I woke up and noticed that the mosquito net had already been rolled up and tucked into its wooden frame. It was 730am and the mosquito net had been rolled up by my grandmother, as I had clearly overslept. A mosquito was biting me on my arm, so I slapped and killed it dead. I knew it was dead as I saw my own blood emanate from its crushed body, as it smeared onto my skin. Mosquito legs and my own blood…what a way to start the day, I mused to myself. It was so hot already.
I trundled out of bed and my breakfast was already waiting for me on the table. It included: some thickly sliced bread, guava jelly and cheese. It was so hot that even the cheese was sweating. Have you ever seen cheese sweat? When cheese sweats, it collects small drops of water and subsequently sweats. I reached for the guava jelly instead, as I knew it came from my grandmother’s own laborious efforts. My grandmother’s hands were always industrious. They were either washing clothes by hand, cooking, sweeping, or clapping roti in that hot kitchen of hers. Now, her hands were resting as she read the newspaper in her favourite red velvet chair. That chair was an eyesore. But I decided to keep my opinion to myself. Well, for that moment, anyway.
I sat and greedily ate my thickly sliced bread, which was smeared with Anchor butter which came from a tin and guava jelly which was in a glass bottle and of course had been made my dear old grandmother. The Ovaltine that lay before me was in my favourite chipped enamel mug, but it was too hot and burned my tongue. I desperately wanted to tell my grandmother, but one does not openly criticise my grandmother’s efforts. Ever. Not ever.
Now that I was full up on bread and guava jelly (albeit with a burnt tongue), I felt that I now had enough energy to complain. I was ready and rearing to go. I then proceeded to declare that it was entirely too hot for this time of the morning. I was dumbfounded at how people could even live like this. I then proclaimed that the heat was counter-productive to my general sensibilities. I heard my grandmother draw in her breath in a measured way. It was probably too hot for her too. My grandmother did not look up from her newspaper when she said, ‘Young Miss, perhaps if you complained less-you would not feel so hot.’ I narrowed my eyes at her and my mouth fell open like a codfish. My grandfather softly chuckled at our exchange and went back to reading his paper. I took my cue and closed my mouth. I was done complaining for the day, as per my grandmother’s gentle but firm, suggestion to do so.
Post breakfast, I sat myself down in the rocking chair by the window. At least here, I could feel some breeze on my face, as it gently threaded its way through the right-leaning coconut trees and into the open window and onto my sweating face. I could hear ‘Killer’ growling at something or the other, outside, from the open window. I wondered if he in fact had ever killed another dog or human. I shivered at the thought of ‘Killer’s’ bellicosity.
My thoughts then fell on the Dutch people who used to live here in this hot place. The Dutch were everywhere and nowhere. Not a single Dutch person in sight -but their presence was still palpable. The Dutch had named towns, villages, streets and had left their architectural design in the form of kokers, as well as the seawall they had built to mark their once presence.
The Dutch built a sea-dam at the front of their estates and a backdam behind the estates. Then, to keep out water from the surrounding undrained lands, they built side-line dams. They dug canals alongside the side-line dams to collect excess water from the estate through a network of smaller trenches. We (like others) had a trench that ran parallel to our house-although I liked to think of it as a ‘moat.’ But it was not really a moat as it did not surround my grandparent’s house. The side-line canals flowed towards the sea-dam where kokers or sluices were erected to control the overflow.
The kokers still stand today like silent sentinels as they offer protection to people, animals and property-making sure we don’t get drowned out by the sea. Later, the original sea-dams were reinforced with concrete sea-walls. The Dutch were masters at digging canals. In addition to digging canals, the Dutch built roads, as planters were responsible for maintaining roads. In fact, failure to carry out road repairs could result in the forfeiture of a planter’s entire estate. Pictured below is a koker.
I bet it was far too hot for the Dutch, that is why they gave this place away to to the British. But I think it was probably more complicated than that. So, the Dutch left but their place names remained. Towns, villages and markets with Dutch names such as: Vreed-en-hoop, Beterverwating and Stabroek Market. Even my grandparent’s surname is Dutch. But they did not look Dutch to me, nor did either of them have a deep and abiding love for the colour orange. But somewhere, down the line-my people mingled with the Dutch and it is clearly evident, by our family surname.
Time for the market. My grandmother has informed me that she is going to Stabroek Market in town. She has not exactly invited me-but rather, has made a declaration… which I took as an invitation. I quickly find my shoes (although my grandmother would call them ‘Yachtings’) and I announce I am coming with her to Stabroek Market. She smiles gently and raises her eyebrows. This is my grandmother’s non-verbal cue for ‘Yes. Fine.’ I think my grandmother likes my company. Even when I am complaining.