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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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Guilty as charged.

Schadenfreude is pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others; it has no single-word English equivalent. Now, I tend not to have schadenfreude but I do take pleasure in the misfortunate nomenclature that some people have to deal with.

Today, July 31, a jury found a pastor, Jippy Doyle, guilty of raping a teenage girl several years ago; she was one of his parishioners and is now in her twenties (the story is reported in the Nation on August 1). He was due to spend time initially at Dodd's Prison, in St. Philip. The case had a number of highlights, which had caught people's attention:
  • The fact that this pastor had felt it appropriate to greet the then 13-year-old at his home just wearing a towel ... "Is wha' kin' o' ministerin' he plan to gi' she?"
  • His defence included that he was not at the scene of the crime at all but at his mother's home in Sweet Vale ... "He t'ink he and de gal in sweet vale..." But sweetness seems to be a feature of the whole story...
  • After he had kissed the girl and had sex with her, he gave her a bag of sweets (I kid you not) and B$20 (for what, cab fare or services rendered?) ... "Sweets for daze!"
Some friends, with whom I was liming as usual on Thursday evening, could not help themselves and try to come up with some waggish comments:
  • "Poor ol' Jippy; he acted like a gyp and he goin' get gyp now." [a gyp is a fraudster or means to swindle or cheat]
  • "I don' know if he goin' t'ink that being up at Dodd's go gi' hi' any fillip. He might fin' a Philip who is no saint sharing who go gi' hi'. Heh-hey!"
  • "After a nite wi' some o' de boys in prison, ol' Jippy goin' be doddering fi true. Heh-hey!"
The story also indicates that the pastor started his church in the Stables at Queen's Park, St. Michael:
  • "Well, you can understand how, wi' a start like dat, de preacher good at horse play."
Finally, the founder of Dominion Life Centre, will not be having any "Miracle Services" on Wednesday. He will be on Her Majesty's Service:
  • "Someone may show hi wha' i' mean to serve de queen. Heh-hey!"
  • "He goin' need de service of a miracle hi'self."
Press reports indicate that when asked if he had anything to say before the judge went to sentencing, Mr. Doyle shook his head and said "No". Well, we know now that "No" means no, right?

The judge agreed that sentencing be postponed pending a pre-sentence report. I understand that an appeal is being prepared.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Broughtupsy.

Good behaviour is something that Caribbean people think they invented, soon after Christopher Columbus put his dirty hands on the people in Africa (Europeans never wash their hands, you know) and dragged our ancestors off across the Atlantic, without even as much as a "Hello" or "Good morning." We have a term for it, "broughtupsy", which means good manners indicating that somebody has been brought up well. If it's absent, then you will hear expressions like "She na ha' no broughtupsy." For example, a woman knowing not to walk out in public wearing hair curlers; though we see nowadays that this can be a showing of 'modern' and 'fashionable' lifestyles.

For some people, the things that make up broughtupsy are not learnt but are innate in the gene structure. Bahamians have natural God-given broughtupsy, for instance, from what I have overheard. They know how to behave in every social setting, and the standards they set are actually impossible for other nations to follow. Unfortunately, there are not yet any Olympic events for this. For them, broughtupsy includes things like the number of baths to be taken in a day--no fewer than three (before leaving home, when returning home, and before bedtime). But if the day involves lots of activities, a Bahamian can be seen almost constantly in a bathrobe as he/she (especially females) traipses into the shower again and again to stay clean.

Bajans don't say that they have innate
broughtupsy, from what I have overheard. But if given the opportunity to offer instruction on how life should be led and how a 'decent pusson' should act, many Bajans give a free lesson in broughtupsy that comes with a long, haughty lecture, a Podcast, a brochure with pop-up images of broughtupsy, a three-page test, a haircut, and directions to the airport if you feel all of this is too much and you need to 'go back to whe' yu did come from'.

