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**

Sunday, April 29, 2007

It's finally over: Cricket World Cup ends

It was meant to end with a glorious day of cricket, bathed with brilliant sunshine. Nature had other plans, however. Rain came early and the start of the game was delayed repeatedly, and play did not start until 12.15pm. Rain also delayed play during the afternoon, so the final was a shortened game. We got wet several times in the waiting, but it seemed worth it.

The Australians, who had dominated in every one of their matches, did the same again today, and emerged as champions for the 3rd consecutive time. But the match had a bizarre twist at its end. The light had faded badly and when the umpires offered Sri Lanka the chance to accept that play stop due to bad light, with 2 overs to complete, they accepted it. The Australians celebrated, the field was being cleared to set up for the final presentation and after-match fireworks and entertainment. Hold on! Some consultation between the umpires and captains followed, and here come the teams again.

And so, in virtual darkness, balls were bowled and batsmen tapped for 10 more minutes, and the end finally did arrive. A nonsense! A confusion caused by the officials not knowing their own rules and having believed wrongly that because of the bad light decision the final overs would have to be played the next day, something no one wanted. A huge bungle!

So, the trophy and medals were presented, and a large portion of the crowded booed the officials of International Cricket Council, Cricket World Cup 2007, and West Indies Cricket Board, but cheered heartily for the cricket greats who were involved in the ceremony. Strangely, no politicians from Barbados or other CARICOM country played a visible role in the final ceremony.

Then the last entertainment started; it was not well coordinated or well announced. Nice pan music and great dancing puppets. But why have dancers dress in white plantation clothes and why have the pan players in dreadlock wigs? Again, we see our own presentations giving the world the "wrong" image of the region. We are more than that. We have to figure out what is our modern identity.

The crowd on the day seemed in good spirit, and it was really Australia against the rest of the world; almost every non-Australian at the Kensington Oval was rooting for Sri Lanka. And those tickets were expensive. So, we were going to get our money's worth with our cheering. The food service seemed a lot better, and no long lines or food running out from what we saw. The drinkers had a great day and they topped up in the long rain delay; but no one got out of hand. That would not be cricket!

I'm glad that the matches are over and I think that after 51 days of playing, it's good to have something else to focus on. The post-mortems started some weeks ago and there may never be any agreed view about the tournament, except in a few areas. It was a tough challenge for the Caribbean to put on this major international event. We should be proud that we took on the challenge. But we also should really look hard at all the lessons to be learnt about what we did well and what we did not do well, and be honest. That may be difficult for us, but for now I want to live in hope that we have the maturity to do this assessment.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Interesting return to Barbados

I came back to Barbados on April 23, after 2 weeks in Jamaica. I saw Barbados differently, thanks to the distance and merely reading about events in the island, rather than seeing and hearing about some of them. I asked some of my Jamaican friends about Barbados, and they universally have some harsh words about "Little England", a description that comes out frequently. They question whether Bajans have moved away from being colonized, especially in how they view white people (see previous blog).

One thing I have noticed about Barbados, is that it is well marketed. Its tourism opportunities are well presented, and although I think there is no comparison with a large, diverse island like Jamaica, Barbados has an image that is more welcoming, and offers relative safety that may be hard to beat. The reality is more complex, as I see and hear in the local media. Strange things happen here (and I don't mean the story of the beheaded body that was reported recently). I saw this first hand when I returned to GAIA.
A young man started to complain about another man (not in uniform or with visible badge) handling his bag; it was not clear that the latter was any kind of security official. The young man summoned other airport officials to come to his assistance, and then the rest was bizarre. No uniformed officials came forward. The young man started yelling to be left alone, and was then bundled by the man about whom he was complaining into the men's bathroom near the baggage belt and one could hear some thumping and yelling. No identifiable officials intervened. None of the baggage handlers reacted. None of the arriving passengers (many visiting cricket fans) did more than observe. What was that all about?

I have travelled a lot, to almost every continent, and I have never witnessed anything like this. I don't expect to read anything about this incident, so I wonder what "dark" activity this incident relates to. I'd love to think that all is rosy, but I have my worries.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Free food on Friday nights!

