The ElDorado Affair A True Story of Pioneers in Rural Guyana South America

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Guyanese born Edwin Joseph married English history teacher Jane in 1991. The unsuspecting newlyweds’ attempt to build a life in Edwin’s little known South American country entangled them in a dangerous web of deceit, narcotics trafficking, murder and espionage. Their small business development project metamorphosed into an educational charity in an eighteen-year battle which they nearly did not survive.

Edwin, a retired British soldier and ex-international decathlete, met Jane in 1984, while they were both participating in a musical production of War of the Worlds at her Milton Keynes comprehensive school. Edwin’s plan to repatriate and help his birth country came to fruition when he flew out to Dubai to marry Jane, who by then was teaching in a school there. Years of planning and their combined life savings went into their subsequent move to Guyana, but none of it was enough to prepare them for what they would face.

Jane’s compelling narrative transports the reader into the heart of the peasant community and political turmoil of Guyana in the 1990s as her evocative descriptions of the natural environment and often humorous local characters bring them alive. Her brutally honest and self-critical account takes us through the culture shock and mental anguish the couple experienced as they wrestled to implement their passionate convictions. She leaves us with an overwhelming sense of loss, tempered by her lingering love of the landscape, the charm of this society and the youngsters they both educated.

This is a unique true story. All the events mentioned in this book actually happened to the author but some of the names have been changed to protect the identity of the people concerned.

“The Eldorado Affair A True Story of Pioneers in Rural Guyana South America” by Jane Joseph, Published by Sapodilla Press in paperback RRP £15. ISBN 978-0-9932409-0-4 Available now from Amazon.co.uk or can be ordered from bookstores via Nielsens teledata and suppliers such as Bertrams and Gardners. It is also  available in digital format on Amazon Kindle worldwide ISBN 978-0-9932409-1-1.

EXTRACT FROM BOOK:

Chapter 1

NO TURNING BACK

Although I had flown over rainforest coasts in antiquated planes countless times, it had even now not lost its magic for me. I gazed down over vast swathes of green broccoli landscape, picking out the distinctive blue ribbons of the mighty Essequibo and Demerara estuaries. As the plane banked eastwards aligning itself with the Pomeroon coast, the tangled roots of red mangrove, fringing an unpeopled expanse of silver sand, grinned at the Atlantic surf like gigantic teeth. Now we headed southwards along the Demerara valley and began our descent, finally swinging a full hundred and eighty degrees into the approach to the Timehri runway. It seemed as if we would crash into the canopy any minute when suddenly tarmac appeared and I could let out that bated breath with relief. We exchanged excited glances, to the castanet clicking of seatbelts, knowing this was the point of no return. Our new uncharted life together had begun. In optimistic trepidation, we disembarked into the monstrous bosom of South America.

The journey by private hire minibus to Hopetown was a little more comfortable than our previous ones because Bryan had followed Edwin’s instructions not to come to the airport with a whole load of people. That way we had a bit of space to stretch out our legs and still find room for the four large suitcases we had travelled with. Much of the conversation between Edwin and Bryan concerned plans for the running of the snackette Edwin had placed Bryan in charge of. I could not hear too well owing to the noise of the engine and the fact that I was not in the front seat. Instead I took in the scenery of East Coast Demerara and West Coast Berbice. It was quite familiar by now but I was in a better position to appreciate the detail of the villages we were passing through. The recent yet rundown architecture of the outskirts of Georgetown was drab and uninspiring. We passed the non-descript flat-roofed modern concrete Bata Shoe Factory building. An Indian style cinema frontage here and a cricket ground there were interspersed with numerous little gabled wooden houses. Many had shop frontages cramming the road sides, all competing to sell the same plastic buckets, mattresses and aluminium cooking pots. Then, on the right, there was the tall red-brick disused chimney smoke stack, the only surviving remnant of the original Chateau Margot sugar plantation.

Once we left the suburbs and entered the countryside, a picturesque string of villages with a unique style of wooden architecture emerged. Most of them had not had a coat of paint for decades and had rotting steps or shutters hanging by one hinge, yet they were beautiful. The massive ancient mango and breadfruit trees that launched out of their tiny yards, waving their leaves at the occasional passing traffic seemed to speak to me. “We hold the spirits of the dead,” they called out. Stretches of the road passed through acres of coconut plantation flanked by shallow canals. A flat-bottomed wooden boat was moored in one of these trenches but there was no sign of its human occupant apart from a woven basket and an item of clothing draped over its plank seat. Nestled among these coconut trees was a large unpainted wooden house adorned with beautifully symmetrical mouldings. Locals called it “House of a Thousand Windows”.  Further on, the trees gave way to vast open pastures filled with hundreds of grazing cattle. Beyond them, a reef of swaying coconuts formed the skyline, screening the view of the sea. The solitary coast road bored its way through forests of wild Sand-coka trees and thick tangled undergrowth. Then it opened out into flooded rice fields and more village settlements with their roadside stores and steep gabled roofs. Despite the poverty within them, their shingle-clad wooden huts with “cow-mouth” kitchens were very much a centre of family life. Occupants sat on their steps or busied themselves about their yards.  The oldest houses still had their original Demerara windows of slanting fretwork sides fronted with slatted wooden louvers directed towards the coast so as to make the most of the prevailing cool sea breezes. Rags performing the function of long rotted doors or windows served a similar purpose in humbler dwellings.

