I must have been eight years old, tiniest of the tiny, tenth out of eleven children and so much protected by my family. I was an introvert, very shy and always kept to myself. Sitting at the front row of the classroom always made me feel overwhelmed, scared and extremely nervous. I remember feeling very proud of myself knowing the answers to questions being asked but dare not let the teachers know for the fear of being called to answer. If they did call on me, I would panic and forget all the answers instantly. The palm of my hands wet and my body cold as ice. Because of my petite size, it seemed that front row was always chosen for me. All the children in the classroom would be chatting and laughing before classes started; discussing what they did the previous day and I would be sitting quietly, pretending to check through my books. I often would time myself not to attend school too early. I had no confidence and figured I could never be like the other girls. They seemed so brave, cool and confident.
Hopping onto dad’s bicycle sometimes for a free ride to school was the best, until my feet got stuck in the wheels. Walking to school, which was just four blocks away, became a breeze after that. We had previously lived in the countryside and moved to the city when I was four years of age and my little brother was a baby. Dad had gotten a promotion and had to move to the branch in the city. We rented an upper flat of a house close to dad’s job for a few years until my parents saved to buy our very own house a few streets away. My parents have always been very ambitious and felt it was better having your own home rather than living in a rental for the rest of your life. Our new home had four bedrooms, two toilets and one stand up shower on the upper flat. The kitchen and dinning room were downstairs. Our bedrooms had sliding doors made of wood and glass, unusual for bedroom doors and one entire wall had the Kaieteur Falls (the largest single drop waterfall in the world) painted on it.
Guyana, my country of birth, found in South America and neighbors to Suriname, Venezuela and Brazil was a tropical country. Houses were built very simple; wooden or concrete. We had no skyscrapers or Shopping Malls and never experienced going on escalators. We would always be amazed to see them in movies and thought foreigners were very lucky to live in such beautiful countries. We also loved looking at pictures and movies where the ocean, rivers and lakes would have such clear water that reflected the color of the sky. Our three rivers, the Essequibo, Berbice and Demerara rivers and the Atlantic Ocean were all murky. It had a population of just about seven hundred and eighty thousand people and very rich in bauxite, gold, rice and sugar. Even though my Country was simple, the beautiful tropical weather, white sand, seashells and lots of coconut trees were all very beautiful to me.
I always felt proud when my friends saw me getting a ride to school with dad. Having to work every day, he was unable to attend school meetings and that was my chance to show him off to my friends. I remember how much I wished mom would visit me at school, but because it was just a few blocks away, she had no reason to since we all walked home for lunch. My elder sisters would attend meetings since mom was always busy cooking and doing other house chores and my friends always commented on how beautiful they were, I could not have been prouder. They once attended the same primary school and would visit teachers occasionally. Whenever they did, I would beam with pride. Leon my younger brother, had just started attending my school and my sister Lolly, two years older than I, was preparing to write her examinations to attend a secondary school. We were taught to be very simple, humble and kind to everyone just by the examples of our parents, as the saying goes, “action speaks louder than words.”
We were seven sisters and four brothers. Two sisters and brothers from dad’s previous marriage and one brother, two sisters from mom’s previous marriage. Mom and dad having four children together, my two sisters, four and two years older than I and my brother, four years younger. To me, we were just one big happy family. I was born in a home with so much siblings and I loved each one of them equally. If there were any unfairness, I was too young or too naive to see or understand. Mom’s children loved and adored my dad, which made me realize he was a fair and loving father to them. Dad’s four children moved separately when I was very little, I only have vague memories of living in a home together with them. I never saw my parents fighting or shouting at each other. Because mom was always very busy, dad used to lovingly call her “Mother Bee” and we would always tease her when she received her Valentine roses or Birthday and Christmas gifts. Dad was very romantic.
I always looked forward to visiting my two brothers and two sisters whenever dad went. They lived in a beautiful white cottage with green trimmings around the windows, the verandah and on the fence. It had a beautiful Christmas tree at the front with wide branches touching the verandah. I remember my sister SiSi, always fussing over me, giving me beautiful tiny earrings and chains. She loved animals a lot and cried when the mouse got trapped. They had a big fluffy dog named Foxy, white with very long hair. I think I felt comfortable and confident with her because she was so much like me.
Sandy, the oldest of the four, was fair in complexion, very beautiful and slim. She was more serious and felt responsible for her younger siblings. Guess she became like that after the death of their mother, when she was at a tender age of nine. My brother Rob, four years younger than Sandy, was tall and lean with muscles and had long hair touching his shoulders. Once he made me count silently to ten while I chewed my food properly. Guess he is the reason I am now such a slow eater. Pete my other brother, born after SiSi and the youngest of the four, was shorter and slim with long hair to his shoulders also. In those days, that was the hair style all the boys wanted. He reminded me of dad and SiSi, quiet, calm and very sensitive.
My older brother Rudy and sister Aileen from mom’s previous marriage, were getting married. It was going to be a double wedding, the first wedding of my siblings. Our house was being re-painted and new curtains were bought. I remember all my aunts and cousins were coming in from the countryside and more pillows and sheets had to be purchased. My parents were buying groceries in bulk from months before, trying to manage their expenses. Mom was very busy trying to get everything done, it was not easy to host two weddings in one day. Rudy was her eldest child born on her 16th birthday, Aileen two years younger. In the olden days, everyone married their daughters early to prevent them from having boyfriends. My grandfather took mom out of school as soon as she learnt to write, afraid that she would write letters to boys. She then had to help my grandmother; tend to her younger siblings, learn to clean the home and later, sent to work in the rice field and cook.
There was so much to be done in Hindu weddings. We were rubbing turmeric on Rudy and Aileen’s skin a couple of days before the wedding. That signified purity, fertility and good health and gave the skin a glow to ensure the bride and groom looked fresh for their wedding day. Our home was filled with my cousins and aunts from the countryside and mattresses were placed on the floors of every room. There was so much excitement and laughter. Hindu wedding celebrations usually last for a couple of days. It entailed several rituals and traditions that has deep philosophical and spiritual significance. Traditionally, the bride’s parents host the wedding ceremony, the groom and his family were the guests arriving. Everything had to be prepared for Aileen’s wedding ceremony while Rudy’s wedding ceremony was being prepared at his bride’s home. We had cousins of different age group, being the youngest set, we had the most fun playing all day with no sense of responsibility.
It was the wedding day, Aileen was dressing in a yellow sari, mom was tying it around her, wraps after wraps and I was sitting on the bed, curious as usual. It was normal for me to be stuck to my parents like glue. My sisters were in and out the room, taking a constant peek at the bride and making sure the guests were comfortable at the same time. There was so much pride in my mom’s expression as she dressed Aileen in her sari and accessories. The bridegroom lived in the house behind us, he was also the cousin of Rudy’s bride. Aileen looked very beautiful. Rudy got dressed in the other room and he looked dashingly handsome as he came out the room, preparing to go to his bride’s home. He was also dressed in an Indian outfit. It was customary to be dressed in the Indian outfit for the ceremony, then change into suits and wedding dresses for the reception that was hosted at the bridegroom’s home. Everything seemed very colorful. There were so many details of everything that had to be done.
We all got dressed in our best clothes, sewn by mom. Our room with the youngest set of siblings was the middle room out of the three rooms on the west side of our home. It had a bunk bed to one side of the room and a queen size bed to the other corner. The room was filled with us, everyone wanting the mirror at the same time. Mom also dressed in sari; her and dad’s room were next to ours; their back window facing the breadfruit and coconut tree in the backyard. She could easily hear our confusion and excitement since the room walls did not go all the way to the top of the ceiling. We were all bubbling with so much happiness, too young to understand the tears we saw in mom’s eyes as she was dressing my sister; the bride.
Dad wore an Indian outfit and so did Leon who had to accompany Rudy, the bridegroom. He looked cute in his little Indian clothes, feeling very proud and important. Rudy left in a decorated car along with Leon and a few of my siblings and relatives as visitors to the bride’s home, honking their horns as they left, the street filled with curious onlookers and all our guests. Everyone wanting a peek at the handsome bridegroom in his traditional Indian wedding clothes and turban that had strings of flowers hanging down, covering his face. It was time now to anxiously await Aileen’s bridegroom. The pandit arrived and everything was being prepared for Aileen’s wedding ceremony. The honking of horns announced the arrival of the bridegroom.
We all rushed out to welcome him and his guests. Mom blessed him as he entered. The fire lit on camphor in a brass pan, decorated with a few hibiscus flowers, she circled it around his face a few times then made bigger circles blessing his whole body and saying a prayer silently as she did. That always touched my heart and made me very emotional whenever she blessed me, at her regular yearly religious functions. There was always an intense look of deep love in her expression when she blessed you with the heat of the fire intensifying her love. After they were married under the Hindu rites, Aileen went into my parents’ room to change into her wedding dress while her husband went into another room to dress into his suit.
Aileen came out of the room, beautiful as a princess in her wedding dress, accompanied by her husband who had to enter the room to escort his wife. He was handsomely dressed in his suit and looked very happy and proud. The cameras started clicking, we showed off our fancy outfits, posing for pictures. It was time for cake sticking, speeches and lunch then off to her husband’s home for the reception. The washing up of dishes and cleaning was done quickly then it was time to await Rudy and his bride. At Dolly; his bride’s home, Rudy would have dressed in his suit also after the ceremony finished. The honking of horns announced their arrival and we all ran out to welcome Rudy and his wife Dolly. The street again lined with tons of curious people. Dolly looked very beautiful in her wedding dress and Rudy, very handsome in his suit. It was time now for their reception at our home. Sticking of cake, speeches, food, drinks, music and dancing until the break of dawn
As the years went by, Aileen got three sons and Rudy got one son. We were all very excited for babies in the family again. I remember always sitting beside mom when she would bath her newborn grandson and oil his little body every morning before the bath, stretching and massaging his limbs. The lower section of our home was divided into three. On one half, Aileen lived with her family and the other half, was divided into two, our kitchen one section, Rudy and his family lived in the other section. I loved my nephews so very much and was very excited to be around them. Mom could no longer find me at home any longer. Every free moment I had, I was busy helping to shower and dress them up in different outfits, mix their milk to feed them and play games. They always enjoyed me reading stores and running around in the yard playing tag. I was just about ten years older than my oldest nephew and realized, with little children, I did not feel overwhelmed but felt a sense of responsibility and pride.
My parents made life seem easy, we were protected from knowing their struggles to make ends meet for such a big family. Guess life is supposed to be easy for all youths, or so I thought until I got older. We were all sheltered under the golden branch of health and happiness. Mom made sure she cooked vegetables Mondays through Fridays, Saturdays were always fish curry and Sundays were always cook-up-rice (rice cooked with beans, meat, spinach and all desired spices) and baked chicken. We were always excited for Sundays since that was our favorite meal and it was known as “a lazy day.” Eat, nap and relax, then in the afternoons we would all ride our bicycle to the seawalls with our friends, or go for picnics in the park.
The lumber company dad worked for had a wharf where the pontoon would dock to offload lumber. Occasionally, we would go fishing. The total excitement and noise we made always kept the fishes away from our rod and if by chance, we felt a little tug, we would scream with joy so loudly, our hearts would seem to leap right out of our body. After fishing, we would ride on the trolley; that was on tracks to fetch the lumber, up and down with such speed, heedless of danger, until we felt satisfied. Excitedly, we would decide it was time to head up to dad’s office. He had a little fridge stocked with different types of juices and he would happily tell us to take whatever we wanted. I remember how fascinated we always felt pulling open his desk drawers. The top drawer had additional pencils that was perfectly sharpened and placed in a straight line with red, black and blue ink pens, staples and other stationaries that was so interesting to children our age. The second drawer was packed with additional ledgers that made no sense to us.
