Welcome

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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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I'm a STUD!

A female friend asked me recently "What does it feel like to be a stud?". Taken aback, I replied "Excuse me?". You know," she continued, "Spouse travelling under duress." The penny dropped. "Well, it's not bad." I finally replied. After all, I was the one who took us to Africa for three years and my wife had to leave her job behind in Washington. She used the time well doing research, consulting, volunteering, and enjoying being a mother of a baby again after 20 years off. I will try to use my time in Barbados as gainfully. I had never heard the term before, but the friend told me of at least one European group and I found a website for a STUD support group in Belgium (see link; click on picture to enlarge cartoon).

I have not done any serious research on this phenomenon that seems to be more noticeable in Barbados: men who have followed female partners to a foreign country and where it is the woman who is pursuing a career. One of the professors at the University of the West Indies (UWI) told me she had done some study of it: she has a STUD with her. In my case, I did not travel under duress and came willingly. I know there are a lot of men in my situation; I have met many here. Some have become the golf pro-wannabee that they had their hearts set on or indulge in some sporting activities. Some take on or continue their work but from a different location; as we are mostly foreigners here it may not be simple to just pick ourselves up and work. Some of us have become the "primary caregiver" (stay-at-home dads, "Mr. Mom"). Some of us get to do projects that have been put on hold. Some of us commute internationally and see our partners occasionally. We have taken on new work assignments that may or may not involve leaving the home. We take on the opportunity to pursue other things, some of which were put on hold or never started because of the demands of our former jobs. (One European STUD I met is learning to surf, but also doing work in his chosen field--archeology--that means he travels around the Caribbean and Africa. But now he just got a job back in Europe and will leave his family behind in Barbados to revisit them occasionally.) We often get to wear cool clothes all day long: no more jacket, shirt and tie, and shiny wing-tip brogues, but T-shirt and shorts and sandals, and casual shirt and pants if we are going out.

In my case, I have started to teach at UWI. I went to see if I could enroll in an Executive MBA course, but instead they asked me if I could "collaborate" and I am now a "facilitator" for the course. I have taught two sessions (one in Barbados one in Tortola): the pay is very good and UWI pay half of the money on the final day of a teaching assignment and the rest when marked projects have been submitted. I am now learning online how to teach online, and will be doing a course during the summer.

I also got some consultancy work with a UN agency, which "forced" me to go back to Guinea for two weeks to look at ways to deal with reducing poverty. It gave me the opportunity to go back and see what had changed after a year and a period of social upheaval. I also got to see that I had lots of friends and after my two weeks I was exhausted from all the socializing I had done. But it confirmed for me that in places like that, human relations count for much more than they do in the US (which I knew already). This is something I also appreciate about being in Barbados. By contrast with UWI, the UN system is a bit of a minefield as a bureaucracy and getting paid was a little drawn out. I travelled in mid-November for which I got my expenses paid in full after a couple of weeks, but my consultant's fee did not arrive until the last day of the year--nearly a month after my contract had ended. Fortunately, my wife can support me!

I am teaching myself to play the piano. As a boy, I went to lessons but also spent a lot of time playing football (soccer) or running track; I was very good at both so my parents never saw that as a waste of time. I also had a lot of study because I went to a "good school" and was expected to go to university. Somehow, all my attempts at tickling the ivories never amounted to anything that was worthy of being called music. I tried the violin; same result. That was frustrating because now I see that several boys who started at the same time as me are internationally famed musicians (one was Christoper Warren-Green, now a conductor). I tried the guitar: same result. I had good teachers, including an older English guy, who played jazz guitar like Wes Montgomery and I so wanted to be able to do that, but all of my efforts just led to callouses on my fingers, the ability to strum a few chords, a few rock tunes and several unused or under-used guitars. Again, the frustration of seeing some of my school friends now being famed musicians (such as guitar-flutist John Hackett, whose brother Steve was one of the founders of Genesis, and John was a great guitarist already at age 13) also fills me with an envy. My mother had also tried to get me to learn trumpet from one of our tenants, but my lips were not made for blowing the horn.

Ironically, my wife gave me a guitar for Christmas in 2006, and I started to play again; my little daughter had just started lessons. However, I was fortunate to find a piano in the house we rent in Barbados. Now, I have been practising for 8 months, using a book given by a neighbour who is herself a lapsed pianist, and I can play a decent array of tunes. When some of my wife's family visited us in November it was funny to play the piano with her niece and nephew; her mother also tried to play a few tunes (the first time in about 50 years!). My initial objective was to just get into the discipline of regular practice and to see how I could do. I then set my sights on playing some Christmas carols over the holidays. But when I went to The Bahamas my books were left behind in Barbados and my duet partner (my wife's young nephew) got cold feet on the day and preferred to hot foot the dance "Soldier boy" instead of playing with me (see the video and decide if he was right). But I was satisfied that I was ready to play at the family dinner (no nerves), and found a copy of my practice book and played for those who were watching an American football game after the meal: no one told me to close the piano and several people said "Oh! You really can play."

I try to practice every day, at least 10 minutes. A friend had told me several months ago that learning to play an instrument is not about the volume of practice, but the regularity and quality; so even if I only have a few minutes I touch the keys in a meaningful way every day if I have a piano nearby (even in restaurant or hotel). My objective now is to be able to help Rhian whenever she starts to learn an instrument. She often comes and "plays" along with me on the piano, or strums her guitar, or uses her Guinea djembe drum or all of the above; she often just dances as I play or sings one of the tunes. That's satisfaction enough.

