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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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."
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