we be backdam people

My maternal grandfather came to Guyana from Afghanistan with his parents when he was a toddler. They came as indentured laborers, to work on the sugar plantations on the East Coast of Demerara. Nani Paa never learned to read or write and the Estate was the only place he ever worked in all his life. From childish chores, he graduated to the position of ‘shovel man.’ It was brutally hard work, for the strongest only. Short and stout, but muscled from wielding the shovel in the sun for hours at a time (and also because he minded a flock of sheep), he gained the nickname ‘Ram Shaw’. Of the six children that Paa and my Nani had, three (one of which was my mother) became public school teachers in Guyana. None worked the land. And none live in Guyana anymore.

I spent the morning in the backdam with some cane cutters and a farmer who has been growing sugarcane in Guyana for 50 years. Among the many topics of conversation: the history and future of Guysuco, cane vs rice farming, and the always-interesting going-ons at Skeldon.. There might have been some refinements on the processing end, but cane cutting- getting the cane out the ground and into the factory- hasn’t changed much in the decades since my grandfather worked on the estate. It’s still brutally hard work, with men (and a few women) in the fields in the sun for hours at a time, bending, lifting, and fetching. Indentureship being long over, most people who have other options for employment take it, leaving cane farmers desperate for workers. But it’s not work most youth or other Guyanese are interested in. Unless, that is, people have no other choice. People who have no choice but to engage in backbreaking labor (for not a lot of money) are not happy campers generally. Alcohol abuse, interpersonal violence, depression, and suicide are common in canecutter communities. On the organizational level, Guysuco has been failing for years now. From Directors who live in the USA and fly in for meetings (and who have been implicated in numerous instances of corruption) to decreasing yields and markets, and a multi-million USD factory that has never functioned properly from day 1- Guysuco is on its last legs. However, because canecutters have traditionally been the base of the ruling political party, the politrickans are keen to keep them pacified. Also, race being the jumbie that it is in Guyana, every vote counts. Fascinating then, to hear of the recent altercation between the Afro-Guyanese worker and Indo-Guyanese manager at Skeldon. Black worker fired and the entire factory (joined by Albion workers as well) goes on strike in support of him. I am surprised, truth be told. Apparently solidarity is still alive in Guyana today..






Until just a few years ago, I had never been in the backdam of Guyana. My childhood was spent on the main road and farming- though a necessary endeavor- was deemed an undesirable activity and one we should leave far behind as we climbed the socioeconomic ladder. Doctor, lawyer- those were now the positions to strive for, as the children of teachers and grandchildren of backdam people. I know that Nani Paa would chastise me if he were still alive today, for I’m neither doctor nor lawyer, so I’m glad he’s peacefully in the ground. But it’s he I think about every time I go in the backdam now. His parents migrated to this spit of land in search of a better life for themselves and their children but one generation later, their descendants have moved on mostly, still seeking betterment. Wheel and come again, Guyana. A few of us are still here though. We be backdam people!


Patient Rights

Patient rights
Posted By Staff Writer On September 19, 2014 In Daily, Features

There is a tendency among people, all over the world, to defer to doctors and other healthcare practitioners. Like other professionals with specialised knowledge and training, doctors/healthcare practitioners are generally accorded a great deal of respect by laypersons. This is understandable as these individuals do spend a great deal of their time studying and learning about the human body, disease processes, and treatment options. When we are sick and suffering, these are the people we turn to for help. We put ourselves in their hands, hoping and trusting that they will make the pain go away and make us feel better. This is an incredible thing indeed, for when we are sick we are at our most vulnerable, and there are few other instances when individuals entrust their well-being so completely to other persons. It is awesome and humbling. Sadly however, too often, this trust is abused.

Many persons seeking care for Chikungunya, for example, received a series of injections. However, many of these same people, when asked, did not know what was in the injection. This is not just a phenomenon limited to Chikungunya, in many other instances, treatment/medication is blindly received, with limited understanding by the patient of exactly what is being done. Often, people just go to the doctor and allow them to do whatever they think necessary, without questioning them.

