– still rears pigs and poultry and tends to her Buxton farm
By Kemol King
Every Sunday on the La Penitence Market, there is a flurry of traffic, grocery stands, hardworking vendors and eager buyers. Among that crowd usually sits a short, jovial old woman with a little grocery stand under a big umbrella. She has been selling groceries on the market for 45 years. Her name is Pauline Moffatt. At 75, Mrs. Moffatt is the oldest vendor on the La Penitence Market, and she has a plethora of stories to tell about her life growing up in Buxton, on the countryside.
Pauline transports her groceries down to La Penitence Market from Buxton every Sunday morning to sell, and then returns on the same day. For her, the routine involves bringing her fruits and vegetables out from the backdam by boat, then paying $3000 for them to be transported from Buxton to La Penitence. It is long and tiring, but she explained that she doesn’t like working with or for other people, because people tend to get into conflicts, and that the fallouts that come with conflict are bad for business.
On her farm, she grows a wide range of fruits and vegetables such as bananas, pineapples, limes, ‘five-fingers’, oranges, guava, plantains, cassava, eddoes and other provisions. In addition to that, Pauline Moffatt rears pigs, ducks and chickens for meat and eggs. She describes her life on the farm as the business of her ancestors, as her family has been farming and rearing animals ever since her grandparents were brought to Guyana from Africa.
She inherited the farm and land from her parents, and the farm work is assisted by some of her children and grandchildren. Apart from farming and selling that produce on the market, she makes refreshments like mithai, sugar cakes and plantain chips to sell in the evenings on weekdays, in Buxton.
She explained that her grandmother and grandfather were brought from Africa by the ‘white man’, and that that history has shaped her upbringing. Her parents, she explained, had five children of which two have since passed away. She is the youngest of her siblings. She speaks quite fondly of her siblings; including her only sister who migrated to America, and her last living brother.
With a smile on her face, Pauline spoke about how conservative society was in her younger days. When ‘Miss Pauline’ was 15, a young man of 19 years wrote a letter to her parents describing his love for her and asking for her hand in marriage. This letter, to her parents, was not eloquent enough for him to be deserving of their daughter’s betrothal to him. When they rejected him, he did not give up. He had gone on to write a second letter, with much more effort in marketing his suitability as a husband, but they rejected his letter once again. The young man, she said, was determined. So he consulted with some scholars to help him draft an impressive letter because he had already decided that this was the girl he wanted to marry. When he brought the third letter, his parents were thoroughly impressed. To this, they told him to make an engagement ring and a wedding ring at the same time. Even throughout their engagement, Pauline explained, her parents were very protective of her – “Boy, them longtime people strict bad.” She paused, and then continued: “Bad! When me husband visit me, at 9 O’ Clock, they said ‘Time to leave!’ Gotta come out and go home.” In her time, relationships and marriage were very different than modern times – “Not like now; when gyal ah run ‘way with boy. Not now!”
Describing her marriage, she spoke about how much she loved her husband and how much energy she put into making her marriage work – “But you know you must have ups and downs; when he start behave bad, going out with ladies and all them thing duh. And left me home with all them pickney. We used to fight steady.” Nevertheless, they stayed true to their vows, until her husband passed away in 2008.
From their union, Pauline bore 14 children; the youngest is 25 years old. She has 26 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. She said that bringing up children was easier in those times, and that she could never have managed 14 children in this modern day, since it is very expensive to acquire basic amenities. She said that, in her time, seven cents could buy a tin of biscuits that would last a month for her 14 children. Times, she lamented, have gotten very difficult. Apart from affordability being a growing issue, she said that the media has allowed people to become so connected that one hears about increased crime, and that it is very troubling. Akin, to this, Pauline says that she is getting older every day. She doesn’t think she’ll be out selling for much longer because her arthritis is making it more and more difficult for her to walk around a lot. And to add to that, she comes from a family with a history of diabetes, an illness which threatens to take its toll on her if she doesn’t keep taking her medication.
Pauline loves her work, but she looks forward to one day when she will retire from it, and spend more time relaxing at home. To unwind, Pauline watches African Moods and Young & The Restless. Singing the tune of When You Dance by The Turbans, she talked about her love for oldies. She says that old music reminds her of a time long ago, when her marriage to her husband was young and fresh, when they’d go “all about.”
Pauline also spoke about her Roman Catholic Faith. While religion is not a big part of her life, she says that she regards her life as precious. So, even though her work doesn’t give her a chance to go to regular church service on Sundays, she prays for the continuity and for her life and safety – “Before me go to bed, me does pray. When me wake up morning, me does pray for God keep me fuh see the morning and see a new day. What yuh gon do? When me comin’ to town here, me does pray before me come because sometimes the car or bus can meet in accident, you know? And me could deh lay up in the hospital. Meh does pray for him to bring me safe and carry me home back safe.”
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