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  • Writer's pictureAmrita Maharaj-Dube

A barefooted girl from Campoo

Updated: Sep 13, 2021

This story is simple, devoid of the usual colourful, 'racy' style of writing found in my other posts. It's a reflection on my first Guru; the woman who brought me into this world, keeping me on the straight and narrow path amidst a testing environment.

It's the week of my wedding anniversary and I am heading to Tobago with my husband and children. My mother is driving us to the airport, passing through the Warren Munroe Road (parallel to the Southern Main Road in Warrenville, Central Trinidad). “This is where I used to sell market goods. After school, my mother used to fill the vegetable tray and a couple of the girls from the village used to walk through this area. We walked barefoot for miles. We’d come home around 7:00 pm, help out with chores, do homework, and go to bed after."

My mother grew up in Campoo, nestled in the Warrenville area of Central Trinidad. She was the eldest of six children, often having to assume parental duties well before her time. My father was about twenty minutes away in Raghunanan Road, a place named after his grandfather who came from India as an indentured labourer. A taxi driver and farmer, and a soon to be entrepreneur met in their teens and wed shortly after. 45 years later, they have four children and are doting grandparents to 4 little ones.

My mother continues to be a bastion of resilience in our family. She has magical hands that stretch the smallest amounts of money into the longest reel. She was the ultimate disciplinarian too. Ironically, she's now the grandmother who spoils her grandchildren with boxes of snacks, juice, mangoes and any cavity-causing thing under the sun. And spanking them is absolutely forbidden. (Grandparents, yes).

I am piecing together strands of my childhood memories to tell her story. Our house in Raghunanan Road started off as a small dwelling sitting on two lots, offering a generous spread of fruit trees. We didn't have many toys; twigs, leaves and the giant doux-doux mango tree to the back of our house became our fictitious friends. I saw unplastered walls transform into finished surfaces over a decade. Cupboard doors were a rarity - curtains with that infamous blue chord sufficed as partitions. Birthdays meant a slice of sponge cake with pink icing and colourful sprinkles from the nearby M&M Bakery and a twenty-dollar bill. Later on, this gesture upgraded to a hundred dollar bill. On those days, I felt like I could buy the world.

My siblings and I wore hand-me-downs, and so did my parents. Lots of it. I used to get excited when bags of clothing arrived at our home. Opening up those bags were as exciting as Christmas morning. But not everyone 'approved' of our misfortune. I remembered going to a wedding with a used Lehenga (Indian outfit comprising a long skirt and blouse). It was a rich fuchsia ensemble with gold stars; except these stars were past their supernova phase and were literally hanging on by pieces of thread. An aunt pulled me aside and remarked to her friends “look how old she clothes looking.” It’s funny how something as practical and eco-friendly as second-hand clothing is viewed with condescension. Now, my siblings and I share clothes and baby supplies like it’s a sacred family tradition. I love that my kids wore my niece's clothing and played with her baby toys. The memories created with these pieces are priceless. Each vomit stain has a story.

My parents were also dairy farmers. My mother used to milk the cows at 4:00 am every day, and I'd wake up just in time for either herself or my father to take the filled buckets to the milk depot in Longdenville. I remember her taking dhotis (soft cotton fabric worn by men for Hindu religious events) and using it to strain the milk. It was done with such care and precision that her exhaustion seemed non-existent. I'd go to the depot and see fellow dairy farmers arriving with their supplies. The milk was weighed, and each farmer was given a slip of paper. At least once a week on the way back home, either mom or dad used to stop at a parlour and buy me a Nestle Peanut Punch. On occasion, a Charles chocolate bar will accompany that. Life was sweet despite our shallow pockets.

Sometimes when my mother was milking the cows, she asked me to accompany her with the scrubbing brush. If the cow was perturbed or pregnant, I'd gently stroke its sides, much to my annoyance. I wanted to play instead, but milk money sustained us, and my siblings understood this from a tender age. During weekends and school holidays, I'd take a pigtail bucket of water for the cows during midday. It was quite a walk, but these times taught me valuable life lessons, lessons I hope my children will learn despite their relatively privileged lives.

My mother always had a strong entrepreneurial mind. It is said that necessity is the mother of invention, and she always created opportunities to supplement our family's modest income. She used to travel to Margarita Island next door and return with clothes to sell in the village. Make small packets of khurma and fried peanuts to sell to parlours, which later evolved into her present business venture. Now that she is at a comfortable stage in life, she's nurturing her philanthropic passions by volunteering at schools and leading charity drives.

What is mind-boggling is how my parents, despite their own constraints, found the resources to host Yagnas at our home frequently. I remember for a span of years, hundreds of people showed up nightly at our home for Satsangh and there was always an abundance of food. One time, my entire primary school showed up at my house for lunch. I never understood how this was ever possible, but they were poor people who made big things happen.

Then came an absolutely tragic time in my family’s history. My mother’s business venture was kicking off the ground. My father had gotten into a horrific accident, permanently disfiguring one of his hands. The financial blow was just as debilitating as his injury, and the toll of this tragedy lingered for years. In those days, health insurance was a luxury. Strapped for funds, my mother held her head up high and powered through this ordeal. She took our piggy banks to the grocery to pay for food. I remembered that year my sisters, who were then in secondary school, hand-sewed gifts of pencil cases and tank tops for their friends in lieu of store-bought gifts (mom taught us all how to use the sewing machine. I sewed all the curtains in my house). And then there was my pair of spray-painted shoes. In Standard Five, my parents couldn’t buy me a new pair of white sneakers. So, every weekend, my worn shoes would get a fresh coat of paint to sparkle like everyone else’s for the Monday morning hygiene inspection at school. I used to be nervous about wearing these shoes. If I rubbed them against the wooden desks too frequently, the paint would flake off. If I ran too much during recess time, cracks would appear. I had to manage my own embarrassment for the taunts made my world feel even smaller.

We began to recover from this ordeal years later. I remember the excitement when my parents bought a bronze royal saloon- our first car with air conditioning! I remember getting my own bed at around 17. Life began to improve, and my parents' generosity grew. They are constantly on the lookout for families in need, and that sense of community alertness resonates deeply with my own family. Every Divali, the gigantic pots come out and they cook enough food to feed a small country. On a few occasions, my mother will drive around the village and distribute boxed meals to anyone in need.

There's a word she uttered repeatedly; I heard it like a million times throughout my adolescent life. 'Barakat'. An Arabic word used abundantly by Hindus. It means 'blessing'. My mother believed that the more food you donated, the more 'barakat' will enter your life. And she's right.

Her name is Rupwati. Some call her 'Carol', a name which translates to 'a festive song.'

My parents and I. Taken at my wedding in 2011.

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