I do not miss going to an office every day, especially as the organization is going through a lot of angst at the prospect of a major cut back in staff. When I went to work as a resident representative in Guinea I made the transition out of my small office in a large building and feeling very much like a cog at best, or a spare part at worst. There I spent three years as my own boss with a group of staff and a budget I tried to control; with a large office that was both elegantly decorated (with help from my assistant, who arranged for her cousin to make curtains) and functionally stylish (I bought local art work--statues and paintings--to add warmth; I found a great desk and work chair and fabulous sofas). I felt that what I was doing was very relevant even though it was in a country full of uncertainty and dirt poor.

As I am at home most of the time I have also created a "work" environment there; I have an "office" in the basement, which is actually at ground level. I now accept that it is a good location for work, though I had initially preferred working upstairs where I could look out across the garden and see the flourishing frangipani trees listen to the parrots, occasionally marvel at monkeys running along the wall, and constantly shoo away birds that wanted to invade the kitchen.

I started trading online in late September and it is a good activity for someone who has time and a computer. So my office is now a "trading room". I discovered Bloomberg TV a few weeks ago and now I have that on all day; very informative for me. I am learning a lot about economics and financial markets that I never understood, and I am more knowledgeable about the goings on in these markets than I ever was. I wont get rich from this anytime soon but I think I can do well enough to cover some of my bills. If I tell you that a lot of market behaviour is helping to understand human behaviour you may think I have had my head turned. But trust me, when you watch how prices changes occur (the push to new levels) study the charts you see many patterns that are all about human activity.

I get to listen to radio call-in programs occasionally (mainly "Down to brass tacks", though I listen much less these days); it's a way of hearing what some people have on their minds. I wait for people to arrive to fix plumbing, check wiring, install something, repair the TV antenna, clean the pool, do the garden, occasionally try to convert me to another religion.

I get to write. My blog started in March 2007 and even though at one stage recently I decided to not try to write except occasionally, I found the writing very useful for getting ideas and issues out of my head. For me, it gets me clarity. I enjoy it and now write blog posts much more often, even several posts a day. I have noticed that the visitor traffic is rising and that suggests a widening group of people are sympathetic to what I am writing.

I get to see a lot of my youngest daughter, who came along when I thought that active child rearing was over. Our other girls were just heading toward university. But the latest addition is a treasure and surely one of God's blessings. Here, I do the school pick up every afternoon, except Fridays (when my wife has started an odd "tradition" of taking Rhian to Chefette to play and sometimes to eat). That's my "afternoon off". I also play second fiddle most of the weekend when I give my wife ample opportunity to bond with her daughter, who pines for her a lot during the week. They go off and do "girly" things like having their nails done, but I let them go their own ways.

I get to know my neighbours--though I was shocked at how few people in the street where we live came to welcome us; perhaps it's not the tradition though some came to ask for money to support a school project. I know who lives in every house. My landlords live a few doors down and they help me fill in some gaps about the neighbours.

I get to take visitors on tours of the island. That helps me get to know the place physically but also to see the people differences. We get a lot more visitors in Barbados than we did in Guinea. It's an easier place to fly to and as it fits many people's idea of paradise I guess those friends and relations who live in those colder places in North America or Europe are going to want to descend on us often. They are welcome.

I manage to travel to Jamaica about every two months to see my dad, who had a stroke about 16 months ago. I get to travel with my daughter to accompany my wife/mother on business trips to other islands: we get to spend a few days together and see somewhere different.

A lot of people comment that they wish they could do what I did. To which I say why don't you?

Today is my birthday and my daughter has taken great shots of me posing in my pyjamas and a party hat. We sang happy birthday in English and French while she was having her breakfast. I am going to enjoy my special day by staying at home and doing very little. I will see if I can keep my party hat on till my wife comes back from her office in the evening and takes me out for a dinner somewhere swish by the sea.

My wife drew a line in the sand sometime ago saying that I would have to leave if I had my ears pierced and wore an earring. Now I never understood why this practice was alright for her and our daughters but not for me. What does gender equality mean? I don't want a navel or tongue ring, or have a pin in my nose as does one of the older girls. A post on that subject is begging. And what about all those pirates and buccaneers who marauded in the Caribbean Sea? and what about all those African warriors from whom we may be descended? I am not getting into all the sexual labelling that comes with men wearing earrings (right ear (gay?), left (straight?), both ears (bisexual?). I shaved my head a few years ago and an earring seems like a good accessory. Maybe now is the time to say "I'm a STUD so I can wear a stud in my ear."

Happy birthday to me!

3 comments:

ESTEBAN AGOSTO REID said...

Interesting post!The STUD lifestyle is definitely enviable.Man,I tell you, the everyday drudgery of work does not match up or compare with that of being a STUD.STUDS have so much time for recreation,relaxation,exploration,personal development and of course self-actualization.Enjoy man, because it cetainly does not get any better.RESPECT !!

Carson C. Cadogan said...

Happy birthday Dennis.

Carson C. Cadogan

Bajan Lass said...

I didn't realise you are January born...Happy Birthday, Dennis. We have to toast at the "council meeting" tomorrow night...

Lisa Greaves