We all had two outfit of school uniforms, in order to attend school with clean clothes and our school sneakers had to be washed and scrubbed every Saturday. We did not have a washing machine. Mom would sort the clothes, white and colored clothes separate, then soak them in different tubs of bubbly soap water. A small amount of bleach was added to the separate tub for white clothes and a little blue cube had to be added to the water for rinsing the white clothes. That was her belief for the white clothes to remain stark white. She always had an order for hanging the clothes on the line to dry. They all had to be turned inside out as not to fade in the sunlight, then all the pants had to be hanged first, followed by dresses, skirts, shirts then t-shirts. She always took pride in the neatness of hanging her clothes. I was always beside her giving her the clothes pins since my hands were too tiny to wring the clothes. We had wooden clothes pins thankfully, or it may have had to be used in color coded sequence.
It was time for me to write the examination to transfer to a secondary school. I was very nervous since examinations always made me panic, but excited at the same time. I passed, gaining the amount of marks needed to go to the same school as Lolly. I was jumping for joy, excited for the beginning of the school term, to attend my new school and wear my green pleated skirt and white shirt uniform. Throughout nursery and primary, our uniform was blue armless dresses worn over white shirt. I often admired Lolly in her secondary school uniform and couldn’t wait to start wearing mine. The day before school started, I papered all my text and exercise books, made sure my pencils were sharpened properly, blue and black ink pens packed and my school uniform neatly pressed, especially the pleats of the skirt. It was going to be the first time writing with pens since we were only allowed to write with pencils in primary school.
Guess I did not crave much school friends, since my home was filled with all my siblings and nephews. I had one best friend who had a very sad life. Her parents got divorced and she lived with her mom, stepdad and stepsisters. Almost every day she would come to school crying, some days she came without breakfast and I took her home with me for lunch. She loved the taste of mom’s delicious meals. Even though there were so many of us, mom always welcomed my friend and made her feel comfortable. She always made sure whenever she cooked, there was always extra to offer anyone who visited. My friend always told me how lucky I was to have such a big loving family. Guess I took it for granted because I did not have the experience of struggles and hatred in my family. My heart always ached when I heard what she was experiencing and felt helpless not knowing how I could make life meaningful to her. I contributed to her happiness by sharing my family, was so priceless seeing her face light up and hearing her laughter.
I was approaching thirteen years of age and still tiny, shy and sheltered from the outside world. My elder sister SiSi, who was my role model, beautiful, elegant, sensitive and so humble, talked to me about maturity. To be more aware of the changes in my body and how to protect it. I remembered looking up at my sister silently and thinking, “what boy in his right mind would look my way, when the school was filled with beautiful girls, not skinny like me?” She was migrating and she needed to teach me how to be proud of who I am. Holland was in another continent, I felt sad and crushed but I kept my feelings inside, everyone had to follow their dreams. It was time to decide what stream I would choose in school, Business or Science. In our days in Guyana, those were the only two streams offered. I loved children so much and thought of Science, leading to becoming a Pediatrician, but could not stand to see anyone in pain or the sight of blood. I chose Business and it was time to say my goodbyes to the friends that chose Science.
The new term began, it was hard work preparing ourselves for our Grade 11 Final Exams. The Examination that determined the whole future of a child, all that we studied for from the very first day of school. English Language, Principles of Business and Office Practice were my favorite subjects. Shorthand and Typewriting I found relaxing and enjoyed, Mathematics being my worst. I was never good at Mathematics no matter how hard I tried. I took extra classes on Saturdays just to understand, but I always found it to be difficult. I remember looking up at my Mathematics teacher and thinking he was very intelligent. Little did I know that later in life I would give birth to a son that would be a Mathematics genius. I loved Accounts but was only able to do it for one term before the teacher got sick and left the school. Because my dad was an accountant, I often admired the neatness of his balance sheet and all other transactions, the way it was drawn up using different color pens to highlight and underline.
The years were flying by, no more the child who sat with dad for him to read her stories, but a teenager who had a craving and passion to read. I aimed at completing all the series of different adventure novels. Whenever mom thought I was reading too much, I went under the bed to finish my books. My dad loved to read, that was his way of relaxing in the afternoons. He would lay outside in the hammock with a novel; after he came home from work, reading while mom was in the kitchen preparing hot dinner. She would always have everything prepared and lit the stove as soon as we came home so that dinner would be hot and fresh. The hammock was hung under the shed in the back yard just outside the kitchen door. After dinner, mom and dad would always sit on one of the long benches he had built along the three sides of our wooden bridge at the front of our home, where dad also planted different types of flowers to beautify the front of our home. Guess that was their alone time to finally have peace and quiet.
Every summer, dad would take us to the countryside. Myself, my little brother Leon, who was the baby of our family and my sister Lolly, two years older than I; shy and very beautiful. Those were my best days. We travelled by boat across the Essequibo River, the largest river in our country. The speed boats were narrow, the sides not too high causing the water to keep lapping into the boat whenever the waves were big. The boatmen would constantly bale it out with plastic containers. We were so young and never felt afraid, just pure excitement whenever a big wave approached. In those days they never had life jackets in the boats and yet we never thought of anything other than enjoying the boat ride. I loved the countryside where everyone lived like one big family. Everyone respected my dad and wherever we went we heard, “those are Mr. Jokhu’s children.” Everyone would fuss over us and grab a chicken or duck from their backyard to throw on their fireside to cook as soon as we arrived.
It seemed that every home we visited, we had to eat and drink something as not to offend them. We were always treated like royalties and we couldn’t understand why since our dad was so humble and simple. Our hearts would always swell with pride. Dad would take money to give to the poor homes we visited, along with a bag of fruits, but no matter how poor the family was, they never wanted to accept money from dad, they were very content. I guess that part of my childhood made a big impact on my life. There were people who had homes the size of someone’s kitchen, yet happiness the size of the whole universe; it makes you ponder on the conception of priorities. Their children’s happiness meant the world to them and they were happy to have the fresh vegetables they picked and fishes they caught as their constant meals and save for their children’s education for a better future.
We would always be excited to explore the countryside. We were taught how to feed the chickens and ducks; this made us feel very special, throwing the feed and watch them coming out from all their hidden places, running and flying towards us. We also learnt to take the sheep and goats to graze in the pasture and how to milk the cows. To reap vegetables and fruits and to swim in the canals, to cook on the stones while all the trees around rustle and the birds chirping so loudly. The sky always seemed to be filled with a thousand stars at night when we all sat around in circles listening to stories of old times, sometimes scary ones that made us afraid to climb up unto our beds and would make us pull the covers right up to our necks.
Early mornings were always the best for me. Awakening early in the morning to see the heavy fog over the rice fields, hearing the chirping of the birds, the mooing of the cows and smelling the breakfast that was being prepared on the fireside. The happy chattering of all the neighbors as they greeted each other and the sounds of the waves lapping from the sea that was just over the seawalls across the street. Excited for yet another beautiful day with so much to be done. Everyone lived a simple life, no luxury, yet so contented. Most of our countryside vacations, we spent with dad’s little brother and his family. All his children were much older than us, the ages as my elder sisters and brothers but that made no difference, they “bent over backwards,” as the saying goes, to make us as comfortable and happy as possible. Mom always stayed back at home to take care of the family since she grew up in the countryside and did not feel like she was missing out on anything.
My dad would always say “we will give our children the best days possible with great memories before their marriage and their own responsibilities began, so they will always have the solid background of pure happiness and fulfillment to face life forward.” He was an amazing father, a role model to look up to. Taught us never to hang our hat where we cannot reach; meaning to always live within our means and that luxury came with a price. We were taught that some people lost their self-esteem for money and instead of controlling wealth, it controlled them. The more wealth they got the more they wanted. “You cannot buy happiness, it is better to live in a little hut and be happy than a palace, surrounded by walls of deception, lies, unfaithfulness and tears of unhappiness.” That was an advice he gave to each one of his eleven children.
My mom was a strong woman. Loving but stern when she had to be. She made sure our meals were hot and ready when we got home and our clothes clean. She combed our hair, rubbed our feet and sewed new outfits for us whenever we had somewhere fancy to go. She was never a person to show her emotions openly but in her own way, she showed us all the love possible. I loved accompanying mom to the market even though I could fetch so little and enjoyed hearing her bargain for better prices. All the eggs and vegetables had to be washed and set to dry before going into the fridge. She taught us cleanliness, to always make our beds as soon as we awoke, wash our dishes after eating and to make sure that there were no dishes in the sink at night. The stove had to be cleaned daily and kitchen swept. Every Sunday we took turns at the chores. My elder sisters would sweep, mop and iron clothes. It would always be my chore to sweep the yard clean from the hibiscus leaves that fell daily and wash my sneakers and school uniforms every Saturday.
Once monthly our wooden bridge had to be scrubbed with a handmade aluminum scrapper by me and my sister Lolly until the wood shone brightly. This I enjoyed, seeing the difference as you scrub and throw water on the wood was priceless. I felt so much pride to see it sparkle in the sunlight and the pleased look on my mom’s face. I enjoyed every chore that entailed dealing with water, washing my clothes, sneakers and especially dishes. I was always at the sink, never liked cleaning the pots though. I always felt closer to my sister Lolly. Looking back, I realized she was very reserved, quiet and simple. We attended the same school and I was always so proud of how beautiful and kind she was. All my school friends knew her, I was always talking about her and the countryside trips we took together. She met her husband at an early age and spent a lot of time with his family. They loved her right away and accepted her as a daughter and sister.
My sister Jay, beautiful with long thick curly hair was two years older than Lolly. She took part in every activity possible during her school days. Indian classical dancing, modelling of saris and acted in a few skits. Once she even picketed on the streets for what she believed in. She had chosen the Science stream which was predominantly boys and had one best friend whom we were all close to. We would sometimes visit her home and she would visit us. Jay also met her husband at an early age; a house party we hosted. He was invited by mom’s brother who knew him from work. Uncle Harry invited two of his friends, one fell in love with Jay and the other, fell in love with her best friend. Both couples got married each having a son the same age. Sadly, Jay’s marriage did not last and Jevon my nephew, grew up with us from an early age. We pampered him with so much love, Jay did not have to worry about babysitters when she went to work. She was always closer to Sheena who was two years older than her.
Sheena was also very beautiful. Just like Jay, she had tiny waist and big hips. Her hair was long also but extremely thick and straight. She was also in the Science stream and most of her friends were boys from her classroom. She was fashionable and we all tried to sneak into her outfits one time or another. Like me, she loved to read and never stopped studying. Whenever I woke up, she was always at the table studying for an exam, very focused and determined in what she wanted from her life. I often admired her for the dedication she showed in whatever she did and wished I could study like her. I was preparing for my Grade 11 examinations and she would awake me to study with her just after mid-night but even though I drank coffee, I always fell asleep before reaching the fourth page. The next day I would promise myself to study after dinner but always ended up sitting on the benches and chatting with mom and dad. I was very attached to my parents and missed them when I was at school. Studying was always a problem for me, guess my school texts were not as exciting as my novels.