My past two weeks in Jamaica have given me some interesting opportunities to compare my native country with Barbados, and I will touch on this as I blog. But, for the moment, I will merely challenge anyone to point out somewhere in Barbados I can go to on the road side to eat a good helping of traditional food for free on a Friday night. You can do it in Jamaica, if you then buy a beer, and it only need be one. So, after a long day's driving in the mountains of the parish of St. Mary, I was glad to reach lower ground in Clarendon. My friend told me to pull over and "check wha' gwan de so."
Yes, we get a cup of soup and the offer of stewed pork and rice, or jerk pork. Now, with a belly full of jerk pork and a Red Stripe, I am back a yard, and wait to hear where I can do the same in Barbados. Have a good night at Oistins!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Discoveries: a world full of angry people is finding its voice

I have been out of Barbados for over a week, and Internet access is not always available, which has hampered my writing, but I will try to make it up. However, it has given me time to reflect and try my hand at other writing. I have had a chance to surf and find other blogs. A few of them are about the Caribbean, and they make very interesting reading. One I found, rings a chord with me ("Moving to Jamaica") is now linked to this site.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Dual standards. Why do black people seem to get worse treatment?

We've noticed, meaning that it has happened several times since arriving in Barbados, that in many establishments black Barbadian service workers have two standards. One, with politeness and general good courtesy, is displayed for white customers. The other, often sour-faced and indifferent at best, and downright rude at worst, seems to displayed to black customers. This treatment of black customers seems to be worse when they speak with a non-Bajan accent. This is really puzzling, especially if you hail from another English-speaking Caribbean country. I've never seen or experienced the same thing in Jamaica or Guyana; and I cannot speak for other islands.

Does this behaviour reflect a lack of training? Is there some "natural" deferrence, which is shown to white customers, in the belief that they have some special place? Or could it be associated with some assumptions about power, or wealth and ability to spend? I wish I knew. What I do know is that it's not going to pass without comment.

All of the discussion about white people's racism towards blacks often skates over or ignores totally the fact that black people get treated very badly by other black people! Some have tried to trace this back to colonialism and the different roles assigned to "house" and "field" slaves, and how that set black workers against each other under the plantation system. Discussions about reparation need to take account of how to make some serious repairs in how relations between black peoples develop.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Floating in space.

I took my first trip into outer space this Easter. Actually, it was my first trip into the single domestic space, since this was created at the start of this year, essentially to facilitate travel during Cricket World Cup. Under this arrangement from February 1 to May 15, visitors to the region bearing the CARICOM Special Visa will be free to travel to all of the other nine countries as if they were a single nation. What did I sense? Did it feel that I was moving seamlessly from country to country? It is hard to say, given that there was nothing really different about the Air Jamaica trip between Barbados and Jamaica, via St. Lucia. I was proudly sporting my CARICOM security bracelet, given to me at GAIA as if I was entering some fancy night club event, or just Agrofest. It did not offer me any special privileges: I got the same plastic goblet of "Love Bird" champagne during the flight. When I arrived in Kingston, it clearly confused the Customs official, who wanted me to fill out paper work that I knew was not necessary, and told her that she was doing "useless bureaucracy". But she insisted that I needed to go back to Immigration to have my Customs form stamped. As they say in Jamaica "Fi wa, missus?"

But here is the real rub. Single space means little without single currency. My wallet full of B$ had to make space for Jamaican dollars, which at 67 to 1 US$, meant a fatter back pocket. What made me laugh more was that my Scotiabank card issued in Barbados does not work in Jamaica. But I can use my US-issued bank ATM card to withdraw either Jamaican $ or US$ from a Jamaican Scotiabank ATM! There's something very not right about that. Well, soon exchange controls will be liberalised in Barbados so I will have to wait and see what that brings.

During my "space walk" in Jamaica I had the good luck to be able to watch Davis Cup tennis, with Jamaica playing Netherlands Antilles, and then go to watch CARIFTA's swimming championships at the National Stadium. While we were celebrating in one way or another a sense of regionalism, we were definitely not all equal. Jamaica's PM tried to make it seem that we were all seen as equals, but it's really not so. We don't treat those Dutch and French Antilles as if they are part of "our" region, and we don't have them in CARICOM. But we play against them and swim against them; it's just too bad if they have to deal with a bunch of problems at airports to pass immigration and Customs. I thought about the Bahamians splashing to gold medals at CARIFTA, with their dollars, pegged 1-to-1 with the US$ but not able to change them in Jamaica, and also not being part of the single space. Do we really want to help regional integration or force people to do things outside the region? Because, it's perhaps much easier to do the latter.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Loving living here?