The story below, which I read on the Internet today, is a perfect example of how people elsewhere in the Caribbean regard good public behaviour:

We were at a restaurant in St. Lucia called the "Nut hut" and the gentleman sitting at the next table let out some body gas. Needless to say, my wife didn't like it and we demanded our meal for free. Unfortunately the manager of the restaurant was not willing to comply, so we left without eating.

To the writer, that was of course the obviously correct reaction. Really! Some people are just disgusting.

Caribbean people think that almost all English people are dirty and have no broughtupsy, and feel vindicated when they observe the often offensive behaviour of the Brit on the loose as a tourist. This is one of the reasons why once the Brits taught West Indians cricket they were doomed to fall to us as we knew how to be gentlemen, whereas they thought that it was enough to just talk properly. Australians have broughtupsy in reverse, especially on the sports field, which is why having been taught cricket by the English they then added their own downunder-with-beer splash to it and are often regarded as boorish on the cricket field.

When I was growing up as boy in Jamaica I remember visiting 'country' (rural areas). There, broughtupsy meant a man helping his lady onto the donkey before he got on it, and then putting the sugar cane and other farming tools in front with him, not in her lap. It meant a woman knowing when to wear a hat: a man cannot figure that out on his own so he always wore one to be safe. It meant knowing that for any event other than a day in the field you had to wear a suit, white shirt, and tie, with shiny shoes (that stayed that way, no matter how far you had to walk). It meant knowing not to pick our teeth at the dining table. It meant knowing at night time to not pee directly into the 'po' (the metal pail), but to put some water in it first, so that the noise was lessened, and also to put it back under the bed, not leave it in the middle of the floor for others to fall over. A lot of stuff. Back then, children did not have time to be bored because Nintendo had not been invented; they had to brush up on their manners constantly.

In later life, lessons in broughtupsy came in different forms. If you are like me, a father of a girl, who does not know how to plait hair, you might have had a few lessons in broughtupsy right there in the supermarket, for instance. Someone (a black woman) saw your daughter's hair, brushed back (as you would like to call it), with a few poorly tied ribbons and mismatching hair grips that looked cute (to you maybe). With barely a breath, the child was probably whisked away into a corner with a "Good God, man! You no' know how fi do gal pickney hair?" Then with the speed of a magician's hands, your daughter's head would be unbraided and replaited while you got on with the grocery shopping. By the time the goods were paid for there was the daughter with a head parted like a field that had been laid out with ruler-like precision, symmetrical plaits, matching ribbons, and not a wisp of hair out of place. As she was deposited back into your care, you got the calling card for the next visit: "You is a real wutless cruff. How you could shame de chil' so? If me eva see dis chil' head so chaka-chaka, mi go' gi' you one hoof inna you behin'." Of course, you said "Thanks, and have a nice day, too."

If you think all of this is a joke, try going to a store in Barbados or Jamaica and getting service if you have not greeted the server, with a "Good day". You will hear sucking of teeth; see eyes rolling and directed to anywhere other than where you are standing; witness nails continuing to be cleaned or painted; lunch will continued to be chewed, including bones sucked hard and spat back into the lunch box. Then, if you realise what is going on and utter a belated "Good morning"--clearly unlikely, but I'll mention it--all will change before your eyes. The rollers will come out of the server's hair and she will fix up her hair good and proper. She will beg your excuse for not seeing you were there waiting so patiently, lick the barbeque sauce off her fingers, and then proceed to check your goods and engage you in the sweetest of sweet talk. You may even get a marriage proposal at the end.

So, manners are really important. Teach your children well.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

No more eating bulla or how I am going batty over the use of words.

Usually, when you take on an overseas assignment, your organization likes to show that they care for your welfare by sending you on some aculturization program. At its best you may get assigned to you someone from the new host country who will help guide you through some of the behavioural and linguistic traps that are just waiting to snap around your ankles. At the other end of the spectrum you may be given a manual, often written 50 years ago, and not updated, that puts you nowhere except into deeper doo-doo if you follow one word of its advice. More often, you learn on the job, so to speak: they often say that the quickest way to learn a language is to get a mate who speaks it. We have been a bit lucky to find as neighbours and friends some Bajans who are prepared to help us wade through some of the murky waters.

