cochore at mon repos market. aka sloth rescue adventure. which all came about thanks to a plastic chinee toilet seat. keep reading

i didn’t set out to be a chochore. truth be told, i wasn’t even 100% sure what a cochore was.. i was, after all, miss bibi’s daughter, raised to be a “good muslim girl” by my schoolteacher mother. so, 6 months shy of 40, i still wasn’t 100% sure what a cochore was. after he ‘bused me tho, using it in a sentence- “you is a cochore!”- i finally got it.

i didn’t set out to be a cochore. no, i innocently rode my bike to the mon repos market last week simply to purchase a few items to prepare for some friends who were scheduled to pay me a visit  the next day. they wanted to eat breadfruit and soursop- things that are best gotten fresh- hence my visit to the market (since i don’t have those trees in my yard- yet). i got the breadfruit and soursop then decided to go check out this hardware store at the other end of the market. i don’t usually go there, since it means passing the butcher section. it’s hard enough on my vegetarian-for-decades stomach/soul to see the numerous carcasses slung up; worse are the cages of live animals punishing down below.. but i needed a new toilet seat- esp since overseas guests were visiting and all (i haven’t lived in this new place for 3 months yet and i’m not over 110 lbs but already i’m on my 3rd toilet seat. don’t ask. #cheapchineseplasticgoods!). there was no way around; i’d have to pass directly by the butchers.. there are over a dozen stalls selling meat, both ‘regular’ meat- ie cow, pig, chicken, etc, and ‘wild’- ie deer, labba, etc. i took a deep breath and tried to hold it and myself together. then i saw the sloth.

sloth at mon repos market

it caught my eye right away. it’s not every day you see a sloth, after all. i had first read about sloths in the book “3 singles to adventure” by british zookeeper gerald durrell- and have loved them ever since, feeling more than a passing kinship (fellow vegetarian, fellow fondness for energy conservation 😉 ). i biked past, then stopped, got off my bike, and looked back to make sure my eyes had seen correctly. the sloth was stuffed inside a narrow cage, right on the roadside, in the hot hot sun. as i looked, a man dumped a bottle of water over it. there was a policewoman in a yellow jacket not far off, directing traffic. i knew it was a waste of time to approach her- her job was to direct traffic and that’s all she would do- this i know. it was saturday and i also knew that none of the staff at any of the relevant government agencies would be working. not that i knew any phone numbers to call or anything- such information is scarce in the public domain in Guyana.

i called the one person i knew would come, as long as she was in the country/county. Syeada is forever ‘rescuing’ animals in Guyana, one of several dedicated animal lovers I know. She happens to have a vehicle and connections, and she and I had collaborated before (although we also disagree on some fundamental points). Sure enough, as soon as i told her what i’d seen, she said she’d be right there. right meant about half hour though. i went back to where the sloth was and struck up a conversation with the vendor. he was helping another man sell wild meat- the other man mostly sat in the vehicle while he wielded the cutlass and carved the various portions that customers desired.

so, ah, where you catch this sloth? linden side, he replied. how you ketch it? well, i see it since last week, in a tree, and i was thinking i would cut down the tree and get it. but when i went with my chainsaw, it had moved. then i saw it again the other day. i threw a net over it and is so i ketch it. oh wow. you catch plenty of them before? yes man, nuff. is good money you know. oh yea? how much you selling it for? $10K, he replied ($50USD). i used to get $3-4000 back in the day, but now i get $10-$15K. oh yea? who you does sell them to? anybody, he replied. there are a couple of guys who normally buy them; they in the wildlife trade. so they export them? yea. isn’t that illegal? nah, they got permit. hmm. but don’t you have to have a permit too, to catch it? nah. he laughs. i ask him more questions- how would he like it if someone captures him as he’s going about his daily life, puts him in a cage, and sells him. doesn’t he think it’s cruel? what does he care about more than $$? eh, like you is a christian, he finally says. no, i’m not a christian, i say. there was a christian missionary man who paid me, one time, to loose another sloth i had. did you loose it then? yea. so what if i tell you to loose this one? yuh could buy it and loose it yourself, he laughs at me. but i don’t have $10K in my pocket and only a bicycle for transp.