Bajans often say how much they love their island home. Many foreigners have also fallen in love with the place and decided to make it their home. They come from North American areas with cold winters, escaping the cold, or come from warmer areas such as Florida seeking sun and sea without all of the "Miami vice". More generally, they may just be searching for a gentler pace. They also come from other Caribbean countries seeking an escape from increasing violence or other social problems. They hail also from Europe, mainly Britain, and everyone will assume that it's to get away from the bleak and constant mid-winter weather. They may be working or retired, from private sector or government officials and diplomats. They come with families or alone, and they live as single families or band together. Whatever the reason or the make up, they are all part of the interesting tapestry of people who feel at home in a sort of "paradise".

They take different routes to gain a place on the rock. They buy or lease apartments, condos, and houses. They live in expatriate enclaves or in regular communities. Not every foreigner is comfortable living amongst local people, so one can't criticize the choices people make. Some bring in their materials and find local craftsmen to help install and fit out the properties. Some take on bravely the prospect of renovating. But they are all ready to make the financial and physical investment to cement themselves into the island's life.

There is little point trying to categorize what the new residents do; that's as varied as the people themselves. Yes, there are people who can live out lifetime passions to be able to scuba dive frequently, or play golf every day, or a host of leisure activities. Some people are also pursuing social passions, such as helping children or tending animals. Some are making money, others merely living off savings. They all make an economic contribution. How they are regarded by the host population depends on many factors, and they may be loved or despised for reasons that no one can well explain. But that's life.

You can't usually choose your neighbours but they have an important on life. You may find that there is a pig and chicken farm in the neighbourhood, and no matter how much you love pork and chicken, you prefer them to be sitting quietly on a plate, rather than oinking and clucking when you are trying to have quiet time. You invite people into your home to help with tasks and they leave with the scars of being nipped by your dog, who just took a dislike to them, and they leave with a very bad impression--no pun intended.

The challenge for the foreigner is to navigate the social landscape and try not to fall too often. This can be very difficult without a map of all the social history of who you meet and where you live. But, give credit to those who make an effort to understand and often make no effort to offend, but still find themselves in social hot water.

Barbados may be small but what goes on is not simple. Bajans' views and ways of dealing with issues are not the same as in other Caribbean countries, nor the same as in America or Europe. (I'll discuss some of these aspects in later postings.) Bajans are very proud, and rightly so. Nevertheless, surveys of tourists show that it's Barbados' people who are what they like most. That would explain why many foreigners choose to make Barbados their home.

Monday, April 02, 2007

What's in the news?

The news usually include a good mix of what could be seen as funny or odd stories. This last weekend, Barbados, in keeping with its title of "entertainment island", was holding a world records festival, giving participants chances to beat a series of bizarre world records and maybe get an entry into the Guinness Book of Records. Five Barbadians ate, ran and hopped their way to Guinness World Records on Saturday at the Barbados World Record Festival at the National Stadium (see full story from The Nation newspaper).

Eighteen-year-old Rommel Griffith, a former athlete, claimed several of the prestigious records; he had initially been present to officiate but decided that some events needed more competitors. He and a partner won the three-legged race. He hoisted his slimly-built 50-year-old mother atop his back and broke the world record in the 100 metres piggy back race; the mother is herself an athlete, who performs in the Senior Games. Griffith also won the one-legged race. While Samuel Grazette, 43, spent no time grazing and apparently had spectators wide-eyed when he gulped down a raw onion in 48 seconds with three bites; the previous record was held by an Italian. The winner said "I love anything that is raw...I will be breathing in people's faces all day," he smiled. The proceeds from the events went to the Hope For Children Charity.

Higher forms of culture also took place with the "Exotic Treasures" orchids festival, which I missed but Therese, Rhian and Georgette enjoyed.

Finally, bloggers and the local papers are having a field day over two events. Of course, the unfolding Cricket World Cup (CWC) fiasco of unfulfilled expectations with very poor attendances, low numbers of tourist visitors, lamentable performances from the host West Indies team. Barbados' government has just put in place a "crisis committee" to respond to "serious challenges" facing the country as a result of "a sequence of events" surrounding CWC. The government in Antigua hastily bought several thousand tickets to give away so that the stadium there would look full. Not just cynics are speculating about what "creative marketing" will be seen in Barbados.

The second story revolves around the Tourism Minister and his heated exit from a radio call-in program ("Down to brass tacks") on Sunday, March 25, following the reading of an e-mail questioning the source of his financial (see Barbados Free Press report). This has brought out the two major papers (The Nation and The Advocate) into a "war" about rights of free speech and limits of responsible journalism. The radio host, David Ellis, made a public apology the following day; he is already controversial because of his dealing with "hot" topics and a style which some find belittling and vindictive, though he claims to be merely probing.