It was the beginning of my grade 11 examinations and I was totally nervous. I kept telling myself, I should have studied more but it was too late to do anything about that. I woke up extremely early and picked my hibiscus flowers to pray. Taking longer than I usually did, I prayed very hard to be successful. I so badly wanted my parents to be proud of me and I did not want the money they paid for every subject to be wasted if I failed. The week went by and I wrote all six subjects, feeling a great sense of relief after completing the last one. The week seemed long and I felt drained from being a nervous wreck the entire time.
My friends were all excited that examinations were finally over and planned movies and picnics, I only wanted to read my books; that held more fascination and excitement . Guess I was different from them, I missed being home with mom in the kitchen, helping her with the dishes or with dad in the backyard, squeezing into the hammock and smelling his Brute or Old Spice cologne he always used afer his shower. I loved to feel the coldness of his arms when I snuggled up to him; thankfully I was still petite, it was not too much weight for the hammock. I had borrowed books from the National Library and was determined to read them all quickly. It was time to sit back, relax and enjoy until the day I was dreading approached.
At the sound of the telephone ringing, I ran into the kitchen, dropping the broom I had been sweeping the yard with. It was my school friend informing me that our grade 11 examinations results were just released from the Ministry of Education. I quietly replaced the telephone, happy no one else heard it ring. There was no way I was prepared to collect my results; my heart was beating at such a fast rate and the palms of my hands dripping wet. The total satisfaction of keeping it all a secret was cut short when mom turned the radio on as she ususally did. It was being announced over and over. Slowly getting dressed, I walked the few blocks; every step seemed like I had a big block of rock tied to my feet. Timidly, I entered the office; most of the students had collected their results, the hair on my arms stood straight, feeling like I would faint at any moment. Slowly opening the stub, I stared in amazement; I had passed all six subjects, with a distinction in English Language
As the years went by, Rob went to the United States to attend Howard University, Sandy got married and moved to the United States, Rudy with his family, moved to Canada, Aileen with her family, moved to Venezuela. and Pete moved to Canada to get married to his childhood sweetheart, Geets; shy and very beautiful with long thick hair. There were just five of us now with mom and dad. I was approaching my eighteenth birthday and started applying for jobs. The legal age for working in my country Guyana. My parents were planning a trip to Venezuela for me, as a gift for being successful at my exams, along with the pair of gold earrings, chain and ring they presented me. Dad always encouraged our success by giving us gifts or taking us to dinner whenever we excelled at school.
After writing several applications, an Insurance Company called me in for an interview; it was a temporary position to fill in for the General Manager’s secretary who was due for vacation. Being very anxious and excited to start working, I gave up my trip to Venezuela and started rummaging through Sheena’s closet for working outfits to borrow. It was the first day of work, dressed in Sheena’s beautiful knee length brown skirt, beige top that was neatly tucked into the waist with a pair of nude color shoes to compliment my outfit, I mounted my bicycle. It was time to face the outside world. The secretary trained me to perform all her duties one day before she left, then it was my responsibility to prove I could be efficient. I took my minutes at the meetings; writing shorthand at a speed, did perfect typing of documents and filing, until the morning when all the papers on my desk went flying through the window. The cleaner had left the window open. Guess that was my first test of overcoming challenges in a career world.
Before the period for the temporary job was up, I was called for an interview by another Insurance Company. This second interview, I was calm and confident, passing the English and Mathematics test with flying colors. I was hired instantly as temporary staff for the first three months, as was the required rule of the company. It was a bright sunny morning when I rode my bicycle to work that first morning of my second job. Parking it at the back of the Insurance building and chaining it to the metal of the bicycle stand, I headed for the front and went through the doors, greeting the security guard. There were a few staff waiting on the elevator, all elegantly dressed in their working uniforms, welcoming me on my first day of work. Exiting the elevator on the second door and greeting the receptionist, I went towards the Personnel Department, greeting all the other staff that were organizing their desks to begin working; I had to pass the Accounts and Customer Service section to reach the Personnel Department. The secretary of the Personnel Manager then escorted me to the Underwriting Department where my desk was.
After my three months was up, I was hired permanently and given the pattern of my work uniforms to have it sewn by a seamstress. The excitement began, buying shoes and accessories, new stockings and handbag to match my outfits. The colors were baby pink, blue and yellow; I bought the most beautiful baby pink shoes I ever saw. Wearing heals, stockings and make-up was still a fascination to me since we were never allowed to, before we started working. I felt confident, strong and independent, earning my own money. Like dad, I rode my bicycle to and from work every day, mastering the art of riding with high heels.
Everyone at home had to contribute from their salary; it was dad’s way of training us responsibilities and how to manage our money. It is amazing, the way everything you learn from childhood, guides you throughout life. Dad was a Director of a Lumber Company and had lots of benefits. He was allowed a Company vehicle but preferred to ride his bicycle to and from work daily. Privilege of taking us out to restaurants, yet we had to earn that by performing to the best of our abilities to prove we deserved it. He was even allowed free taxi, but we only used it once per week to go to and from the movies. Telephone allowance but called my siblings overseas once per month. He always taught us never to abuse the privilege. I remember my older brothers always wanted him to get a car so they could drive but he never did. Everything my dad stood for and believed in made me so proud of him.
I was enjoying my job, a clerk in the Underwriting Department; the department where all applications for Life Insurance had to be lodged along with the client’s medical to determine if the application should be approved or rejected. We were a staff of five, including the Supervisor. It also had the office of the Assistant Manager attached, where we would use as lunchroom and a photo studio; taking pictures at his desk as though we were executives, whenever he was out of the country. We were like a little family in the Company. Everyone brought whatever delicious desserts they made for the weekend and Monday would always be the day with the best lunches and desserts. Fridays we would walk around the town, since my job was downtown and have lunch at one of the buffet restaurants. The Supervisor and two of the other staff would always stay back since we could not all leave the department at the same time. The Assistant Manager and Supervisor were very simple, humble and pleasant. The both believed in treating staff with kindness allowing them to perform at the best of their abilities.
I began writing insurance exams. There were ten parts, every part more difficult than the previous with big thick books to study. I still did not like studying but was determined to make my parents proud of me. I successfully completed parts one, two and three. The company paid the expenses for the examinations and I would only have had to refund them if I was not successful. In our days there were no computers at the company, everything had to done manually. I dedicated myself to my job and did everything to the best of my ability, always getting the approval of the supervisor. In 1988, the Insurance Company bought computers and training had to begin for all staff. I did a computer course privately and gained all grades A.
My sister Lolly was planning her wedding and we were all very excited. The seamstress was sewing her wedding dress and we were planning a bridal shower. In those days we did not know of any games to be played at bridal shower, all we focused on was drenching her with water; that was pure fun. After finishing her Grade 11 exams and doing extra secretarial classes privately, she had opened her very own secretarial school. Starting with just one student, she diligently got dressed professionally every day to teach her student. After a while, her classroom extended from one to so many students, she had to teach morning, afternoon and evening classes. I was always so very proud of her determination to be successful at whatever she did and to do it to the best of her ability.
Her wedding was kept very simple with just family, her students and close friends; it was kept at the beautiful cottage where dad’s four children lived before migrating. Her wedding dress was sewn by a seamstress; satin white material with pearl beads. She was a very happy beautiful shy bride on her wedding day. My sister was getting married, everyone seemed to be moving away one after another, I felt sad but at the same time, happy for her. She was beginning her new chapter in life with the person she loved. After the wedding, the bride, her students and I, went on a horse cart ride around the town. Her wedding dress flowing in the wind and we were laughing and singing songs happily. Her students felt like part of our family since her classroom was at the lower level of our home. They all loved mom and complemented her on the daily tantalizing and delicious scent of the meals she cooked. Our kitchen was right next to the classroom which was in the section where Rudy and his family lived before migrating and the walls did not go all the way up to the ceiling.
The house seemed empty without Lolly, after marriage she had moved to the cottage where she got married and opened her classroom at the lower level, which was not enclosed by walls and had four big concrete posts at the corners of the house and two at the middle. The ceiling was not very high and showed the big beams of wood from the upper level floor. Her classroom was more spacious and comfortable to fit all her long wooden benches and blackboard. Her students loved her very much because she was such a patient and kind teacher and gave them all individual attention; they were not bothered, having to travel farther distance to attend her school. Even though I had the bed all to myself to sleep, I missed her a lot, missed hearing her voice when I came in through the door from work, teaching her students.
As the months went by, I kept myself busy working, helping mom and reading my books. I was enjoying my job and was in the committee for decorating the Insurance Company when it was the Christmas season, choosing venues for the Christmas staff parties and deciding on the patterns and colors of new uniforms yearly. I was learning the duties of the other staff in our department and felt comfortable, confident and efficient. We were like one big family; the entire Insurance Company; everyone knew each other. I felt lucky to be offerred a job in the Underwriting Department. I was happy.
Lolly announced her pregnancy and we were all very happy to have more babies in the family again. Jevon was just about three years old and had already started Nursery School. He always looked so adorable in his school uniform, clutching his lunch kit as he sat on his mom’s scooter every morning for school. Just as dad had read stories for us when we were younger, it was Jevon’s time to enjoy dad’s stories and all the pampering from us. He was a very quiet and well mannerly child and we all loved him very much.
Met my husband Ned in 1988, we were both very young. He was twenty and I was twenty-one years old. He was tall, slim and very handsome. I think what attracted me to him was his shy and humble personality. He was not vain like most of the other boys. He was the cousin of Lolly’s husband and just out of a relationship that meant a lot to him. I met him whenever he brought my brother-in-law over and we began talking. We started as just friends chatting, then felt attraction towards each other. After dating for six months, he brought home his mom and asked my parents for my hands in marriage. I remember how surprised my sisters and parents were.
The weeks that followed were very beautiful. We went for daily drives, picnics, outings at the beach with my family and my favorite of all, packing the car with tons of goodies and heading to the drive-in movies. My first gift from Ned was a gold color watch for my birthday. Because we were taught not to collect gifts from male friends, I felt very uncomfortable and had lots of questions to ask before accepting. Three weeks later, I was given the Pink Panter puppet. That meant the world to me, so much more than a gold color watch. I hugged Pink Panter to sleep every night, he was so very cute.
The day came for me to meet Ned’s dad and I was very afraid since he always seemed very serious. Mom sewed a baby pink floral skirt suit for the occasion. His dad could not believe his elder son wanted to get married at the tender age of twenty. His second child, Ned’s brother, was one year younger. After meeting his parents, it was time to choose a date, print invitations and plan a wedding. My parents needed time to budget their expenses in order to host another wedding and buy the wedding ring. I was being teased about the promise I always made to my parents when I was a little girl, of never getting married and to live with them forever, taking very good care of them both.
My dad spoke to Ned about responsibilities and asked the usual questions any parents would, about his job and where we would live. Looking back now, I realized that we got married for the wrong reasons. He was in love with who I was, a person that would be the perfect wife and mother for our children and I was overwhelmed that someone would love and want to marry me. Because I was so skinny, I had no self-esteem or ever thought that one day someone would fall in love with me. My mother-in-law was having my wedding dress sewn, on the day of fitting, Ned dropped me of and returned an hour later. After entering his car, we drove for about two blocks when I felt a hard sting on my face, confused and disoriented, I stared across at him. That was the first sign of physical abuse and I was too young and in love to realize it. I quietly accepted his apology and believed I was lucky he loved me so much to be jealous because boys were standing on the seamstress’s bridge.
