Mother of 10 forced to break curfew to keep food on the table

…risks life and arrest to catch “creck-a-teh” every night

By Andrew Carmichael

A mother would do anything and possibly break every law to ensure that her children are taken care of. She would go to any extent to make sure they receive at least one meal per day, while she, herself, would go hungry.

For Tarmilla Bhagrat, no one told her about the challenges of motherhood. No one told her that she would be breaking the law to ensure that her family is fed and taken care of. But here she is, breaking the Government-imposed curfew every night and risking not just arrest but her life.

Tarmilla Bhagrat

The 35-year-old mother of 10 does whatever it takes to feed her family and would continue doing so. She ventures into communities every night with two of her teenaged sons to scavenge the drains and trenches for shelled snails or as we Guyanese call it – “creck-a-teh”.

She has been doing this for years as a means of supplementing the income of her sickly husband so when the National COVID-19 Task Force (NCTF) decided to impose a nationwide curfew from 18:00h to 06:00h to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, the mother knew she would have to resort to breaking the law.

She had to and still has to choose between whether her children go hungry or being dragged before the courts and every day she chooses the former and risks the latter.

Bhagrat is the mother to 10 children aged 19, 18, 16, 14, 13, 11, 10, 7, 4 and 1-year-old. The family lives in poverty since the battle to survive is constant. They were forced to move from their house which was falling apart to Fort Ordinance in East Canjie, Berbice, into a house where there is no running water or electricity. Despite this, they still have to pay rent for the house or face the threat of eviction. However, for now, they aren’t paying rent owing to the lack of the basic utilities and the landlords have agreed to let them stay there for the while.

Bhagrat and some of her children

When the Sunday Times sat down with the overwhelmed mother, she explained that because of the number of children she has, it is hard to instil some form of discipline in them. She said that while they are helpful, there are times when they would act out and “do what they want.”

Nevertheless, the mother said her children need her constant attention and she tries to provide that to them every day. When the Sunday Times sat down with her at her home, she was surrounded by her children while the smallest was inside napping. However, after some time, the child started fussing and it was not because the child was hungry rather the child just wanted to be with the mother and have her undivided attention.

Bhagrat’s son shucking the “creck-a-teh”

Bhagrat begins her day as early as 02:00h and it ends after midnight every day. Rest is limited as she is constantly working to provide for the family. Her husband is hypertensive and cannot do much work so the majority of the responsibilities fall on her alone.

She related that her husband used to work in the interior but he recently contracted malaria which limits his ability to work now. He has resorted to inland fishing but some days are better than others. Apparently, inland fishing is not a lucrative business and coupled with the father’s medical complications, it results in little to no money being earned.

“Because of the sickness he does hardly go out to work,” the mother stated.

Bhagrat breaks the curfew by going out at night and then has to break it again early in the morning to get on the road before daybreak. Not only that, but she also takes some of the children with her in the evenings to catch “creck-a-teh”.

“Nighttime we does fishing for the “creck-a-teh” and we does got to take them out of the shell and put them on ice so they can stay fresh,” she explained.

The house the family currently lives in

She furthered that it is not a simple job since the family would have to venture into communities where they are attacked by dogs and risk being bitten by snakes while they scavenge the drains for the creatures.

“06:30 in the afternoon when the place start to get late, me and me two sons, we does go around in the scheme and use a torchlight to pick the “creck-a-teh”,” she further explained.

After collecting the creatures, she would sit for hours and shuck them out of their shells to wash them. That runs her late into the nights and then she would get up early to leave at 05:00h for the Port Mourant Market where she sells them. However, on Saturdays, she would leave home at 02:00h for the market since it is the busiest day.

“Creck-a-teh” is great demand and Bhagrat has customers who would travel all the way from Georgetown to Port Mourant so they can purchase the snails. The earnings from those sales go directly towards the household and taking care of the children.

Three of Bhagrat’s children

The mother has been trying to get a house lot to move her family to their own place but to date, she has been unsuccessful. She related that every time she visits the Housing Authority she is told that there are no house lots available and she would have check back. She said that the place they are currently living in is not safe for her children since it would be inundated every time it rains.

When schools reopen, six of Bharrat’s children will be attending, which would make it even harder for her. In the past, her neighbours have provided some assistance to ensure the children get to school but with the pandemic and lack of work, she is not hopeful.

Her 16-year-old daughter left school in Grade 10 and now plays the role of ‘assistant mom’ since there are needs to be met and sacrifices have to be made.

Bhagrat’s 16-year-old daughter preparing a meal for the family

For her, COVID-19 makes no difference because there are more immediate things that she has to take care of on a daily basis so she will continue risking her life and being arrested to ensure that her children are taken care of and can go to bed with their stomachs full.