plenty people walk past. a tween girl squeals excitedly and calls over to another girl on the other side of the street to come see. a chinaman from china comes to buy some wild meat and peers eagerly at the captive sloth. how taste, he asks? NO, i say firmly. NOT FOR EATING! “not for eating?” the chinaman repeats, looking at me quizzically. NO, NOT FOR EATING, i say again, shaking my head empathetically. NOT FOR EATING! not everything is for eating! didn’t you already buy meat? i can’t stop myself. would you eat people? hmm, he looks at me. what eat, he then asks. leaves, i say. how much, he asks the vendor. $15K, says the vendor. thankfully the Chinaman walks away then. i contemplate grabbing the cage and pedaling off with it, but.. there’s that policewoman. and the vendor has a vehicle. and companions. i take some deep breaths to calm myself down and keep waiting for S.

suddenly sirens and some shiny black cars zoom up. the president is passing- i see the cacique crown license plate. i wave and point but cannot see past the tint to see if he’s noticed. the president had spoken out against wild meat consumption- well, just some kinds ( and i hoped, as he passed, that he’d stop and talk with these vendors. of course, i knew that was highly unlikely- the sun was hot hot, he had just aged another year, plus had a lot of work to do, but.. one always hopes, even though one knows better. anything is still possible- this i still believe.

i doan know fuh do any odda wuk, the vendor had told me. dey aint got any odda wuk. this is the other thing i wanted the president to talk to people about. a year plus and counting and still there’s no job creation strategy.

but the presidential convoy doesn’t stop and he doesn’t come out of the car and talk with us.

the vendor now mistakes my interest in the sloth as interest in him. lemme ask *you* some questions now, he leers at me, since you bin asking me all those questions all dis time. ohk, i say, scanning the road. where the hell is S?! blah blah blah some more, until finally, she shows up. with her is Melinda- her lawyer friend. M whips out a notepad and pen and immediately begins interrogating the vendor. no more nice and easy chitchat as he and i had been engaging in, no, as M questions him, he starts to sweat, beads popping up on his forehead and running down his neck. we have to take this sloth, S and M announce peremptorily. there is not even any discussion about money. you are breaking the law and we are going to take this animal. beaten by these two strong women, the vendor man submits and even lifts the cage into the back of S’s pickup truck. but the sloth is scared and stressed, understandably, and refuses to move into the big dog kennel that she has brought. eventually, we slide it inside the vehicle, onto the back seat, still in the narrow little cage. S and M drive away and i’m left there with the now sloth-less vendor.

“well, i hope you’ve learnt a lesson!” i say. that’s when he let’s me have it. “you is a cochore! is you call dem people to tek way mi ting!” “your thing?” i retort? is you mek it? stuuuuu. yes, look my face good! cuz you might see it again in court! he quietens down then. but the other wild meat vendor, a big belly man on the other side, then comes over and starts up the rowing again. he’s eating something and as he shouts at me, spittle and crumbs spray out. i let all my disgust show on my face. if was MY thing, y’all could never tek it ‘way like dat, he rages. I know Bernard Dos Santos (big shot pee pee pee lawyer); i does sell he wild meat. i gon bring one o dem tings hay next week and see what u gon do then!

so anyway, now i know exactly what a cochore is. i also know exactly where i’ll be this coming Saturday- liming by the wild meat vendors at Mon Repos market, preparing for another confrontation and potential sloth rescue.. just another day pon de dam in lovely GT..

bigger issues:

– general lack of regulation of widlife trading in Guyana

– lack of enforcement of existing laws- police for example are supposed to deal with cruelty to animals issues.. but- there is widespread corruption, lack of awareness, and unwillingness to take action.

– man feeling like he’s the boss of all other creatures, entitled to act with impunity, kill/capture and eat/sell whatever he can catch.. lack of empathy, willingness to change. selfishness and greed ruling the day.