It was Saturday, January 21st, 1989; the day before my wedding. The pandit (Hindu priest) was expected to perform a ceremony later that day, to bless me before marriage and turmeric had to be rubbed on my skin. I wandered into our kitchen and saw my grandmother and aunt were already there. I wanted a very small wedding; mom did not invite all the relatives from the countryside, only her mom and her brother with his wife; who lived a few corners away came over to assist. Jay was abroad on a business trip in Washington D.C. and Lolly was busy with her very cute baby; her daughter Alleya, five months old. Everyone was already busy in the kitchen, peeling garlic and onions, cutting different types of vegetables and making sweet desserts. I felt very nervous since I knew Ned did not want me to take part in the Hindu ceremony or the rubbing of the turmeric on my skin and I was so afraid to let mom know. After showering and a quick breakfast, I left with Ned.
Mom was so busy in the kitchen and dad in the backyard, they felt it was fine for me visiting my in-laws while they got everything prepared. We arrived and played board games all day with Ned’s brother and his childhod friend. Time went by and I wanted to return but Ned was determined not to have me take part in any function done by the pandit. Looking back now I realized how much I must have hurt my parents even though they hid their emotions when I returned later that evening. The pandit came and blessed our home and said a special prayer for my health and happiness and mom explained that the bridegroom was of another religion. As a parent now, I reflect on these moments and realize that not only were my parents loving, they protected our emotions in whatever way possible; always placing our happiness first.
As my eyelids flicker open, I felt a sense of a whole new beginning. Being so nervous about having rain on my wedding day, I was extremely happy to see the bright blue sky and the sunlight that flicker on the mosquito net that covered my bed. I must have overslept going into bed wee hours of the morning. It was my wedding day and I was totally excited and happy. My parents did not feel overwhelmed since my wedding was going to be very small with just immediate family and my friends from the Underwriting Department. The wedding ceremony was being kept at Ned’s home, since my family were not Muslims and my guests were invited to the small reception to be kept at our home in the afternoon. It was not an entire week of celebration like Rudy and Aileen’s wedding.
After a single slice of toast with butter and a cup of tea, I showered and got dressed in the simple white silk shalwar (elastic waist long pants with straight knee length top, long sleeves and two slits at the sides) that my in-laws had their seamstress sewn with matching hijab. Looking at myself in the mirror, I could not believe I was a bride. Dabbing a bit of powder on and a touch of lip gloss, I took a second glance at myself. I had to be the simplest bride ever, I had no one in the room fussing over me or having to do my make-up. I could not wait to change into my wedding dress after the ceremony. It was the first time wearing the hijab and I was not sure if it was tied properly, spraying a touch of perfume, I was ready for my bridegroom’s arrival.
Stepping out of the room I saw dad humbly dressed in his white pants and white shirt, tucking Jevons’s white shirt neatly into his little black pants; he was five years old already and so very cute. Dad, Lolly with her family, Jevon and my uncle’s wife were accompanying me to the bridegroom’s home. Sheena and mom were staying back to prepare for the reception and to welcome the guests. Mom was dressed in a red and black pattern knee length dress. Her hair was cut short in what we called ‘boy cut.’ I never saw my mom with long hair, it was always kept short, the longest being up to her shoulders with soft natural curls. She was looking beautiful as always, her waist still tiny with big hips.
Ned always had a special way he honked his horn whenever he visited. Smiling happily, I knew that my bridegroom had arrived. He was also dressed in his simple Islamic clothes and looked very happy as he came up the stairs to collect his bride. Ned was very private and did not want honking of horns to cause a street full of curious onlookers. Arriving at Ned’s home, I was welcome by his mom and their guests; who were shocked to see the bride dressed as though she was in her silk pajamas. Smiling at everyone, I was then escorted to a bedroom while Ned, my dad and the rest of the family with their guests, stayed in the living room, where sheets were spread out on the ground for the Islamic wedding ceremony to begin.
Sitting on the floor, I looked up at my mother-in-law, smiling nervously, wishing my mom was there also. Shortly after, a group of Imams entered and I was asked questions at different intervals, after someone was chosen to be my father and a Muslim name given to me. For the first time on my wedding day, I felt sad and fought hard to hold back my tears. I was unaware that my dad could not hand me over in marriage because he was not a Muslim. My parents meant the world to me, my dad; very sensitive and humble. Yet I was allowing a total stranger to be my dad on my special day.
The wedding ceremony came to an end and guests began eating. Ned sneaked into the room to put the ring on my finger. Everything was done very differently, no romantic exchange of rings or vows. After the group of Imams left, my aunt and Lolly came into the room to help me into my simple wedding dress that was made of white satin and lace with a few pearl beads. Ned came upstairs to collect his wife. For the first time, I felt like a bride as we slowly stepped down the stairs. All the guests were standing at the bottom floor, anxious for a glimpse of the bride in her wedding dress and the groom in his black pants and grey shirt. After the sticking of the cake and posing for pictures, Ned changed into a white shirt and we left in the car for my parents’ home. Ned driving with me beside him in the front seat.
Approaching the Street before my parents’ home, Ned started honking his horn, feeling proud to have his wife beside him. The two cars that followed with my family, Ned’s brother and friends were also honking. Neighbours rushed out to see the bride and groom. Cameras started clicking and mom came out, tears in her eyes, smiling and welcoming her daughter and her husband. Looking past my mom I saw all my friends had arrived, everyone happy to finally see the bride and groom. After the sticking of the cake, a few speeches and receiving of gifts, soul music were played while everyone ate and chatted happily. It was just as we had wanted, a small and happy wedding.
At the time I could not understand the tears in my parents’ eyes for I was so excited to marry and live happily ever after with the one I loved. Little did I know that marriages were not fairy tales but a life built on strong love, trust, understanding, communication and the willingness to reach each other halfway. Life became different. I had to adjust to living with Ned’s parents and brother and adapt to be a wife, daughter-in-law and sister-in-law. After two months of marriage, I had to give up my job at the Insurance Company and dress in cotton shalwar and hijabs sewn by the seamstress. Two suitcases filled with all my pretty long dresses and skirt suits which mom had recently sewn, packed for her to share to my cousins that lived in the countryside. I did everything to make my husband happy, even changing my first name legally. We were living with his parents, but I insisted on cooking separately, determined to be independent and responsible as a married couple.
Some days I enjoyed very much. Going to the market and buying vegetables for the week then coming home and trying to cook; both of us not having much experience at cooking. Taking our meals to our room and watching a great movie and going for drives on Sundays. Other days, I sat by myself in my room crying for my parents. Missing the taste of mom’s meal, the happy chattering of my siblings and the independence of working. I felt very alone and sad. Life was not as I had expected. Ned spent most of the days with his friends, who called out to him whenever they passed by. Saturdays were his club nights where he would return wee hours of the morning. Maybe because we were married at such a young age, he never gave up his bachelor life.
It was a bright sunny morning and I felt a craving for peanut butter in tennis rolls. Relaxing on the iron chairs that was at the front of the yard, I indulged in my delicious breakfast, admiring the different colors of hibiscus flowers and roses that lined the entire strip of plant pot and watching the few birds that were chirping away happily on the limb of the big mango tree that was shading a section of the yard. Halfway through my meal, I felt it all coming up at such a speed, I quickly rushed towards the drain that was at the side of the yard. Drinking water, trying to figure out what was happening, that also came right out back. Being so young and inexperienced and thinking I caught a virus, I went to see the doctor, only to be told that I was pregnant. It was the happiest day of my life.
I remember feeling a sense of importance, responsibility, maturity and nervousness; it all flashed through my mind, one after another. Life seemed instantly different, I had our baby in my womb, no more was it about me, but all about our precious baby. My mother-in-law hated me, no matter how hard I tried to please her. She checked constantly what I was cooking for her son and always told me I was cooking poor man’s food for him. I had to deal with pregnancy, crying for my parents, pleasing my mother-in-law and never having my husband home. It was a rude awakening, but I was pregnant and determined that my child would have his parents together and have a happy life.
I started going to clinics, drinking my vitamins along with lots of coconut water and fruits since that was all that stayed down. As the months passed, I no longer vomited and was again able to enjoy my simple and healthy meals of delicious vegetables and fish. I always loved my vegetables and was never a person that loved having lots of meat. Ned started fussing over me, making sure I ate everything that was nutritious for the baby. Mangoes were in season and I ate them every day, sometimes four or five mangoes each day. I was still a very petite person and my pregnancy was hardly noticeable.
Everyone had a different story to tell and all seemed centered on the most intense feeling of labor pain, the worst pain anyone can ever imagine. One day Ned’s childhood friend and his wife came over to visit, she had just given birth to her third child and I was due in a few days. Because I was very skinny, I was told that it would be impossible for me to have a normal delivery and I would have to be given drips and blood. Being a mom for the first time, that was the last thing I needed to hear. I kept myself strong and positive and whatever difficulties I went through with my marriage, I tried my best to put it behind so that my baby would have a happy life and not come into the world with parents being already divorced.
It was the morning of Saturday, October 14th, 1989. Opened my eyes to a beautiful bright sunny morning. I did not sleep well the night before since the baby moved all night and kept pressing down the bottom of my womb. Had my breakfast and decided to rest a little more when I continued to feel the pressing weight, only now accompanied by pain. Being inexperienced and not knowing what to expect of labor pain, I asked an aunt that was visiting my in-laws, she confirmed I was beginning to have contractions. I panicked thinking I would give birth right away and sent to call my husband who was exercising with his brother at the side of the yard. He came in all flustered and confused, it was the first experience for both of us. We went to the hospital immediately.
I gave birth to my healthy and beautiful baby boy. I remember checking his toes and fingers and being so thankful to God for giving me such a perfect baby. Instantly I forgot the long hours of labor pain. My heart filled with so much love, I must have cried throughout the night. Instantly I felt an inner strength as never before. We were responsible for my son’s future and everything had to be great. It was no longer going to be how I felt, it would be all about my son. After two days in the hospital, it was time to take our son home. We stopped first at the masjid, for the Imam to say a special prayer in his ear; as was customary for every Muslim child to have done. As the car turned onto the bridge, I felt a sense of pride, being a mom and in my arms, I was tenderly holding my beautiful baby boy. Everyone flocked around to get a glimpse of the baby, neighbors and friends of my in-laws came over. They all commented on how much he looked like his dad.
As the days passed, I ate all my vegetables, drank my juices, milk, porridge and lots of water to regain my strength and to be able to nurse my baby properly. My routine of sleeping had to be adjusted, taking naps during the day when my baby slept and staying awake all night when he cried for comfort and his milk. It is the natural instincts of a mother to always place her children first. To lose sleep so they can sleep, to stay hungry so that they can be fed and taken care of on time and to stay awake all night, without a wink of sleep if there is any symptom of high temperature. I learnt to appreciate my mom and love her more after Adam my son was born.
Weeks became months, could not believe Adam was already three months old. I sewed cute little pajamas for him and loved dressing him up in his little outfits. Because Guyana was a tropical country and extremely hot during the days, he only wore his diapers and plastic pants over. Pampers were not sold in our country during that time and everyone had to use cloth diapers, washing dozens a day. His head was shaved according to the Islamic beliefs and he looked like a little wrestler, chubby with his little muscles and bald head. He was so very cute, I cuddled and kissed him all day. When he was a newborn, the nurse advised to feed him every two hours, but when he cried, I also felt like crying and nursed him instantly. That was always a magical moment for me. While nursing him, he would cling to my finger staring up at me. It felt like he was seeing deep into my soul tugging at my heart with a silent message of ” protect me mom.” That feeling, only a mother could experience.
