By Alex Wayne
I had never visited the village of Ithaca but from all I heard, I just knew my journey there was going to be quite gratifying.
Some describe it as a village inhabited by quiet and contented people, but I prefer to call it a quite little alcove where the contentment and pleasures of the people are mirrored in their smiles and hospitable demeanour.
Ithaca, is a predominantly African-Guyanese village located at the end of the West Bank of Berbice road link. It is bounded by Blairmont settlement to the north. It takes nearly two hours to drive from Georgetown to get to this beautiful settlement.
I know you are waiting for the story of my bus ride experience, but I have to disappoint you. You see folks I was very tired and slept almost the entire journey. I was actually jolted awake when the bus conductor attempted to give me instructions on how to catch a short drop car to go into the very depths of Ithaca after I disembarked at the village intersection.
The joy of the people resonated all around me and when I stopped a short while after to meet my chaperon, Gilbert Maxwell, I was swept away in a vortex of merriment and laughter that was emitting from almost every corner of the village
Stopping at a breadfruit stall I was instantly greeted by smiling children with cheery dimples all heckling with childish curiosity as I pelted questions at their equally excited mothers, who were themselves excited at being the object of my attention.
Some of the children peeped at me shyly from behind their mothers while clinging to their skirts.
The village certainly had a somewhat captivating old world aura that took me back to my youthful days in the countryside. The fresh smell of grass mingled with the scent of cattle was very familiar, especially since it was laced with the aroma of ripened mangoes swaying from laden trees.
Burly men and chiseled looking young men looked on curiously from nearby, guessing the reason of my presence in hushed tones. Some of them eyed me suspiciously.
Young girls strolled up and down the street, their mini-skirts swishing as they rolled their hips enticingly much to the delight of the young males who hooted at them. Such advances were of course met with the rolling of eyeballs and swearing by the sassy lasses.
I was just overwhelmed by the bustle and festive aura that seemed to surround this village, so there I was breathing deeply the fresh, crisp ‘country breeze’ as my eyes took in with wonder the cluster of homely houses, shops and what seemed to be a melee of happy people rushing around on one errand or another.
This village does not feature many majestic buildings, posh shops, or elegant boutiques like many others, but what may cause it to top the list is its quiet existence, fuelled by the humility and charm of its residents, and its arresting aura of simplicity.
If one is looking for a village that oozes rich camaraderie and ethnic unity that stirs the soul, then Ithaca is the place to be. In this village the races rub shoulders, each partaking and appreciating their varying cultures.
It’s always a giggle or encouraging word from a vendor, or touching pleasantries from taxi drivers and practically everyone you happen to run into. Somehow the spread of dense, lush vegetation (in some areas), shrubs and abundant fruit trees created a dream-like paradise, that sported great tourism potentials.
Coconut and tamarind trees swayed lazily in the Atlantic breeze, and juicy looking mangoes and sapodillas hung from several trees, tempting me to climb up and savour their ready sweetness.
And there seemed to be a few genip tress that were sporting the popular fruit. The legendary ‘whitie fruit’ was in abundance as the branches strained under the weight of their ripened burden.
Chatting with residents
My second encounter was with the beaming Rudolph Alphonso who was ready to delve into the history of the village. He explained that Ithaca was bought by eight ex-slaves in 1842 for $10,000.
He explained that main crops in those days were coffee, cocoa, citrus, coconut and ground provisions. “This village was always the land of fun frolic and music and the sound of the African Drums will ring in your ears even after the drumming have ceased.
“The drums creep into your very soul and unfurl a kind of secret connection that takes you way back to your roots.”
The rain suddenly came down and we scattered for shelter in a nearby shop, with a few women jokingly commenting that we were receiving showers of blessing. As expected our conversation continued.
“In this village everyone does something and everything to make a living. Some persons still trade in the traditional making of cassareep, while others still walk and sell bread, salara, buns, and cheese roll baked in a few mud ovens that remain today.
Here in Ithaca some persons create magic by making cassareep from coconut water, and not from cassava as is the custom in many areas. This is very tricky and you have to master the art of it all before attempting to try it.
Others make a living by making and selling coconut oil and the Ithaca coconut oil is the best coconut oil ever. It’s clean and fresh and perfect for sopping your mole when you have a head cold. It also does wonders for the skin when used properly.
Some persons are employed at the Blairmont Sugar Estate and some villagers are nurses, teachers, and security guards.
“In times gone by this village was plagued with problems, but today we have reasonably good water supply, good electricity and good drainage in many areas. We could do with a little sprucing up of our churches.
“Certainly we will love a bigger and better culture and entertainment centre, and maybe some refurbishing of a few churches. Everything is not perfect here, but life is good in Ithaca.”
Sharon Gulliver spoke of the life of villagers, carefully emphasizing that despite what life throws at them, the inhabitants of Ithaca are a very contented people.
“Not everyone’s life is easy in Ithaca; we all have our struggles, but we are contented and try to make ends meet with our coconut products and fresh bush fish from the many ponds and trenches we have here.
“Life is okay here but we still have the problem of some irresponsible persons dumping garbage wherever they seemed pleased.
“Other than that a few trenches here certainly needs cleaning so as not to affect proper drainage in the village. Yet we are quite okay and we just came out of our May festivities where everyone would attend our May Fair and tell stories around bon fires as our fore parents did in the days gone by.
“And some members of a popular African Queh Queh Group in the village still keep us connected to our traditions by hosting massive Queh Queh sessions before any wedding we have here.
“Man look, yuh should see how them young girls does wine up and it does really get me angry. They are just too loose and lawless. A Queh Queh should be a traditional form of dancing and should remain in keeping with our African customs and beliefs.”
Joshua Harris , an elderly farmer. was very excited to be the object of my attention. Seating himself on a bench under a mango tree, he launched into an interesting tale about the makings of the village.
“This is a nice place, but we just need a little Government assistance from time to time to get things going.
“A long time ago the former Minister of Human Services, Priya Manickchand, visited the village and presented a machine and a stove to members of the Seventh Day Adventist here, and that has helped out a great lot.
“The new Government is helping in many areas, but we need them to focus more in the areas of infrastructure, entertainment and sports. Our youths here are very talented, but they need more support so that they can excel in their choice of sports.
“Cash crop farming is a big thing in Ithaca, but we would want to see more Government intervention in providing assistance to farmers to upgrade their lands, improve drainage, and thus improve their harvest.”
The village was said to be the “home of music and produced good musicians.”
Inadequate recreational opportunities happened to be another issue that seemed to trouble Jennifer English, a very pleasant fruit vendor.
“Ithaca is nice but is in need of more recreational facilities for the youths. You see, sir, we have very many persons here in the field of drama, sports, and art and craft. But our village is still underdeveloped and allows not much scope for them to further or develop their skills and talents.
“As it is, we are very contented and are glad with the peace we enjoy here but we are hoping that the authorities can look into our welfare a little more as time goes by.
“We also need Government support to sustain traditional cultural groups in the village that are slowly going out of operation because of financial support.”
Ithaca is indeed a very arresting and almost pristine location that oozes liquid laughter and countryside joys long hoped for. Come bask in the smiles and great hospitality of its cheery people. Throw a cast net and rake in some good ole countryside bush fish.
“If not, come prance to the beat of African drums, or take a swing at juicy looking mangoes, hanging from the fence of a neighbour.”
Join us next week when our reporter takes his pen, notepad and camera to the once economically thriving rice producing settlement of Burma, located in the District of Mahaicony, East Coast Demerara.
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