Let me share some of the linguistic minefields that I have had help negotiating recently.

In Jamaica, when you mention bulla, it's a sweetish bread that is great with cheese and from an early age a child can find its meal is bulla and Ovaltine or tea (see previous post).Ho-ho! Not in Bim. One of my judgemental friends yelled the other evening "We all know he's a bulla!" Poor old me, struggling with the image of this man, with a face flat like a bulla bread, with skin the light brown tinge of a bulla bread. In Bimshire slang, to bull- is to engage in sexual relations with another man, so he can "be bullin'" if a man has homosexual tendencies; to get bull, when referring to a female means to engage in anal sex; and Bulla or Bullaman is a homosexual man. All of a sudden I don't feel the same about my bulla. I see from a quick check that one of my fellow bloggers--a Jamaican to boot--has also fallen foul of some of this confusion (see Moving Back to Jamaica blog).

But my Bajan friends, all literate and well-educated people, any oddly mainly lawyers, did not want me to step out with too little knowledge, so they hit me with a few more terms. They told me about to foop, which is the Bajan equivalent to the word "f**k" as in to have sexual relations. To get me to a master's degreee level they let me know about to horn someone-to be going out/sleeping with that other person's girlfriend or boyfriend. That term has been around a long time, even from the English Middle Ages. For the doctorate I had to learn about to wick-to engage in sexual relations with another woman, and a wicker is a lesbian). That one puts a new spin on the English expression of frustration "You're getting on my wick".

Now I feel a man well equipped and ready to hit the streets of Barbados. If you want to do your own research and be fully fluent in Bajan slang you can check out a good site (see link).

Monday, July 28, 2008

How Sue got her groove on: A modern tale of how a woman takes control of her life.

As stories of food and energy costs increases circulate a lot of reports have appeared about how to deal with a possible major change in the way that lives are led, a lot of them with the theme of "going green". I'm not going to even discuss one jot on the issues to do with climate change, the social catastrophe that will occur if we do not wean ourselves from the heavy dependence on oil and fossil fuels, or about how food crises are likely to lead to major social upheaval. I'm more interested in the fact that it often takes a catastrophe or the threat of one to make people change behaviour, but reactions to that can be subtle, and can of course be coupled conveniently with just a desire to try something for the first time.

I have a Bajan sort of friend, who lives in England, whom I'll call Sue. She's a sort of friend because she's really my wife's friend from their days in The Bahamas, but I got to know the non-wife half of the pair when she sashayed into our house here in Bim one Sunday a few months ago and waxed off a lunch that I had prepared. When people love my food, they immediately become my friend for life: that's about as far as my vanity goes. She is more than just a human vacuum cleaner for chilli, as she is also a gifted author--funnily enough the first book of hers that I encoutered was a children's tome about the environment. So, this girl was no tortoise hiding her head from life's difficult problems.

Anyway, my "friend" decided that she did not like the colour of her fingers and wanted to change them from being all brown to having at least one green thumb. Why not just get your navel pierced, I wondered. So, she decided that a pair of Wellington boots, a pitchfork and a spade would also go well as new accessories, though she did not have a handbag big enough to carry these around all day. Then she set about digging up trouble for her new husband and started to till her yard. Till...

Fast forward. The child of the soil started to see miracles in front of her eyes as the soil liked what she was doing and in a few months--though during a damp and snowy English winter these months seemed liked years--miracle growth started to appear in front of her eyes. She put her green thumb up as a clear "Yes! Is me do dat."

