw them on the flames. Back to the river it went and brought a few more drops, dashing them on the flames, back and forth and then again. A crow perched on a tree nearby saw the bird flying back and forth with the few drops of water and mocked it saying, “What can a few drops of water do to put out that flame? You are trying to do the impossible.” The bird replied, “When I die and go before God, He will not ask me if I put out the flame. He will ask me., ‘What did you do?”
There was a period of time in Guyana’s political history when the government chose to place a ban on all imported items. This placed a heavy burden on the people who had to find ways to cope with the new life style of having to make do. Life was a constant battle. I had to learn to make clothes for my children and myself. In addition I made every single item of linen in the home – linens, bed linen, tea towels, cushion covers, curtains with cheap materials bought at exorbitant prices on the black market. Answering to the creative urge that refused to be submerged, I acquired new skills. As the politics changed, so did the culture. Markets re-opened, resulting in cheap items from China pushing those old skills into oblivion. No one wanted to learn the old fashioned, anachronistic skills anymore. Technology took over and fingers that were extremely facile on the keyboard were useless with needle and thread. Me? I was never any good with the keyboard.
After fifty-seven years and many thousands of students later I retired from teaching, my life-long profession. Retirement never posed a threat as I had dreamed of what I might do to stay occupied. I thought of doing something for charity. Using YouTube, I started making jewelry which I sold. The proceeds ($3,600:00) I donated to an ORPHAN SPONSORSHIP program. The money gave four orphans for a period of time enough for food, clothes, books for school and for their incidentals. However, I had to stop with this as it was affecting my eye sight.
But the creative urge caught up with me again and I taught myself water color painting. The greeting cards which I made, I sold. Under my daughter’s tutelage, I learned to use acrylic paints and painted pictures which I sold to friends and family members. The proceeds from all these efforts were used in a specific charity project which will be described if you read on.
I nave attached a few pictures of the cards and the acrylic paintings that I did.
Now into our lives comes the Covid pandemic and we are in lockdown. I read of people. getting bored, depressed, overweight, fractious, angry, resentful, scared, even divorced. I didn’t want those things for me . With renewed vigor, I started a new project in the year of Covid. . I named it WATER FOR LIFE PROJECT. From the sale of greeting cards, and acrylic pictures, I raised enough funds to complete my project.
It was one of the more enjoyable and productive time periods in my life. I painted for hours at a time answering to the creative urge. My husband would sit on the swing nearby and look on. In May of 2020, I donated $3000.00 to Zakaat Foundation of America to provide clean water to a place where none was accessible. The foundation chose the village of Kulela, Pusiga District in Ghana. They dug a well for the villagers. The women you see in the picture now do not have to walk three or more miles to fetch jars of water for their daily use. This well has freed up time for them to plant, to earn, to look after their children and more importantly, have clean drinking water, which will.prevent water borne diseases.
My new project is to raise enough funds for either another well or to support project “ Education for Women”. The aim of the latter project is to supply the school where they live with sewing machines that will be used to teach women and young girls how to sew. With this skill at their finger tips, they can open their own tailoring and dress making businesses or be employed in a garment factory. They can earn money to raise their standard of living.
I’m now making embroidered items for sale as well as the greeting cards. You see dear reader, those anachronistic skills can now, in some small way, help someone , somewhere. I use the different skills in the card making process- water color, gouache, card crafting, crochet, pressed flowers and beading. There is also, an element of Islamic belief that motivates me. This kind of charity is known as “Sadaqah Jariyah”. “Sadaqah Jariyah” is a charity that goes on into perpetuity. The Prophet (SAW said that providing people with water has huge rewards for anyone who does this deed. Education is also seen as a “sadaqah jariyah” because it will help women to acquire a skill that will go on to help them earn for their families.
It would disturb me if it were to be thought that this blog post is to blow my trumpet. In Islam, the acts we do for charity must be for their own sake only and not to be broadcast. My niece and my daughter have nagged me into sharing this experience. Also, those family members and friends who helped me along the way will know how much their kindness has done. And most importantly……
Like the bird that tried to douse the flames with a few drops of water, I try too.
I know in my heart that my efforts are like a drop in the ocean of poverty and want and need. But dear reader, I will know that I tried.
