Meet GPHC food vendor ‘Aunty Maggie’

Every midday during the work week, a crowd gathers to purchase food near the back of a minibus on New Market Street outside the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC).

Food vendor Margaret Rodrigues standing alongside a customer who was her last patron for the day, as she dished out the last of her meals for the man

Some request a ‘cook-up’, a selection from a variety of stews to go with rice, others request information on the menu, while some simply stand and wait their turn to make their purchase.
Amidst the crowd, which sometimes consists of nurses, doctors, hospital staff, students and other members of the public, is a lady who has been cooking and selling near the hospital for some 20 years. While the name on her identification card is Margaret Rodrigues, those in the crowd and passers-by know her fondly as ‘Maggie’, or ‘Aunty Maggie’.
Last Monday, as she and her husband completed sales for the day, the woman told Guyana Times that, around 2002, she ventured out to sell food near to the GPHC. She said she started plying her trade a little further up from the spot she now occupies, closer to Thomas Street. Then, as time passed, she shifted to her current location, and she has remained at that spot for which would be a lucrative journey.
Rodrigues said she works from Monday to Friday, with the weekend set aside for rest. She works each month, the busy woman noted, and the only time she and her husband take a break from the business is in December each year.
“For two weeks, we would take a break from the business because it is Christmas time and people would be busy getting ready for that season,” she said. She, too, would be taken up with her own preparations for the Yuletide season, and after her vacation, the couple would venture back to the spot to ply their trade.

Routine preparation
She prepares five dishes each day, Rodrigues noted. The menu mandatorily includes two types of cook-up rice, since that particular Guyanese dish is always in demand. Most days there is callaloo cook-up, some days she has black-eye peas cook-up, or another type of bean to go with the rice. In addition, she cooks fried rice and stews which include curried beef, curried chicken, and vegetables such as pumpkin or bora.
She said her children would ably assist her in preparation for the day ahead during the morning hours. “I get up early, and my children would help with the preparation. They would cut up the seasoning and so, but I cut up the meats,” Rodrigues said. She said cutting the meats requires her special skills, since she knows what sizes should be cut for the various meals.
With her eyes on the clock, she said, she ensures her meals are well cooked, noting that she reaches her vending location by 12 o’clock (noon).
“It got one or two occasions when I would go over the time, but the customers always here,” she said.

At the location
Once she arrives at her usual location, persons would begin streaming over to the location. The smell of her delicacies permeates the atmosphere even as other food vendors set up shop nearby.
But Rodrigues’s customers have been loyal to her business, she said, and as such, she is not concerned about the competition. As the area becomes congested with traffic, the sight of her pots of food attracts curious onlookers. And her prices have remained constant throughout the years, despite the rise in cost of ingredients.
As the 2pm hour nears, the crowd dwindles, and so do the contents of her pots. On some days, only a pot of stew with rice would remain, while there are days when all the pots at Rodrigues’s stand are empty.
Last Friday, as 2pm neared, several persons hurried across to catch the last of her meals, even as she announced, “Food done.” But even as she made her announcement, two customers were determined to grab the last of the meals. “Give me the pumpkin stew with lil rice,” one woman exclaimed.
Another customer called for the ‘bun bun’ of the cook-up pots, while Rodrigues packed her pots.
“Sometimes all the food would sell out even before 2 o’clock,” the businesswoman noted, as she and her husband drove off to purchase ingredients for the next day’s menu.