Monday, November 26, 2012

An attempt at Guyanese Black Rum Cake

Recently I encountered a Caribbean Black Cake at a restaurant. It immediately brought back memories of my childhood growing up in Guyana. Since my later start at cooking Guyanese food, it dawned on me that I did not know how to make a Guyanese Black Rum Cake. So I set out to research and ask around, in the hopes of having Black cake this Christmas.

Black Cake as any West Indian descent should know, is a heavy dense cake made with fruits and liquor. Every island in the Caribbean have their version of this specialty. Since my interest lies in the Black cake of my childhood, I am focusing on the Guyanese version. If memory serves me right, I recall Guyanese rum and sweet red wine, in our recipe. This specialty of the Caribbean is very popular at weddings and Christmas.

My earliest recollection, being the only boy in a house full of girl cousins was to assist in the cake mixing. During the late 70s throughout the 80s, we did not have the luxury of an electrical powered mixer. I am not sure many households have a mixer even today. We mixed in a big enamel bowl and a wooden spoon. Of course, as any one knows the payment for slaving at the bowl was to lick the spoon and bowl clean. My aunts were gracious in turning a blind eye to my finger dipping or maybe they knew. In any case, I was too young to learn or remember recipes and ratios. Underage labor was tolerated.

During my research for this recipe I consulted with those same aunts. Who would you believe they still don’t have a recipe?  However, an older cousin sought to try and master her mom’s recipe. In as much as there was no fixed standard recipe to pass on, there was enough knowledge of little particulars that can only be learned from years of practice. Just talking to my family about Black Cake brought back memories of childhood, a simpler time, in rural Guyana. I can clearly remember my grandmother reaching for an overhead hung basket with a rod. That’s where she stored our Black Cake and other sweet goodies.

In this day and age of computers and the internet there is a wealth of knowledge to be found. Several websites and personal blogs depicted and offered information, recipes, tips, pictures, and step by step instructions. Some sources were particular to Caribbean Fruit Cake, while others identified individual islands. There are several schools of thought and views. However, since I really wanted to bring back a childhood memory I had no other option but to assemble a recipe taking the best of all sources. My black cake recipe is based loosely on Jehan Can Cook Blog, with some modifications.

The essence of Black Cake is in the fruits. I remembered growing up people would dry local fruits and then soak them in rum and/or wine. Not having the time to dry local Guyanese fruits I opted for already dehydrated fruits from my local West Indian Supermarket. One such major supermarket in Orlando repackage their fruits in house with very limited information on the labels. One label said “keep refrigerated” and the product was left on a shelf. The American supermarkets carry most of the same dehydrated products, well packaged and stored accordingly. But I found a different West Indian Supermarket, in Clermont, that package in house but stored all of their products refrigerated. So I decided to support this supermarket. One huge West Indian liquor store, in Orlando, was out of stock for El Dorado 5 yr Old Rum, but carried El Dorado Gold Rum. Another Indian owned liquor store, in Clermont, had ample supply.

Fruits
¾ lb pitted prunes
1 lb currants
¾ lb raisins
¾ lb cherries
¾ lb golden raisins
¾ lb mix candied fruits
1 bottle of El Dorado 5 yr Rum
1 bottle Sherry Wine
1 bottle Port Wine

With my little stick food processor, I finely chopped each container of fruit and then put them all in a huge baking pan. This gave me room to hand mix all the fruits together. After they were well incorporated,  I added 1/4 bottle of rum and sherry. The semi liquid mixture was then placed in an airtight container. Periodically, over the next two weeks I checked and topped up the mixture with rum to keep it moist.


Dry Ingredients
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp mace

I passed the flour through a sifter to ensure all the grains were loose and the same size. Then used a whisk to gently combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl.

Wet Ingredients
1 lb or 4 sticks unsalted butter
2 cups brown sugar
8 eggs
5 tbsp burnt sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp mixed essence

I started out by creaming butter and sugar until all sugar grains were dissolved. This is the part that finger licking is allowed. Maybe add a little more sugar and butter. Or be a disciplinarian and stick with the original measurements. Me, I tipped the sugar spoon. Crack and add one egg at a time while continue mixing. If you are using a table mixer, this part is easy for one person. If you are using a hand mixer, like I did, get help. As the mixture gets fluffy, add vanilla and mixed essence. 

I added 3 cups of fruits and continued mixing. Then place a spoon in the middle of the mixture to check for consistency. The mixture was a little loose so I added 1 more cup of fruits. A little more mixing and the spoon fell slowly. Time for Dry ingredients. Slowly add dry ingredients in one cup at a time until the spoon almost stays vertical but still falls. Add burnt sugar to your color preference. I added 5 Tbsp. Be careful this step could turn the whole thing bitter with too much burnt sugar.


I divided the mixture into two pans lined with parchment paper. With a little slamming on the counter and smacking on the sides to ensure all the air was gone, I placed the pans in a pre heated oven at 275 degrees for 2 hrs. I started to check the center with a tooth pick. When the tooth pick came out clean the cake is done! Every oven has it’s own characteristics, so this is a crucial step. Keep checking. Time to let the cake take cake a swim, I poured rum and port wine over the cake until all was absorbed. The next day I brushed on more port wine. This brushing will continue every so often to keep the cake moist. Or until it’s all done!

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All of the above was done with a recipe of 3 1/2 cups of flour, 1 tsp of spices, and 10 eggs; baked for 2 hrs. The result: a dry cake with very little flavor. So I adjusted the recipe for 2 cups of flour, 1 1/2 tsp of spices, 8 eggs; baked at 350 degrees. Then dropped to 275 degrees. The result: moist, flavorful, memories of my childhood.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Photo Privacy Settings for Facebook Groups

There have been some photo postings in Skeldon Conversation that are not visible to ALL members. The whole idea of a group is to share information with everyone in that group. Restricted photos should be kept on your timeline.

