Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Thursday, March 22, 2007

What's a man to do?

I have quickly realized that the world of the stay-at-home expatriate spouse is well populated, at least in Barbados. In chance encounters over 6 weeks, I have met many men who are here because they followed their wives or female partners, and they are all staying at home most of time. Most are fathers of young children; one is a grandfather, who is responsible for looking after the grandchildren; others are retired or near retirement. None of them is going out to work on a full-time basis. Those who are doing paid work do this on a flexible basis, with some consulting or similar arrangement.
I may try to share some of their stories: one always feels more sympathy for a shared cause. Professor Betty Jane Punnett, head of the Department of Management Studies, at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill campus, whom I met recently, has undertaken a study of the expatriate male: she is herself an expatriate and has a husband who falls into this category. I have yet to see the paper she wrote but she mentioned that there are many problems men face with the adjustment to at-home life. However, several important lessons should be noted, including the need to have a clear plan or goals, such as writing a book, or learning a new skill.

I shared morning tea with one of the at-home fathers and his story is very interesting. Christoph is German, and here with his French wife, and two young sons. His wife is with the European Commission delegation in Barbados. Christoph has a background in history and archeology. He previously spent 10 years in Burkina Faso, and his last activity was to develop an archeological site into a cultural and tourist attraction. : the local community now has day-to-day responsibility for the site, including its finances, which seems to be working well as a tourist attraction. Christpoh continues to steer this project remotely, and it is sounds like a good example of how small-scale projects can work well as the basis of cultural and economic development and do so without financial aid from donors. He is also getting involved in some archeological projects in the Caribbean. Given my time representing an international institution in west Africa, I smiled as he retold some stories of donor agencies unwillingness to consider his kinds of activities with communities as "real development".

As Christoph's relaxed expression would suggest, he is enjoying his first taste of island life, and his year and a half in Barbados has allowed him to enjoying raising his sons. He and his family have been in Barbados for 1 1/2 years out of a 4 year posting. Having lived during the first year near the south coast tourist area, they are now further inland, in a house not far from cane fields. The house where the family now lives has a very large, well-planted garden with a wonderful view of the ocean in the distance. He and his wife now have a young German au pair and his sons are now at school most of the days, so he is trying to rebalance his time and activities. He can amuse himself and his boys in the garden while learning about local birds, insects and plants. His "leisure plans" for his time in Barbados fall squarely into the island life mould: he wants to become proficient at diving, surfing, and sailing. However, he has some "work plans" that involve activities in Caribbean and African archeological and tourism development.

We had some interesting exchanges about the life of an expatriate. His many years in Burkina had allowed him to learn one of the local languages and he felt "at home" with the local population. But, his many years living in west Africa have not prepared him for what he has found in Barbados.

I won't expand on this here as I want to experience for myself much more of life in Barbados. Finding a place in social groupings can be hazardous for a foreigner, without the benefit of years of background of a place and its people. On the other side, local people are often quick to make assumptions about or judge a foreigner and put him or her into a bag that really does not fit. For example, choice of school for the infant of an expatriate family may have nothing to do with a desired social standing, but have everything to do with convenience of location. But, for locals a series of interpretations and "labelling" will flow from that choice and the expatriates may regret later how lack of awareness of how such choices may be interpreted. From my personal position, I cannot say whether it is easier to be a black foreigner in Barbados. I cannot say if it is harder to be a black foreigner with roots in another Caribbean country. However, I am very interested to see how these issues arise. Life is very complicated even at the best of times!

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