Cotton picking lessons

by Donna Sealy

makinicallenderThe one week Makini Callender spent in the cotton fields of St. Philip, was worth 1,000 life lessons.

The 15 pounds of cotton the 28-year-old woman picked in February/March this year, was not nearly as much as those people with whom she worked, but working in those fields caused her to understand how hard they worked for their dollar.

Her petite frame belies her age and as she recounted her experiences so far during an interview at Barbados TODAY’s Warrens, St. Michael offices yesterday, she noted defiantly that she has to do what she has to do.

Tired of sitting at home and waiting for the phone to ring, the UWI graduate who has a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology said she saw that a plantation needed cotton pickers and signed up.

She said even though her friends laughed at her decision, they eventually came around and told her to do what she had to. Her father, she said, also told her the same thing and called every day to find out how she was doing.

“At the end of the day I want that support, I don’t really care for financial support, I care more for emotional support… When I look at students you could say do this, do that, you could give the child the whole world in electronics, material things or whatever the case may be, but at the end of the day if he/she doesn’t have that emotional support, they’re easily led astray,” she said.

Let’s go back to her cotton tales.

The day before she started, a friend took her to the field to see where she would be.

“The next morning I was all fussy ’cause I was going to pick cotton and I knew what I was doing. I got there around quarter to 7. I told a few of my friends and they didn’t believe I was going to do it and they started to laughed, I said, ‘All right, stay there and laugh’.

“I was going to pick my cotton — they were unemployed too — for $1.50 a pound. They told me I wasn’t going to do it, but what else I gine do?

“On my first day, they didn’t say it but the older folks in the field looked like ‘what this young girl doing in here?’ What stood out was my complexion, they didn’t say it but it was how they reacted. I asked a lady kindly what to do and then I realised I was picking the cotton and picking the seed at the same time and then I realised I was wasting time, …” Makini said.

Another woman then told her what to do and she did.

“On my first day I felt proud of myself. When everybody was weighing in at 10 pounds I had a mere three pounds and when I lifted [my bag] … the manager and driver looked down at me. They shook their heads and said: ‘This is the girl here that has the CXCs right. I told them my name is Makini and asked them to weigh my bag.

“I told them to put down my three pounds next to my name and after the weighing was done I hopped on the truck because I thought it was going back to the factory. [The driver] felt sorry for me but I didn’t feel sorry for myself. I was going to catch the bus … but he took me home. On the truck I was laughing because everybody picked 10 or 15 pounds and I picked three… I said all of this time from quarter to 7 to 4 o’clock and I picked three pounds,” she said smiling.

The next day in the broiling sun, she picked two more and the third day in the field she picked seven.

Makini said she really admired those workers who could pick as much as 20 pounds of cotton in a day. She chatted with some of them during the lunch breaks and learnt that they had to work hard to make a living, that some of them enjoyed what they did and that some understood the importance of cotton as a foreign exchange earner.

She remembered too they had to look out for cow itch.

Proudly showing the scars from her efforts, she explained that her cotton picking days ended because she received two calls for interviews that same week, one of which was for an office assistant, and although they bore no fruit she didn’t bother to return.

Makini finds herself unemployed like hundreds of other people in Barbados. And it isn’t for her lack of trying either.

Before leaving the Cave Hill Campus she sent out scores of applications, after she left she sent out a few more, went on dozens of interviews until eventually she landed a job at a security firm. She worked in an area which had nothing to do with her degree of psychology, for six years before leaving that job and being back on the breadline.

It is her need to take care of herself that pushes her to write her resum√, send out applications, make calls and follow up on applications sent. Her rewards so far have been minimal.

In fact, Makini whose frustration led her to talk about her experiences so far, could be the voice of the other university graduates or Barbadians who have found themselves jobless.

“After interview number five I stopped counting because after a while it was the same thing over and over. You’re too qualified for this position, when you apply to another position you don’t have enough experience and then when you do call back to follow up on the interview you don’t hear anyone,” she said.

She is yet to receive her reward for her persistence and is often told she’s over qualified for positions such as gas attendants, cleaning companies, even though she’s left out most of her qualifications, she’s “too pretty” to work in other positions for others, and some prospective employers have tried to the deter her from working.

Oh and like several university graduates, she also applied to teach.

Not one to mope, Makini took it upon herself to go in a direction other than where her psychology degree would take her and did a course in accounting. She also applied to get a job in that area as she has some experience but the interviewer only saw her degree and not her willingness to do work in another area in which she was also qualified.

Eventually she wrote a letter outlining her frustrations which was meant to be more cathartic than anything else and she sent it off to the media houses to be published.

But Makini has a plan.

She wants to start a shuttle service for the elderly where she would run errands, take them to church or to social events. She’s also contemplating having one for students or the differently abled.

For this she has done a business plan and a survey to assess the need and its sustainability. On the other hand she’s thinking about owning a rental company. She’s still indecisive at this point but her finances, or lack thereof, are a big hindrance to her plans.

She is determined to rise like a phoenix and use the knowledge gained from her studies, the CAPE certificates in Spanish, French, History, the CXC certificates plus all the other courses she studied to make her mark in the world.

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