My thanks and gratitude go out to all my family and friends who have supported me in my efforts. You too will share in the blessings.
For my children and their children, and for my siblings and their children and grand children
“Allahu nur us samah wati wal ardh” (Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth.) “Our Lord, You are Light. Your face is Light. Your hijaab is Light. Your throne is Light. You are the source of all Light. Like a candle that lights a million others And never loses its own brilliance, You Light up the heavens and the earth. Without Your Light we are doomed to hopeless darkness The darkness of blind ignorance (jahl) The darkness through which we flounder, like lost souls, grasping at the impermanence of this world. Shine Your Light above me, around me Like the sun at noontide over a column Dispersing the shadows of ignorance that wait to claim me.
Our Lord! I am Your vessel. Fill me with Your blessed nur. And just as a vessel must pour only what it contains, Just as a cup gives form only to the water in it, Let me pour Your Light through everything I do. My hands to be guided to do Your will, My intellect to perceive the difference between “ilm” and “ jahl”, My tongue stayed from lies and backbiting and slander, Alight only with Your truth, My feet guided by Your Light To the “siraat-ul-mustakeen” The path of the believer, My eyes to perceive that it is Your Light Which creates the beauty of of this world. Set my heart aglow So I can reflect Your love, Your knowledge, Your kindness, Your generosity, Your mercy. Let Your light be my Imaan.
Our Lord, When I have absorbed your Light, I cannot change. Just as bread cannot go back to being grain. Neither can silk go back to being a cocoon.
Our Lord, Be my everlasting source of light.” Ameen
Note: The word “hijaab” refers to anything that covers or hides or veils. It is the Quranic term that refers to a curtain that protects one from view. The Arabic word for a woman’s head covering is “khimar”.
This essay is dedicated to a group of very special students of mine.
A few days ago, I received this email from someone who is now a retired CPA living in New York and who had been my student in the high school, where I taught many, many (nearly 50) years ago. I had been in the fortunate position of having been the English and Literature teacher of a group of students for five years ( from forms 1 to 5) and I got to know them like I do my own hand.
The email with a link to an article, reads, “We can all can relate to this article. To all the book worms (we did not use any other euphemism) it remains glowing tribute to all who were in her class together.” My first week in high school I learnt three words – portrait , tresses and cascade. We had to write a self portrait. The other words were from either Kuntie or Mantra in their essay.. She wrote – “Her tresses cascade like a waterfall.”
I knew then I was way behind everyone and I had a lot of catching up. So I secretly started to read mostly romantic (girly) novels that were readily available. That was the beginning of my education. But most importantly, I am more grateful to Miss than I can say without a shadow of doubt. All us are forever indebted to her. To Miss – “Thank you !”
They all left my supervision after they had written the GCEs and graduated from high school. They fondly refer to me as “Miss” after nearly fifty years. A few of them are grandparents now and my hair is silver. We write or call each other often. One of them lives close by and provides me with fresh vegetables, and comforting conversations and dinner at her home.
To understand this relationship that has lasted 50 or more years, I must tell you about them. They all came from a farming background. The high school served a catchment area of about 20 miles being equidistant between the two extremities. Most of them living more than three miles in distance came by bus, or rode bicycles to school. Those who lived within a three mile area walked to school.
Their parents were, in the main, rice farmers or owned market gardens. Some were children of cane cutters in the sugar estate. Mostly they were poor people who were happy to see their children in high school. They understood the importance of an education because they had none themselves and manual labour was their lot. They were all just out of primary school, frightened and big-eyed with anticipation when I met them in my class on that first day. After all, it was their first day in high school. I was scheduled to teach them Literature and English. English was not their first language. Creole was.
The small details of those first years in the classrooms are now lost in the byways of my memory. But many things stand out.
Lesson # 1: Any good teacher must have eyes in the back of her head.
Things must be written on the black board with white chalk. Fifty years ago, there were no copying machines, no materials to help in lesson prep. No duplicating machines. The school budget did not run to such luxuries as text books for teachers or for students. Computers and laptops were still tip-toeing in the dim future waiting for a younger generation. Everything had to be written on the board.
