Overseas visitors recall their Linden ordeal
By Enid Joaquin
It was a rude awakening for Sheila Huggins as she entered Linden on July 18th after journeying from French Guiana.
Little did she know that on that day, there was a total shut down of the mining town, and that by nightfall three of her fellow Lindeners would be shot dead by police, at the Mackenzie /Wismar bridge, and the nearby Linmine secretariat offices would be burnt to the ground.
“I was in shock-total shock to see all these people out on the streets, and even more shock to see all these police out with their big guns at the ready.
“I said to myself what is going on here- because nobody had told me anything of what was brewing or anything, so you can imagine my bewilderment when I arrived at the bridge (Mackenzie/Wismar), that should be a little before the bridge, because I couldn’t even get close, as the police stopped me, and asked me where I was going. I told them I was going to my family across the river, and I only wanted to pass, because I had just come into the country- and of course they could see my suitcases and everything, but they didn’t pay any attention to that, they turned me back.’’
Huggins said that a little after that the police fired tear gas into the crowd, to disperse them.
“Soon after shots rang out, I was right there when the first shot was fired, and I saw this police man that was there taking notes, but I became scared and ducked down behind a car.
I was very very scared because I had my son and my two nieces with me. So I took them and we ran towards the old hospital to seek refuge, but the gates were locked, and the guards wouldn’t open for us.”
Fortunately, Huggins said a ‘Rastaman’ in the vicinity who was observing all that was happening, took her and the children to Watooka Club.
The woman said that she was forced to spend a few hours at the Club, before she was picked up by her brother-in-law, who took her to his home at Riverside Drive, where she spent the night.
Huggins spent approximately three weeks in Linden, but hardly ventured out except to attend a few meetings at the bridge, and to go to Georgetown to conduct personal business.
In order to get to Georgetown, Huggins later related how she had to walk from Christianburg on the Wismar shore to Bamia, which is several miles away, to catch a bus.
A born Lindener, the woman, however confessed that despite all her travails, she was totally in support of the protest action, as she believed that her hometown, was severely deprived of “lots of things”.
She totally condemned the killing of the three Lindeners, however, noting that the shooting by police was uncalled for.
Several other overseas-based Lindeners also visited their hometown, both during and immediately after the ‘unrest’.
Some of them had made the trip simply to visit their families, while others had come for various weddings that were held in the community despite what was happening.
Cynthia Hudson, who currently lives in New York, came into Linden with her four children on the 27th July.
Her youngest sister was getting married the following day, and Cynthia swore she would not miss the big event- protest or no protest.
“People in New York were asking me whether I was still coming, seeing that they had this disaster- and I told them yes, because I had already purchased my ticket months before, and whatever was happening was not going to stop me from coming home. I said this is the place I born and grow, so why should I turn my back now. When I arrived at Bamia,
and we saw everything that was happening with the blockages and so on, I had no fear, me and my children, we just had a lot of faith, and we were just happy to be back in Guyana.”
The only distressing aspect of the trip, Hudson noted, was having to disembark from the bus at the head of Burnham Drive on Wismar, and walking the remainder of the journey, with suitcases in tow, to her sister’s house, more than a mile away.
The woman said that despite all the hardships of getting around, she enjoyed her vacation, and especially her sister’s wedding, which she pointed out was wonderful.
“I mean everything was good despite the fact that we actually had to get out of the cars at the bridge, walk over and then get other transportation, to go to the wedding hall. But I am happy that I came- this is my country, and Linden is my hometown and nothing can stop me from coming here. I mean people have the right to protest-it is for the benefit of everybody, so I don’t blame anyone-except the police of course for shooting those people. But I thank God things are coming back to normal, even though it can’t be totally normal because of the deaths, but I am happy to be home, and I went through the struggle like everyone else, even though I don’t live here.”
Patricia Castello Parris, who was forced to cross over to Wismar from Mackenzie in a paddle boat on the day she arrived in Linden, currently resides in Canada.
Now on vacation in the mining town for three weeks, Parris said that she had planned her trip to Linden since February, and had bought her ticket since then.
She had contemplated changing her mind about the trip after she received news about the three persons getting killed on July 18th.
“This thing drive a fear in me, I mean I was now at a point where I didn’t even know what to do, because I mean everywhere in Linden was shut down, and then on top of that with the people getting shoot, I was afraid.”
Parris said that her fear was further fueled by the many reports that were put on the internet about what the police were doing, and how the soldiers were, “all over the place”.
“But I kept communicating with my daughter, trying to find out what was taking place, and if when I come whether I would be caught up in any violence. Meanwhile, my relatives overseas were also calling me and telling me not to make the trip, because of what the police were doing.
But then I sat down and reflected that I had my daughter and my grandkids here, and that this is my home, this is where I belong, so that is when I decided that I would come and see for myself what was going on.”
Parris said that when she arrived in Linden she decided to also become involved in the struggle, as she recognized that the cause of the protest was just. She also pointed out that she had already attended rallies in Canada, where donations were given in support of the Linden struggle.
She also donated monies to rebuild the burnt out One Mile Primary School. She too has no regrets about making the trip, though she acknowledged that she was still fearful because of the military presence in the streets. She also condemned the police shooting of the three Lindeners.
Loma Chapman and Donna Liverpool-Clarke are two overseas-based nurses, who are qualified midwives and former sisters at the Linden hospital complex, who made the trip to Linden after everything had “gone down”.
The women who are also good friends, made the trip simultaneously. They are currently based in London.
Both women roundly condemned the police shooting of the Linden three, but were in support of their fellow Lindeners, who they said had a right to protest.
Chapman said that she was happy to be home, as she was celebrating with her daughter who was successful at a recent examination that she took in London.
Like Parris, Chapman said that she too, had contemplated cancelling her trip.
Chapman eventually arrived in Guyana a few days ago.
She noted that the trip was important because she had promised her daughter that they would come, after she would have written her examinations.
In reference to the buildings that were burnt down on Casaurina Drive during the protest, Chapman said she was quite saddened by those events.
“Those buildings were like landmarks in the town- they were always there. I remember passing them every day when I was in nursing school, and later on my way to work. Now they are no longer there, only a lot of debris and rubble, and that is just such a shame. It makes me so sad just to look at it.”
Her friend Donna Clarke said that she was also saddened, and somewhat apprehensive after all that had transpired over the month long protests. She had also considered cancelling her trip.
Clarke however made the trip with her husband Remington, but decided to overnight in Georgetown, as they had come in on a night flight.
“When I called my daughter and she said the road was cleared, I said “Oh my God, God is good”. I was so happy. So we actually came in when everything was done, so we didn’t actually experience all of that stress with the transportation and so on.”
While enjoying her vacation, Clarke would cross the river to Wismar, as much as she could, to tend to her nephew Gavin Liverpool, who has been bedridden for three years. Liverpool had sustained spinal injuries as a result of an accident on the Mackenzie/Wismar bridge. At the time of the accident he was employed by the Courtney Benn Contracting Firm, which was engaged in rehabilitative works on the bridge.
Clarke noted that her only real fear right now, is that her nephew Gavin would become too accustomed to having her around, and her imminent departure, could be heartrending for him.