No 66 Village – ‘Home’ – 1970’s-1980’s
(The Village through Jag’s eyes)
(Taken from his book ‘The Heart of The Sun’)
Village Coordinates – 5°57’58.07″ N 57°09’02.66″ W (Google Earth)
No. 66 Village, Corentyne, Berbice, Guyana, South America.
To Jagdeep Budhram Mahadeo known to all as ‘Jag’, this small village was always home.
Compared to other villages in Corentyne, No. 66 Village, located between the ‘66 Koker’ and the ‘66 Creek’, was a very small village. During the years 1966 to 1978 when most of the experiences narrated in this book occurred, the population was approximately 350 residents. It was a wonderful place in which to grow up. The houses were colorful, the fruit trees with dark green leaves were always laden with fruits and the coconut trees swayed tall and graceful in the cool breeze blowing in from the ocean. In Jag’s eyes, his village was a vibrant living thing, full of excitement and awe.
These were times when a little boy could walk alone in the woods, climb the giant mango trees, play or eat mangoes from the trees as much as he wanted. He could wander off into the woods to search among the ‘simitoo’ vines and eat the sweet and juicy ‘simitoos’, or the sweet, purple ‘jamoon’ freshly picked from the trees. It was a place where a child could spend the afternoon at the ball field watching a game of cricket with only the warning to ‘come home in time for dinner’ from his parents.
The lone ‘hill’ in the village was a grassy heap of gray dirt about twenty-five feet high by the side of the creek next to the mango trees. This heap was left by an excavator after the dredging of the creek many, many years ago. In the relatively flat land, the children of the village had many adventures climbing the make believe ‘mountain’ to enjoy the beautiful scenery around. With great pleasure, they would stand or sit at the top and look across the creek in wonder at the thick, green stand of mangrove (picture) trees locally known as ‘Courida’?
This stand of trees sprouted out of a low, swampy area that was flooded with salt water during every high tide. This was where a few years later, at the age of eighteen, Jag would accidentally lop off his little left toe with his machete while cutting firewood with his mother.
He had arrived home from College for the weekend late Friday evening by hopping a ride on one of the Indian-built Tata buses which were put into service some years ago and still fairly new. On Saturday morning Mama asked him to accompany her to chop some of the mangrove trees to use as firewood in the fire-side – the outdoor wood burning stove – on which she prepared the family meals daily.
They had borrowed a small wooden boat, paddled to this heavily wooded area across the creek and tied the boat to the bushes. This was how the wood will be transported to the road across from his uncle’s house. From there they would then have to drag the long trunks to their back yard where they would be cut and split for use with an axe.
Armed with their machetes, with sharp edges specially honed for this task, an axe and pieces of ropes, they trudged through the mud and thick undergrowth of marsh bushes and giant fern-like plants. After locating a stand of suitable sized Courida trees with thick trunks, the two settled down for a day of woodcutting. While he wielded the axe and chopped down the trees, his mother trimmed the small, unusable branches off with her machete. They had a small heap done when Jag cut through the trunk of one particularly tall tree which did not fall down because it was held up to the neighboring tree by some annoyingly strong, brown, rope-like vines.
Taking off his now muddy and slippery sandals, he climbed and shimmied barefooted up this supporting tree to hack away at the offending vines. Sometimes, in situations like this, when Jag worked with his mother, he would tease her by faking injuries and scaring her. This he did today as well. Mama was upset and kept telling him to stop teasing her like that, because something bad could actually happen.
Standing on a firm branch about fifteen feet up, with the strong winds gently swaying the tree, he carefully swung at the vines trying to free the half-fallen tree. As he swung, the wind suddenly picked up, violently shaking the tree and causing him to miss the thick vine. The gleaming blade winked in the sun as it smacked into the limb he was standing on with a dull ‘thunk’. He continued on with his task and watched as the tree fell towards the ground, listening as it tore cruelly through the scrubby, green undergrowth on its way down.
Only then, did he notice the bright-red blood pouring out from the stub where his left toe had once protruded. Instead, the small toe was hanging by strands of bloody tissue an inch below his foot and dripping a steady stream of crimson blood into the dark mud below. Calmly he called down to Mama and said “Ma, I just cut off my toe”. His mother replied, “stop saying things like that” then as she looked up and saw the blood, she ran close to the tree and pleaded with him to climb down slowly. She watched anxiously as he slowly dropped his machete to the ground, cupped the separated toe close to his foot with one hand to keep it from falling away, and carefully swung down one branch at a time with the other hand.