-lack of jobs in Guyana. lack of education about sustainability, environmental issues, etc.

at least in this one instance, this sloth was saved and released back into the wild.

sloth climbing tree






hijabi snake charmer. aka my mom

this is not the bibi i know. the bibi i know is scared of eating fruit picked off the tree, without washing it first. the bibi i know despises having my 2 domesticated cats share her living space. but the bibi i know will also do almost anything for her children, grandchildren, and other people’s children. after i picked my jaw up off the floor after seeing these pics, when i called to ask the alien inhabiting  my mother’s body to stay a while longer, she laughed and told me “the kids made her do it.” my mother, bibi. hijabi snake charmer. 😀

mom n casper2

mom n casper

mom n twinkle

mom n twinkle2

Questions to ask in the wake of the deaths of Joshua and Antonio George

“Every Guyanese a child protector”

This is what is written on the Child Care and Protection Agency’s (CCPA) signboard, outside their office at the intersection of Broad and Charles St, in Georgetown.

What does it mean to care for and protect children? Does it mean taking them out of unsafe living conditions? Undoubtedly. Removing them from the care of people who abuse and mistreat them? Definitely. How are those situations assessed though, and those decisions made? Are CCPA staff trained enough to differentiate between deliberate abuse by individuals and systemic abuse perpetuated on families by poverty? To differentiate between parents who purposely starve their children and those who are simply too poor to afford three solid meals a day?

What responsibility does the government have to provide quality employment to their citizens? After more than a year in office and after giving themselves a salary increase, how many jobs has this government created? I’m not just talking training half a dozen people in half a dozen communities or employing people to pick up trash and clean nasty drains one or two times; I’m asking about large scale, systematic job creation programs. How much longer do Guyanese have to wait for those?

no job creation targetfat catsWhat are those Guyanese currently unemployed to do in the meantime? How are they supposed to feed themselves and their children in the meanwhile?

And to those self-righteous ones who will say that “she mus close her legs or bear the consequences if she want have fun”- i ask: where are the free vasectomies for men, the safe and affordable abortion services at public hospitals nationwide, or the education around consent and sexual and reproductive health/rights in schools? Where are the social and religious leaders (Other than Rev. Pat Sheerattan-Bisnauth)  who are encouraging and talking openly/unashamedly about contraception and family planning (including termination of pregnancy if/when necessary), or the congregations that don’t just collect alms to build bigger churches/temples/masjids but that provide significant financial support and jobs for needy families in their midst? Who is doing the widespread cultural deprogramming that tells women and girls that they don’t *have* to all become mothers, that it’s not every girl/woman’s BIOLOGICAL DESTINY to bear children, that they are not misfits, freaks, or lesser beings if they choose not to have children? Where is the training for men and boys about fatherhood, about not being just sperm donors and deadbeat dads? How well is the child support law working?

Why is there more judgement and condemnation than support for economically disadvantaged women and families? How much support is there for working families anyway? How many parents have to leave their children home alone or in the care of others as they go to work? How many parents are working 8+ hours a day and still unable to meet all their basic expenses, save, or lift themselves out of poverty? How many workers are exploited by their employers and how much recourse to justice is available to them, or ever achieved? How many feel that they have no choice but to accept the abuse? How many drown their sorrows in alcohol and take their frustration out on their children and partner?

What happens after the State removes children from their families? Isn’t the caring and protection supposed to continue after that? How much training do CCPA staff have in child development and psychology? I don’t know where or how the CCPA staff is recruited or assessed, nor do I know anything about the Social Work program at the University of Guyana, but I do have direct, first-hand experience and knowledge of the inner functioning of the Drop In Center, having volunteered there for several years, and I can say with 20000% certainty that the answer to this question is NOT ENOUGH! Over the years, I have seen numerous instances of staff at the Drop In Center verbally abusing the children in their care, as well as threatening and actually striking them physically. I have seen vermin infestations onsite, as well as unhygienic and unsafe conditions (which I reported to both the Director of the CCPA, as well as the Minister of Social Protection, Volda Lawrence). I have seen children in distress and ineffective counseling; children receiving this State ‘care’ for years who end up in no substantially better condition, who are ejected at age 18 with no real skills and left to fend for themselves on the streets, or preyed upon by others. I have also seen children respond to kindness and sensitive attention, children who are desperate for love and caring. I have read essay after essay written by children at the Drop In Center, about their families and their desire to be reunited with their loved ones.cockroaches at drop in center