Well, England is not the Caribbean and there was no point trying to do the impossible. Cassava, yam, mangoes or bananas were not going to grow well, if at all. But the hearty and filling (Irish) potato would. Dig a few holes; pop in the seed pototoes (ones kept behind that have just started to sprout); wish for rain [in England you get what you wish for]; keep away certain bugs and animals [naturally, of course] when the plants start to sprout; check out recipes for new potatoes; keep hubsy warm and cozy during the long dark afternoons. Et voila! One mature garden, and food for the table. Mash it up!

But a girl does not get all excited about playing at Jolly Farmer Jack and there was no glass ceiling that needed to be broken to show how the new Superwoman could get her groove on. A gal needs colour and splash. Again, in this new age where things need to be useful in more than one way, she chose plants that were both colourful and good to eat, if you wanted. She grew herbs, but also pretty flowers like the Nasturtium, whose leaves are great in salads.

And the beauty just kept on keeping on. So many rewards for so little effort.

I lived a long time in England, all the time in urban London. I grew vegetables and fruit and always had potatoes, strawberries, apples, pears, corn, peas, berries coming out of my ears, so to speak. My Dad came from farming country in Jamaica, St. Mary, and he always stressed the need to keep contact with the soil. Literally. He always had vegetables growing in his English garden; my mother grew flowers. My first born remembers well digging potatoes with me when she was about 2 years old, and her puppy carried them to the house in a bucket. All of this in the urban smoke. My Dad left England and continued his thing with Jamaican crops like gungo peas, yam, oranges, and okra. I left to live in the US and have not grown fruit and veg since, though I went into ornamental gardening. A pond is not a field of vegetable dreams but it's still satisfying: seeing herons and deer come to visit, and watching the fish multiply, while the plants flourish still make the heart beat fast.

But, this is Sue's story not mine. Growing things is about as easy a hobby as exists. In England, you could get space on an allotment if you had no yard of your own. But most people are ready to make a space in their yard for a garden. In the US. I was shocked that people loved their gardens to look manicured but seemed to care less about growing something to eat. In Jamaica, the tradition is still strong that you grow food. So, my cousin in Kingston has coconuts, June plum, mangoes, okra, corn and more around her stooshy uptown yard. In Bim, I've not seen much evidence that the land has a pull. I had a great chat with a retired judge yesterday about how he loves to cultivate but that he cannot find local people who want to help him do the same, needing to look for boys from Vincie and elsewhere, even though some of them are crooks.

Maybe we should get Sue to do an ambassadorial push to get Bajans back to basics.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

I'm just looking for a pussy.

The last few days have been too traumatic. Some things a man cannot do without and will search hard to find.

The big hairy pussy that I enjoyed in my bedroom every night could not be seen, and would not come no matter how much enticement I tried. "All of that stroking and for what?" I thought. I lifted up every piece of clothing I could put my hand on, but no pussy. I got frustrated but not angry, and yelled "Why you wont come? You don't love me anymore? The small rod I had been using to probe with was still in my hand and I pushed it once more under the rumpled clothing. I could feel nothing. I stormed out of the bedroom and uttered that well-known Jamaican sound of frustration, "Cho!"

I went to the bathroom and washed my hands. "You stay there. You think I care? You goin' be sorry." My wife looked at me puzzled. "Why you making so much noise? You want to wake up everybody? If you want to find the pussy, I suggest you go out to the street and look for it there." For once she was talking sense, and I slammed the front door as I went out into the darkness of the night. I hoped that I would find what I was looking for.

When morning came, I was back at home and lying half asleep, tired on the sofa. No matter how hard I had tried I had not found any pussy. The phone rang. "Yes. Morning." I answered. There was a pause. "I have something for you," the lady's voice said. I felt myself stiffen quickly as I heard her speak. "I have a pussy here at my house. You want to come for it?" My heart started to beat at a rate of knots. I jumped off the sofa and ran to the door with a quick "Soon come!" to my wife. I rushed through the door and ran to my neighbouring lady friend's house. She opened the door as I approached. She was in a light nightgown. "You ready for it?" she asked. What a question. "Of course. Just give it to me." I walked in and she closed the door. She took my hand and guided it. "Feel this." she said. I could feel hair; it was wet, and there was a smell I knew very well. "Oh!" I moaned. She stroked my head. Tears came down my cheek and my lips started to tremble. I had found what I had been looking for all night.

