West Indian roots strong for dedicated nurse
Chandra Persad was thrilled to leave Canada’s winters when she moved to Bermuda in 1970.
But the Trinidadian soon found Bermuda also had a chilly side.
“There was some discrimination against West Indians,” said the 67-year-old.
“People would make comments sometimes. But I never experienced any discrimination, and people could say what they liked.”
She went about raising her three children, and then in 1976 couldn’t ignore the discrimination anymore.
Two children with a Jamaican mother married to a Bermudian, were pulled out of school and ordered to leave the island by the Department of Immigration.
A group of people who lobbied on behalf of the Fisher family formed the West Indian Association in response. The late lawyer Julian Hall took the Fisher case all the way to the Privy Council in London, and won.
“The Government wouldn’t allow the children to go to school here,” Ms Persad said. “It wasn’t fair. I could empathise with them because I was a foreigner too. To me it felt like a human rights thing. I felt after they won the case that change would happen. I joined [the WIA] not long after.
“I’ve seen it go from strength to strength. I really feel a tie with the other members. We’d like to see younger members join — and you don’t have to be West Indian. We have a group for friends of West Indians.”
She was president from 2014 until earlier this year, and is now in charge of the hospitality committee.
On Saturday, she helped organise a fundraiser for hurricane struck islands in the Caribbean. The devastation caused by Hurricane Irma took her back to 1963 and Hurricane Flora, one of the worst recorded Caribbean storms at that time.
“I was in school and they sent us home,” she said. “The rain just started coming. It was the heaviest rain I remember seeing.”
Buses were cancelled due to flooding in Trinidad and she and her friends had no idea how they were going to get home.
“My dad came looking for us,” she said. “I don’t know how he found us, because everyone was sheltering from the rain.”
Flora packed gusts of 145mph.
“We were in a protected area and didn’t get much damage,” said Ms Persad. “But Tobago was really impacted.”
Ms Persad was one of 11 children in her family.
“We played a lot of yard cricket,” she said. “At the time no one’s yard was fenced so we’d run from one to another.”
She went to a Presbyterian school, but her parents were Hindu.
“We came from India five generations ago as indentured servants,” she said. “My great-great-grandfather was alive when I was a young child.”
She’s embarrassed to admit that she doesn’t know his name.
“Everyone referred to him as Sahib, which is Hindu for prince,” she said. “It was a respectful term. I can remember being taken to see him and having to bow.”
She now attends the Church of Scotland in Warwick but still honours some Hindu traditions.
“We celebrate Dewali, which is the festival of light,” she said. “Even though we don’t do all the religious things for Dewali, we still get together with our Trinidadian and Indian friends.
“We celebrate with cooking.”
She loves making curries, roti and chapattis.
“I love anything that is hands-on,” she said. It’s one of the reasons she became a nurse.
“When I was a teenager, I had an aunt who took care of an elderly relative who’d had a stroke,” she said. “I often helped her, and would stay with the relative, when she went out.”
Some people might have been turned off by having to change bedpans but she loved it.
“I have always loved the hands-on nature of nursing,” she said. “And the contact with the patient.”
It wasn’t until she moved to Bermuda that she was able to train for the profession.
“There was a shortage of nurses in Bermuda,” she said. “In 1974, they started a nursing course in Bermuda and I signed up.”
After completing her training, she worked at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital. She transferred to the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute in 1980 and stayed there until her retirement two years ago.
She now works part-time at Westmeath.
“Nursing is what I always wanted to do and I couldn’t see myself doing something else,” she said.
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