Monday, September 26, 2016

Farm life in the bush

A Guyanese colleague invited me to join her at her farm, located in the bush about twenty miles outside of Linden. I'm always up for a road trip out of the city, but this time we had an unusual set of passengers to take with us: a family of ducks.

My colleague had purchased some ducks to bring up to the farm, but first we had to figure out how to transport them safely. Eventually, we settled on putting some newspapers in a cardboard box and sticking them in the back of the pickup truck. I was a little worried about them, but we had loaded up the truck with so much farm supplies, plus two extra guys who were coming with us, there simply was no room to put them in the wonderfully air-conditioned front cab with us. But they seemed all right - at least the cardboard box gave them some shade in the heat of the day, and there were enough holes in the box to give them some ventilation.

My job had been to supply the beer. Being not much of a drinker, I pulled the ultimately embarrassing mistake of not bringing enough beer. Luckily there were many roadside snackettes and rum shops on the way, so we pulled into one joint, where one of the boys, B, jumped out and picked up an adequate supply. The girl at the shop seemed to know him, because she also gave him a lunch box. I saw a man riding a bicycle leading a horse on the side of the road.

The farm was located on an unmarked dirt path off the Soesdyke Linden Highway, about an hour from Georgetown. Once we arrived, the first thing we did was unpack the family of ducks, who were all luckily still alive. We released them into the pen where they were building a little cement pond for them. The ducks fluttered about, adjusting to their new environment. They all seemed to run as one pack, following each other from one end of the pen to the other. One of the ducklings got separated from the group and couldn't see where they had gone. That's when I found out what a duckling sounds like when it's having have a panic attack. CHIRP. CHIRP. CHIRP. I had no idea a duckling could be so loud. I carefully led the duckling back to its family, and it hurriedly climbed on top of its mother's back.

"The baby ducklings are so cute," I gushed.

"Next time you see them, they'll be on your plate," said my colleague.

Then it was time to check on the chicken. The farm had originally been a commercial chicken farm when my colleague took over. The farm still raised some chicken, but they were also expanding into ducks, perhaps goats, and growing crops, although it was an eternal battle against the hungry hungry enemy ants of South America who constantly fed on the crops.

Because some new hens had been brought to the farm, we set about the task of counting how many chicken the farm actually had. Counting chickens turned out to be a surprisingly difficult task. It didn't help that the little rascals tended to run around and hide when you were in the middle of your count, so you had to start all over again. We all made our individual count and we each came up with different numbers. B eventually counted them by pushing them each aside, which the hens did not like at all.

I got to meet the Amerindian family that lives on the farm property as the caretakers. They had two adorable little daughters named Jillian and Judith, age five and seven, who were shy but friendly.

Jillian and Judith took me on a little hike to show me their secret spring which they use for drinking water. I was struck by the unusual colour of the spring, which was a bright reddish-orange, yet crystal clear. We hung out on the dock, dipping our hands and feet, while Jillian washed her face.

Further into the property, which my colleague romantically calls the Marakai Oasis, I got to explore the main house that my colleague had built with her husband. It had a lovely open air concept with a spacious loft overhead, perfect for inviting company over to spend a night in the country. It also had a wide veranda with plenty of seating so you could just sit and watch nature from the porch.

My favourite part of the place was the gazebo, which they call a benab here, built next to the creek, it served as a perfect shaded sanctuary from the hot South American sun while allowing the breeze to keep you cool. They had built a little outdoor kitchen attached to it, and they had hung - hooray!! - hammocks. This was where I spent a big chunk of the afternoon, lounging and napping while the men did some work on the property, swinging their cutlasses to chop down protruding branches and hanging up electrical wiring. I had a Coke, and it was the best Coke I had ever tasted because the Coke was cold and it was so very humid in the bush.

After my nap, and after the guys had finished their hard work, we went for a swim in the creek. At first I was a little apprehensive about going into the black water creek, which was so black you could not see under the water at all. I'm nervous about water I can't see through. In Ontario, usually that kind of water has a mushy floor which grosses me out. Also, movies about the crazy creatures of South America like that Jennifer Lopez movie Anaconda do not help at all - there are all sorts of animals here that we don't have in Canada. Plus it didn't help that the Amerindian caretaker Dennis was going on and on, as he casually sipped his Coke while lounging in the shade, about the snake that he had found there and killed the other day.

But it was hot and the creek looked cool and lots of Guyanese folks learn how to swim in the blackwater creeks of South America. So I took the plunge and jumped in. It was indeed refreshingly cool, and I was surprised to find that the bottom of the creek was lined with soft white sand.

Surprisingly, it was the other young worker S that needed coaxing to come into the water. He had stripped down to his boxers, but refused to dip a toe into creek until we had surveyed the entire area to make sure it was fine and not full of whatever it was he was afraid of. Unlike B, he hadn't had the benefit of swimming lessons, so he didn't have the option of treading water like us. Finally, B told him that if you just make a lot of noise in the water and splash around, it will scare the fish and whatever (AND WHATEVER. I don't even want to know what) away from you. So eventually S was persuaded to wade into the water, where he stood nervously, continuously making loud splashes with his arms to keep away the whatever.

By the time I got out of the water, my body had cooled down to a pleasantly comfortable temperature. Meanwhile, Jillian, Judith and their brother Clinton were helping Mark sow someseeds in the field.

It had been a lovely day, and I was grateful for the generosity of my hosts. I love having a chance to get out of the city, and once again I thought about how it wouldn't be so bad to retire in the country...but if without air conditioning, I'd need a minimum of at least three hammocks and a magnificent gazebo.