Adam was just four months old when I found out I was pregnant. I knew the symptoms and went to the doctor to confirm my pregnancy. I became very weak since I was vomiting every day for the second and third month of pregnancy and had to take care of Adam. I tried my best and never let my in-laws know how hard it was for me, since I did not want to depend on anyone to help and later, hear about it. Ned was never there for me, still busy with friends and going to clubs. I remember keeping it all locked inside for I did not want my family to know what I was experiencing. They were still not allowed to see Adam; after becoming pregnant for Adam, Ned kept me away from my parents thinking they would influence me and my child to become a Hindu. I had a very sad life; I was dying inside but smiled on the outside for my baby.
Adam was such a cute and pleasant baby. At the stage to begin feeding him solids, I was very excited to prepare different crushed vegetables, potatoes, eddoes and eggs for him. I had a special little pot to cook his meals. I was over the nauseous stage of my second pregnancy and was able to take Adam for walks in his stroller, sing songs for him and teach him the names of animals, such as the cats that were in and out of the kitchen, the dogs that we kept at the back of the yard and the horses that passed daily pulling a cart behind. He was approaching ten months old and started holding on and walking from chair to chair. I loved to hear him try to pronounce the animals’ names. He would always get excited whenever he heard the horses pass by and start jumping up and down in his cradle. He skipped the creeping stage and went straight to walking, very determined to do everything quickly.
Life was hard and Ned decided to migrate for the benefit of our children’s future, to work and return. I was afraid to tell my parents since Jay lost her marriage by allowing her husband to migrate while she stayed back with her son. But dad found out two weeks later and insisted I follow my husband. He told me “your marriage could be destroyed but you will never lose your children.” I was seven months pregnant and had to leave my son back home with my in-laws, he was ten months old and my heart broke into so many pieces. I remember going through the door and looking back at him, he was sitting in his feeding chair eating fries and smiling at me. This was a sacrifice I was willing to make for my children but did not wish on any mother.
Crying bucket of tears throughout the journey for my baby I left, I pondered upon life; it’s sacrifices and pain. The responsibility of parenthood; the responsibility of our children’s entire future. I felt my second baby moving in my womb and knew I had to be strong for my two babies, their future was more important than how I felt or the tears that was pouring down so much. I arrived and faced my husband bravely, not allowing him to see a drop of tear in my eyes. I had to be his strength as he would be mine. I had to be happy and healthy for my unborn child. I had to nourish my baby in the best possible way.
The weeks that followed became very difficult. It was not ‘a bed of roses’ as was painted and we were being watched if we ate or drank anything from his aunt and uncle’s fridge. The little money we had, we bought our vegetables, fruits, milk and juice. We had to make sure our unborn child was nourished. Every day, we walked miles looking for jobs for Ned. Finally, he got a job in a warehouse, fetching boxes all day. It was hard, adjusting from a life of luxury to working in a factory. He was determined to do whatever it took for his family and I admired him so very much for that. We began to live happier, there were no friends around and we did everything together. For the first time I was experiencing having my husband all to myself. I felt such happiness; cooking, shopping, buying groceries and doing laundry together. It was like a whole new life for me. But I was still grieving for my son I left back.
It was Sunday, October 28th1990. Both myself and Ned were busy in the kitchen preparing breakfast as usual, when suddenly, I felt liquid running down my legs. I panicked thinking I was having a miscarriage even though I was nine months pregnant. Every day I had waited to feel the pressing weight at the bottom of my womb, the sign I got from my first pregnancy but now I was so scared and confused. There was no pain, only non-stop liquid, which had the worst scent of rotten eggs, flowing down. After taking a bath, I cleaned the floors and we went to the hospital immediately. I was told that my water bag broke and it was time to deliver my second baby.
It was a totally different experience from the first delivery, where the pain was mainly in my back and not as sharp. This pain seemed to rip my entire body apart and it lasted for ten hours. The nurses were frequently checking and informing Ned who was looking very worried and helpless that I was not fully dilated. It seemed like forever and I kept begging the nurse to deliver the baby. I remember throwing the monitor off my tummy every time the nurse placed it to monitor the baby’s heartbeat. Finally, the time came for them to wheel me into the labor room, Ned was called in to be with me. Putting on his gown, he was just about to hold my hands when he almost fainted. He went home and prayed throughout the night.
My beautiful, healthy daughter was born just after midnight. She was like a little princess in the hospital, being the only baby girl in the ward of six babies. All the moms came over to my bed and commented how beautiful she was, saying they would host a reunion twenty years later to see which of their sons she would fall in love with. The ward was very clean and each of us received a hospital gown and disposable slippers. The nursery was decorated with beautiful curtains of cartoon characters and meals with desserts served promptly. I felt sad not having Adam with me to see his sister or all my family, but the friendly moms kept me busy from the moment I opened my eyes that morning. It was getting closer to morning visiting hour and I knew how anxious Ned would be to visit.
As expected, Ned was the first visitor to come through the door with the smiling nurse beside him, telling me how lucky I was since he was the only dad who asked about his wife and not about the gender of the baby as was normal. Looking over to him I saw his face beam with so much happiness; it was the first time he witnessed labor pain and he was very scared I would die. Placing the baby in his arms, I watched him as he admired his little princess, tracing his fingers along her pretty face and kissing her on her forehead. He was so happy to have his daughter and his wife who survived it all. A part of me wanted so bad for him to tell me how proud he was of me, but he was never a person to show appreciation or to say, ‘I love you.’ Maybe I was too sensitive or read too many romantic novels. Everyone was different, I kept my thoughts to myself and smiled happily. We had our beautiful son and daughter and there was no space for idle thoughts.
It was time to be discharged from the hospital, Ned bought a beautiful soft white whole suit with red designs on the bib front style along with matching baby hat to dress the baby and could not resist purchasing a beautiful pair of tiny diamond earrings. He was so excited and fussy over his daughter; it did not cross his mind that we had very little money. Times were hard and we got used baby clothes from a relative along with a basinet. The nurse brought baby Sarah into the ward, all cleaned and dressed in her cute new clothes; looking like a little doll. Wrapping her warmly in a blanket; it was time to take our bundle of joy home. We were renting one room and had to share the kitchen and bathroom with two other women. Our room was very small; with the bed and basinet, there was just a little space left to pack our clothes.
One week later, a surprise function was kept for baby Sarah by one of the relatives and all the guests brought beautiful gifts for her that we so badly needed. We appreciated that kind gesture so very much; a gesture I would never forget. She was already nine days old and I dressed her in the outfit her dad bought to bring her home from the hospital. Everyone was telling us how cute and beautiful she was. On that day, Ned’s cousin told him about a job that was available. After contacting the company that sold video cameras and other electrical supplies, Ned was hired. It was a good job, everyone liked him and treated him with kindness. Finally, life was a little better, we were able to pay all our bills and still have extra to purchase all the groceries we needed.
It was already the beginning of my first winter experience; felt like I was dropped into an ice box, but I was determined to learn how to commute to and from the clinic with Sarah. The buses and trains seemed very confusing since I was so accustomed to my country which had no trains and just a few school buses; only the wealthy owned a car and there were mostly motor bikes and cycles. I was determined to be independent since Ned had to work six days a week; we had gone shopping the previous week for Sarah’s snowsuit and baby sling. Dressing her warmly in her winter clothes and snowsuit and putting on my winter coat I had received from a relative, I strapped her around my torso and headed off one hour earlier for the clinic; asking questions along the way and making notes of bus numbers and how to return.
Successfully learning the route, I returned safely and was very happy to be in my warm room again. The winter did not seem to affect Sarah since she smiled and cooed throughout the journey and at everyone at the clinic. Even though she was strapped safely to my torso, with my arms wrapped around her; her head kept turning from side to side to see everyone who came on and off the bus, or who passed by on the streets. She totally enjoyed our adventure and I got over the feeling of being overwhelmed to travel in such a big city. Sarah was fed and cuddled until she fell asleep. It was time to start dinner, I always prepared fresh hot dinner every day like my mom did and made sure the room and kitchen was clean, Sarah was dressed in pretty clothes and I was showered before Ned returned from work.
As the months went by, we had enough money to pay bills and shop grocery but not enough to save; it was time for me to think about working again; we decided to send Sarah back home to Guyana to be with her brother, since we could not afford Daycare and babysitter fees and did not trust leaving her with strangers at such a young age. One month later, mom came to take her back home. I was very excited to see my mom after so long; she was now seeing her granddaughter for the first time. I noticed her worried expression when she saw the tiny room that was our home; we barely had space to place a small mattress on the floor, next to the bed. As a mom she felt my pain being without Adam for so long and now having to send Sarah back with her, but she was very supportive and trusted we were doing what had to be done for the future of our children.
I held my baby closely that night and did not sleep a wink. I knew mom came for just a few days and soon I would have to part with baby Sarah. She was such a good baby, always smiling and cooing; not knowing she would be parted from her mom. The next day after Ned left for work, I gave Sarah a bath and dressed her in different pretty dresses, taking pictures of her while I propped her up against a pillow; just in time to click the camera before she fell sideways on the bed laughing; she was only six months old and was just learning to sit. For the next few days, I spent quality time with my mom and Sarah, it was already Spring, but the days were still chilly. We did not have a car to take mom places and she was satisfied to spend time home with me instead of on the buses and trains.
It was Sunday, April 14th, 1991. My eyes were swollen since I cried all night and did not sleep. Looking at the clock, I realized it was already 4:00 a.m. Quietly getting out of bed, I made myself a cup of coffee; I had started Sarah on the bottle for when she was ready to leave and was able to start having my coffee every morning again. The flight was later that evening and every moment was precious to spend with my baby. I started cutting up all the vegetables to cook meals for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, since I had an interview with a respectable family the next morning for a live-in domestic position. I blocked my thoughts of the interview and the pain of separating with my baby, as I worked tirelessly in the kitchen for three hours. The different meals were already cooked and placed in containers and breakfast just off the stove, when I heard Sarah cooing and laughing as she normally did whenever she awoke and saw her stuffed toys around her.
After mom awoke from her normal after lunch nap, I served her an early dinner, showered and got dressed, while Ned spent quality time with baby Sarah, hugging and cuddling and feeding her a bottle of milk. All her clothes and toys were packed away in the suitcase with pampers, change of clothing and bottles of milk packed in the baby’s bag. My heart was hurting but I was pretending to be brave as I took Sarah into the room to get her dressed. She looked like a beautiful doll in her soft pink and white jumpsuit. Her hair was now beginning to grow back since we had it shaved off when she was one month old as was customary in Islam. Everyone in Guyana was excited to finally see my beautiful baby but none of my family reached out to comfort me since they were all aware of the way Ned kept me away from them and did not want to intrude or cause problems in my marriage.
The taxi arrived and we were heading to the airport. Sitting at the back seat with Ned, I hugged my baby close to my heart, tracing every detail of her pretty little face as she looked up smiling. Tears were streaming down my cheeks as I sang her our very own song, “hush little baby don’t say a word, mommy’s going to buy you a mockingbird.” Upon arrival at the airport, Ned paid the driver and hurried to take the suitcases out of the trunk, while I came out hugging mom closely; my baby was leaving with her and I needed to feel her strength. Ned came and collected Sarah while I tied the sling around mom’s torso, he was hugging and kissing his baby. Collecting Sarah from him, I cuddled her to my heart then placed her in the sling.