The cat was dead and lying under a blanket, her coat was still damp, and covered in blood. She had been hit by a car. Now, like her, we can all rest in peace.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Is order your disorder?

Do you:

Arrange liqour bottles so that the amounts remaining are in descending order?
Make sure your daily showers take the same time by using a stopwatch?

Improvise according to a well-developed plan?

Alphabetize your kitchen spices, with only one spice for each letter?
Navigate to your house using a map, in case you get lost?
Arrange the M&Ms in separate plates for each colour?
Label everything to never forget their names, including children?

Reorder clothes in colour-coded fashion, by length, and for the seasons?
Ensure clothes are folded before you put them in the dirty linen hamper?
Take garbage out in labelled bags to make for easier disposal?
Eat your food by chewing a precise number of times?
Nit pick about the exact time that something happens?
Take coffee breaks at the same time each day, even on weekends?
Invite people to meals only if you have checked astrological charts?
Verify that you eat packaged food according to their sell-by dates?
Ensure boxes in cupboards face the same way, arranged by size?

Then you can help me. My life is a mess.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Blue skies. Nothing but blue skies?

To satisfy one reader who made a request a few days ago, I've been trying to show views of The Bahamas, but not just standard postcard style views. If you have never flown over the ocean to one of the islands in the region then you will never have seen the stunning colours of the sea. You've probably seen the clear blue skies over head.

The shorelines of our islands are all different, but they often look like the edges of what many people think of as paradise.

Then, as you move closer to the large land mass that is the USA, things change gradually, as you approach the Florida Keys and the city of Miami. Much more land, but also much more development.

Reality kicks in with a vengence as you get even closer to Miami. Land looks less attractive and buildings start to cover most of the horizon. As the plane descends all of the change becomes much clearer. One can hardly see any blue skies, and the blue sea seems far away, even though it is in fact quite close.

Time to change mindset.

Goodbye Old World. Hello New World.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Putting it all on a plate: Getting inside the Bahamian.

If The Bahamas had a real army it would probably be one of the best if you accept Napoleon's adage that an army marches on its stomach, meaning if you don't feed the soldiers well they will not be much good for the fight. Bahamians love to eat.

I love a lot of Bahamian dishes of the traditional heavy kind--peas and rice, macaroni, ribs slathered in barbeque sauce, peas soup, etc.. But I really like the light meals, like conch salad (with a lot of fresh hot pepper) and conch fritters; when you think of appetizers for a small cost it's hard to beat either of these. I was shocked to pay just US$ 4 for a plate of a dozen frittersat Arawak Cay (a place by the sea where a lot of restaurants are located that specialize on Bahamian food), which fed four hearty eaters easily. But any conch dish is a good meal, though cracked conch with all those fries tends to end up pretty heavy.

One of my readers commented that it was hard to get around the idea of hot souse. Don't let a name fool you. The trick with enjoying a food is not to think of what it's like or what it's name reminds you of if you have the same name at home. English pies are not the same as French tarts. Jamaican fruit cake is as far from Dundee cake in taste as in distance. Just try it and learn what the food is. Bahamian souse is really like a soup. The word souse means either to plunge into a liquid or to steep in a mixture, as in pickling; so the term fits both Bahamian and Bajan dishes. Likewise, there's no point getting squeamish about eating one part of an animal if you eat any part of an animal: I suppose some have preferences for outer parts (like tails, snouts, feet, ears, etc.) and some have preferences for inner parts (tongue, liver, heart, gizzard, stomach, etc.). Pick your "poison". If it was kicking or licking when it moved in a field, then it can still be kicking and licking once on a plate.