My back is turned to the class as I write. This is time for Dixie to let loose among the girls his match box motor he had made the night before. Or for Carlton to dig a hole in the wall separating two classrooms to spy on the girls on the next form room and then wonder aloud afterward why “coolie” girls sit so badly in class.
This is also prime time to haul out the rice and curry they brought for lunch and begin to eat with the food bowl under the desk or hidden behind a book. I can hear someone saying, “Gimme a mouthful nah.” Lunch break is two long hours away. As I am done writing and turn around to them, they are all seated looking at me innocently.
A. reads a Mills &Boon novels in class hidden behind her textbook. Let me tell you now, her English is flawless. She and Camilla were desk mates and Camilla it was who brought to class the Mills and Boon novels. The surreptitious reading she did also resulted in her A grade in English at the GCEs.
Lesson #2: In assigning work, never ask a stupid question like, “Should we or shouldn’t we?” when you already know the answer. “Shouldn’t we!” A loud chorus.
Lesson # 3: Planning an important lesson for any Friday afternoon is a lost cause. These lines from a song bring to mind what it was like.
“When you look back and forgetfully wonder What you were like in your work and your play.”
“O the great days in the distance, enchanted, Days of fresh air in the wind and the sun.”
Do not imagine that much work is done on any Friday afternoon. You are lucky if you can get the homework assignment written in time before the class erupts out on the corridor.
“Ow Miss, 5A playing 5B this afternoon.” A cricket game has been arranged. Not to be missed. First to last ball. The teams are ready. The coin has been tossed, and the captain of the fielding team positions his men. The umpire, Dojoy, is in his position behind the stumps. The bowler is polishing the ball on his school pants waiting for the umpire’s nod. The rest of the school, teaching staff included, is lined up on the corridor ready to cheer their favorite players. The sun is hot but who cares. It’s the highlight of the week.
On rainy Friday afternoons, I might relent and read them stories. Total silence is testimony to the awakening of imaginations. This was their TV, their video, their streaming. This story time. I hoped it might awaken in them a love for the printed page.
Their lives were bare of the activities children in developed countries take for granted. Many of them had never ventured outside of the village. Never gone to Georgetown. TVs were unheard of and libraries were things that were out of reach. Any “school outing” was an occasion to be intensely anticipated.
A trip to the Abary beach. Patsy still recalls that day. We all (about 30 of them and I) joined the bus and it took us to my parents’ place at Novar. We picked fruits, drank water, and walked the mile and a half to the beach. Oh, how they frolicked and played in the sea and ran around. We ate our picnic lunch and played games. They got wet. No one cared. We joined the bus and I took them back safely home, tired and smelly but happy.
Only now, can I look back in wonder and confront the fears of what could have happened. I was the only teacher with them. What if….? How might I have explained to the parents……?
Lesson # 4: It doesn’t all happen in the classroom. Complementing their education.
Personal hygiene, sex education, personal decorum and social etiquette were parts of the unwritten curriculum. Let me tell you, parents in those villages trust teachers to do what is best for their children. They literally put their children into the hands of the teachers.
“Ow Teacher A….., awee trust you. You will do the right thing for them.” There is utter trust in the presence of those teachers in the lives of their children. The teacher’s word is equivalent to gospel. They hand their children over to the school and the final product is welcomed.
I realized that here was a situation in which the girls, just entering puberty knew nothing about the challenges of puberty and the changes taking place in their bodies. Their mothers were too modest to open such revealing conversations with them. Events revealed the necessity of helping them.
It all began when B. came to me and said, “Miss, can I talk to you?” Fear and trust and a bit of uncertainty co- mingled in her eyes. So I took her out in the corridor and she confided that certain changes were happening to her body and she didn’t know why. I understood right away what was happening. I asked the Headmaster to allow me the use of the toilet in his office. I explained to B. what it all meant and what she needed to do. A simple demonstration helped.
At home, I thought about it and formed the idea of teaching these young girls what needed to be taught. It had to be done outside of the normal class time. I broached the idea to the Headmaster and was given full support. The following day, I asked the girls to remain after class. I told them that I wanted to teach them certain things that might help them. We formed a Girls’ Club and we met once a week after class for an hour. Of course, the boys hung around on the corridor wanting to know why they were excluded.