It was time for us to say goodbye to our precious baby. There was so much pain in mom’s eyes as she hugged me saying, “don’t worry Nal, we will take very good care of your children.” We waved until mom cleared through customs and we could not see her any longer, then took a taxi back home. I cried loudly, headless of the taxi driver, Ned cuddled me closely to comfort, while dealing with his own pain. Arriving home, I felt there were no tears left and my eyes were both swollen. It was the hardest sacrifice for any mother to ever make. I had to live years of my life without my son and daughter and depend on pictures to see the different stages in their lives.
The next day, I travelled by train to attend the interview and was hired instantly. The woman who was just about ten years older than I was, commented on how humble, simple and pleasant I was; those being the main factors of what she was looking for in the person who would become a part of her family. Her son was eight years old and daughter, five years old. Her husband worked far away from home five days per week and only returned every Friday night. I was expected to arrive for work early every Monday mornings and return home early Sunday mornings. I knew I had no choice and had to work to make ends meet. On the train heading back home, I thought about my two babies, the thought of living with strangers six days a week and having only one day to spend with Ned. Life was throwing me so many challenges and it seemed like I always had to be brave and strong to “put my best foot forward,” as the saying goes.
Sarah and mom had arrived safely in Guyana and everyone was fussing over her; Adam curiously looking on; he was just eighteen months old and was told that this beautiful baby was his little sister. I felt happy that my two children were together and would begin to build a strong bond. Being a pleasant baby, Sarah easily adjusted to everyone and only cried when she experienced her first power outage the next night. It was already 5:00 a.m. and I jumped out of bed to prepare Ned’s breakfast and start travelling to work. I had to take a bus to the train station then board the train for that area. Thankfully the weather was not as cold and easier for me to travel; I had packed my bag from the night before with clothes and all other essentials for the week. I had never lived with strangers before and I was scared but pretended to be brave since I knew Ned would be worried. I was an adult; a wife and a mother and I had to face life with its challenges.
Arriving early to work, I entered the home through the garage since I was given the password code; everyone seemed to be fast asleep. Heading up to the guest room, I unpacked and changed into clothes that were comfortable to work then went towards the kid’s room to awake them for school. They were both cute and well mannerly children. They woke up smiling, pleased to see me; since I was still petite in size, they felt comfortable as though I was their little friend. Heading down to the kitchen, I packed their lunch bag with sandwich I made, one apple and a small box of juice; writing their names on the disposable lunch bag. It was time to dress the little girl for school and serve them their breakfast; they loved cereal, so that was easy. A quick glance at the clock made me realize I was very efficient; ten minutes after we stood on the front porch, the school bus arrived.
Knowing their mom was still asleep, I quietly closed the door and went back into the children’s room to make their beds and pack away their clothes and toys. It was a large house and I had to plan my chores properly in order to finish before the kids return from school, since I had to take them to the park; which was three corners away, then prepare dinner. I was determined to be efficient. After having a cup of coffee and cleaning the kitchen, I heard the room door open; Mary my boss came into the kitchen smiling and greeted me, “Good Morning.” She was very friendly and kind and made me feel comfortable. After having her coffee, she left home and I had the entire house to myself to clean one section at a time and prep my vegetables and meat to prepare dinner.
Later that evening, Mary commented on the extreme cleanliness of her home and how delicious dinner was. I had to learn their way of cooking, and prepared lamp chops, cream spinach and baked potatoes. It was easier than cooking Caribbean food; I seasoned everything and placed in the oven. I was accustomed to cooking with salt, she had none in her home; I realized, when the dishes were well seasoned, salt was not necessary. It was the first time I tasted lamp chops and that became my absolute favorite. I was no longer nervous and felt comfortable with the family. I had kept myself very busy all day and now that it was time to sleep; all the pain came crashing down. I cried and for the first time I hated life; it felt like I was sentenced to life in prison and there was no escape. Even though the family were wonderful and kind, they were strangers. I had no one and I felt all alone.
The week dragged by and Saturday seemed the longest day; I counted every hour. The children awoke and were bubbling with excitement since their dad had returned late the previous night and they could not wait to see him. After making sure they brushed their teeth properly and washed their face, I dressed Liz, in pretty tights with matching top and socks, while Jake went into his room to get dressed. Preparing their eggs and toast, I filled their little glass with orange juice, then drank a cup of coffee; I had no appetite and often drank coffee for breakfast with cereal and milk for lunch. It was time to tidy the kitchen quickly and take the kids outside to play until their parents awoke. I had planned to start my chores when they all left home; I focused on the children and played different types of outdoor games.
After reading Liz her bedtime story, I hugged her until she fell asleep; it was just six days and she cried out for me whenever she awoke during the night and always wanted me to sleep beside her after the story ended. Quietly getting off her bed, I went into my room and lay awake all night, too excited to sleep. Having to awake at least twice every night when Liz called out, my head began to feel heavy, my body needed a proper night’s sleep. After checking the train schedule, I had decided to take the 5:30 a.m. train home; glancing at the clock I saw it was already 4:25. After a quick change of clothes and washing my face, I hurried down the stairs towards the kitchen; my salary was in an envelope on the counter top. It was two hundred and fifty dollars for the week; to me, it meant so much more.
It was a long walk toward the train station since I could not afford to pay a taxi and no public buses worked in the residential area. Arriving at the train station fifteen minutes early, I sat on the bench and thought of my beautiful babies, Ned and my parents. My parents had sheltered and protected me before marriage, bearing all the burdens of life so that we could have a happy life; that is what I wanted for my babies also and I had to be strong. Because of the extreme pain I felt, I was unaware of the risk I took being alone at the train station so early in the morning. Thankfully it was not a bad area with thugs and robbers. Faintly, the sound of the train could be heard in the far distance, increasing my heartbeat as it got closer and closer. I was going home; but just for one day and had to travel right back the next morning.
Arriving one hour later than was expected; boarding the wrong bus after exiting the train, I saw Ned at the gate worried and confused. In those days, we did not have cell phones and I had called him at work the previous day, letting him know I would board the 5:30 a.m. train. The route was new and there were dozens of buses. I felt drained emotionally, very weak and tired, but smiled at him brightly, reassuring him that I was not harmed by anyone on the journey. Hugging him closely, I wanted to hear him say “Let’s go back home to our babies,” but it was a sacrifice and we both had to be strong for each other. I was happy to be back home but knew it was going to be a very tiring day since we had to get everything done in just one day. I had to ignore how weak I felt and find an inner strength to continue moving one step forward.
We did our laundry; pushing our cart filled with clothes to and from the laundromat which was nine blocks away. It was something we had to get accustomed to since we had a car back home to go where we wanted to. I always loved going to the laundromat and supermarket since in Guyana we never had washers and dryers and our supermarkets had only local products sold in those days. After unpacking the groceries, laundry and cooking lunch, there was just enough time to clean the apartment, cook the five different meals to pack in the fridge for Ned’s lunch and dinner for the week and clean back the kitchen. The hours of the day seemed to fly by faster than normal; I was beginning to panic, there was just enough time to watch a movie before sleeping.
As the weeks went by, I got closer to the kids and felt comfortable at work. I had my chores planned and became extremely efficient. It was summer already and I began to enjoy the park every afternoon with Jake and Liz, sometimes chatting with the Chinese babysitter who usually took two little girls to the park also. Liz became friends with the older sister; who was the same age as her and we were invited a few times to their home by their mom, for a playdate. They lived four corners away in a beautiful ancient looking mansion. I always felt sad watching the children play, often wondering what my babies were doing so far away in another continent. I knew, no matter how hard I worked or kept myself busy during the day, at night, I would bring my knees up to my chin, hugging my legs to my chest and cried until I fell asleep.
One year later, I decided to find myself another job. We had moved into a three bedroom apartment at the upper flat of a house and were very comfortable and I had grown to love Jake and Liz, but my body was suffering from extreme exhaustion working six days a week, with only one day home to clean and cook. After attending three interviews, I choose the job to work with a divorced doctor who lived with her two sons, ages eight and one. I no longer had to take the train, since it was closer to where I lived. It was a five days per week job and I would have the weekend all to myself. I felt sad leaving the children, especially Liz who cried everyday for me and did not want to eat her meals, but I had no choice.
I received the wonderful news that Sheena was getting married; she was the third child from mom’s previous marriage and two years older than Jay. She had gotten engaged in Guyana and was flying up to Canada to get married. Everyone was very excited and happy but only mom could have attended the wedding since everyone else was being sponsored and could not visit until they got through permanently. I was also unable to attend since I had to work, but she understood. She was planning a very small wedding with just close family and friends. One month later, her wedding was kept at a catholic church and she wore a beautiful wedding dress, looking like a princess out of a fairytale.
Adam’s third and Sarah’s second birthday were approaching. My life without them was very empty; I had already missed their previous birthdays. Receiving pictures and videos of them felt as though someone gave me life support. I was able to see the different stages of their life; learning to walk and talk. Watching them play together so lovingly, gave me a sense of satisfaction; at least they had each other. I was preparing to go to Disney World with my boss and her two sons, I thought of how my children would have enjoyed going to Disney World. Sadly, I packed my small suitcase for the week and took the two buses to work that morning.
The plane touched down at Orlando International Airport. Holding the baby in my arms, I exited the plane. It almost the end of summer but the weather was still hot and humid. Hurrying to clear our suitcases, we then took a taxi to Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa Hotel. It was the most beautiful hotel since it had an old English style, which I always loved. We were escorted to our room, that had a beautiful view overlooking the lake. I sadly thought of my two beautiful children as I watched Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto, Cinderella and Snow White, as performed their show two hours later; it was just the beginning of five long days at Disney.
I was still too naïve and did not think of the circumstances leaving my husband who was just about twenty-three years old, all alone; six days per week for one year and then five days per week the second year. My world came crashing down. I felt extremely hurt, I was so focused on working hard and saving for our children’s future, it was not fair; guess I took it for granted that Ned would always be faithful to me. I had to go home to my babies, the sacrifice made no sense to me any longer, life with my children was too precious for me to delay. Two days later, I was on a flight back home.
I remembered how much it hurt leaving Jake and Liz after living with them for so long, building a bond and giving them love I had stored up inside for my two children. I thought of how badly Liz had cried; her mom asking if I could return since she refused to eat or sleep. I had then gotten attached to the two boys and had grown to love them, especially the little baby. I knew I would never see those four beautiful, wonderful children again in my life. It was a struggle in my heart, leaving the four kids I learnt to love so much. As the plane lifted, my eyes overflowed with tears.
Several hours later, as I glanced out the window of the plane, I saw the vast forest of Guyana. This was my real home; I was filled with happiness and anticipation and could not wait to hug my two babies. Disembarking, I felt the fresh air and the rays of the sunlight on my face. It was different; not humid as the summers I had experienced. It was an extremely small airport and we had to walk from the plane steps to the entrance; thankfully it was not raining. Watching everyone rushing and pushing to get ahead, reminded me that it was home, no one was organized or well mannered. I stayed behind, needing time to reflect on my life; Ned was at work and he had no idea I was flying back home. He would not have allowed me to leave and I could not live another day making such a sacrifice.
