By Alex Wayne
There I was heading for the Parika Minibus Park with mixed feelings. As always I could not help but wonder if the drive was going to be enjoying or not… Nevertheless, I braced myself for the unexpected and entered a minibus headed for that location.
Luckily there were no hiccups on the journey and in no time the minibus was rolling into Parika. I paid my fare and squinting from the rays of the broiling sun headed for the Parika Stelling and Market Square.
Parika is a port township located in the Essequibo Islands-West Demerara region of Guyana. It is popular for its ferry service, operated by the Ministry of Public Infrastructure, to and from the Essequibo Islands and West Demerara area.
It is also noted for its festive and noisy Sunday markets.
The East Bank, Essequibo Township has seen considerable developments and investments by the private sector, especially in the area of financial services. Parika now has more commercial banks than anywhere
else in the region. It is also a major hub for land transport, since it is a route stop for local taxis and minibuses.
Parika is said to be the gateway to the Essequibo coastlands. It is very popular for its ferry service to Supenaam, Bartica, and the islands of Leguan, Wakenaam, and Hog Island.
Laughter, hugs and kisses all around
I have always known quite a few people from Parika, say for example Malcolm Trim, a/ka ‘Brother’ who has been trading in DVD’s for years. He was visibly shocked to see me.
As I approached, he squinted, his jaw dropped, and springing up from his bench he bellowed, “Alex!!! Alex!!! Is that you? Boy, it’s been ages…Is whea yuh been all this time? And look how yuh put on size. De good living certainly showing pon you.”
He grabbed me and squeezed for all he was worth, laughing all the time.
Upon learning my reason for the visit he demanded that his stall be photographed, shouting, “Yuh got to put me in de papers. Remembah is me use to always give yuh good information about Parika when yuh bin wukking in de media before.”
We chatted for a little bit and I bade him goodbye, to head in the direction of the ferry stelling. I was not halfway there when I was startled by screams from women. Jerking around, expecting a vehicular accident of some sort. I instead saw three women heading in my direction with arms outstretched, beaming in excitement.
One looked familiar, but I could not quite fathom what all this was about, so I steeled myself to explain to them that they had mistaken me for someone else; that it was a case of mistaken identity.
Sensing my confusion, one woman in a long brown dress shouted, “Alex yuh really don’t remembah we? Is Mavis Alex…Yuh ain’t remembah Mavis and Selina, and Paula? Is yuh vendor friends from way back when.
“You ain’t remembah yuh been come up hea years ago and do de story fuh we when the RDC Chairman was giving de vendors de time ah dem lives? Is you and de Kaieteur News dat mek we eventually get peace on the streets, after exposing all de wickedness that man was doing.”
Reality then kicked in and I recollected the issue they were talking about. But gosh, that was almost fifteen years ago, and they did look a bit different. They had all grown fatter, maybe with age. After then they were just hugging me like crazy, and even pinching me, saying that I had put on a lot of size over the years.
Like three very fussy hens, they literally dragged me to their fruit stalls, demanding that I sit down and help myself to a heaping bowl of sliced fruits. In no time I was stuffing down slices of watermelon, papaw, pineapple, and mangoes.
Then Mavis said, “Yuh gon need yuh energy in all this hot sun, suh tek this”. I looked up and she was shoving a bottle of Lucozade energy drink in my face. I thanked her, and it was another bundle of hugs and kisses before I left them.
I left my phone number with them and headed on my journey, with them warning that I do not ever stay away again for so long.
Chatting with Villagers
The very colourful and almost merry spectacle of vendors fussing amongst fruit and vegetable stalls really amused me. And I felt really at home as I watched the porters rush about with carts as they each try to outdo the other in their battle to be the first to transport items belonging to vendors, to and from the stelling, or the suitcases of commuters using the Parika to Bartica, and Supenaam speedboat service.
These porters seemed to be making a lot of money, and I could overhear them boasting about the large sums they make on very busy days.
The friendly, but competitive banter of boat captains was a welcome sound, as each either used politeness, charm, or the posh appearance of their vessels to lure commuters into travelling with them. And the pineapple and watermelon farmers seemed to be making quite a fortune on the ferry stelling as was evident from the number of persons rushing to buy their produce, sold at give away prices.
The water coconuts vendors were all smiles as thirsty passengers, grabbed their fill of ice cold bottled coconut water before entering the waiting speedboats. I paused for a while and inhaled the breeze flowing in from the Essequibo River, but I could distinctly tell that it came at me tainted with the smell of the many fishes that must be darting about in the water below. I am a countryside resident, so I would definitely know.
A smile tugged at the corners of my mouth as I stared at smaller boats bobbing crazily as they waves rocked them to and fro. Quite close to me, young boys sat on a very dilapidated section of the stelling peering down into the waters below. Striking up a conversation with them, I realized they had set polythene fishing lines with bait in the water and were just waiting for very large, cuirass and butterfish to be trapped on the hooks concealed in the intestines, they used as bait.
Coconut vendor, Dubraj Singh, was very excited to be the object of my attention, and allowing his assistant to sell, sat down to chat with me.
“Parika is popular for its busy market square and the good friendship shared by the people. Everyone lives as one happy family. We ain’t get no time with race and creed at all. In this village, everyone helps the other. We does do like the Bible say and love we neighbours, we friends, and even we enemies.
“Parika is all about farming, and we survive most on items we sell from our farms. And these include bananas, coconut, plantains, cassavas, watermelons, and all kinds of fruits. People here also make good money by trading in pets and birds as well.”