Sometimes, when people do ask questions, they are shouted at or belittled. Some doctors and healthcare workers view any questioning as hostile or as a sign of the patient lacking confidence in their skills. However, it is the right of every person seeking healthcare to know exactly what is being done to their body, and to ask and get all their questions answered by the healthcare worker. It is crucial that more Guyanese understand this and become more assertive when dealing with doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers. People should not be getting injections or drinking pills without knowing what medication is being administered, what the side effects are, etc.

The case of Evita Singh, the 34-year-old pregnant mother who recently died at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) when multiple doses of pills to trigger contractions were administered to her, seemingly without her consent, and when she did not receive the Caesarean section she needed, is one tragic example of what can happen when healthcare providers abuse the trust that people put in them. While there are conditions that manifest at the end of pregnancy/during the birthing process, a woman who has been healthy before and throughout her pregnancy, and who received consistent antenatal care, should not die this way-especially in a hospital under the care of (would-be) professionals. Unless a person is incapacitated and incapable of understanding and making decisions for themselves, no healthcare worker should be administering medication or treatment without a patient’s consent. All decisions should be made collaboratively, after the open sharing of all relevant information. Had this happened, it is likely that this woman and her baby would still be alive today. That it didn’t is cause for great concern and one which needs immediate correction by those in charge of accountability and quality control at the GPHC.

Another example of abuse of power by healthcare officials is the administration of the Gardasil vaccine to schoolgirls by Ministry of Health officials without the children or their guardians being told of the many negative side effects of this particular vaccine, and only being given limited information about the causes and prevalence of HPV (which the vaccine is supposed to be working against).

Health is a complex topic and most laypeople are not going to have the same knowledge and information as those who have trained and are working in the health field – this is a fact. However, that does not mean that laypeople do not have their own type of expertise. In fact, laypersons need to realise that they are the ones who know their bodies best. A doctor/nurse only sees you when you are sick; you deal with your body and its processes on a daily basis. As such, persons have key information about their bodies’ functions that is critical to health and well-being. Doctors and other healthcare professionals need to realise this and to treat individuals seeking care with more respect. Persons also need to become more confident and secure in their own knowledge and to not be afraid of speaking up, asking questions, or sharing key information. It is also important that doctors/healthcare workers take the time to talk with and engage people about their behaviours, practices, beliefs, etc, as these are likely to be essential in the success of whatever treatment is prescribed. Too often, the course of treatment decided upon by doctors is not followed by the patient because it is at odds with some key element of the individual’s life or circumstances, or because they just do not understand what is being prescribed. Ideally, doctor and patient should be working together to achieve the best possible outcome.

The internet also provides an avenue for laypeople to become more knowledgeable and empowered to ensure their own wellbeing. While not all information on the internet is accurate and one must be aware of which sources are reputable, there is a great deal of information available online which individuals can utilise for greater wellness. Symptoms, as well as medication, alternative treatments, and preventative care can all be researched and combined/compared with the information received in person from doctors/ healthcare workers.

Trust and respect between individuals must be mutual, irrespective of educational background, social standing, or other differences between persons. The fact is that doctors/healthcare workers and the individual seeking care are both key players in the quest for health and wellness. Both parties must respect and communicate with each other. Patient rights must be made a reality, not be just a poster on a wall. And doctors/healthcare providers who abuse the trust placed in them by must be held accountable at all times.