As the car turned onto the bridge of Ned’s parent’s home, I felt completely overwhelmed and could not stop the tears from pouring endlessly down my cheeks. Ned’s mom and his brother had collected me from the airport after being told just hours before that I was on my way home. Dad having such high principles in life, did not believe it was right for me to arrive without my in-laws being told. Nothing was more important to me now than my two children and I felt an inner strength, to be brave and strong for whatever life held in store for me.
I had filled my suitcase with toys and clothes for Adam and Sarah; they were both still fast asleep. Quietly getting under the mosquito net, I sat and admired them. Adam was dressed in blue pajamas and white vest, lying on one pillow with his leg thrown over the other, his cheeks was so chubby. Sarah was dressed in a pink floral nightdress, the soft curls of her hair resting on her pillow. Like Adam, she was also using two pillows, her little face very cute with cheeks like her brother. My heart was filled with so much love and being so sensitive, the tears were streaming down. I thought of the sacrifice I had made for their future and all the stages of their life I missed out. The bond of loving and cuddling them every night was worth so much more. Thinking back, given a second chance to do that all over again, I would never have left my children, I would have worked hard to make them comfortable and happy right in my own country.
It was Sunday morning, the day of my children’s Aqeeqah (the Islamic tradition of sacrificing an animal on the birth of a child). It could be done at any age of the child, if at birth there were circumstances that it could not be kept. Their eye lids slowly fluttered open, one awakening the other while they stretched out their legs and arms. I felt so overwhelmed with love and happiness but also felt very nervous. They knew me from pictures and video calls, but now I was right there in front of them. I had to allow their little minds to understand, learn to love me one step at a time. They both woke up and looked at me, their beautiful little faces filled with curiosity. I would never forget the moment when I hugged them both closely while their eyes were glued to the few toys I had brought onto the bed. At last I was back with my beautiful babies.
Totally ignoring the pang of hunger and the jet lag I felt after my long flight, I played with them for hours while they picked at their breakfast and investigated each toy thoroughly; the toys were doing the trick of making them feel comfortable with me at a very fast rate. They were both very shy and kept glancing and smiling every few minutes. Even though I allowed them their space and did not overact with emotions and tears, inside I felt like scooping them up into my arms and hold them close to my heart for the entire day.
It was time for the function to begin, I dressed Sarah in a pretty white lace dress with tiny blue green ribbons bordering the different layers of ruffles, her hair open with soft curls falling on her shoulders. Adam, I dressed in black pants and white shirt, combing his hair neatly in a side part style. He was quiet and shy, a little more than Sarah and stood back, allowing her to meet and greet the guests. Close family and friends were invited, four big pots of mutton curry cooked since two sheep was slaughtered for Adam and one sheep slaughtered for Sarah.
I had been excited all morning for my family to arrive since I had only seen mom when she came to the airport. The sound of Lolly’s voice when she arrived and greeted the family, drifted into the room. She had arrived with her husband Chris, Alleya her daughter and Javid her son; she had given birth to Javid, twomonths before I had left Guyana; he was the same age as Sarah. After a quick check to make sure my children were properly dressed, I hurried down the stairs and straight into my sister’s arms, hugging her tightly. Alleya was very pretty, beautiful small face with long lashes and lots of curls, Javid with his hair neatly combed to the side like Adam, stood quietly beside her, hugging his toy monkey.
Mom, Dad and Jevon arrived shortly after and I was bursting with happiness. As my dad’s arms wrapped around me, I felt all the sadness and pressure of life, washed away. My dad always had a way of comforting me instantly only by his hugs. I felt for a moment as though I was little and at that moment, I realized that in life, the best days were the days spent with your parents as a child, protected and sheltered with love and comfort heedless of the outside world and its responsibilities. Hugging mom, I looked across at Jevon. He was a big boy already and still so very cute, always smiling. Jay and Leon already had prior invitations and was unable to attend. I was so happy and felt comforted having my children and family around me.
As the days went by, Ned called daily and was already preparing to return. He had insisted everything I heard was false and did not want to stay without his family in another country. All the antique furniture we bought were being shipped and he was buying gifts to bring back for Adam and Sarah. They were both beginning to feel comfortable with me, since I spent quality time, reading to them both, Nursery Rhymes and their other favorite story books. I had gone to the doctor after feeling extremely sick and was told I was suffering from anemia. guess from the days I did not want to eat.
They were still calling my in-laws mommy and daddy and even though I was eternally grateful for all they had done for my kids, the natural maternal jealously always kicked in. It was going to take time but guess that was just a genuine reaction. Weeks became months and the children started calling me mommy. We spent all our weekends doing fun stuff such as going for long drives in the countryside and planning outings at the National Park to play cricket; our picnic blanket spread under the biggest tree we could find, with all our snacks and food spread out on display. Sarah did not enjoy the National Park since she did not like being in the hot sun; her cheeks would become very red as though it would burst at any moment. Adam on the other hand, loved playing cricket and running all day in the sun. We also planned trips to the Zoo, since they both loved animals and always looked forward to that and visited my parents twice monthly.
My parents and siblings had missed me for the three years I was living abroad and wanted to spend quality time, before they also migrated to Canada. I remember how excited mom would be, cooking my favorite meals and fussing over Adam and Sarah with such kindness. She was amazed at how shy and quiet they were. Not the type of children to be running around the house making noise or breaking stuff. Dad’s face would beam with happiness, always a trace of tears in his eyes. Like mom, he loved having his children and grandchildren around. It filled them up with so much pride and joy.
Adam and Sarah loved visiting my family and playing with Jevon, who was five years older than Adam. They totally enjoyed the ride to and from my parents on the blue scooter I rode. At the front of the scooter, between the seat and the handle, there was a wide flat surface where they both stood holding on to my arm, their cute faces beaming with excitement and their hair blowing in every direction. In those days there were not a lot of vehicles, mostly bicycles and scooters and it was safer to ride a scooter on the streets.
In the following months that followed, SiSi had returned to Guyana for a vacation with her husband, who was Dutch and did not understand when we spoke in our regular English based creole language. I was very excited and happy to see her; she was still a very quiet and loving person who always spoke so softly. Shirley had returned earlier with her husband and son, who was one month younger than Sarah, to spend a few years with her in-laws in the countrys. SiSi had given birth to her son and daughter, a couple of years earlier and I was sad they didn’t accompany their parents of the trip.
Even though SiSi spent most of her vacation visiting Shirley, I always made sure I visited my parents’ home whenever she was there. I was very attached to all my siblings and even though I was so much older, I longed for the days when we were all together in one country. Pete, Geets and their two beautiful daughters visited next and I was so extremely happy to see their children and get a chance to meet Geets. She was such a warm and loving person, full of love and simplicity.
My parents, Leon and Lolita with her children were preparing to migrate to Canada. There was so much to be done. Aileen came from Venezuela to collect what she wanted from the home and lots of clothes was given to the poor. I remember mom feeling overwhelmed going through all our school texts she kept from each one of us and was given to family members to be used. You never realize all that is accumulated until it is time to move. I went every Sunday to assist, only accepting two beautiful black teapots for sentimental reasons and an album.
The day arrived for them to leave and I woke up earlier than usual, not being able to sleep. After a long shower, I hurriedly prepared snacks to take with us, showered and dress Adam and Sarah and off we rode with our blue scooter. My parents had hired a big bus to take everyone, along with a couple of Lolita’s students to the airport. I felt such sadness. It seemed that life was made up of so many sacrifices. There was once a time when we all lived happily in one home, now we were all going to be scattered in different countries. I had to learn to let go, accept that it was the circle of life, it was normal for everyone to move on.
Arriving at my parents’ home, I rang the bell and was surprised to see almost every one of Lolly’s students had already arrived. The home was bursting with excitement; everyone taking pics and seemed to be talking at the same time. My chest felt heavy, I had just returned to Guyana the year before and the time went by so quickly. I was not ready to let go of my parents. Even though I was married with two children, I was still very attached to my parents and they still treated me like a little child. Mom would often play with my hair when I sat on the floor beside her chair; I loved the feeling of my mom’s hands going through my hair. I still cuddled up to dad on the chair while he would be busy reading his book.
Throughout the years of physical abuse, I always went to my parents’ home for comfort. Often not letting them know the reason of my visit; just having their presence and love made the world of difference. I did not want them to know I was being abused while I was pregnant for Adam, so many times; in a home where no one cared how Ned treated his wife. I had held on to my marriage thinking it was better for my children to have both their parents together. I loved them very much and always thought of their happiness. I was willing to sacrifice my happiness for theirs, always accepting Ned’s apology, thinking one day the abuse will be over.
It was already the month of April and the kids were busy choosing what kites they wanted to buy for Easter. Mom, Dad Leon and Lolly with her kids were adjusting to their life in Canada; happy that the season of spring had arrived. They had migrated the third week in January when it was freezing and growing up in a tropical country, they were not accustomed to winter. From the airport, Lolly with her children had travelled to her husband parents’ home to live; they had migrated a few years earlier, while mom, dad and Leon went to live with Rudy, Dolly and their two sons. Dolly had given birth to her second son a few years after she had migrated to Canada.
The plastic kites that had the shape of different types of birds attracted Adam and Sarah’s attention was fixed on the ones that shaped like beautiful barbie dolls. In the shopping area, the pavement was lined with street vendors; all rushing to display their kites. Easter was celebrated in Guyana with the seawalls and all parks, filled with tons of Guyanese flying kites. The sky always seemed filled with thousands of kites; different shapes, different colors. A presentation was always kept for the biggest, smallest and the most beautiful kite.
Sarah was five years old when we decided to send her to Canada to visit all the family with my mother-in-law. Seeing that she was an American, she did not need a visa and travelled easily. I remember packing her suitcase with all her pretty clothes, trying to think of everything she would need. It was hard to let go of my daughter a second time but wanted her to go and have fun with the cousins she never met before. Everyone heard she was going up and they all got excited, planning different outings to make her trip memorable. I so badly wanted to send Adam but knew the visa would have been difficult to obtain at his tender age of six.
The sound of my alarm went off, it was already 6:00 a.m., seemed like I had just crept under the mosquito net of my bed a few minutes earlier. It was the morning of Sarah’s flight to Canada. I hurried out of bed and went to shower and get dressed before awaking her. The flight was leaving four hours later but we had to drive for one hour to the airport, then check her and her grandmother into customs three hours earlier than time of departure. Ned had already awoken and was in the kitchen preparing sandwiches to eat while travelling since it was too much rush to sit and eat properly at the dinner table.
Dressing Sarah in the pretty red and black wool dress with matching hat her dad had bought for her when he had travelled back home, I stood back and admired my little princess. The dress was finally fitting her after all these years; even though we were living in a tropical country, he had loved the outfit very much for his daughter and could not resist adding it to his purchases of gifts. It was perfect now to keep her warm in the plane and when she arrived since it was just the beginning of summer and the flight was landing at Pearson International Airport in the evening when it was always a bit chilly.
The five weeks had seemed like five months without Sarah. Finally, the day arrived for her to return and Adam was so excited, he did not want to sleep the previous night; staying up late and making welcome home cards for her. Even though they were one year apart, they were as close as twins and were accustomed to doing everything and going everywhere together. Being such a quiet child, he had wanted to watch his favorite cartoons after school, rather than playing in the yard or going for drives since she had left. My family had often commented how lucky I was to have two children who were so quiet and very well mannerly.