We respect your privacy in Skeldon Conversation. If your photos are set to “Friends Only” then you do not need to post them in a group for your friends to see. However, when your photos are set to “Friends Only” and it is shared in a group, those who are not your friend will see a blank post. Hence, the questions, Nothing? What is here? and a slue of other comments. Sharing photos in a group require that privacy setting be “Public”. While photos on your timeline can remain amongst your friends.
This post will seek to assist in changing your photo privacy settings. There are two scenarios: First, your photos may be in an “Album” as in Your Family Vacation and second, your photos maybe “Single” as in a Mobile Album. I will address both cases.
ALBUM
Select the photo that you wish to change.
From Album 1
Image Above: Notice the RED circle next to my name. That icon represents your privacy setting for “Friends Only”. Click on the icon.
This dialogue box appears. From Album 2Click on “Edit Album Privacy”.  
This dialogue box appears.From Album 3Click on drop down arrow in Black circle.
This dialogue box appears. From Album 4Click on “Edit Album Privacy” in Red circle.
This drop down box appears.From Album 5Click on “Public” in the Red circle.
The drop down box retracts. From Album 6Click on “Save”.
From Album 7
Your photo is now set to public. EVERYONE can see it in the group.

SINGLE
Select the photo that you wish to change.
From Single Photo 1
Image Above: Notice the RED circle next to my name. That icon represents your privacy setting for “Friends Only”. Click on the icon.
This drop down box appears. From Single Photo 2 Click on “Public”.
The drop down box retracts. From Single Photo 3 Your photo is now set to public. EVERYONE can see it in the group.

I hope you can follow these steps to happy photo sharing. Remember to keep your photo sharing Guyana related.

Feel free to contact me for any further assistance.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Young Guyanese girls youth are being stolen.

1979 – A busy taxi driver picks up a passenger at Timehri International Airport (now Cheddi Jagan International Airport), “Where to sah?” “To Corriverton, Berbice,” replied the oversees citizen of Guyanese birth. “Suh wah yuh guh do in Corriverton?", inquired the seasoned taxi driver. The overseas man replied, “I am going to find me a nice young Guyanese gal to play with.”

Fast forward 2012 – A Facebook conversation. 50 something year old Guyanese man, from overseas reaches out to an eager 19 year old in Guyanese girl.
Man: “Hi, how are things in my home country.”
Girl: “Things looking nice.”
Man: “I really miss my country.”
Girl: “Things change up.”
Man: “I would love to visit and see, but I have no one there.”
Girl: “Nah seh suh, meh deh heh.”
Man: “You would show me around?”
Girl: “Yes of course.”

Man goes to Guyana, spends a week. Girl shows the many improvements and wonderful things happening in Guyana. One thing leads to another, they have sex. Man comes back oversees and forgets about girl. Or man comes back oversees and goes back to marry girl. Then girl comes oversees and man turns out to be protective, abusive, dominating, and violent. Wishfully, all works out and they live happily ever after.
Have you heard these recollections before? How many times? With your family, friends, or neighbors? Is this really still happening?

While there is no scientific statistical basis that I could find, this is a recurring scenario that I hear about over and over again. Being such a closed community about issues that does not portray us in a good light, we tend to sweep these darker issues under the rug. Our sisters and cousins from Guyana does not talk about this gross misleading or abuse until there is a knife put to their throats or a gun to their heads. Even more distressful, when we read about these incidents the community raises in an uproar. Facebook comments fly like AK-47s, OMG I am so sorry, So sorry for ur loss, so sad, I feel for the family and on and on… The long crocodile tears flow like the mighty Kaiteur Falls. Where were these same people when the young girl was being lured by this grown man predatorily pursuing her?

Yes there are tons of issues in Guyana that spurned a whole generation of people to flee. Some by choice, some who were too young to make that choice for themselves, the choice was made for them. Those issues are still there. Although, there are certainly some significant changes that enhance and makes Guyana very attractive to live in. There is still the yearning of many people to leave for a perceived better life overseas. While there are many who flourish and  enjoy the benefits of living in a place of their birth. It is still very common for arranged marriages and matches made in drunken bars or bottom houses.

The old practice of parents arranging marriage for their kids, especially young girls, still exist. How many people do you know seeks to find a nice Guyanese girl for their “very successful” older boys? There is absolutely nothing wrong with a relevant match. For generations match making in various societies are the norm. This practice will continue. However, when this practice is used in a reckless manner the social outcome is disastrous. What possibly, can a 50 something have in common with a 19 year old? This girl can be his child! Outrageous! This is not love and marriage as it is meant to be. This is desperate people acting irresponsibly.

This is parents not allowing their child to grow into a relationship, just the lure of going “outside”. Alternatively, young girls may not have the strength to say no. The marriage happens, young girl comes to oversees and then the drama starts. Three kids later, staying home, barefoot and pregnant in the some cold basement in the bowels on New York or New Jersey, the startling realization happens. What the hell did they get themselves into? Wait, let me point out the abuse. This man has lived here most of his life, he is probably on a second or third marriage, all of young Guyanese girls, directly from Guyana. He goes to Guyana brings another one, knocks them up, two or three kids, slaps them around, if the girl is lucky she escapes his clutches. He goes to Guyana does it all over again.

Will this cycle ever end? When will Guyanese realize that marriage and relationships are much more sacred than “better financial lives”? When will young Guyanese girls realize that a 50 something year old man has nothing in common with you? All he wants is a younger more attractive model. He could be your father. Would you go to bed with your father? I think not.

Of course there are some who will opine that there is no age in matters of the heart. I believe that. Love can happen in strange and mysterious ways. The laws of logic are thrown out of the window. But I also believe that two people should at least be able to have things in common. These commonalities happens with age, culture, exposure and a host of other factors.