URL to article: http://www.stabroeknews.com/2014/features/09/19/patient-rights/

buy/eat local- an ode to pigeon peas, ackee, freeness and neighbors

On the days I leave my apartment- the days I have the will and energy to deal with people- I have about an 8 minute walk out to the main road where the buses run. Before I pass the yard with the mechanic guys tinkering on motorcycles and cars- guys who used to trouble me at first but no longer; before I pass the lady sitting under the umbrella selling sweeties and other snacks- a lady whose name I don’t know but who I can’t ever pass without saying hello, who tells me she misses me when I travel; before the old natty who stands at his gate for hours gyaffing- who I miss when he goes away for months; before the old drunk parked in the wrecked ruins of a car- who used to beg me for money and who I sometimes gave to until I saw him staggering and falling off his bicycle almost into the trench and then I stopped giving him any, I pass a house on the corner with a big yard. It’s not as new or brightly painted as the house directly across from it whose shutters are almost always closed. Mangoes, hanging enticingly, were the first thing that caught my eye in the old house’s yard. When they ripe, you must sell me, I said one day to the lady sitting at the top of the stairs. She’s a big woman with busy hands- always working on something. Ok, she smiled at me and sure enough, the next time I passed, she beckoned me to come in. How much you want, she asked me. Wait, I said, let me see how much money I have left. Don’t worry, you can pay me next time you pass. She smiled and I smiled back. Her mangoes weren’t as sweet as the ones from the trees in my uncle’s yard, trees I used to climb and pick from, before that uncle and I quarreled and I moved out, to this new neighborhood. But I continued buying from her as long as mango season lasted, even when the new house guy put a stand by his gate with mangoes for sale. I was tempted to see how his mangoes tasted, but I couldn’t buy from him with her watching, and so I remained loyal.

Somehow though, I missed the pigeon peas getting brown on the tree. But as soon as it was pointed out to me, I said something. Hey, dem pigeon peas just for decoration or what, I said cheekily. If you not eating them, pick them and give to me, please! She smiled. Couple days later, I passed and saw her by the tree, picking. Passed again and saw her hands busy shelling. Today, as I walked by, she called me in. Here’re your pigeon peas, she said. Is because of you I picked them. I smiled a big smile. I grew to love pigeon peas fairly recently- just last year actually. In Grenada, they were $10EC a bag, green and succulent. I ate them every week for as long as I could get them in the market and never grew sick of them. Curried with potatoes, in soup with pumpkin, with quinoa in salad- yes, I ate them every which way and never got sick of them. St. Andrews county, Grenada, was pigeon pea country, with mini pigeon pea forests in almost every yard. Groups of men, women, and children could be seen clustered around baskets, busy shelling, in peak season. There was a tree in the yard here, by the septic tank, but my landlord, a mad man, chopped it down last year and cemented up where it used to grow in preparation for a wedding that never happened. But tomorrow, after I done wash and clean, is pigeon peas cooking up! (maybe with the ackee that i got from the tree in the church yard- they just ripening and falling down; Guyanese people frikken to eat them. But after i tasted it in Kingston, JA, i hunted down ackee trees here in GT. the church man helped me knock some down with a tall stick and i filled my bag. now i have seeds to  plant.) giving thanks

pigeon peas as far as the eye can see


ras abdul shelling
ras abdul shelling
pigeon peas and dasheen curry with quinoa
pigeon peas and dasheen curry with quinoa

Fried Chicken more dangerous than Chikungunya

People should be more concerned about fried chicken than Chikungunya and Ebola

Posted On September 5, 2014 In Daily,Features  

Healthy Eating (Part 1)

A lot of people right now are worried about Chikungunya- the mosquito-borne viral illness that causes fever, rashes, and joint pain. Many people are also worrying about Ebola- another viral and highly lethal disease spreading throughout West Africa. While illnesses such as these are significant, the reality is that there are far greater threats to human health and well-being than Chikungunya and Ebola. One of the biggest threats to our health right now is actually something that we willingly expose ourselves to on a daily basis- unhealthy food.

Food is a part of our daily life, an integral part of our culture and celebrations; it’s something we simply cannot live without. But in many instances it’s also a key contributor to disease. In fact, food-related illnesses kill and sicken far more people annually around the world than diseases like Chikungunya or Ebola. However, too many of us do not give the same amount of attention to food in relation to our health, and too many people wait until they get sick before they start caring about their diet.