As a welcome home gift, we had purchased a mini version of a doll’s home that opened in half to show the upper and lower floors with all the sections and appropriate furniture. It was the cutest toy I had ever seen and the little kitchen with all its appliances were the best section of the house. Wrapping it up in sheets of gift paper, we left to collect her and her grandma from the airport. Thankfully the weather was sunny and we drove for an hour, parking in the parking lot and headed up the stairs to the upper level of the airport to watch the plane when it arrived and landed. Seeing her emerge from the plane was important to us and we were all very excited.
Sarah came home and she was very excited to be back with her family. She had babbled on about her vacation as soon as she entered the car, cuddling up closer to Adam in the back seat. She had so much she wanted to tell him everything, taking very fast and cutting each sentence in half; too impatient to get it all out. Adam’s face had beamed with joy upon seeing his sister emerge from the plane and he had held on to her arms throughout the drive home. My heart was filled with content and happiness just watching them together; I had opted to sit with them, giving my mother-in-law the comfort of the front seat.
She absolutely loved her big doll set and had so much to tell us of all that she did on her vacation. My father-in-law’s brother felt like a big teddy bear to her, he was very loving and made sure he bought her different types of ice-cream every day. At her tender age of five, those were the memories that stuck to her. She was too young to remember all the sightseeing but totally enjoyed playing with her cousins, especially Sheena’s two daughters who were at that time her youngest cousins and Lolly’s two children who were about the same age as her. She was excited seeing her aunts, uncle and grandparents again and meeting new aunts and uncles.
I had already started working at the family business one year after I had returned from living abroad, when Sarah and started nursery school with Adam. Always wanting to keep myself busy, I enrolled in an elementary level sewing class and two weeks driving course; tired of the teachers always complaining of the children’s late arrival to school. They were both attending a private primary school now, which was about twelve blocks away from where we lived. They had both learnt to be very independent, eating by themselves and showering. Sarah being one year younger, I would usually wash her hair and gave her a body scrub every Sunday.
Sundays were always the busiest day for me, since I worked six days per week and living with my in-laws, I made sure I cooked and baked something very special every Sunday. It was also the only day to do laundry where I would soak all the clothes in different tubs like my mom used to do and hand wash; in those days we did not have a washing machine. Having lots of dogs, I would make their home cooked food and store in fridge for two days at a time and every morning would feed them and wash their yard with disinfectant. The thought of going to sewing class and learning to drive made me feel excited and not as though my life had become a monotonous rhythm.
It was the morning of the first day of my driving session and I woke up very excited, hurrying to cook and pack the kids lunch kits. I gave them both cereal and milk and went to awake Ned to drop them to school. I had taken the 7:00 a.m. class since I did not want to become nervous driving in traffic. The bus stopped five blocks away from the school and I walked briskly as not to be late; I had desperately tried to find a driving school with female instructors since Ned was very jealous but there was none. A quick glance at my watched showed that I was three minutes early. That was a good start, I felt confident.
The two weeks passed by with me driving each day with confidence, very proud of myself; I passed with flying colors. It was already the weekend before my sewing classes started and I got busy shopping all the required materials, threads, scissors and everything else that was on the list. I had taken the bus into the town, not trusting my driving skills so quickly to deal with parking in tiny spaces available on the streets. Parking and reversing were harder for me than learning to drive. The next two days would be Monday and I had already planned to drive the children to school.
It was already Monday, the first day of me driving without an instructor. Ned was still fast asleep and had no idea I was already planning on driving. Rushing to finish with the children’s lunch kits, I showered quickly while they had their breakfast, wanting to leave earlier as to drive slowly to the school. Adam and Sarah were very excited their mom was going to drop them to school, both arguing who should sit at the front seat. Opening the back door of the car for them, they hurried in, their faces beaming with excitement. Reversing with care, I drove the entire distance to their school with the hand brakes up…no wonder there were drivers honking!
My sewing class had started and even though it was an elementary stage, at the beginning of the third week, we were already learning to cut patterns of dresses, tops and skirts; looking at my mom sew since I was little had taught me to sew pajamas for the children. Now, it was like a whole world of designs and patterns were circulating in my head. I wanted to be creative and invent styles and experiment on ideas that kept flashing before me. My life was not monotonous any longer, I had lots to do when Ned went out regularly with his friends.
Hopping off the bus at the market, I approached the clothes vendor, choosing two yards of red cotton material and three yards of white material with black dots. Next, I checked for the vendor who sold lots of sparkling stones with the bronze back that hooked to materials. Excited with my purchase, I went home and sewed a beautiful red top, displaying all the colored stones in a perfect design. With the second material purchased, I sewed a skirt with matching top and designed the long piece I had cut, into a frill design at the front of the top. I felt on top of the world, later that evening, I proudly posed for my picture, wearing the red top I was so proud of.
As the years went by, I learnt more about auto spares from working at the family business six days per week and kept myself busy with Adam and Sarah during the afternoons, playing board games or just playing cricket in the yard; both of which they absolutely loved doing. Rob had returned to Guyana for a vacation and stayed with us at my in-laws; it was great spending quality time with him after all the years he had migrated. Due to my live-in domestic jobs abroad, it was not convenient for him to visit me as often as he had wanted to. He was a jovial, kind and loving brother. My in-laws loved him instantly and was so happy to have him stay at their home.
I always aimed at being the best mom and wife and always placed myself last behind my family. They were more important to me than taking notice of my personal life; what I wanted from life, my desires and dreams of what I wanted to become in life. Rob and Pete had decided to sell us their little white cottage with green trimmings they lived in. It was at an unbelievably low price and dad offered to help us pay for it until we could afford to pay him back a little at a time. We were very excited to finally have our very own home; privately with our children.
We rebuilt the house, adding a front porch for the kids, since there was no yard space at the sides or back for them to play; just a small yard at the front. Added wide big windows for fresh air to circulate, a playroom for the children and dog pens at the back. After one year of fixing and rebuilding, it was time for us to moved in and we were super excited. The kids took their time to pack all their toys and books first, having no care in the world about their clothes. It was just about ten blocks away from where we lived at my in-laws, so the kids were familiar with the area and visited the home while it was rebuilding, a few times.
Adam and Sarah loved their new home, they had separate bunk beds in their room and was thrilled decorating it with all their toys. It was an excitement having their own home for the first time. They enjoyed running the curtains through the rod while I climbed up to put it on the hooks and packing the pots and pans in the kitchen cupboards. They felt important deciding which cupboard for which set of pots and packing out their clothes in the wardrobe drawers. Our home was furnished with the antique furniture we brought back from America and it gave the home a cozy and comfortable look.
I remember how excited we were to lay out our first dinner and sit together as a family. We had our privacy and finally, I was able to teach my children the simpler things in life. It was great spending so much quality time with my children; driving them to and from school, taking them for picnics, walks on the weekends and playing board games in the evenings. Ned was hardly ever home since he still spent his days with his friends, mostly playing dominoes all day and Sundays with us. Guess after all the years, I had grown accustomed to not having him around and poured everything into being as close as possible to my children.
Every Saturday night I made fried chicken and fries, the kids’ favorite and watched two movies. The kids were able to stay up late since there was were no school the following day. We would borrow videos from the Video Club and have lots of chips and pop. It was their night to sit back, relax and enjoy their movie and dinner. They made sure their homework was completed every Friday night, in order to have the weekend to enjoy. That was also Ned’s night out with his friends and often returned wee hours of Sunday morning.
One day, Sarah came home from school and told me her best friend’s father had drown at a Falls he had taken tourists to and had decided to take a swim. He was the pilot of the small plane that flew the group in to see the various Falls we had in Guyana. I knew the mom well from all the play dates our daughters had and went to the home every night to extend my sympathy and give my support by sitting with the family. On the third day, they found the body and I remembered how I felt, seeing the wife and children crying their hearts out. I came home and was sick all night. After three days of feeling sick, I went to the doctor so sure it was because of all the stress I felt and the heavy emotional turmoil I was going through.
Arriving at the doctor that was within walking distance from my home, she checked my blood pressure and took a urine test. Next day I was told that I was pregnant. I sat staring at her confused, allowing it to sink in. It was the last thing I had expected to hear. Sarah was eight years old now and I had a miscarriage when she was one year old while working hard abroad, not realizing I was pregnant. After the miscarriage, I never got pregnant again and had assumed I would not be able to have any more children. I left the doctor and slowly walked back home; I was going to have another baby!
As I walked onto the bridge of our home, I felt my heart overwhelmed with so much excitement and happiness. The shock had worn off and reality had kicked in. I felt like dancing or jumping for joy. I couldn’t wait to tell Adam and Sarah, when I brought them home from school and Ned when he came home. I still felt nauseated and decided to drive to the market, purchasing a bunch of coconut and having the vendor fill up the big jug I took with me. Coconut water always settled my stomach.
Picking the kids up from school, I decided to wait until I got home to give them the great news. After showering and having their dinner, I told them to hurry with their homework since I have a surprise; they always loved surprises and completed their homework in a blink of an eye. Sitting beside them on our sofa, I hugged them both and told them they would be having a baby brother or baby sister in a couple of months, by the grace of God. Their little faces beamed with such excitement as they jumped off the sofa, dancing around in circles. I smiled watching them. My two little angels.
Adam insisted it was going to be his little brother, while Sarah insisted it would be her little sister. I remember how hard it was for them not to announce it to the rest of the family right away. Dealing with my third pregnancy was easier. I had my own home and felt relaxed with no stress. I did not experience much morning sickness but had to discontinue cooking curry since I couldn’t bear the scent of it and could not fry chicken or fries for children any longer. I still managed driving Adam and Sarah to and from school and doing our usual weekend outings.
It was July and we decided to send Adam to Canada for his summer vacation to visit all the family. It was his time now to experience all that Sarah did on her trip. He was extremely excited and was not bothered about travelling all by himself with the Air Hostess taking care of him. We signed the legal document, notifying them on who would be picking him up. Even though I was nervous, I felt safe since he was already nine years old and he did not have to disembark at Trinidad; the only stop in transit. We wanted to be fair to both our children and saved in order to send Adam on his trip.
It was easier packing his suitcase than Sarah’s since he was a very simple child and was not fussy with tons of outfit like his sister. As I sat at the dinner table, writing all that he was allergic to; underlining fish in red ink and making several carbon copies for all the homes he intended to visit, I watched him and his sister chatting away while they had dinner. I was so proud of the bond they shared and was proud of Sarah for not feeling envious or jealous that her brother alone was going on the vacation. It was hard saving and managing expenses.
He left and the home seem dull and quiet. Sarah was not her merry bouncing self any longer. She was accustomed doing everything with her brother and because they were so close in age, they built a strong bond. I remember trying to cheer her up by taking her out for drives, but she kept talking sadly about missing her brother. Adam on the other hand was having a time of his life with all his cousins he was meeting for the very first time. Everyone had plans for him and he was doing lots of sightseeing and going to Water Parks, Zoo and Wonderland. At his age, he was more able to appreciate and remember all the fun stuff he did.
Seemed like forever, but finally the day arrived for Adam to return and we were all very excited. Sarah’s face was glowing with joy and she was full of excitement when we went to pick him up from the airport. He had so much to tell us. Just looking at his expression, I felt such happiness. I remembered how anxious Sarah was for Adam to open his suitcase so she could receive all the gifts the family sent for her. My son was back and now my family was complete again. He was happy to be home even though he had a great time, Sarah had him talking through the night, she needed to know all the details. I missed him so much and was very happy to have him back home.