Who am I to say this is an inappropriate way of carrying on life? Every person makes their own bed. I strongly believe that as a community we should have discussions about these issues and not sweep it under the rug. No two relationships are the same, neither are any two circumstances. There is always a means to an end. Or a way to better life. Do we want to continue reading the horror stories of this issue? Do we want to keep making the same Facebook comments of sadness? Older men, find someone your own age or age group. Younger girls, don’t be lured by the glamour of “outside”. Parents, start being parents. Community, let’s open a dialogue with our loved ones. We cannot keep encouraging a generation with single mothers raising kids on their own, while fathers are either deported to Guyana or allowed to keep trading in for a newer model.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Ultimate Car Makeover in the Back Streets of Skeldon

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390443890304578009284279919750.html
Does anyone remember the days of Datsun cars in Guyana? Today, much to my surprise the Wall Street Journal carried this article announcing Nissan’s intention of reviving the old car brand. Back in the 70s, growing up in rural Guyana my father’s first car that he owned was a Datsun Bluebird. Later my grandfather performed what everyone I recalled said was totally crazy. He merged a Datsun Bluebird, Japanese made car with a Vanguard, English made car. Impossible? No, I was there. I helped build it.

My dad was a graduate of Guyana Sugar Corporation Apprentice Training School in Port Mourant, Berbice. He worked at the Skeldon Sugar Estate’s Field Mechanical Work Shop. Since he was a mechanic he must have seen something in this mashed up Datsun. The Datsun sat in the yard of a beer garden. A beer garden in those days and probably still is the same today, is a place where people mostly men gather to drink beer or rum. Most beer gardens were little “bottom house” shops, but as progression took a hold of the drinking public beer gardens evolved into major establishments. This beer garden was owned by a “red bone” man named Sammy. I can’t quite remember if Sammy worked with my father or he just owned the beer garden. Red bone was the name given to any person of mixed race with Portuguese and any of Guyana’s five other races. The beer garden was located in Kingston, off the main Kingston Rd. first right hand turn, second house on the right. There was an up ramp since the house sat on stilts. The car was buried in mud and grim with a mashed up front right side. I clearly remembered my grandfather who was a taxi driver, saying, “That rass would never run.” What do you know, first kick the engine caught life.

Around 1975, convinced that this was a great car, my father bought it. Over the next couple of months he worked on bringing the car back to it’s original glory. The interior remained blue, while the exterior sported a bright fire engine red color. It had a unique horn that carried a song like sound. This was a sexy little car. My grandfather even got to liking this little car and he used it in his taxi service. In 1977 my father passed. My grandfather continued to use the car. However, the car’s body started to rot in several places. All this time the mechanics of the car excelled. It was small, fast, nimble, and burnt minimal fuel. But the amount of money spent on patching the body was huge. Not to mention how ugly it started to look with patches. People did not want to ride in a car that appeared to fall apart. My grandfather’s taxi business was taking a little beating.
Back in those days up until the Berbice River Bridge was built in 2008, there was and still is a vibrant taxi service from Skeldon to Georgetown. Before the bridge there was a ferry service that crossed from New Amsterdam to Rosignol, ever so frequently or infrequently, depends if you missed the boat or the boat was inoperable. If you wanted to traverse to Georgetown from Skeldon, you would have to reserve a seat in a taxi the night before you wished to travel. The taxi would pick you up at 3:30 am and make the trek to wait for the 5:00 am ferry crossing. If you missed that boat, there was an alternative pontoon crossing from Blairmount. Either way if you had morning business to conduct in Georgetown, you were already late. Most of these taxis are packed with people and luggage. So it is very important to have a strong, sizeable, and stable car.

Since the Datsun was just running well but too small and falling apart, my grandfather, Uncle Phil was on the look out for something bigger. He kept passing a Ensign van type car without tires on No. 19 Public Road. According to him, that car was sitting there for ages and the body was still in great shape. So one day we stopped and talked to the people who owned it. They agreed to sell. We put four tires on the car and towed it to Skeldon. My grandfather was a mechanic through necessity. I don’t think he was ever formally trained, he just picked up from driving cars all his adult working life. He did have a brief stint of driving an estate truck when he first left his home village of No. 35. to settle in Skeldon. Over his long career as a taxi driver he acquired most of the tools required to work on cars. For as far back as  I can remember we had a car. There was a semi work shop with car parts littering our yard. I remembered at one time we dug a fish pond in the back yard and I am convinced that we retrieved an entire car parts catalog of relics from various eras. Needless to say we revived the Ensign to a blue whale of a van. It was huge, spacious, with a huge trunk for carrying luggage and a huge engine. That huge engine drank an enormous amount of fuel. For a good couple of years this van did it’s job. As time passed, the engine started to go. Another car caught my grandfather’s eye. A Vanguard sitting under Mr. Scott’s house. Mr. Scott was a onetime mayor of Skeldon and a good friend of my grandfather. The good old boys network. We acquired the Vanguard.

Most of the Vanguard’s parts were interchangeable with the Ensign. As we phased the Ensign out, the Vanguard did the heavy lifting. As a car the Vanguard was spacious, functioned well, but still had the thirst for fuel and was sluggish. During all of these years as a child growing up from Primary to Secondary School, many of my out of school hours were spent messing with these cars. My very first memory was a good trashing from stuffing grease in my mouth. I would crawl and hang out with whoever was working under whichever car we had at the time. I was the unofficial shop helper. Child labor laws did not exactly exist. I can’t quite remember the exact moment, but one day my grandfather called me over to the Datsun. Remember, the Datsun was sitting at rest again. Brush, vines, mud, grime, and small animals had taken residence once again. He asked me, “Do you think this car can start again?”