The topics we covered…
Menstruation ( what, why, when and how) Personal hygiene Sex education and boys Speaking courteously Welcoming guests in your home Setting a table for dinner Serving tea to friends Dressing for the occasion Showing appreciation for kindnesses The use of proper language in and out of the home and classroom Writing “Thank you” notes Making introductions Table manners
They came to my house and learned how to bake cookies and a simple cake, a trifle. They had to take turns to demonstrate these things in the club meetings. Role Play “Today K will welcome her parents’ guests.”
Next week S will serve tea and carry on the conversation. M. Will set a dinner table. (Props came from my home.)
A. will begin a topic of conversation. L. will introduce her friend to her parents At the end of every session, there was time for Q and A. Many of the things I have forgotten, they still remember. The trust that was built up between us allowed them to ask me questions they would never dare to ask anyone else.
“Miss, how do you know when you have found the right person for your husband?” “Miss, what do you say to a boy you like when you are alone with him?” “Miss, is it OK to say ‘I love you’ first?” “Miss, how do you know when you getting a baby?”
Me: Huh?….. Well….
I had signed up for it, so honesty was the best policy.
Lesson # 5: Be fully prepared for the unexpected when reading Shakespeare and Keats
(or any other of the set texts).
Keats’ “ODE TO AUTUMN” is read and re read and discussed at length. It was one of the set poems on the GCE syllabus and it demands an intimate knowledge of reaping wheat. How to explain……
mellow fruitfulness winnowing wind furrow thatch eaves drowsed with the fumes of poppies granary floor whilst thy hook spares the next swath
How the metre and rhyme scheme enhance the effect of the whole poem.
Well, it must be done starting from what they know – related to reaping rice with which they were all fully acquainted. It worked. Tap out the stressed words. Why are certain words stressed? Don’t even think of attempting an explanation of “iambic pentameter”. How to get through an appreciation of the personification of AUTUMN? We must have done it because Kunti went to the UK a few years ago and made a pilgrimage to the very place where John Keats walked and envisioned writing his lovely poem. She told me about in email a few months ago.
Reading Macbeth Question to predict what happens next: How might Birnam Wood move to Dunsinane town? Answer: Miss, Burnham was living then?
Moral: Never ask an open question like this again. It reveals that the set scene had not been read before they came to class.
Assignment Commit to memory Macbeth’s “Tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech. You will say it before you enter class. They worked out a simple strategy. Write it in your hand and hold it behind your back for the next one to see and read.
Lesson #6: The dubious virtue of closing your eyes to certain goings on. How NOT to prepare for the GCEs
S and N live across the street from each other. During the English lesson, N. falls asleep in class. I look at S. She has a sly smile on her cheeky face. “What’s wrong with her?” “ Well, Miss! She and me been competing to see who will stay up latest to study. We know who go to bed first cause the lights get turn off. So I left my light on and went to bed. She think I still studyin’ and she stay up.”
On the day prior to the fateful day of the first GCE session, the boys arrange the auditorium in neat rows of desks and benches. Each desk has an identifying number that belongs to a student. A simple task. A teacher is supervising . Sam is seen surreptitiously writing stuff on the blackboard. “Sam what are you writing? “Oh nothing Miss.” The next day I find out to my embarrassment only after the invigilator asks to have the board cleaned. He had written all the theorems as a crutch to help the weak Math students.
Teachers are more stressed out than are their students. I’m walking up and down the corridor peering into the room to see what’s going on. I see the chief invigilator looking through the window. I see D. just about to turn back the hands of the invigilator’s clock placed on the table close to where he is sitting. A frown from me stops him in time. In any case as he informed me later, they were almost all done.
Glimpses of a time past. “Then it may be there will often come o’er you Glimpses of notes like the catch of a song. Visions of boyhood will float them before you Echoes of dreamland will bear them along.”
Those years stand out very clearly in my mind fifty years on. If by any chance, I return to them in my mind, I can still see the purity, the innocence of those youthful faces.
