I was born one early September afternoon in 1964, in Georgetown, Guyana, South America, and the last of thirteen children born to poor farming parents. I'm the only one born in a hospital because there was no mid-wife to deliver me at home. The long trip out to a hospital in the city of Georgetown almost killed both mother and baby. I came out blue.

At the entrance of the hospital stood an icon of the Madonna and Child, as she was being escorted into the hospital, my mother went to the icon and prayed, "We (my baby and I) are in your boundary now." A patient next to my mother told her that her baby was dead but she refused to believe it. She was right. I survived but that did not stop me from wondering later on in my adult life why I was alive, for many times during my adult life I preferred death to life. Three of the children born to my parents died as babies, ten survived to adulthood.

After five days in the hospital it was time to leave. My father sold a bull to pay the hospital expenses and my oldest brother came up with the name, Vishwanie, the Sanskrit (ancient Hindi language) meaning of which is: "Owner/Ruler of the universe." Later my dad nicknamed me, Margaret, after the British Princess, who had visited Guyana a few months earlier. It is commonly practiced among Guyanese East Indians to give their kids an Indian name and an English name.

There was no belief system to talk about on my dad's side. Hinduism, Islam and Christianity are practiced in Guyana and my parents being East Indians, naturally went along with their cultural tradition. My mother was more interested in her religion. Her father (an illegitimate son of a white English man and an East Indian woman) influenced her. He had a Ramayana (a Hindu religious book), which he would consult when he wanted information on such things as illnesses, deaths, etc. He used to read the book and tell my mother what he read.

I knew about Hinduism and that Islam was another religion. However, I never heard anything about Christianity or the God of the Bible. Christmas and Easter were just holidays with no meaning to us except to eat, drink and be merry at Christmas and to fly kites at Easter. My parents were not religious people and I had little regard for the religion I was born into or any religion for that matter. I felt religion was nonsense and still do to a degree, when I look at the pagan religions, Catholicism, and the practice of even the Christian church. No wonder the world looks at Christians and scoff. Truth is a person (Jesus Christ), not a religion. I'll talk more about this later.

During the formative years, I had the older siblings to contend with. It was hard being the last one. You'd think that the last one would be spoilt because they're the baby. I think, by the time I came along my parents were too tired. My oldest brother is about twenty years older than I am. My oldest sister is fourteen years older than I am. The older ones were taught to lord it over the younger ones. We little ones had to obey the big ones. Imagine my confusion at having to listen to nine older siblings and my parents telling me what to do.

There was a lot of bickering. I remember fighting with my last brother, the one before me. He once broke a cutlass on my buttock. I had welts for days. Spanking was normal. Back answering and name-calling was also normal. I hated being a girl.  I wanted to be a boy and literally wished I could become a boy. I felt like a male trapped in a female's body. I think, because as is often the case in most cultures, the boys were favoured over the girls.

My parents tried their best, God bless them. Being poor and illiterate was not to their advantage and added to that, the task of raising ten kids. By the time I came along my older brothers were out of the house and working. They helped out financially when they could. So did my sister, Chick, when she landed a job as a teacher.

Eventually the older ones left home and the four younger ones were left at home. Later they too would leave home, (to live with my oldest brother, and one brother stayed with my second sister), to go to high school in the suburbs and I was left alone with my parents for a couple of years.

Many times we had no money for groceries, sometimes for months on end. My dad would do odd jobs to supplement his income, in between crops (rice crops are grown twice a year). Sometimes we had to buy groceries on trust and pay later. There were days when we borrowed rice from relatives so we could eat. We ate three meals a day. My dad was an expert fisherman as well, so most of the time we ate fish, especially at dinnertime. We had mango trees and other tropical fruit trees, which we would raid for fruit in their season. I was a tomboy.

After school I used to race my two younger brothers up the mango trees. We would try to get at the ripest mangoes on the trees and that would be our after school snack.

We were fairly healthy kids. We had our moments of bouts with the cold, flu, measles but I also had a skin condition. I would break out with eczema occasionally. It seemed I was allergic to something in the environment, the grass, apparently. That didn't stop me from being outdoors, because at the time we didn't even know what was causing the skin condition.

Early in life I was exposed to country music, along with the popular folk songs of the day. My second brother learned to strum the guitar. His taste for country music rubbed off on us. Hank Williams, Jim Reeves, Charlie Pride, Johnny Cash, and others were his musical idols. I wanted badly to learn to play the guitar and from just looking at him play, I learned to strum but I didn't know any chords. So my brand of strumming was just the rhythm of one right hand across the strings. When my brother showed off what I could do to his friends, I felt proud.

One night my second to last brother, Nigs, came home from the rice fields with my dad, with something in his shirt. He produced a baby parrot with what seemed like balls stuck onto its toes. It turned out to be some kind of sticky tree sap that had somehow become stuck onto the bird's toes so that it could not hold on to tree branches properly. My brother shook the tree the bird was on and it fell down and he caught it. My mother proceeded to feed the very hungry bird a bowl of milk and rice, which it ate immediately. She then sat down and with one of her condiment of soap, water, bleach, ash and who knows what else, proceeded to get the balls off the bird's toes.

We didn't have a cage so the handle of a basket was her perch and my mother named her Lora. When we later got her a cage she hated it. We suspected she hurt her eye on a loose wire on the cage and went blind in her left eye. So we ditched the cage and made a perch for her instead. After several months of nothing but screeching, she eventually started to imitate kissing. Then later she learned to whistle, to imitate the chickens, and dogs and even singing. She learned to laugh and say a few words.