Food has profound influences on our health and well-being, in both the long and short term. It affects our brains and emotional state as well as our physical bodies. The diets of children, in particular, should be carefully monitored to ensure that they receive the correct nutrients for their developmental needs. While it’s good to adopt healthier eating habits at any time, doing so consistently, from an early age, is key to disease prevention.

Healthy eating is both a simplex and complex issue. It’s complicated because scientists are constantly ‘discovering’ new things about food and health, and we are barraged with sometimes conflicting information from numerous sources (with different agendas), making it hard to know what is true and who to trust. Adding to the confusion is the fact that information changes over time, with some things once demonized as unhealthy- coconut oil for example- being celebrated decades later. Healthy eating need not be an overwhelming topic however. By paying attention to just a few simple ‘rules’ one can easily eat healthier.

First- the less processed food is, the healthier it generally is. Of course, some food items- meat for example- must be cooked in order to kill dangerous bacteria, and the nutrients in some foods are enhanced with processing. Overall however, the closer food is to its natural state, the more nutritious it is. Overly-processed food and items that contain a lot of artificial flavours, preservatives, and chemicals are to be avoided as many of these artificial additives can be carcinogenic and harmful if regularly consumed.

Do not assume that just because something is commonly used or being sold in the market that it is safe or healthy. A lot of items that are produced and sold can cause serious health problems when over-consumed or eaten on a regular basis. Pay attention to labels on food items- even if it’s something you regularly use and think you know all about- it’s still a good idea to become familiar with the ingredients. If there are multiple ingredients and any of them sound as if they were created in a laboratory instead of by Mother Nature, it’s best to reduce your consumption of this item. In general, it’s best to stick to eating things that your grandmother would recognize.

However, just because we’ve grown up eating something and some particular foods may be deemed representative of our culture does not mean that they are to be embraced blindly. Caring to eat healthier means being open to change. While granny does often know better, she can also be encouraging unhealthy habits. For example- one of the most common cooking methods here in Guyana (and around the world) – frying- is extremely unhealthy. Most fried foods have high levels of saturated fat and eating such foods too often can raise cholesterol levels and contribute to heart disease. As such, the recent proliferation of fried chicken franchises in Georgetown and other towns around Guyana, is extremely worrisome. While fried foods stimulate our taste buds and these fried chicken restaurants might be popular, they are ultimately putting nails in our coffins, contributing to high levels of obesity and heart disease. The first step to a healthier diet therefore, is to reduce both the amount of fried food eaten, as well as the amount of meat and dairy products consumed.
It has been proven that one does not need to eat meat or dairy in order to survive and that long and healthy lives can be had on a completely vegetarian diet. However, even if one is not willing to give up meat or dairy completely, just reducing regular consumption of these items and eating more fresh fruits and vegetables daily can significantly improve one’s health and reduce the risk of illnesses such as cancer and heart disease. A recent study done by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that each additional serving of red meat eaten per day was linked to a 13% higher risk of dying during the study. Processed red meat products- such as sausages and hot dogs- appeared to be even more dangerous with each additional daily serving being associated with a 20% higher risk of dying.

Many food items that are cheap- such as the processed meat products mentioned above (hot dogs and sausages) are staples in many Guyanese people’s diets simply because they are affordable. When incomes are small and the mouths to feed many, it is understandable that price becomes one of the main factors influencing what foods we buy. However, although we might save money in the short term, we often end up sabotaging our health in the longer term as cheap food items are often poorer in quality and worse for our health. It *is* possible however, to eat healthily on a limited budget, and I will explore this topic in more detail in another column.

Sherlina may be contacted with comments and/or questions at ssnageer@yahoo.com.

URL to article: http://www.stabroeknews.com/2014/features/09/05/people-concerned-fried-chicken-chikungunya-ebola/