As Barbados runs up to its next general election, these two stories are likely to be more in the news than who can hop fastest or eat an onion quickest.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Cultural fusions.

The humanities are a group of academic subjects united by a commitment to studying aspects of the human condition and include subjects such as the classics, languages, literature, music, philosophy, the performing and visual arts, and religion. People watching is great fun, but does not qualify for a degree in humanities. We are making a good tour of these subjects and have already had a good diet of local and international artistic offerings. Therese is really in charge of this, and the weekend "proposals" are usually good.

Over the past few days we took in some lectures at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill Campus concerning aspects of slave emancipation in the English-speaking Caribbean, which were part of a humanities festival. One fascinating presentation was about slave emancipation in the British army, which preceded abolition more generally, and was based around a project to renovate a fort in Dominica, which had been the site of the mutiny which precipitated emancipation in the army. We also attended a day at UWI celebrating French language and arts, which included drumming and dancing by an artiste from Martinique, whose explanations in French were sometime amusingly nuanced by the translator (one of the faculty)to protect the sensibilities of the girls in the audience. For that session, the audience was mainly school students (and one pre-schooler). The drumming and chanting was very evocative of music from Guinea. The story of the origins of drumming and dancing in Martinique was a useful variation on the slavery story, which had a different course in French-speaking Caribbean

Unfortunately, the audience (perhaps inhibited by school uniforms and the need to catch the bus back) did not respond to urgings that they get up and dance.

We also saw how some of Barbados' talented youths are developing their musical skills and using their abundant energy as we listened to the National Youth Orchestra and the National Steel Pan Orchestra playing for the final event at Holders. Although the rain tried persistently to delay and disrupt the performances, the youngters' energy prevailed and the steel pan players in particular showed a passion that was truly infectious. It's a pity there was not some fusion of the two orchestras for at least one piece. Unfortunate also that I could not find a way to record and add here some of the music from both orchestras. Imagine, if you can, the swaying movements of the pan players, which was like bobbing palm trees. Fantastic show!

April fool!

Britian has a long and great tradition of pranks for April 1, with the rule that they can only be played before midday. I was tickled to read the BBC web site for April 1, 2007 , which proudly announced that it had launched "Sniff-screen technology" and urged you to put your nose closer to the screen to smell the alternating images (Gorgonzola cheese, red rose, French perfume)! Some internet news content is truly bizarre, as you can see easily by reading CNN online, so the prank is sometimes less easy to spot.

You can read about or see online some well-known hoaxes. I remember some of them well from when I lived in England. My favourites include:
  • In 1957 the respected BBC news show Panorama announced that thanks to a very mild winter and the virtual elimination of the dreaded spaghetti weevil, Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop. It accompanied this announcement with footage of Swiss peasants pulling strands of spaghetti down from trees. Huge numbers of viewers were taken in, and many called up wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti trees. To this question, the BBC diplomatically replied that they should "place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best." Check out the actual broadcast archived on the BBC's website (you need the RealVideo player installed to see it, and it usually loads very slowly).
  • In 1977 the British newspaper The Guardian published a special seven-page supplement in honor of the tenth anniversary of San Serriffe, a small republic located in the Indian Ocean consisting of several semi-colon-shaped islands. A series of articles affectionately described the geography and culture of this obscure nation. Its two main islands were named Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse. Its capital was Bodoni, and its leader was General Pica. The Guardian's phones rang all day as readers sought more information about the idyllic holiday spot. Few noticed that everything about the island was named after printer's terminology. The success of this hoax is widely credited with launching the enthusiasm for April Foolery that then gripped the British tabloids in the following decades.
  • In 1998 Burger King published a full page advertisement in USA Today announcing the introduction of a new item to their menu: a "Left-Handed Whopper" specially designed for the 32 million left-handed Americans. According to the advertisement, the new whopper included the same ingredients as the original Whopper (lettuce, tomato, hamburger patty, etc.), but all the condiments were rotated 180 degrees for the benefit of their left-handed customers. The following day Burger King issued a follow-up release revealing that although the Left-Handed Whopper was a hoax, thousands of customers had gone into restaurants to request the new sandwich. Simultaneously, according to the press release, "many others requested their own 'right handed' version."
I personally love the prank of giving a person one end of a ball of string and asking them to not move while you roll out the rest of the string to check the circumference of a building. The person with the ball then turns the corner, puts down the ball, and then either takes a good vantage point or worse gets other people to stand and stare as the holder stands patiently with the piece of string in hand, sometimes for hours.

It's good when you can get through the day with a good laugh and some simple fun.