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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.

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Friends

If you have children you will have experienced the ease with which they make friends. A friend for a child is someone with whom to play. So Mums and Dads are naturally friends. Anyone who does not offer an immediate rejection or give off bad vibes is also a potential friend. I love to watch Rhian “make friends”.


At the Norman Manley Airport last Thursday friendship making was in full force. Another little girl, aged about 6, was sitting near us with her mother. She had a Dora the Explorer roll-on bag from which she took out paper and pencils. Rhian siddled up to her and asked if she could draw too. In no time, the two girls were happily colouring on the same sheet of paper. Then Rhian started some reciprocal behaviour and took out the bright colouring pens from her back-pack, and the girls got into more colouring, this time being fascinated by the patterns coming through the back of the paper. Along walked another girl, aged about 5. “Can I do some colouring with you?” she asked. “Sure” was the natural reply, and the new entrant ran off to get permission from her mother before coming back to make a lovely threesome. And so they played for about an hour; all flights were delayed by about an hour so this was a blessing.


The friends began to break up as the flights got ready to leave. The last arrival was the first to depart—somewhat unhappily as her mother unceremoniously came to take her, and to the disgust of the other two girls never even acknowledged them or asked if their friend could leave.Really! Rhian recoiled from the mother—a bad vibes person—and had to be reassured before going back to play with her first friend. We too soon had to leave when boarding started for our flight.


As usual the parents barely got to meet each other. We did not get down on the floor and start colouring too. Adults make friends more slowly than children; I don't know at what point we lose spontaneity over friendship. As we get older we develop “agendas” so making friends is part of that; friends offer advantages that we cannot otherwise get. So friendships need more maneuvering and developing. We think about relationships, asking questions about why someone is appearing to be nice. That gets more complicated when the two genders are involved. As a father who has spent a lot of time with my children I know that I'm still an oddity because parenting is still often seen as “mothering”. A father or mother starting a conversation around their children can easily be surrounded by some sexual friction, real, or imaginary.


It's funny though that when thrown into an alien situation as we have been recently when based in another country on assignment friendships can happen more spontaneously. We now have lots of really good friends from our three years in Guinea and a smaller number from our ten months in Barbados. And we came to be good friends by just taking each other as we are. We seem to operate without agendas and enjoy casual socializing, which helps us bond better. We don't get to know each other very well in terms of full information about each others lives; we get to know some intimate snippets, enough to feel connected. This spontaneity can only work if you are open to it, so many adults and children will find themselves in new social settings and feel unable to make friends, then tending to limit contact and so end up having few friends. We can see this when children have to change schools and of course we adults experience it when we move to new places.


I like the way that children make friends most of all because they don't feel the need for personal details. No need to say, “Hello. My name is...” before you get down to play, and no problems just leaving, with no need for “See you again.” With socialization we adults feel the need to have that detail, so we are going to try to exchange addresses or phone numbers and of course we have to know names. That takes the fun out of it, and losing the sense of fun is sadly part of growing up.

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