I knew the car could start. Because when he wasn’t home, I would start the car and prepend I was driving. I was only 9 or 10 yrs old. He probably knew also. Maybe I kept starting the car in remembrance of my dad. Who knows. So I replied, “Yes it can.” He said, “Start it.” When my grandmother over heard the conversation she came over. Uncle Phil had a huge personality and intimidating voice. But he was a gentleman. She was wondering if he was going to give me a good trashing for messing with the old car. I was shaking in my slippers. I got in the car brushes and all, inserted the keys and turned. The engine turned over. Nothing. He started to laugh. “Meh think, yuh seh dis old shit can wuk.” I tried again. Nothing. He walked away with his wife, Eva, still laughing. I tried again. The engine fired. The car jerked and did what it had done so many times when he wasn’t around, started! He came back over and leaned in the window. “So eh a wuk. Turn it off.” I did as I was told. He beckoned me out. We sat on a wooden bench in our semi work shop. He looked at me straight in the eyes and ask; “This July when school close do you want to work on a project with me?” You think I was going to say no to him. Never. I loved this old man. He went on, “We are going to take all of the mechanical parts of that Datsun and put it in the Vanguard’s body.”

What? Did I hear him right? We were going to take a Japanese made car with everything in metric measurements and put it in an English made car with everything in Imperial measurements. Was this ever done in Skeldon before? Was it ever done anywhere? I would never know these answers. But can he pull this off? However, I know that we were going forward with putting together the solid English body with a stellar Japanese machine. Uncle Phil recruited two of his on again off again apprentices Steve and Chico. I rounded up my little friends Sean, Intikalb, Tariq and anyone else who lived on the street and wanted to get dirty with me. We were set when the doors of school closed that summer. Steve and Chico were both accomplished wielders and Chico was a good mechanic. My friends and I did everything else, from clean up, wash parts, run to the store, buy cigarettes, take love letters to these guys girlfriends while they worked and whatever else needed to be done. Uncle Phil was the brains. Like every boss he talked more than worked. Slowly we stripped the Vanguard and cut it’s chassis out. Since not a whole lot can go wrong with taking things apart. I was tasked to strip the Datsun with my underage gang.

After making the necessary adjustments we transferred the Datsun’s chassis under the Vanguard. Then Uncle Phil took to rewiring the Vanguard. With wiring in place we started to transfer part by part often times having to fabricate the mounting. It was odd when we transferred the dashboard. There was space on both sides since the Vanguard is much wider than the Datsun. But we made it work. Same goes for everything under the hood. We had to fabricate a longer drive shaft. Which was a piece of cake for Uncle Jamna, another one of Uncle Phil’s long time friends. Uncle Jamna’s Metal Work Shop was our “go to” place for anything we could not handle. We kept the gas tank of the Vanguard for more fuel capacity. After everything was completed which took most of summer vacation, it was time to test our creation. First time out the car was sluggish as if the engine was straining to carry the heavier body. With minor adjustments the Ultimate Car Makeover was a complete success.

This car ran until Uncle Phil retired from the taxi business. Since I was still too young to drive, the car just sat parked. After we all immigrated to the states I am not sure what happened to the car. I was told several years later that we sold the house and everything in it. When I went back to Guyana in March 2010, our entire house was gone and so was everything in the yard. It is a clear vacant yard. No car in sight. I asked around the neighbors, no one remembered what happened to the car.

If after so many times the little Datsun, that a mechanic thought was a good car, still roared to life. I believe the revival of the Datsun brand will certainly be a success. Maybe, as the company is focused on developing countries we may not see this car in the United States. But, some day I will meet a Datsun again.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Reflections of Silence


Recently, someone in Skeldon initiated a private conversation with me about a public posting being discussed in the Facebook Group, Skeldon Conversation. The posting is, “This Sex Worker Thing”……how is public prostitution an accepted thing in Guyana?” The response was twofold, an on the ground assessment of the current crisis and a case of silence.

 “Hey Eric, I just saw the post on sex workers and found it to be interesting in some parts but, seems misinformed in others. As it relates to the trafficking in persons for the purpose of sex trades that was an issue of several years ago. It has reduced drastically. Continuous work is being done with all stakeholders including the Ministry of Human Services..... most bars you guys are referring to are a thing of the past sex workers are more wise these days hence not associating much with bars and brothels.... yes there are young girls in the sex work profession but they are independent workers both school age and older.... One challenge for NGOs working with these sex workers is they are able to work with the older population but are restricted to provide said services to minors. Although there are adequate evidence to prove these children are in sex work the laws of the land ties their hands. The law enforcers are blind to the part of the constitution that states sex work and buggering are illegal.”

The above excerpt was very surprising to me. Why does this person feel that they cannot post this response in a public forum? So I posed this question. Here was the response.  

“There are senior government officials who are a part of this group. Hence could compromise a lot of what I could say. I don't have a problem to speak. The thing with the situation here is that with everything there is politics at work. So, speaking is one thing, the way it affect the organization I represent will be another. I worry about the staff that has to provide for themselves and families more than myself..... It complicates things a lot there.”

Wow....things are still the same in Guyana even two decades later. No wonder I can't get anyone to participate from Skeldon. Is this the reality?

Note: I will not divulge the person at the other end of this conversation. Don’t ask and don’t assume you know who it is. Let’s look at the issue at hand. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Finally Reunited - RIP Aji.

As immigrants to the US, we all try to carve out our own destiny. When we arrive here with family, sometimes that destiny separates us. Mine took me away from my beloved grandmother. There comes a time when we seek to reconnect and cement our love and affection, before the end.