I might see a vision of three little scamps jauntily riding one bicycle – one on the carrier seat, one pedaling and the other on the handle bar calling out to everyone they passed – Carlton, Kamal and Pretty. I can see Bal sitting quietly during lunch break with a Louis L’Amour novel his brown eyes glinting at me.
Bharto, the Deputy Principal, is shouting from one end of the corridor, “”Anirudh, wha you doing in the corridor? Get back to your classroom.” Anirudh is parading the corridor to check on the girls. His special one is now his wife.
Teaching them was not only a case of paragraph and essay writing, or the use of clauses and phrases. Neither was it only the way to use proper punctuation, parallelism, pronouns and antecedents, analyzing a poem, or reading Shakespeare. It went far beyond all of this. School, along with the classroom, was the meeting place of friends, social interaction, fun times, youthful gaiety, a safe space where childhood blossomed and morphed into young adulthood.
Circling the Wagon forty and fifty years on.
“Loved the ally with the heart of a brother. Hated the foe with a playing at hate.” Forty years on growing older and older…”.
These photographs show reunions ten years apart. There is a feeling of joy and satisfaction in seeing how these young imps of fifty years ago have turned out as grown men and women. They virtually circle the wagons around each other. They call and write and give each other moral support. No one is left by themselves to face problems. They are successful entrepreneurs, professionals, parents and grand parents, holding their own and contributing in meaningful ways to the new culture in which the diaspora has thrust them. I feel very humbled and a sense of pride that in some small way, I helped to shape the lives of a few human beings.
On a bright Monday morning years ago, I received an email from my friend Ellie. The message read, “Four years, three months and five days to go…”.
Ellie had begun her countdown to retirement, to that coveted place which said NO WORK, no getting up at 5:00 a.m. I might add that I’d already gone into that hallowed ( or so I thought) precinct called the “Big R”. When we met for lunch one day, she outlined her plans for that gold-at-the-end-of-the-rainbow day. She would keep her double-wide trailer home and use her savings to buy an RV.
“Ellie, you mean LIVE in the RV?”
“Where will you go?”
”Woman, you don’t listen. I’ve been telling you for years. I will travel.” “Just you? Alone?” ”Uh huh!”
So the clock ticked down and at last, the fateful day came. The double-wide had been renovated and her son and family would live in it. The RV had been given the once-over. She was ready to roll. When we met for our last lunch, I cried. Ellie had dipped her fingers in the pot of her gold. The thing is, that she knew years before she retired what she wanted to do when that day came. And she did it.
She had planned.
But me? I had made plans but they were all amorphous, nebulous, nothing concrete. Sitting at my desk thinking of retirement, I dreamed of sleeping in, morning coffee on the back porch swing, my book open, my iPad nearby looking through the window at the morning sun on the trees and looking for the swallowtail butterfly I had seen. Dream on.
I must get up to cook, clean and do grocery shopping, and laundry and ……
If my swallowtail butterfly ever fluttered by, I don’t know. But I have my suspicions. I think it left because it had seen my husband spraying the bejesus out of the butterfly eggs and the caterpillars. To cut this story short, I put the spray can in the garbage, dusted off my hands and later, studiously pretended to help him look for it.
I have coined the phrase “gainfully unemployed” to describe my present state of being. My family understand that “Unemployed” refers to my retired state. “Gainfully” refers to all the things I must do and don’t want to.
You see, all of this comes because, unlike Ellie, I didn’t plan. I should have bought an RV.
Retired means that you are not young. You are an established member of AARP. You get the monthly news paper and you read all the articles on Medicare and Medicaid, and how to not get scammed and how to save on utility bills. Retirement can be synonymous to being “stupidee” or in a state where your grand children take pity and must explain slowly and patiently how to navigate the unknown maze called the internet.
Talking about that specie of humanity called “grandchildren”. They’re lovely but guaranteed to make you tired when they are little. God knows why He permitted only the young to beget children. Imagine having to do what it takes to bear a child when you’re 70 years old. Eeeeew! They have their parents and you have them. When they’re little, they visit and turn your well ordered home upside down. Then you sigh and cry when they leave. When they’re little and you’re already retired, you and they talk in baby language. They understand you. Then they grow up and when you try that same language, they say to you, “Nanny, why are you being weird?” Your eyes turn inwards and you begin to re examine yourself from their eyes. Not so good. So my message to those of you contemplating the big “R”, buy your RV.