I'm no food snob, and the offal (not awful) dishes that I like such as braised livers, kidneys, tripe, etc. but my wife does not not have to wait moments when she is not around, and when I can sneak off to a very select eating club to fill up on those meals.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Views of The Bahamas

Bahamian souse is not anything like its Bajan cousin, except that it is often eaten on a Saturday. First, the Bahamian version is a dish served hot, not cold. Second, it does not use pork, but usually uses chicken (drummies and wings), and/or sheep's tongue. Third, it is cooked with potatoes, peppercorns, celery and onions; it has no breadfruit or sweet pototo. Finally, you eat it with "Johnny cake"--not the Jamaican dumpling variety, but a sweetish bread (cooked in a flat pan like cornbread)--which Bahamians lather with butter. You add pepper mixed with lemon juice and fresh pepper to suit your mouth's fire resistance. Real men eat souse with cold beer.

Lake Cunningham is one of Nassau's prime locations by which to have a home; it's located on the western end of New Providence. It's lovely to see during the day, and is surrounded by woodland; a great place to see birdlife. I have never seen its water level low, even after long period. I don't know which of the many ways of formation created this lake (but see some options in the link).

Poincianas (or "pomseeanna" as Nassovians call them; or Flamboyant, as they are called in Barbados, using the French term) adorn Nassau at this time of year, when the flowers are brought out by the increase in heat. The tree, which is a native of Madagascar, presumably found its way to the Caribbean through the exploits of one of our sets of colonial rulers. Here they line many streets, and are found in many large yards. The trees are also seen in many cities world wide, where they make wonderful avenues. Guinea's capital, Conakry, has a set which were not well maintained, but when in bloom could make that city look much less grimy and unloved than usual.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Two claps and "Hey!"

Two weeks of vacation Bible school ended at Holy Cross Church in Nassau with an evening show. Noise. Energy. Enthusiasm. All wereplentiful and much in evidence. The youth director--a trained psychologist--had worked on the minds and with the bodies. The largest group of children at the school were those in the 13-17 year range. That is really telling; these children know how to choose and often won't do just what their parents want. But they wanted to go and learn about leadership, and build their faith more.

The little ones loved the crafts, and that they got nice things to eat each day. I sampled the simple offerings and understood now why my daughter did not want to take breakfast before heading off to Bible school. My child is no fool.They sang and danced, and every child seemed to know the routines, music and songs of the other groups, which tells me that they had a lot of good interchange. I had had a sampling as we ate supper before leaving the house: "Choose Jesus", my daughter kept on singing over her pasta.

Everyone in the audience got caught up in it: Two claps and "Hey!" But, we were the converts, you could say.

My search for a good religious home in Barbados has floundered, as I wrote recently (see post). I don't believe that it will be fixed by touring more parishes, though I should test that and take up some of the offers that came after I wrote. I know that part of the reason for my dissatisfaction is that it seems that Anglicans there are not enjoying their faith. Maybe that is a harsh assessment.Maybe they do inside but it's never on show--that's par for a lot of Anglicans, but it seems deeper seated in Bim, almost ingrown. But I was glad to get back instantly the good feeling about being in church that I do not get in Barbados. I can say again, "God's in his heaven. All's right in the world."

After we left at 8.30pm, there was due to be a wake at around 9 pm in the church. Today, in the late afternoon, we will be there for a cousin's wedding. It's the centre of many things to do with the living, the dead, the young and the old. That's how we were brought up to understand it should be.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Crab it while you can.

You can't tell everything there is to tell about a place, but you can try to paint some little pictures of what it's like. The Bahamas to me is about food and festivities. That's mainly because I go there at Christmas/New Year, sometimes during summer holidays, or for events such as weddings. Like most people in the Caribbean region--and I'm not going to get into an argument here about whether The Bahamas are truly part of the Caribbean because they are physically in the Atlantic area--Bahamians like to celebrate, and they love to do it with nuff nuff food. But I'm going to look a little bit further than my navel, which I can still see and has yet not been hidden by an expanded belly.

