Flora Garden is situated along the De Hoop Branch Road in Mahaica, East Coast Demerara, where it is flanked by Number Ten and Handsome Tree. In this tiny village of just 16 residents, three-quarters are related by blood; they all farm – planting and cattle rearing – to make a living.
Seventy-seven-year-old Dwarka Singh, better known as ‘Aja Bab,’ is the oldest resident, but he was not too certain about how the village came to be. His late grandmother, who was born in 1900 and died in 1960, he said, told him what he knew. “According to my grandmother, this was a white man estate in colonial days,” he related.
“It’s a hundred rod along the road from one village to the next and six hundred rods into the backdam. We don’t have lot numbers here.
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“If a letter is addressed to you it’ll have the person name, Flora Garden, Mahaica Creek, East Coast Demerara. Whosoever doing the mail service got to run the whole creek but now we nah got no mail service. If a letter comes to you, you got to go to the post office at Mahaica. The last person running the mail work up to November. He say the work can’t pay him.”
Asked if he knew whether the “white man” who owned Flora Garden was British or Dutch, he could not say. Although the place has an English name, Singh said, he has found “Dutch bottles” on his farm.
The land where most of the houses are, he said, had to be built up and in digging for dirt, ponds were created. Sometimes when it rains a lot and the creek overtops, the ponds fill up with fish, but he said the caimans usually eat them.
He sat across from me with a badly twisted wrist. The man explained that injury was as a result of a fall he sustained four years ago. Singh explained that he had gone to a private hospital to seek medical attention and a doctor put his hand in a cast. When he returned later to the hospital for a reexamination, the doctor said he had made a mistake and Singh needed to pay additional money to have his wrist broken and then reset. Singh refused to have his wrist broken again so it remains twisted. He called the doctor “a scamp”.
The road that runs along the village, Singh said, was done after a lot of “back and forth”. He recalled that the late Cheddi Jagan told him that if he wanted the road to be built then they needed to come together. He said a total of $40 million was spent to do part of the road, including the section where he lives. Before the road was built, every resident dug in front of his home.
Singh, who was born and raised in Flora Garden, said that before the construction of the road, his family and most of the other residents lived along the creek. The Mahaica Creek was where they washed, bathed, got water for drinking and cooking. It was also where the children—the boys particular—went swimming. When he got older and needed to cross his cows from one side to the next, they swam alongside him, Singh said.
Residents of Flora Garden no longer depend on the creek for their water needs as they have access to potable water in their yards and homes. However, Singh said, the water has a rancid smell and a high iron content.
One would think that the villages along the De Hoop Branch Road, located not so far from the coast, would have access to all amenities. This is not so. In fact, the people of Flora Garden receive no electricity from the national grid and use solar panels instead.
In the colonial days, this hamlet had a rice mill; the owners also had a small rice plantation and a lot of cattle. Today, Singh’s two sons have a one-of-a-kind, self-sustaining cattle and poultry farm. This farm is run in an impressive way and is the first such I have seen in all of my World Beyond Georgetown travels.
Singh was eager to give me a tour, though he walked with a stick for support and a bottle of water in his pocket. When I walked a bit too fast, I needed to stop and wait a bit so he could catch up. At the first section of the farm, the younger cattle are kept, those that are not calves and yet are not fully grown. They will be sold. In another pen, adult cattle were resting. Outside of the wooden fence that kept them in, large containers were filled with straw soaked in malt bought from Banks DIH Ltd.
Further on were bundles of straw neatly stacked high up to the roof of a shed. Singh explained that for them to be able to do this they bought a machine called a hay tedder that cuts, rakes and bales the straw neatly before it’s tied by someone and packed away. Singh’s sons do not have large rice fields as they plant mainly cash crops. To acquire the needed straw, they wait until other farmers are done harvesting their paddy and ask to cut what remains. For the other farmers, it means less work cleaning their fields, so they are happy to have the Singhs do it.
The cows are not always taken out for grazing, so the straw stacked away is mainly for their consumption. Since the straw is not as nutritious as the grass growing in the fields, Singh’s sons add the malt to it.