This state of being retired means that you get to be buddies and on first name terms with the receptionist and nurse at your doctor’s office.
“Morning Jinny Love. How’s it going today.”
” Hi there A. How’s that pain in your hip doing?”
“Not too good. I fell down. But Jinny, look what I brought you guys!”
You hand over the cookies you baked for the staff and see the glee on the faces. You know your way around the building, after all, you almost have that as your second address. Those visits must be made or something happens… maybe it concerns your deductible with your health care programs. I have never bothered to educate my mind about the legalities and the ins and outs of what it all means. Stuuuuups! I call the Humana agent and ask him all my stupid questions, one at a time so my brain doesn’t suffer and react negatively from overload. I always begin my conversation with, “Andy, can you please explain…..? I don’t know what it refers to.” Although I’ve worked at a university for many years and have helped many, I find it useful to allow people to think that I need help. I do. They help. After all retired people have grey hair and that state is (most of us are grey haired) synonymous with loss of many functions – cognitive ones not being the least.
And another thing. In most cases, your husband is older then you are. And now you are both living in the same place every day after years of spending your days apart . You are the one doing the things that call for trips outside of the home because, he can’t be trusted. Driving up a one way street is calculated to bring a police officer pounding on your door. There are also things that test his credulity and utilize his four score years and more. So here’s the story. I came home from running errands to find this set of forms on the table with lots of printed information in small print. The highlighted line was waiting for a signature. I believe that in my absence, someone had come to the door and corrupted his mind with visions of money if he agreed to sell them the house. Now here is where you must take pity on me and congratulate me. The red in my eyes was tinged with fire, but I quietly took that set of papers and put it in the garbage. I called my daughter. Then I went to STAPLES and bought a Quit Claim deed. The people at the Government , County Office were very sympathetic and he ( my husband) was helped to understand that this was for his personal safety and well being. Seething, I was still seeing fire. I don’t believe anyone would bring forms to anyone to cajole them into selling an RV.
Scammers are all around. I am not exempt. Medicare told me after a very bitter experience that THEY DO NOT CALL. They will write. I received a call from a person purporting to be a Medicare representative which elicited information no one should ever give out over the phone if you didn’t initiate the call. Retirees are always at home and are very eager to answer the phone. They are also at the mercy of the scammers who know how to work on their credulousness. I disconnected my phone.
And yes, you have no place to go. You are in the house all day 24/7. Why must you wonder why your utility bills are higher than when you were working? I must ask Ellie what her utility bills are like in the RV. I guarantee you that they are nowhere near that of the double-wide.
The father of my children has lost most of his hearing and forgets to wear his hearing aids. I need someone to talk to. He is not a good talking partner because I have to repeat things five times. At this point in time, I have begun soliloquizing. I used to sing, but now I carry on these conversations that only I can understand. He watches the news. I soliloquize about what to do with the fish I bought for our dinner, or the conversation I must have with the utility company re: their overly high water bill. I must remember to remind them that I don’t have a swimming pool. I end this part of my soliloquy with a long suck- teeth.
My closet….. since I retired and since I have no place to go, I have not bought a single new item of clothing. My closet is home to all the silk blouses, tailored skirts and trousers, linen, cotton and everything else one wears to look nice at work. I have tried wearing a few of them at home just because. My grandson, who was visiting, looked at me wearing my white linen trousers and a colorful blouse while I made breakfast.
“Nanny, are you going out somewhere?”
I look at him with eyes that say, “Pardon me child! I’m trying to look nice here man. Why you putting a spoke in my wheel?” But the words refuse to roll out from behind my tongue. It’s not a soliloquy., just an unspoken thing in my mouth. I was “saving” my good clothes in the vain hope that I will be once again going somewhere nice and be called up to riffle through my hangers to CHOOSE. It’s not his fault. It’s that he’s accustomed to seeing me dressed in at-home-old clothes. So like my sister up the I- 95 in Jacksonville does, I will give away the entire contents (or almost all cause hope still burns in my heart) of my work closet. Lighten up is her mantra.