By Dacia Whaul with photos by Arian Browne
“Zeeburg is the largest fishing community on the West Coast of Demerara,” boasted George, “and we have the best cricket team over here.”
When most of Guyana is asleep, fisher folk in Zeeburg are coming in from the Atlantic Ocean with their catch of fish and shrimp. “People come to Zeeburg from all over Guyana, since 4 o’clock in the morning and by the time the place get bright, fish done and everybody gone,” said George, the assistant manager for the sports club in Uitlvugt. He explained that the community centre ground is used by both Zeeburg and Uitvlugt for recreation. “Lots of cricket is played there,” he said, “Zeeburg is the best team on the West Coast.”
Many villagers described Zeeburg as nice and peaceful, where marriage is proposed very early, and women especially marry young. “This place nice, but it nah get work,” one woman said. “Men go sea and the women them pick shrimp, or stay home and make baby,” another said, and girls are allowed to be married as early as seventeen.
As George said, Zeeburg is known for its booming fishing industry. The village is approximately 11 ½ miles from Vreed-en-Hoop, and is situated east of Uitvlugt and west of De Willem. The village of roughly 900 residents is predominantly East Indian, and is divided into a housing scheme and a sideline dam. Almost every home has potable water, electricity and landline phones. Children attend the East Meten-Meer-Zorg nursery and Saraswat Primary schools, both located in De Willem, while Zeeburg Secondary is located in the village. For healthcare, villagers go the Meten-Meer-Zorg Health Centre, which is close or the Leonora Cottage Hospital, a few villages away.
In terms of employment, villagers can find jobs at the sugar estate in Uitlvugt or on fishing boats, or else venture into the city to find work. However, many families in the village own a boat or two, making fishing the most popular occupation in Zeeburg.
In addition, every household, one member either currently works or has worked at the Uitvlugt Sugar Estate. “This village was actually started by the Booker family, who used to run the sugar estate in the ’60s,” George said. “It was bare bush,” he continued, “and then Bookers build houses and give it to the sugar workers and their families.” He said that this was done in the form of a mortgage until the workers completed full repayment to the estate.
When Sunday Stabroek met with Shameer, who was serving a young girl one his colourful hotdogs, he said he had worked on the estate like many others in the village from the time he left school in 1978, before migrating to Venezuela in the ’80s because of “hard times.”
“I use to work on the estate cutting cane and pulling punt, and still I couldn’t survive,” he recounted, “and things was real rough, so I left even though I didn’t want to.” It was some time in the early ’90s Shameer returned – “I had to come back,” he said. After accumulating some money, he returned and started to sell hotdogs and occasionally catch fish. “I missed my beautiful country, I missed Zeeburg and all the nice people here,” he said with a broad smile on his face.
Mohammed Rafeek Emmanuel moved from Uitvlugt to Zeeburg in the 1960s, at the age of sixteen, because of the ban on items like flour and the rise in the cost of living, he had to work. “I end up working with a man at the Leonora market.” Rafeek said he worked with the man for over five years, before launching out on his own. “Now I get my own business and life much easier,” he said, as he called out to his apprentice, a youngster from the village. Rafeek said his day starts at 4am and he prepares to go shopping on Mondays. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, he begins parcelling off the products for sale on Fridays and Saturdays.