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My journey settled in Orlando, Florida. Far away from Newark, New Jersey where my grandmother stayed with aunts and uncles. There was always a burning desire to spend quality time with my grandmother. Mid summer 2010, I did just that. It was just a time to sit reflect, eat meals, laugh, walk downstairs and just be in her presence. A few days were sheer joy for both of us. Many times we just sat there without saying anything, or she just sleep quietly.

After my dad passed in 1977, my grandmother was the driving force ensuring that I had the best our humble surroundings could offer. I hinted a replacement for her beloved son, Mickie, in me. Or as some of my beloved cousins would say, “I was her favorite.” Maybe they were just jealous that I got a larger share of the goodies. Needless to say aji took special interest in her grandchildren. At our old house in Line Path Sunday brunches was a must.

Our church service started at 7:30 am and finished at 8 – 9 ish, depending on which long winded elder or preacher was conducting service. After services, the entire clan would gather at our home for a day long frenzy of activities. Before services finished, Uncle Adam Hussain, came to our house to halaal the duck or chicken. Then the cooking started. Kids played, older ones helped out. My grandma pretended to conduct operations but she never really did. She rather spend time with us kids than be a slave to the fireside. It is this joyous time that cemented a bond between grandchildren and grandmother.

Naturally, I was not going to be in the vicinity of New York and not visit my cousins. So after a couple of days eating, talking, giving her tablets, making tea and biscuits, laughing uncontrollably about nothing in particular I was itching for a drive. My grandmother got wind that I was driving to New York. Mind you, this old lady had not leave Newark, for that matter her home, other than her frequent trips to the hospital, in years. Now she wanted to take the one hour, or two hours depending on traffic, drive to Queens! My aunts and uncles were stunned. She always refused when anyone offered to take her to Queens. Here she was determined to go. She reminded us every morning, “Abe a guh today?”

After much deliberating and consulting at the caution of some family members, we decided that she would make the drive. I personally do not think that she would let me go without her. It was like moving her entire room into the car. But she settled in and was ready to go. As the journey began, my 80 something year old grandmother keep pointing out various landmarks. She had not taken this trip in years, yet she remembered certain places. No one recalled telling her exactly whose house we were going to. As we pulled up to Aunty Patricia’s home she immediately announced, “This a Dolly new house.” How did she know?

It was thrilling to see her walking in and inspecting the house. After about half an hour of sitting in the living room and conversing with everyone, she retired to the bedroom. She said she was tired. She stopped breathing! We called the paramedics, they came and took her away, we followed. She was in the emergency room for awhile. All of the family gathered. She came out of the emergency room and was placed in a critical care room. There was no brain activity. After a couple of days, the doctors saw no improvement, we all conferred. It was her time to go.

After it was decided, everyone went home. Although the doctors would not let me stay in the room, they could not stop me from walking by and peeking in. They also could not stop me from sitting with her in silence when no one was around. That faithful August 27, 2010 night was peaceful and silent. Sometime in the wee hours of the morning I went to my aunt’s house to freshen up and came back before daybreak. Aji was still there. A couple hours later she went to be with her husband Philip, her daughter Juliet, her son Mickie, and her son-in-law Adam. I went in kissed her, walked around the ward, and came back, the doctors surrounded her, she was gone.

Aji lived a long and happy life. She got to spend those years with loving and caring children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. For a young village girl, from Williamsburg, Berbice who married into a farming family in #35 Village, Berbice to a housewife of a Sugar Factory driver in Line Path, Berbice to an immigrant of the United States, Evelyn Joseph, later Khidaroo had a fulfilling life.

I am at peace that my grandmother departed. How long does one stay on this earth for our comforts? When is it time? It was her time. No more pain and suffering, no more doctors and tablets, no more people assisting her to do everything physically, no more depending on anyone, no more being lonely. She is with the people she loved and cherished, but still smiling down on those of us who were in her gracious folds. I miss you aji, but I understand your journey. Rest in Peace old lady, RIP.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

I Remember You, Mickie Khadaroo

Friday 4 pm Aug 19, 1977 - A happy, vibrant man strode into Skeldon Sugar Estate Payroll office to pick up his pay check. After that he went to Skeldon Market, opposite the Skeldon Hospital and bought beef. He made a rounds to Narine Datt bar to say hello and what we now know is goodbye to his friends. He went home to his wife, son, and family. His wife made a special beef curry.

Friday 8 pm Aug 19, 1977 - Mickie Khadaroo took his favorite sports section of the newspaper and went to the out house. He never came back out. After a prolonged period, my mom checked on her husband. No answer. She screamed for help. As neighbors gathered the Skeldon Sugar Estate ambulance arrived. They took him to Skeldon Hospital. Later that night they took him to New Amsterdam Hospital.

Mon 6 am Aug 22, 1977 my father stopped breathing.

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Prior to Aug 19, 1977 my dad spent the last month or more at the New Amsterdam Hospital for what sparse recollection and recounts amount to a brain injury. Throughout his youth up to the ripe age of 29, my father lived to the fullest. Reckless, maybe. He was a sucker for speed and motorcycles. After all he was a mechanic. Trained by his father from a very young age and later formally at the Guysuco Training Center in Rose Hall, Mickie excelled with all things mechanical. In those days and probably still so, the manly and approved thing to do was work at the Sugar Estate, drink with your buddies, and ride motorcycles drunk. After several accidents and head injuries, his tender skull had enough.

As a father, son, brother, and grandson Mickie never forsake his family. My fading memory, I was 6 when he passed, was always among many family members. Our one on one time was a slow drive from Line Path to either Crabwood Creek Road End or Springlands Stelling. I don’t quite remember what was said to me. I just remember a couple of events, birthdays, family gatherings, and trips to other family in Rose Hall and #35 Village.

