Mar 31, 2013 News Comments Off on A heartening recovery from a consuming addiction
— ‘Brother Paltoo’ tells his story
By Sharmain Grainger
Although at 81 he appears feeble to most, Paltoo, a resident of Windsor Forest, West Coast Demerara, is stronger than most, as he has endured and overcome a lifetime battle which ended when he gave up an addiction that literally saw him sleeping on the pavements and cooking and eating in cemeteries.
There are many who are of the belief that addictions are, most often than not, born out of lifestyle habits, but in Paltoo’s case it was driven by years of emotional abuse meted out to him at the hands of his wife. Although he cannot recollect the precise dates of events that occurred in his life, there are aspects that he will never forget and has in fact been sharing with people around him in order to enlighten them that “once there is life there is hope.”
And perhaps it was merely the hope of his mother and other relatives that his life was hinged on, before he realized there was a better way of living.
But things were not always daunting in his life. Relating his life’s journey to me recently ‘Brother Paltoo’, as he is fondly called by many, said that life was relatively normal for him as a young boy.
He was the sixth of seven children born to his parents and though theirs was a modest existence at La Jalousie, West Coast Demerara, it was one of true happiness. Things would however take a downward spiral for the family when his father passed away. However, a decision was made by one of his mother’s brothers to have the family relocate to Windsor Forest, also on the West Coast of Demerara.
With the support of his mother’s family, Paltoo and his siblings would blossom as normally as was possible. He attended the Windsor Forest Primary School but did not venture to the secondary level, since according to him “you had to have plenty money to pay for that.”
After his schooling he found himself in the company of friends who were involved in the fish-catching trade and decided he too wanted to be a fisherman, much to the displeasure of his mother. That however did not dissuade the budding young man from having his own way.
In fact he would continue in this trade for quite a few years. He disclosed that back in the day it was not as simple as obtains today, whereby engine boats are used to go out to sea, but rather a boat aided by “sail and jib” was the order of the day. It was years later he recalled that engine boats were brought on the fishing scene.
Still trying to find himself as a young man, Paltoo eventually landed a job at the then Rice Marketing Board which was located at Water Street, Georgetown. He remembers leaving home as early as 07:00 hours (7a.m.) in order to catch the train to get to work.
Paltoo recalled how his mother would prepare breakfast and pack a hearty lunch for him every day to take to work. His job was relatively simple, he noted, as it was all part of a rice-sorting process.
And it was while employed by the Rice Marketing Board that his masculine instincts would cause his eyes then his heart to be captivated by an attractive woman. Before long they were ceremonially married and plans were being made for his new wife to move into the house Paltoo shared with his mother.
However, the relationship between mother and daughter-in-law was not the best – in fact it was one tainted with constant verbal fights.
The young wife, who had by then borne him a son, was soon demanding that her husband prove his love by leaving his mother’s house altogether. Looking back on his decision to move, Paltoo believes it was certainly a wrong move, but as the biblical verse says “what the devil meant for evil God meant it for good.”
Paltoo vividly remembers leaving with his wife for her family’s residence at Goed Fortuin, West Bank Demerara. Their relationship would go downhill from that point on, as according to him, “the girl start suffer meh…she nah cook fuh meh, she nah mek lunch fuh meh and she tek all meh money and meh had to walk fuh get to wuk many days.”
Reports soon started reaching the ears of his mother who constantly pleaded with him to return to Windsor Forest. But it would take a few more years of the emotional abuse – coupled with blatant disregard on the part of his wife – that a very frustrated Paltoo would make the decision to return.
“When me turn up meh mother been on the landing and she start buss tears when she see me walking coming….”
He left a healthy-looking young man, but returned frail and anaemic, so much so that it warranted him being attended to by a doctor.
But even as he recovered physically, the battle with his wife continued as she seemed to be on a mission to destroy him financially, using their son as a weapon.
The emotional abuse had not ended and Paltoo soon turned to alcohol to help expunge the hurt. Although he was rarely sober his mother never gave up on him. He disclosed that even when he was too drunk to return home “she (his mother) would come looking for me with a lamp…people use to tell she ‘he is a big man and you spoiling he’ but she just use to say ‘ah meh son, wah yuh want me do…kill am?’”
Her many appeals for him to desist from drinking would go unheard and she would even go to her grave without him complying.
One of his elder sisters soon assumed the role of mother and took him to her home at Station Street, Kitty, Georgetown, to live. However, this did in no way help to curb his habit. He was no longer working and soon left his sister’s home to roam the streets of Georgetown in order to beg and satisfy his addiction.
“Me stop go home and me start walk and beg, all me can think about was rum…as soon as me get li’l money was rum…when me get tired me just sleep pun the pave…rain fall and soak me up right deh, meh hungry belly, but all me want was rum.”
He remembers forming alliances with other beggars on the pavements and venturing into burial grounds to cook in tin cans when he was too starved. On other occasions he recounted going to strangers to beg for food.
From time to time family members were able to track him down and encourage him to return home, but it would take only a quarter bottle of rum to force him to return. According to Paltoo, one of his nephews turned up one day on the pavement with a bottle of rum and beckoned him to enter his car. “Me jump in the car because me want the rum and he start telling me he carrying me back to Windsor Forest, but me keep telling he me got fuh get me clothes, but dat nuh stop de boy he seh he gonna bring de clothes fuh me later.”
The same nephew had previously attempted to take Paltoo home, but had stopped his car to make a purchase at a shop when Paltoo made good his escape back to the streets; so this time he was taking no chances.
The very night of his return to Windsor Forest, Paltoo recalled hearing loud talking and singing and enquired from relatives what the noise was about. He soon learnt that a church was having a crusade in the village. Curiosity got the better of him and he was soon among the gathering. Before the end of the service, Paltoo said that he got the strangest inclination to become a Christian and devote his life to God.
“That night I feel different, different and want to give me life to this Christ they been talking about…after then me never again want touch alcohol – rum, wine, beer, nothing me not touching since.”
It has been more than 20 years since Paltoo became a devoted Christian and he claims he has since never had the urge to consume alcohol. According to him “rum can deh in the river like water, but me don’t have the desire no more to touch it.”
Although ending an addiction may not be instantaneous to all, Paltoo is confident that with the help of God it can be possible. He is currently a member of the Ruimzeight Assembly, West Coast Demerara, which he attends. And according to him he is constantly trying to share his story with others so that they too can know that a positive change is always possible with God.
He currently resides at 53 Menzie Street, Windor Forest, with his new wife Mavis Veronica Kong, and he related that had his mother been alive “I would have been treating her like a queen for never giving up on me.” In the meantime though he says he intends to remain committed to God “until he is ready for me.”
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