Finally he sat down on the soft, muddy ground. His mother helped him to tear the inside lining off his shirt, and together with a few pieces from her own clothing, she bandaged the toe in place while keeping the mud that seemed to cover everything from contaminating the wound. She then cut a makeshift crutch for him and together they made their way slowly through the woods to the main road about a mile away where they flagged down a taxi. The driver who stopped turned out to be a familiar face, his uncle Bacchie who became very concerned and quickly drove the two to the Skeldon Hospital. At first the Doctor did not want to reattach the severed toe but his mother insisted, knowing how fast Jag healed. He finally gave in and had the toe sewn back in place by a nurse who turned out to be a cousin of Jag’s.
As it turned out, not only was the small toe cut off but half of the one next to it was cut through as well. For the rest of that day and all of the next day, Jag rested under his mother’s vigilant care then left for college at 5am on Monday morning.
For the next two weeks he attended classes with his left foot laced onto the outside of his sneaker. As usual he healed very quickly. Within two weeks of using his home remedy on the wounds which consisted of coconut oil and the leaf known as the ‘hassa leaf’, which his mother insisted that he took with him wherever he went, both toes was completely healed!
In those days one parent’s child was the entire village’s child and all the people of the village was considered and acted as ‘family’ to each other. Most children referred to adults other than their parents as their uncles or aunts, even though they may not be related at all.
The village had a single two-lane main road running somewhat north south through the middle of the village. Colorful single and two storey houses, each with its own ‘bottom-house’ and the mandatory rice-bag hummock, lined this main road on the east and west flanks a mere twenty to thirty feet away from the road and sometimes much closer. Separating the road from the houses on both sides was a shallow drainage ditch referred to as a ‘trench’ which drained into the creek known as the 66 Creek then out to the Atlantic Ocean. Because of this, the entry into each yard was over some type of a bridge. There were two small stores that sold a mix of everyday amenities ranging from grocery items for the kitchen to hardware and parts for bicycles. There was also one ‘rum-shop’ where those who chose this type of celebration in the evenings willingly ventured their sanity and intelligence. In front of most of the houses in the village, were small flower gardens which the families tended with pride. Here they planted all types of colorful and fragrant flowers which lit up the front yards with a cheery, friendly, and welcoming atmosphere.
A second street, behind the first row of houses ran parallel to the main road on both sides. These secondary streets were surfaced with sharp red bricks, which were made by burning clay in a huge bonfire. These streets were connected to the main road by cross streets.
On the eastern side secondary street, there were eleven houses, also with the flowering plants lining the front fences. Behind these houses, hidden by towering mangrove trees, wild palms, and thick bushes, the 66 Creek and the ‘Koker’ converged as if in secret, before meandering out as one to where the Corentyne River meet the Atlantic Ocean.
On this ‘back’ street lived Somesh, a second cousin to Mama. He belonged to the young and energetic group of youngsters under Buddy’s leadership who jokingly called themselves the ‘gang’. This group of youths was an honest, fun-loving bunch who was very close to Buddy. Jag and Somesh went to Tagore Memorial High School together. They rode their bikes to school and when one was injured, the other took him to school on his bike. Since it seemed that the two took turns getting injured in the strangest of ways, living in the same village was very convenient for them.
On the northeastern end of the village, next to the connecting street, was a Christian Church. Between this structure and the ‘Koker’ was the tamarind tree where, according to local legend of those who believed in spirits, the ‘village master’ dwelled. His other dwelling place was supposedly in another tamarind tree which grew on Pandit Mahadeo’s property. This huge tree was ten feet from his house, and at about fifty feet tall, was way higher than the third floor tower of the house.
On the western secondary street, there were four houses. This street was also connected to the main road by cross streets. Behind these houses was the popular No. 66 Village Cricket field which was not only the ball field, but the wrestling mat, the volleyball court, the ‘kabadi’, and the ‘coco’ grounds, the jogging field, and the boxing gym. It was also the racetrack for the Mahadeo boys, the village children and Buddy’s group of boys. This was the playground for all the neighborhood children and the site for the occasional fund-raising ‘fair’ for churches and political parties.