His early demise left me listless. My grandfather, Uncle Phil, and his brothers Jerry, Ralph and Eddy did a great job filling the void. His mother, Eva, sisters Juliet, Patricia, Esther, and Loney made sure I was comfortable. His wife, Asha, my mom has been and continues to be my rock. She sacrificed her own opportunities in life for my comforts. Mickie is smiling on his darling Asha. Over the years at various times, I had the honor of meeting and reminiscing with many of my dad’s friends. I don’t recall anyone whom he knew or knew him that he did not touch personally. Many call him their brother…..or as they say in Guyana “Dem buddy friend”.

It has been over three decades since you left this world, dad. I feel your presence everyday. Your caring and loving ways still touch this family. In family times, there is still talks about your big heart. Rest assured you are missed. We thank you for touching our lives and somehow instilling your love and compassion. Rest in Peace dear father, RIP.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Place of Relaxation

There are so many complains and frustration making the media circus out of Guyana, that you would think, what a total disaster.


Not so fast naysayer! I recently made friends with a very nice doctor from Skeldon Hospital, Dr. Vishalya Sharma, on Facebook. Being the nosy person I am, I clicked through her photos. To my utmost delight, I found some pictures which raised my curiosity to a very high level of excitement. Did you know that there was a park at #63 Beach? Okay, not the beach it self, but right before you get to the beach.


A park? Built by whom? For whom? Yes, there are good things happening in Guyana. I am told that "Uncle Joe" built this park by himself for the kids in the neighborhood. Apparently, this park was built at least before Dec, 2011. I consider myself very informed about the happenings in and around Skeldon all the way up the Corentyne and to some extent the other parts of Guyana. But a park built right under my nose and I had no idea?


Could it be that Uncle Joe saw the need and just did the right thing, without the hoopla of media and a big splash? I believe so. Not a single whisper on any social media. By chance I saw the pictures of the good doctor. Here is exactly what Guyana needs. I have always supported the notion that Guyana can be rebuilt and developed by the people living in Guyana.


Who knows better what is needed than people living in Guyana? Guyanese living day to day in Guyana! More people should follow suit and take up projects that benefits the community. I don't know Uncle Joe's background, but any person who can give of himself to the public without asking for anything in return is a person worth mentioning. This is how communities are built. This is a neighbor taking care of his neighbors' children. This is necessary in Guyana today.

Help from overseas in the "Hammock Raja" fashion is not the answer. There are tons of Guyanese willing to reach back into their village and render assistance. But it seems like a black hole to fill. People continue to give and nothing changes. The same hand outs happen year in, year out. Next year same thing, the other year same thing. Give a man a fish and he continues to ask, show that man how to fish and he eats everyday. Further, if that man learns to fish by himself, he eats all the time. Life is not easy anywhere. Times are changing in the diaspora. The money tree is getting dry and whittled.

Uncle Joe has shown that a little thought and generosity can go a long way. There was a Christmas party at this park last year. From the images, it is clear that these kids had a ball. This park serves as a sanctuary from everyday life. Like so many other parks in many other parts of the world, this is where people recharge their batteries and take things a little easier. More of this take charge of your own destiny is the key to Guyana's emergence out of this black hole.

I encourage more people to follow suit. Go to this park, take pictures, enjoy the peace, give back to your community. Share your thoughts and pictures. Thank you, Uncle Joe, for making a child's life fun again.





A Time To Remember


New Jersey Arya Samaj Mandir Humanitarian Mission, Guyana/Central Arya Samaj Mandir, Angels Entertainment Group, and Natraj Center for Performing Arts presents A Time to Remember. Proceeds will benefit the building of a Humanitarian Village in Babu John, Rose Hall, Berbice, Guyana. 

This ONE show only at Bath Settlement Community Center Ground will feature music and entertainment of Peace, Love, Unity, Strength, and Harmony.

Local and international artists will perform on the same stage. This is a Family Oriented Event.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The FATHER of Skeldon is gone.


Today, the father of Skeldon has passed on. I am sure there is, but I do not know many people in Skeldon who are 95 years young and still move about like Jamna Persaud Singh.

Showing the boys how it's done.

I remembered him as a high voice, loud, stalwart of a man. Walking into his work shop at the head of Kingston Rd, #79 Village, there was no doubt who was in charge. He made boys into men. There are stories that many of his apprentices would tell about accidents in their pants when he spoke to them. His complete knowledge of ANYTHING mechanical was impeccable.

Uncle Jamna and my grandfather, Uncle Phil, were buddy friends. During his time of many years as a hire car driver, my grandfather utilized the many functions of Uncle Jamna's workshop. I would take several pieces of work and Uncle Jamna, being the loving caring man he was would immediately pull me into his greasy arms with a hug. "Bai, a weh dah old man deh?" He would normally charge us a small fee or none at all. Of course in those days when the "Old bais" them get together was a whole 'nother story. During those times, Uncle Jamna was the owner of Ambassor Inn and Bar at Springlands. After hours of debate and gallons of liquor, the two old bais would come to our home. Pow, pow. He would let a few rounds off in the air, just to announce that they were home. Really, we could not hear the loud old cars and loud inebriated old mouths right in front of the house. But that was signature JPSingh.

Last year March I went back to Guyana after 20 yrs. I met Uncle Jamna at a funeral wake. He was playing dominoes. I slipped into the seat next to him and asked, "Do you remember me?" He looked at me and smiled. Slapped a domino on the table with the vigor of a 15 year old school boy. Then turned fully to face me. He took my shoulders in both of his bony hands and stared into my eyes. Under his bushy eyebrows his eyes softened, " You are old Khedaroo, grand son!" There was that old familiar hug, raspy old voice, and greasy smell. He remembered me.

