A Cayman woman’s life

Times have certainly changed for women growing up in Cayman. It is a different environment, values have changed and women no longer stay home to raise children while men go out to work.

One hundred or even 50 years ago, if women knew what equality meant, it was not mentioned or fought for; most times they were just too busy carving out a living. Then, the lifestyle was completely different. Now it’s hard to imagine a time when there were no cell phones, television, Internet or computers, when children came home and assisted with chores, little girls went to Sunday school and of course women worked hard, long hours. Sometimes women were treated with less respect, as traditionally a Christian upbringing taught them that the man was the head of the household and woman was his helpmate, and they did not dispute this.

What also should be remembered is that most of the families in those days were poor with work and money scarce. The chance of getting a good education was slim. Most youngsters ended school at Grade 6 with just the basic reading and writing skills.

The men who did not take to the high seas made a living working the land.

Women, after leaving school, tended to pick up skills such as sewing, thatching plaiting and rope making. They would do basic household tasks until they would leave home to get married.

It has only been in recent years, since Cayman’s development, that women could become more independent and get the opportunity to go to college and begin entering the workforce.

Janilee Clifford, 79, raised four children, took care of the home and in later years found a career in teaching. She sees how different women’s lives are from when she was growing up.

“Women lives are so different with all the technology of today; it should be easier, but I don’t think it is because of the fast pace. I am not against information technology because we cannot stop it. It is good and it is bad and has its consequences.”

She also observes that there is good and bad in the modern way of life, that in some ways women still have to struggle but in juggling the demands of their busy lifestyles. “I will say to the young ladies of today, you have it good, but the struggling will go on because of the life styles of today.

“Looking back we were happier that we did not have all the pressures that women have today. All of that puts a strain on us when have to involve ourselves so much.”

Mrs. Clifford thinks that one of the major differences between when she was young and women raising a family nowadays, is that women helped each other. “We were poor but everyone cared for each other more. That is not happening today, which puts more of a strain on all of us because we are so involved with ourselves.” “

Some of the aspects of modern life are disturbing. “My daughter is a counsellor at the primary school today but never in my time could I look back and recall anyone that I thought needed a counsellor. That is how much the times have changed.”

Mrs. Cliford married Charles Clifford at 19 and raised four children Cathy, Susan, Carol, Janet and Chuckie. As a wife and mother her work week consisted of different tasks that took up her time.

Monday was wash days, water was collected in calabash vessels from the well if the cisterns did not have any. Clothes were washed with brown soap on a wooden wash board made locally then hung out to dry on prickly bush because they did not have clothes lines.

Starch was made by grating cassava mixed with water, settled overnight, the water poured off and the starch was left in the bottom. It was then boiled and clothes were dipped in the mixture after it cooled to make the clothes stiff to be re-hung on the prickly bush or clothes line for ironing Saturday evenings.

For ironing days, dried buttonwood or logwood was collected from the beach among the grape trees, buttonwood and logwood were the favourite because they burned longer. The fire was lit outside by the kitchen door and the coal irons, four to five at a time, were placed near to the fire to heat. The reason for so many irons was because they cooled faster. Banana leaves were used to remove the soot from the iron bottom so it would not mess the clothes, which were sprinkled with water and crushed before pressing. There were no ironing boards and clothes were pressed on the kitchen table.

There were certain chores to be done on different days. Friday evenings the coffee beans were always parched. There were no such things as decaffeinated and instant coffee, instead coffee beans were bought from the store and parched. Mrs. Clifford said she tied her hair often because the scent of the coffee which was very strong would get in your hair. There were one or two stores in each district that sold goods such as flour, cornmeal, sugar and lard. These came in a sacks or barrels and were weighed out and sold in bags. Saltbeef, which came in huge barrels, was cooked with beans as a staple meal in those days as well as fish and ground provision.

On Saturday morning the corn was grated to make corncake for Sundays.

Most people were church going and every one prepared things on Saturday before Sunday morning church service.

Mrs. Clifford started her school days alongside Cayman National Hero Evelyn Wood. She then attended school in Bodden until the age of 15 under the tutelage of headmaster Clifton Hunter and assistant teacher Hilred Ebanks.

School days were very different from what pupils of today would expect, there were no computers not even many text books. Their work for the day was assigned on a single black board with lessons for each class. “That in itself was a difficult challenge because you had to concentrate on the side of the board with the work that was assigned to you, this built discipline in us children,” she said.

In later years she took up teaching at Cayman Prep School and taught for over 30 years until she retired. Today she lends her skills substitute teaching and sharing with students the ways of the Caymanian people.