Boat maker, John Vandyke, has been making some of the very speedboats that race across the Essequibo River for over fifteen years. He was very kind to pause from his work to chat with me. I sat in his workshop just close to the stelling and we chatted as I sipped on a cold drink.
“I have been in this business for over fifteen years and it’s my joy and pride. Many of these boats you see out there are my handiwork. I began doing this from a very young age, and this was a skill passed on to me by my father.
“I possess great skill but I don’t do rushed jobs. I don’t care how much a customer is in a hurry for a vessel, I tell them that boat making is a serious thing, and give them a waiting time, because I ain’t going to be responsible for nobody’s death if a boast sink out there.
“It takes a lot of detailed work to build a boat, and to seal it to ensure it is safe, stays afloat, and can withstand very rough tides and weather. So if anyone come rushing me to get jobs done, I firmly tell them they have to wait or take their work elsewhere.”
Vandyke said the dividends are not always huge since most times he tries to stay within the realms of a customer’s pocket. He said that boats measuring 23 feet are often built at a cost of $400,000, whilst larger vessels may cost $500 000 or just a little more.
Businessman John Prescott lamented about the very dilapidated condition of a section of the ferry stelling, citing that all they have been getting from the Regional Democratic Council (RDC), is promises that the Government will look after the rapidly disintegrating structure.
“Bai me ain’t know what this Government and de RDC really doing. A part ah dis stelling literally falling apart and all we getting is promises, promises that them gon repair it. Dis ain’t need repairing, it need building over completely.
“Look at this stelling wid all dem heavy duty vehicles driving up and down hea… Is only time before a section ah this structure will collapse. Government ah spend money pon all kind ah unnecessary nonsense and an important things like the ferry stelling dem can’t fix yet. And some ah dem doing all kinds ah thing with taxpayers money. But is only time wid them”
Parika in de good ole days
Today Parika is a village that reflects a striking economic bustle, with an ever expanding business sector notably evolving in its midst. Today they are commercial banks, several variety stores, restaurants, recreational nightclubs, and many avenues for sports and even adult entertainment. Not so long ago, the village has received a very extensive Churches Chicken Outlet, whiles its Post Office and Health Centre still remains.
Parika is now a brilliant fusion of striking market scenery, laced with bustle of bare backed porters plying their trade. This is adorned nicely with the never ending clutter of bus drivers/conductors in competition, with the echoes of shoppers trying to get the best bargains in every store, shop or other facility.
Surely readers, you must be wondering of the Parika of olden days. To tell you that intriguing story was villager elder and prominent citizen, Ulric Captain, who still resides in the village.
“Parika has transformed over the decades. This village has arguably seen a more striking form of evolution than any other village on the West Bank of Demerara or Essequibo area. As a young boy here, Parika can be remembered as a very sleepy village with only one major road.
“The very busy Parika Junction you see out there now and area from which only the three streets in the village originated. There were no impressive highways like today, instead it was just one red sand, and very dusty road that stretched from here to Vreed-en-Hoop, many miles away.
“Parika was always essentially a farming area, and many residents were also employed with the Transport and Harbours Department, doing one job or another. There were of course a few teachers and civil servants in the village. Parika was the terminal for the railway train which left the village at 4:00 pm and made its last trip at 9 pm in the nights.
“After the train left in the nights Parika was transformed into a quiet and almost dismal location. Not a soul was seen in the streets after that. Entertainment was not at its peak like it is today. There was only one Disco called ‘Lyte’s Nightclub”
According to Captain, there was only the St. Stephens Anglican Church and the Anglican School in those days. But today Parika has quite a number of Pentecostal, Baptist, Seventh Day Adventist, and the recently arriving Mormon’s churches.
“Over time Parika became a very busy and rather economically thriving location. The speedboats arrived, as did the very larger river ferries. Then came the buses and hire cars, and gradually the train became of little importance until it disappeared altogether.
“Soon traders were using Parika for contraband trading which saw the village blossoming into an even more brilliant location as money flowed around.”
While it was more predominantly occupied by persons of African descent, Parika now has an impressive multi-mix of varying ethnicities giving the village an interesting cultural diversity. Parika has certainly evolved and has moved by leaps and bounds when compared to surrounding locations.
Parika is also known as a vast fishing community, as fishers would go out to sea from the wharf and return to sell their often bountiful catch on a regular basis.
The fact that Republic Bank, Scotia Bank, Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry, and Demerara Bank are located in Parika is confirmation enough that the village is heading for ultimate economic success. It is also the home of the country’s first two-tiered parking facility called the S&R Parking Lot, situated at 162 Parika, East Bank Essequibo.
Jovial camaraderie abounds
If one is looking for a village that oozes rich camaraderie and ethnic unity that stirs the soul, then Parika is the place to be. From the lustrous laughter of the races busy in the shops and market places, to the loud bellows of men drinking in the rum shops, or street corners, Parika has brewed and emitted a certain aura where one feel at ease and always welcomed.
The races rub shoulders, each participating and appreciating their various cultures. Some go to lengths to learn the beliefs and customs of the other, while others make it their duty to ensure visitors feel appreciated by extending mind-boggling degrees of hospitality.
It’s always a giggle or encouraging word from a market vendor, or touching pleasantries from taxi drivers. Not to mention the fact that first time visitors most times gets a little extra on their first purchases. Beaming smiles and pleasant service in food places is more than just a custom.
Why tarry any longer readers. Take a trip to this intriguing village, and be caught up in the vortex of picturesque features, ‘entertainment extravaganzas’, and the soothing fact that you are in really good hands.
Join us next Sunday when Alex Wayne takes his notepad and camera to the arresting environs of our Mining Town, Linden.
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