This is the memory of Jamna Persaud Singh, that will forever itch into my brain, like it was a from his engraving machine. This is how he was to the entire community. Many times I saw this same embrace and hug, same raspy voice, same love for his community. While most of his children, grand, and great grand children are all overseas he choose to stay in Skeldon and work in his workshop until the day he passed. You, sir, distinguish gentleman of noble ancient being, straw hat off to you. I can hear the glasses click as you meet your old friend. Where ever you both are, Happy Father's Day to fathers of Skeldon pass.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Where is the pride in citizenship?

Diplomats launch community cleanup challenge | Latest:

'via Blog this'

I am appalled and dismayed that international diplomats living in Guyana have taken on this clean up initiative. Not that I am ungrateful for their efforts, more like I am embarrassed.

EU Ambassador Robert Kopecky and his expecting wife Eliska cleaning up Georgetown, Guyana.
Source Demerara Waves.
As humans and citizens of the world we are encouraged to keep our surroundings clean. Just like combing our hair, brushing our teeth, ironing our clothes, and stepping out in a presentable manner. Growing up in the rural parts of Berbice, it was a community effort to keep our surroundings clean. I clearly remembered in the late 70s and 80s when my entire street would participate in clean up activities. Some of these massive clean up were planned, like after heavy rains. We would all make sure our drains are cleaned and grass cut in front of our homes and our neighbor's homes if need be. There really was no line. If I was cutting the grass in front of my home, I would extend to both of my side neighbors. My neighbor might be trimming the trees that border both of our homes. It was a community activity that happened whenever it was needed. No one asked us, no one made a big media splash. It was our home and we kept it clean.

These images of foreigners cleaning  up the streets of Georgetown, Guyana troubles me. Where is the community spirit? Why are foreigners cleaning up our home? Rest assured that these people no matter how pristine their background is, being in the diplomatic core, are tired of looking at filthy streets. Since nothing is getting done, they take it upon themselves to initiate a clean up. I am all for community spirit and everyone no matter who they are pitching in to assist. But this is a little embarrassing, someone else cleaning our mess. This is like someone walking into your kitchen and taking a scrub brush to your sink. Or going into your toilet and scrubbing it before they can use it. What does that say about us as a nation?

We really don't care about the way our country is portrayed in the eyes of the international community? Why would a tourist choose Guyana over the other pristine Caribbean destinations? Who would want to do business in a filthy country? These are the images broadcasted to the world. The message is loud and clear. In order to dwell in Guyana you have to clean it up first.

Let's put aside the international spectacle for a second. What about internally? How can you live in this mess? Why are you waiting for someone else to clean up this mess? Obviously, the trash was put there by someone. That someone is you! You scatter and litter expecting someone to pick up after you? Do you think your mom or dad is going to clean your crap up? Wake up, people! It is your actions that is causing this dilemma . Don't blame the government. They put systems in place for you to execute. It is your responsibility to follow the littering law. The legal system is already overloaded, should they issue arrest for menial littering? Maybe, it is time to make examples of people who break the littering laws.

One of my first memories of Georgetown was as a little boy invited to perform at the National Cultural Center. Yes, I dabbled in poetry and acting in primary school. Coming from rural Skeldon, I was in total awe of the well kept lawns, drains, flowers, plants, and clean streets.  Guyana was once a clean, pristine, and beautiful country. What happened to all the people who took pride in keeping our country clean? Are we all scattered in the diaspora? Will we ever be able to reclaim our once pristine country? Or do we have to depend on foreigners to lead the way? 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Embrace and Celebrate Guyanese Artists

Are you listening to Soca or Caribbean music in your car or on the train to work? Do you have a full playlist of Caribbean artist on your iPod or MP3 Player? Are those artist, Guyanese?

It has been a very common trend over the last few years for Caribbean artists to embrace “RUM CULTURE”. It is a culture where the very existence of oneself revolves around liquor, rum being the poison of choice in the Caribbean. Every social activity be it at home, the club, on the streets, in a relationship, rum shapes the actions of all involved.

Last year, there were numerous discussions with several up and coming Guyanese artists in a Facebook Group I admin, Skeldon Conversation. Most, if not all, of these artists wanted to promote their work through the group. Skeldon Conversation Admins’ stance is to stand ground and not promote a culture which takes away from the very fabric of our community. When asked, “Why would you make a video and sing about Liquor.” The response was unanimous, “It is the topic that sells.” Albeit, most of these videos promote RUM CULTURE in a very positive way. How can this contribute to the well being of our next generation?

I Love Liquor Pix

Enter Stealth Productions, under the vision of Neil Anthony Bacchus. Stealth Productions is a multi fauceted media productions company which seek to create positiveness in our Guyanese community and beyond, through the lens of a camera. Neil works with Guyanese artists who promotes a positive environment for the next generation. In the sea of producers who are chasing the all elusive dollar, Neil rises head and shoulders above. Very few producers even bother to think about the impact of their creations on the impressionable minds of our young siblings. It is with no doubt that his newest creation “I Love Liquor” has a hard hitting message that will resonate, with flipping words on its head and taking a hard look at the ideals of Rum Culture.

I Love Liquor

The Music Video 'I Love Liquor' from Julius De Intelligent and Vijay Arjun looks at people on a night out. One group embraces the Rum Culture from his childhood with his aja and aji (grandparents) the other takes to heart the message of “Don’t Drink and Drive”. The result is a compelling look at how the right choices can shape your life. This compilation has been Nominated Best Soca Chutney Music Video Category by the International Soca Awards (ISA). The 10th Annual ISA is being held in Hollywood California.

This video was created, directed, shot and edited by Neil Anthony Bacchus of Stealth Productions.
Writers: Vijay Arjun, Rodney Julius and Jason Seenath
Producer: Jason Lee (BRI Records)
Mastered By: Paul Shields (VP Records)
© Stealth Productions MMXI

As a Guyanese and Caribbean community I strongly urge you to step behind these talented artists and celebrate their creativity by VOTING. Go to the Official ISA website and click on the VOTE button, complete all 29 categories listed, as you please, BUT on Category #19, choose “Vijay Arjun & Julius De Intelligent- I Love Liquor (Directed, Shot & Edited by Neil Anthony Bacchus of Stealth Productions).”