Beyond this ball-field separated by a hedge of thorny, triangular-stemmed cactus was the ‘Budhan’ ranch which was chock full of huge mango trees, ‘jamoon’ trees and all types of bushes and vines. The sweet yellow-red mango fruits and sweet-tart grape-like ‘jamoon’ tempted all the village children, but the owners of this huge area of fruit trees did not encourage the children to enjoy these fruits. Instead much of the fruits were allowed to rot and go to waste. However, many of the children including Jag, always found a way to eat their ‘share’ of the fruits before they went to waste.
In this ranch about a stone’s throw away from the border of thorny cactus, was a ten to fifteen feet deep pit where in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the red sand was excavated, loaded in dump trucks and used to create the bed of the new main roadway. Over the next few years after its formation, this fresh pit collected clear rainwater, which because of its shallow depth became very warm basking under the tropical sun. The village children enjoyed this pit as the local in-ground pool for many years until it finally became over run by the encroaching tall weeds and water grasses.
To the north of the ball field was the No. 66 Village cemetery. In the center was a low twenty by forty feet shed under which all the cricket players and spectators would take refuge from the hard downpour of rain that occasional interrupted their exciting games of cricket.
To the south was the 66 Village Hindu Mandir (Temple) beyond which was an open area stretching all the way to the 66 Creek which was overrun by the tenacious carrion-crow bush. This weed grew four to seven feet tall and is normally found growing in every open area and sported bunches of finger-like yellow flowers which are quite pungent and distasteful.
Each day, as the sun rose higher in the sky and the noon-time heat of the day grew uncomfortable, an older man on a bicycle with a cooler attached over the front wheel sold popsicles and ice-blocks made out of sugar, milk, and various seasonings. These made for an inexpensive yet tasty treat for the village children. He was one of the few who had a kerosene-powered refrigerator to make ice. Another man bought blocks of ice from the ice-truck which supplied huge blocks of ice to businesses. From these blocks he scooped ice shavings with a homemade tool and sold this ‘crushed’ or ‘shaved ice’ topped with sugary syrup and condensed milk to the children. These men would ride by slowly, blowing on their shrill whistles and ringing their bells to announce their presence, which then prompted the little children to plead to their sympathetic mothers for the 10 cents or 25 cents for an icy treat.
At the time there was no electricity except for the neighbor’s personal diesel powered generator which hummed and vibrated every night until around 10 pm. There were no televisions, few radios and no telephones in this area. There were also no ready-made toys available for parents to buy for their children.
In those days children improvised and made their own toys like the ‘tagareel’ – a rubber-band powered tractor which was fun to play with in the sand and mud, toy boats and various toy weapons.
The tagareel was made from the wooden spools (picture) left after a spool of cotton thread was used up in the sewing machines owned by many families.
Rubber bands for toys like these were made by cutting the used black inner tubes from the bicycle wheels. Boats were made of soft wood and the spongy ‘moko-moko’ plant. These were also powered by rubber bands. Precarious-looking scooters were made with hard-to-get steel bearings as wheels. These were fitted on axles whittled from different hardwoods. The containers, which once held powdered milk, were used to make tin-can wheeled rollers. There was also the ever-present slingshot in every little boy’s arsenal. These were made out of any strong crotch of a guava tree or any other tree with strong branches. A piece of leather from an old shoe and long strips of rubber cut from an old inner tube completed the sling shot. This device, which was more of a weapon than a toy, was always accompanied by a bag or pocketful of gray, half-inch shots perfectly rounded out of the putty-like clay by hand and dried in the sun until they were rock hard.
Electricity was made available to this entire area of the country in July 1979 after which television sets were slowly introduced. Since there were no local TV stations, the only over-the-air receptions were from the neighboring countries of Suriname and Brazil. These grainy, poor quality receptions still amazed the few who were fortunate to receive them on their new-fangled televisions.
These childhood times were simple, yet fun in a part of the world where all were family and every child respectfully referred to every adult as their uncle or aunt. It is a time and atmosphere which exists no more.
For Jag, this was living in heaven in every way heaven could be described.