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.
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 (http://demerarawaves.com/2016/06/12/these-giants-do-not-belong-in-pepper-pot-and-souse-president-granger/)- 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..
– 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.