Share this post with your friends, relatives, and colleagues. Talk about this stance at your next gathering. Look out for your fellow revelers. Let’s change this RUM CULTURE to a positive environment for our next generation.


All materials, images, and content used with the permission of Stealth Productions.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

We stomp the dreams of our own.


Reposted with permission from 

4 hours ago via mobile · 
  • A thought crept up on me last night. I know a lot of people have enough bad words to say about Guyana and the destruction caused by politics. I have often been told by various people I should not even bother going because Guyana is moving backwards. Well let me tell you that in life, young people especially expect everything to happen for them just like that. The world doesn't work that way! I've applied to hundreds of places for work experience or even a part time job in London- the business capital of the world and no one would even batter an eyelid at me. Instead I am using this summer to work with some of the most vulnerable women in Guyana and thanks to a certain someone I secured an internship in one of the best institutions in Guyana. So before you are quick to disrespect the country our ancestors gave up their freedom for, think twice and have a little respect for where you come from. If we all contributed a lil bit of our time and skills to do something good for the country imagine that impact by the end of our lifetime....

    Commentary: Here is a young impressionable mind, looking for ways to give back to the country of our birth and we stomp on her. Why do we stifle people like her? 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

NJASMHM Finally breaks ground on Humanitarian Mission Village


After numerous hurdles, this much anticipated project will begin. The New Jersey Arya Samaj Mandir Humanitarian Mission will take this very important step on Saturday, March 24, 2012.

The blueprint and services offered promises to create a safe haven for victims of domestic violence, neglected seniors, men, women, and orphans. This village will be developed in phases as funds and support becomes available. Here is the start....

Sunday, March 11, 2012

What were you doing one year ago?

Prayers, tears as Japan marks 1 year since massive earthquake - CNN.com:

'via Blog this'

As a wall of water headed to the Japanese coast and death seemed inevitable, what were you doing one year ago? After 21 years of living in America, I decided to visit my country of birth, Guyana. This just happened to coincide with the celebration of the Hindu festival, Phagwah. In Guyana, Phagwah is one of the many religious festivals celebrated by people of all fates. It is more or less neighbors celebrating with each other.

On this day, what I would come to find out was a horrible time for the Japanese people, I joined my cousins and neighbors for a grand Hindu/Guyanese celebration. We celebrated with everyone who lived on our street and then walked a couple of miles to my aunt's house and celebrated with everyone along the way. It was a joyous time. After a couple of hours, we all had a hearty meal. Then celebrated some more in a different form. The next day I called home to the US to find out that Anderson Cooper, CNN Anchor, was in Japan on an assignment. What the heck was he doing in Japan? What could have happened to warrant a CNN anchor to travel across the world? He makes these trips only when something really big has happened.

I was told a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and a devastating Tsunami hit Japan. Details were sketchy as the data poured in. When I asked people around me if anyone heard about an earthquake no one knew anything. So I went to #79 Market and asked around the couple of people I had gotten to know, none of them knew anything either. So here I was with one of the biggest natural disasters in modern history and the people of Skeldon had no idea what was going on. I tried the TV stations, the only half decent reception was a Surinamese channel. They did not carry the news. I tried connecting to the internet with my laptop from a friend's bar. There was an electrical blackout. Then, reality stepped in.

This is everyday life in Skeldon. What happens at the market or on the same street that people live on is just about all that people are aware of. No one is really aware of any happenings outside of their immediate surroundings. Am I looking at this like an alien? Of course there are people who have TV stations with CNN and MSNBC streaming live all day long. They also do not depend on the mighty Guyana Power and Light for their power generation. Their back-up generators kick on in an instant. Business and private dwelling goes on. But is seems to me that there are a handful of people who have these lines of communications.

The few who are fortunate to have live world news coverage and know what is going on outside of their immediate environs are not apt to share that information willingly. Granted these people have worked and amass wealth or are recipients of overseas assistance. Either way they have access to what the majority of people do not. I applaud them being able to be informed and know what is going on. It would be nice if more people can reach up and strive to achieve at least these basic functions. But it just seems that there really isn't that drive or desire. No motivation to want anything other than a mundane existence. Or perhaps, it is sufficient to pass on the reins to the next generation the same way it was passed on to them. I am still perplexed how after 21 years so much has changed and yet so little in Skeldon.

On my return flight to the US towards the end of March, my first image at JFK International Airport was of the Japanese earthquake on an airport TV. My experience a year ago has driven me to seek ways of reaching back into Skeldon. I am of a strong opinion that raising awareness and creating a international dialogue is a good start in bringing progress to Skeldon. Yes, the people who connect over the internet may already be on their way to heightened awareness. But maybe through a simple conversation and personal interaction with someone who is not bounded by the walls of Skeldon and Guyana there can be stirring of curiosity. Just maybe two groups of people can reach across continents and be as one. At least  there can be a sharing of ideas. Maybe this conversation can spill into a person who does not have information at their finger tips and a whole chain effect can take place. Wishful thinking? Maybe, but we can hope.

As I sit today and reflect on one of the world's largest natural disaster. It is enlightening to have access to all these images and commentary. I was just moved by a speech from the Emperor of Japan who is 79 years old, 2 days ago he had heart surgery. His speech was at the exact time one year ago 14:46 Hrs. (Japan time), being broadcasted live on CNN. The wonders of 24 hr news media. Had I not have access to information would I even bother to care? My heart and prayers go to out to the Japanese people and all who suffered and will continue to suffer for years to come from this catastrophic incident. May you find the strength to move forward.