In another pen covered in plastic, hens and roosters clucked as they scratched in the dirt. At the furthest end of the pen, heaps of cow manure were drying. Once dried, someone transfers it to the crop farm where it is used as mould for the plants.
The cows also provide milk for the family and the excess is sold to residents of other villages along the De Hoop Branch Road.
The Singhs’ farm of cash crops is huge. There are rows and rows of bora and karila as far as the eye could see. Each row had garden hose attached with timed sprinklers that provide irrigation to the crops. From a distance, the farm looks like it has no fence, a conclusion I had drawn until I got close to one end and Singh warned me against going any closer lest I come into contact with the electric barrier that deters people and animals from crossing into the farm.
Sandra Ghansham sat on her verandah cleaning half a basin of shrimp. She is married to the second cousin of Singh and hails originally from Wash Clothes, Mahaicony. She and her husband lived for some time with her in-laws in Handsome Tree, before moving to Flora Garden.
Back in Wash Clothes, the woman said, she had access to potable water but when she first arrived in Flora Garden, she had to learn to use the water from the creek. Ghansham confessed that this almost moved her to tears in the beginning, but she quickly caught on. Now, she even says that she believes the creek water is better than tap water because she would not have to worry about it staining her clothes.
Ghansham spends her day doing chores, watering her plants, getting some rest and watching her Indian soaps later in the day. Her husband has a small rice farm, along with a farm that grows cash crops. Stacked up under her house were dozens of bags of manure that her husband and other workers were going to throw in the fields. Two weeks later they would do this again then wait until April to begin harvesting.
Ghansham loves living in Flora Garden because it is peaceful and she has nice neighbours, but for her the most beautiful part is being close to the creek. Since the construction of the road, however, she and her family, like most of the other residents, moved to live along the road.
Not much happens in the area, except for horse racing that is put on by the mandir in Handsome Tree. This fundraising activity occurs every two years and while Ghansham said it took place right in Flora Garden in the rice fields after the crop was harvested, another resident said it took place outside of the village. Whichever it is, Flora Garden along with the other villages along De Hoop Branch Road all take part in the festivities.
Ghansham revealed that she was one of the passengers aboard the Fly Jamaica Boeing 757 plane which skidded off the runway at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport in November of 2018. The woman said that though she sustained no serious injuries, she was trampled by other passengers who were in a hurry to get off the plane like she was.
“I did get hit on my stomach and foot wherever persons fall on me,” she recalled. “I hear when them say that is some hydraulics problem with the plane and me turn to the aunty next to me and tell her that hydraulics is something, either it nah lift or it stick or something. I get blackout like about two times. I was really scared. I call Fly Jamaica plenty times; they don’t answer phone here in Guyana.”
She said persons had contacted her saying that they would represent her as her lawyers and would call her, but nothing came out of the matter. She and the passengers were allowed to board another flight to Canada later that month.
Ghansham said, however, that she lives in comfort at Flora Garden, the only thing she wishes now is for the village to have access to electricity.
Surrat Singh and Indrowtie Mohanlall were the first family in Flora Garden. Neither of them belong to the community. Mohanlall is from neighbouring Number Ten and Surrat is from Enterprise, East Coast Demerara.
“Here, it so silent; no noisy place, no music place. You don’t have anybody around here to bother you,” Mohanlall said.
Of the almost 49 years that she and her husband have been together, they lived for three of those years at the beginning of De Hoop and then moved to Flora Garden.
Her husband plants both rice and cash crops. They rear cattle as well. The place, they said, is relatively free of crime, though their house was burglarised last year. The burglary, they noted, occurred during the day. At the time, Mohanlall was grieving the death of her mother and had gone across to Number Ten.
Surrat said they were the first residents of Flora Garden to live near the road. He recalled when there was no road and the only access to the community was via the creek. His home was surrounded by a jungle and many persons laughed at him for choosing to build his home so far from the creek. When the road was constructed, it turned out that he was closest to the road and the other residents moved their homes closer to the road. Our talk ended here as Surrat had to return to the farm and his wife needed to take care of dinner. This is the simple way of life of the people of Flora Garden.
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