She was my pet. I loved her and spent a lot of time with her. We became attached. I was the only one she would come to, (except when my mother took care of her for me. She would make a fuss but would get on my mother's finger). I could pick her up and put her on my breast and cuddle her. Sometimes I would lie down and put her on my chest and close my eyes and she would promptly go to sleep on my chest. Lora was my first love. I have always regretted not being there when she died, for I had already gone to live with my second brother when she died. I never got to say good-bye to her. Mom kept a few of her feathers for me.

Primary School took some adjusting. I didn't make friends easily but once I made friends with someone we stayed friends. I spoke to everyone and participated in games at recess. The only two things worth mentioning about primary school is how uninhibited I was in one area. Whenever we had 'Penny Concerts,' I always wanted to go up and sing in front of the whole school. A "Penny Concert" is a fund raiser concert held in the school where students and sometimes teachers would pay a penny (two cents) for another student to go up infront the school and do whatever the one who paid the penny asks them to do. So I would get someone to go up and pay a penny for me to sing, then I'd get up in front of the school and sing my favourite song, "Lazy Sheep". It was great fun. I don't even remember the song now.

The second thing is that when I entered Standard Four (we have the British system), I was placed in the dunce group. It is in this class that we write the Common Entrance Examination. So the teachers had a practice of stream-lining the class so they could focus on the bright kids, to push them. Sadly the passive kids got overlooked but one day the principal, Mr. Reginald Beer-bal Persaud, who was teaching our class got angry when he asked an addition question and the bright side of the class couldn't answer the problem on the board. He looked over at us on the dunce side of the class and pointed at me to answer the addition problem on the board. I did it and did it correctly. For the rest of the math class the principal kept asking me to do the problems and I did them all.

From that day on I was not neglected. However, it was too late. I wrote the Common Entrance Exam and failed. When the results came out my dad went to see the principal to get my result. The principal told my dad that it was not my fault that I failed, that he (the principal), made a mistake by neglecting to teach me. He made up for it, for the next school year he withdrew me and two other girls from the class and tutored us privately in his office. I wrote the exam a second time and this time I passed. So did the other two girls. (The principal died that same August about the same time the Exam results came out). Since there were no high schools near us, I had to leave home to go to high school.

So at the age of eleven, I left my parents home in the country, in rural Guyana, to go to high school, in the suburb of Guyana. I lived with my second brother, his wife and young daughter. For me it was a culture shock. I was not ready for the change in living by the road and being confined to a house and yard. Back in the country, our mode of transportation was launch, boat and canoe. The river was right in front of our house and the yard was open pasture. I went bare foot everywhere. We had cows, chickens, ducks, a vegetable garden and the rice fields where my dad planted rice to eke out a living for him and his family. My aunts, an uncle and my cousins lived near by, so there were visits to and from my relatives.

We fished, swam, and washed in the same river and used the same water for drinking and cooking. I learned to swim, fish and paddle a canoe in that same river. My life was carefree. The best years of my life were the ones I spent with my parents alone, just before going to high school. Everyone else had left the coop to go to school or find work.

My mother insisted on each of us getting an education. Something she never had. Our light by night was a hand (hurricane) lamp or a crudely made bottle lamp. On special occasions we would light the gas (kerosene) lamp we had. I wished I could remain that age (eleven) and be the only one living with my parents. A neighbour's daughter had given me the scoop about women and their 'period' and I thought that was a curse to all womankind.

I began my first day of high school in the one good dress I had and I had outgrown the dress. I felt very self-conscious because everyone else was in uniform. By the next day I had a uniform, my brother and sister-in-law saw to it. Academically I was average to below average, but I knew I could have done better with help. Even one of my high-school teachers recognized it when he wrote in the 'Comment' section of an annual report card: "Needs encouragement at home."

If I had it hard, then my youngest brother probably had it harder because he too left home at an early age and did not receive the nurturing he needed and because he had to live with my oldest brother who was a tyrant. (In all fairness I must add here that none of us really knew love. My grandparents died when my parents were children, with the exception of my maternal grandfather. My mother always lamented over the fact that she never knew a mothers love). My oldest brother had a wife and four kids, plus my other sisters and brothers, so my youngest brother didn't get the break I got. Living alone with my second brother gave me much distance from sibling rivalry, bickering and time enough to hear myself think.

It seemed I got to live with my second brother only by a fluke. You see, he had a larger house so four of us (two of my sisters, my last brother and I), were staying with him. The arrangement was that my sisters, my last brother and I would cook separately and my sisters who were both working would pay lodging for the four of us. That worked out for a bit but then my sister-in-law started bitching and complaining about the work to be done in the house. My sisters wouldn't help because they felt they were paying lodging so they shouldn't have to clean the house come weekend.

So one night my brother and my sister-in-law went across the road to the other side of the village where my oldest brother lived and told him the problem. My oldest brother always the hot head, told my second brother exactly what he thought with some very choice words. My oldest brother came to get us and take us to his place. I did not want to go at all. I was not even feeling settled where I was, much less to move to another environment and start all over again. It would have been added trauma.

I don't know if it was the look on my face or just a special grace from God that made him decide at the last minute to let me stay. To help my sister-in-law he said. So I remained there with them.

I tried to stay out of their way and be as inconspicuous as possible. I ate my meals in the living room, never in the dining room with them. I felt like an intruder. I didn't think I was wanted there. It certainly was not their decision to have me there with them. Not that I am ungrateful for what they did for me but they did it out of a sense of obligation, not because they wanted to help me.

One day in high school we had a class discussion with the Principal, Mr. Sidnauth Singh. He asked a question that stuck. He said, "Did God create man or did man create God?" I remember my best friend and I debating one day, 'evolution versus creation'. I was the evolutionist, and I was sixteen! Who was it that said, "...take the Bible out of schools and they would prove to be the very gates of hell?" Here is a prophecy that came through!

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