By Alex Wayne
When it was suggested that I visit the village of First Savannah, way up in the Mahaicony River, I immediately got butterflies in my stomach. I started to battle with thoughts of a lengthy boat ride, frightening waves, and probably swarms of mosquitoes.
You see folks, I understand the backland areas of Mahaicony on the East Coast of Demerara very well, because I grew up in Calcutta, Mahaicony – a location that I have known to be infested by mosquitoes. Also, the mere thought of another boat ride was certainly bothering me, and I am not ashamed to declare that I am very scared of water transport and deep waterways.
It was about 10:00 hrs on a bright sunny day and I was standing at the Central Mahaicony Intersection waiting on my pickup car that would take me down a badly potholed road, through villages like Perth Village and Strath Campbell, and a few others, before arriving at the mini
wharf at the end of Branch Road. From there, I would take a speedboat to First Savannah, a distant village in the Mahaicony River.
I was certainly not pleased that my boat captain was delayed and did not even call to say that there was a setback. I was fuming for about 45 minutes before the boat finally pulled into the ‘jetty’ as villagers called the mooring station. My eyes almost popped from their sockets in fear, when I realised that the boat captain was a very frail and petite, almost timid woman. No way, was I going to sit in that very large vessel and have her take me up the river. Not under the sun that was shining!!! I tried desperately to make other arrangements, but was told her vessel was the only one available, and that the others had to be booked in advance.
So quite gingerly, I entered the boat and braced myself for what was to come…
I have got to admit, that this woman reminded me of my grandmother’s earnest warnings of never to judge a book by its cover, for this woman actually surprised me. She handled the vessel like a pro. I flashed her one of my best smiles of approval, and she returned the favour with a bright girlish grin.
The Mahaicony River is a small river in northern Guyana that drains into the Atlantic Ocean. Mahaicony village is found at the mouth of the river. Farming and cattle rearing are the predominant human use of the lower reaches of the river. Ninety-six miles up the river is the village of Moraikobai, predominantly occupied by Amerindians. My boat captain however informed me that I only had to travel seventeen miles up the Mahaicony River to get to my destination.
THE BOAT RIDE
The boat ride was the smoothest I have ever experienced, as the jet-black water of the river was calm, with very small sun tinted waves lapping into each other.
I drank in my fill of the dark water gliding by on both sides, with thick lush vegetation rolling by in a green blur. I was pleasantly surprised at the simplicity of villages, the humble existence of the inhabitants as we passed on our way. Just outside each home canoes and speedboats were moored, affirming the fact that river transport was indeed the order of the day in these locations.
A few boats passed us on the journey and there was always a smile and waves from the joyous looking occupants. Everyone seemed to be contented with their humble way of living. The sound of almost a hundred bird species could be heard from the bushes, creating a sweet symphony, which tugged at my soul, causing me to relax as I embraced the luxuries of Mother Nature.
Colourful birds and butterflies darted above us in unison, seemingly with glee, welcoming our arrival. Every now and then silver scaled fishes flipped and somersaulted above the waves, making me reminisce on my days of fishing in the Mahaicony backdam as a young boy.
The steady drone of the boat engines fused with this arresting picturesque presentation of nature, brought me to the realisation that for ages I have not paused from my busy schedule to explore and discover the many riches and wonders of our beautiful country.
Though I have become accustomed to the urban way of living, I could not help but wonder what a joy it would be to at least spend some time in such a peaceful location. And the harmony and camaraderie between residents living at locations along the river certainly moved me emotionally.
With a sweet smile, the boat captain indicated that she needed to make a quick short stop, and quite naturally I obliged her. We pulled over to the left bank of the river, just close to the fence of a quaint little blue and white cottage. Upon her calling out “Aunty Pattie” for about three times, we were greeted by a merry old lady with starry twinkles in her eyes. Listening to the conversation between the two, I soon realised that ‘Auntie Pattie’ supplied the villagers along the river with ice. She was lucky to have her home powered by solar panel, and as such enjoys electricity around the clock.
Her husband, with an almost toothless grin, soon arrived with rather large ice blocks, which he bundled into the boat after which he wished us a safe journey. They boat waved as we left and the picture of them standing huddled together almost brought tears to my eyes. My mind raced ahead with the wonder of how they live so peacefully in locations that lacked the luxuries of electricity, good roads, entertainment hotspots, hospitals and the modern amenities, which we enjoy in the city.
A few minutes later we rolled into First Savannah Village and I was informed that it comprised of just about 28 households, most of whom are rice farmers. I marveled at the small makeshift wharf or docking area residents created for arriving boats – barrels glued together, on which planks are strapped together securely, creating a small floating walkway in front of almost every home.