The potholed tarmac gaped mockingly at the minibus as the vehicle veered and lurched to avoid large chasms. Red brick-dust littered the crumbling road shoulders. Along the verges fronting many of these linear villages were scattered the rusting skeletons of long dead coaches, tractors and combine harvesters. Papaya trees popped out of the spaces where their windows once had been and vines scrambled through their framework. Emaciated humpbacked zebu cattle grazed around them and occasionally wandered aimlessly across the sun-baked, dusty road, forcing us to slow down or swerve. They seemed not to belong to anyone but of course everyone living nearby knew exactly whose beast each one was by its physical characteristics. The cattle, not the occasional motor vehicle, owned the road. They looked up as we passed, munching their cud and spattering their dung as they moved. In a clearing on one side of the route, a huge mound of red laterite was piled up in readiness for road repair that never took place. Another mound of this ‘burnt dirt’ was still smouldering as testimony to someone’s means of livelihood.

At a bridging point on the Mahaica River, the road passed through the mammoth structure of a colonial Meccano bridge which was the bustling focal point of a market. Tiny boys surrounded the bus excitedly pushing bunches of ginips at us through the open windows. These green skinned acidic fruit with flesh similar to lychee were more refreshing and healthy to suck than any commercial sweet. The boys were devouring far more themselves than they sold to passers-by. Hands of bananas, pineapples, star-fruit, star apples, red cashews, mangoes and papaya piled high on the roadside stalls, had all been brought to this thriving centre of local commerce by boat up the Mahaica River from the hinterland riverine settlements. This bottleneck for converging traffic and pedestrians forced our pace to a crawl over the massive timber beams that spanned the water. Small boats could pass out to sea under the bridge and were moored among the mangroves that skirted the deep black water on both sides. Amerindian faces were preponderant in the boats and around the water but the market stalls were manned by East Indian or Afro-Caribbean women. From the dark shadowy doorways of nearby rum shops emanated the raucous shouts of drunken men slapping down dominoes. Mahaica was by far the liveliest of the settlements along the coast road to Hopetown. Two more rivers had to be crossed at Mahaicony and the Abary River respectively, but the latter was dead and uninhabited. At Mahaicony, after passing over the Meccano Bridge, there was a large Amerindian hostel on the coastal side of the road. Indigenous women and their chattering children hung out of the large dilapidated windows. Behind them, hammocks bulging with reclining occupants swung in the breeze. This large communal shelter was an overnight stopping place for those who plied the river with their fruit, vegetables and craftwork to sell to the coastal villagers at the Mahaicony market. It was a hub full of life, noise and colour.

The final stretch of our journey once more quietened down into verdant scenery and isolated shacks. At every juncture, nature had the upper hand and was reclaiming control of the environment from its brief abuse by man. Vestiges of abandoned agricultural projects now almost smothered by bush would have escaped my notice if they had not been pointed out to me by Edwin. He shook his head and sucked his teeth in disappointment at the lack of effort by those privileged with access to the funds and their abject failure to develop a country so rich in natural resources. Excitement mounted as we reached the turn off the main road where the “snackette” had been built next to the Catholic Church in “number 22” Belair village. Bryan had certainly wasted no time in getting the snack bar completed and up and running after we had returned to England the summer before. We were impressed. The delight faded into disappointment when we turned off the main road onto the mud track and drove past what we expected would be our completed home.

“It doesn’t look as if anything more has been done to it since the photos were taken in January!” I said in dismay.

The huge wooden structure, fronted by an imposing cast concrete staircase, looked a bit like a fancy shed for livestock. This image was reinforced by the fact that a herd of goats were sitting on the treads and standing on the veranda looking over at us. The openings for the door and windows had been blocked off with recycled rusting galvanised corrugated iron panels, but the goats had broken it down and taken up their living quarters inside. Edwin was silent. I knew he was fuming.

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2 thoughts on “The ElDorado Affair A True Story of Pioneers in Rural Guyana South America

  1. What a story!
    What a life!
    Jane and Joe didn’t just talk about making the world a better place; they got stuck in and, over a period of 18 long, hard years and donated their experience, expertise, love and savings to help scores of children, who they felt deserved a better education than their nation seemed able or willing to provide.
    They started with an empty plot of land on the edge of the jungle and through sheer effort, determination and sometimes sheer, bloody mindedness guided hundreds of children through practical, high quality, education and training.
    An inspiration to all; especially those who share a passion for adventure, travel and, most importantly, the belief that education is the key to unlocking the door of opportunity.

    Like

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