Children need and thrive best in their families’ care- that is beyond obvious; one does not need a PhD to know that. Yes, many families in Guyana need support and assistance; many become parents without necessarily knowing how best to raise healthy children and many are victimized by oppressive socioeconomic circumstances. However, it is the role and responsibility of the State to devote all available resources to improve the conditions of daily life for its citizens; to tell a mother to get a job and better apartment before she will be given back her children is beyond heartless- it shows a fundamental lack of understanding and disrespect for the life and struggles of economically disadvantaged people in Guyana and a mentality that judges and further abuses people in distress, instead of assisting them. The fact is that CCPA staff- from front line responders all the way up to the highest level of management- have a history of bullying and terrorizing Guyanese families, of doing as much harm as good sometimes. This is why families who should, theoretically, be benefiting from the services they’re supposed to be offering, refuse to have anything to do with them, preferring to seek assistance elsewhere or just continue to suffer.

Another serious question that needs asking is what is being done to provide affordable housing to all Guyanese. I’m not talking granting house lots people who have been waiting for inordinate amounts of time- that is nonsense; giving people swamp land, with no infrastructure- no roads, no electricity or water lines, then expecting them to spend millions more dollars to “build up” the land, and construct a dwelling is not what I’m talking about nor what is needed. The question is why-with a population of less than a million persons and a land mass that can fit several of our neighbouring Caricom states- are numerous Guyanese citizens still living in squatting areas, having to “shit and ‘shie’, especially while some wealthy Guyanese and foreigners have multiple house lots? Why haven’t charges been filed as yet against Bharrat Jagdeo and his other peepeepee cronies, 9 months after a SARU investigation and report recommended that? What is the State doing to ensure that all Guyanese who need a safe place to live and raise their families are able to do so?

These are some of the questions that should be asked by all right thinking Guyanese, not where was Red Thread. Civil society could do more, yes. Individuals as well as organizations need to expand their scope, as well as collaborate and support each other more. However, many non-profit organizations are already stretched to capacity. I know that Red Thread in particular- the organization I’m most familiar with- regularly goes above and beyond what others would consider the normal call of duty. I know that for months at a time- almost a whole year actually, Red Thread members worked without pay, continuing to provide services to women, children, and families in crisis, in case and community after community. For a CCPA employee, being paid with tax dollars, to point the finger at this organization is clearly and simply a poor attempt to shift blame. That Kaieteur News reprinted that comment, as well as previous ones disparaging the grieving parents of the boys killed in CCPA care, is just another example of the lack of journalistic integrity of that entity- something that has been demonstrated multiple times over the years.

The facts cannot be erased though- Joshua and Antonio George died while in State care, not their parents’. For this, the Child Care and Protection Agency must be held responsible and by that we mean not just paying for the children’s funerals but opening themselves up to independent oversight, committing to and ensuring that all their staff are properly and regularly trained in all areas of child development and well-being, as well as respectful and empathetic communication, confidentiality and counseling guidelines. Though none of this will bring back Joshua and Antonio, we have a responsibility to demand that their deaths not be in vain and that government officials and State employees do more for Guyanese children and citizens.

ccpa picket day2-3

9 Tips for a Successful Plastic Free July

The Zero-Waste Chef

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“Think about it…why would you make something that you are going to use for a few minutes out of a material that’s basically going to last forever. What’s up with that?” — Jeb Berrier, Bag It movie

Plastic Free July kicks off Friday. For the entire month, tens of thousands of people around the world will forgo plastic. You can find out more about the challenge, sign up for it, and check out a toolbox and many helpful resources at the Plastic Free July website.

Why cut plastic? Consider this from the Plastic Free July website:

“By 2050 it’s estimated there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans. Most comes from land and was once in our hands. Refuse single-use plastic and together let’s keep our oceans clean. Join over 40,000 people, schools and organisations from 90 countries and let those same hands be part of the solution.”

If you want to…

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