CHATTING WITH RESIDENTS
Curious about the livelihood and humble existence of the people, I engaged rice farmer, Ramchand Bhola, who was more than excited to be the focus of a media operative.
“We depend on our rice crops as a way of living and if we don’t protect our investments, we are doomed. Many times, we suffer greatly especially in the rainy weather when our fields are flooded out by rainfall. For years, we have been suffering great losses, we just learn to pick ourselves up and try again. When we cry for help from the authorities, it’s a total waste of time. It’s almost as if we are living in the land of the forgotten,” said Bhola.
He added, “We have been suffering for a number of years and we are not seeing anyone. Every official that passes through focuses on other locations. Just recently, we have suffered losses on the excess of 140 acres of rice because of flooding. In some cases, our rice crop is ripe and ready for harvesting, but we can’t do a thing because of excess water. Some officials make assumptions instead of coming down here and do a walk through to estimate losses. We are Guyanese too and we need help. The drainage and irrigation here is horrible, and its only time before we lose our very homes to flooding in the rainy seasons.”
“Our main drainage canal has not been cleaned for ages, and we hardly see anyone visiting to even ask you, how are you doing. Many areas receive Government attention, but we are left out, we need help to just like anyone else. When the floodwaters finally recede, it’s often too late for us to plant the next crop. We also have to pool our monies as farmers to have the area fixed. The main access dam is really; really bad and it is very hard, very, very hard on us,” Bhola said.
Another farmer, Ramcharran Bholagosingh, said he owes the bank and spoke of other debts that he can only pay if his rice crop is successful.
“I complain to NDIA and MMA/ADA till me throat get dry, but dem ain’t get time wid we. De NDIA ranks dem is sweet boys and dem ain’t get time wid poor people. I still owe for a tracta and I can’t don pay fuh it. I saying it again… What we need immediately is a propah dam so farmers can access their rice fields,” he added.
But Pertab Mohanlall, another farmer, opted to speak of the humble makings of the small community. “This village is a very simple and very nice village with very nice people as well. It’s a safe neighbourhood, and we don’t have crimes occurring here. In this village, yuh can sleep with yuh doors open both night and day. This is a perfect place for persons who love simplicity and love the works of Mother Nature. Soon, we may have a resort completed here and at least that will allow a reasonable level of recreation and entertainment for residents,” he said.
He, however, stressed the need for more improvement in the education system. Aside from that, he maintained “life is good hay; we hunt when we want wild meat, we catch fish anytime we want, we have lots of fruits and coconut trees, and we are a very satisfied and contented community.”
According to Mohanlall too, “Sometime, we come under threat from roaming jaguars, but that has not happened in a long time. And in most cases they are after our cattle, not humans. We have a lot of birds here, and of course snakes and such likes. But if we don’t trouble dem, they don’t trouble us. The only time we see jaguars is during the dry spell when they are forced to come down to the river to get water.”
That aside First Savannah Village is a very picturesque and breath-taking village. Situated both on the right and left banks of the Mahaicony River, the village is a mind-boggling fusion of lush green sprawling pastures and natural waterways in abundance.
When there is no flooding, lush green or golden fields display a picture of rice plants waving lazily in the cool winds. On sunny days, the sunrays throw specks of diamond like ripples on the waves of trenches and ponds and the rhythmic movement of waves, which are sometimes disturbed by bush fishes leaping and tumbling in delight.
On these days in particular, large alligators often bask in the sun’s glory on the dams, or banks of trenches, blinking their eyes lazily as if enjoying an ‘animal siesta’. Lizards and other reptiles can startle the unsuspecting visitor by darting in and out of the bushes, while sheep and cattle can be heard munching nosily on juicy grass and shrubs, rolling their eyes in obvious relish.
The Mahaicony River churns like a black, writhing python, in and through the village, gurgling waters often disturbed by speedboats that send big swells, expanding in every direction. The happy yelps of excited children often rents the air as fathers return from hunting, dragging behind, an anteater, deer, wild hog, or sometimes very large iguanas.
The sight of mothers beating their laundry with wooden paddles by the riverside is indeed something to behold, or the spectacle of healthy looking males, plunging fearlessly into the black, murky water will certainly leave you bemused by their entertaining antics.
First Savannah is indeed a mystique, and very alluring location, where the mysteries of Guyana’s beauty beckon in an almost too natural fashion.
Come join us next Sunday around the turns and bends of the Berbice River as we journey to the fantastic community of Kimbia.
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