The Bahamas are one of the world's geological oddities, being a set of arhipelagoes close to a land mass (the USA) rather than being in the open seas. If you look on a map you notice that there is a chain of islands stretching from the southern tip of Florida to the northern coast of Cuba. All the information you might want about the place, its people and history is on the official website. But some quick snippets for the busy readers.

The islands form a 100,000 square mile chain that extends over 500 miles. The 700 islands, including uninhabited cays and large rocks, have an estimated land area of about 5,385 square miles, with the highest land elevation being 206 feet, on Cat Island. The islands have the world's third longest barrier reef and about 15% of the world's coral. The islands are made entirely of calcium carbonate, mainly produced or precipitated by the organisms of coral reefs. There are no rivers but there are some lakes.

In 1492, Christopher Columbus (the first European visitor) made his first landfall in the "New World" on the island of San Salvador in the eastern Bahamas (called Guanahani by the Lucayan Indians). Other Europeans followed Mr. Globetrotter and in 1648, a group of dissident English Puritans, mainly Presbyterians (known as the "Eleutheran Adventurers") left Bermuda in their search for religious freedom from the ruling Anglicans/Church of England and landed on a Bahamian island then named Cigateo; it was renamed Eleutheria after the group and later renamed Eleuthera (from the Greek word for freedom). Though the adventurers gave Eleuthera its name, they apparently got little back: the soil was poor and they had food shortages, a lack of proper supplies and internal strife split the group into separate communities along Governor’s Harbour and Preacher’s Cave. Seeking peace, the Eleutheran’s leader, Captain William Sayle, set sail for the American colonies and succeeded in obtaining survival supplies from the Massachusetts Bay Colony and then returned to the struggling outpost. The settlers shipped Braselitto wood to Boston in gratitude for the support given by the people of Massachusetts. The proceeds from the sale of this precious wood went to purchase the land for Harvard College, which eventually became Harvard University. Now, if that does not warrant a place or two at Harvard for a bright Bahamian student I don't know what does. So much for legacy. Captain Sayle later led a group of settlers to South Carolina, after the British started to settle in the south east corner of the US; he founded Charles Towne and became the first Governor of South Carolina. There is an eerie linguistic and physical resemblance between certain black people in the Sea Islands of South Carolina and the low lands of Georgia--the Gullahs--and present day Bahamians.

The Bahamian economy had not been based on much by way of solid industry for nearly 400 years into the middle of the 20th century. The late 1600s to the early 1700s were the golden age for pirates and privateers: living off others' wealth, or sponging as the English would call it. Then in the late 1860s, the islands helped to break blockades during US Civil War, which helped develop ports and gave a big boon. The end of the US Civil War brought bust for the economy until it was boosted by the US's introduction of Prohibition in 1919. The Bahamas, never a place to forget its origins, used this to help develop illegal traffic in alcohol, mainly whisky, till Prohibition was repealed in 1934. Ironically, a real industry that had developed happened to be called sponging--the harvesting of natural sponge from the sea--and this too went into decline not long after. A song related to that trade still lives on:

Sponger money never done, we got sponger money
Sponger money is a lotta fun, we got sponger money
Laugh gal laugh...


Tourism begin in late 1890s, but really got to flourish in the 1920s when Prohibition brought well-to-do American tourists to the islands. Then in 1961, when Cuba (with its glitzy casinos and beach resorts) was closed to American tourists, good tourist times began in The Bahamas. Nassau’s harbour was dredged to accommodate up to six cruise ships at a time and a bridge was built connecting Nassau to Paradise Island. No looking back since then.

The Bahamas has a population of 305,000; 70% of the people live on New Providence Island (home of the capital city, Nassau). Most are black of west African descent (notably the Senegambia region). Their ancestors were slaves brought to the islands to work the cotton plantations, until Britain abolished slavery in all its territories in the mid-1830s. Most white residents are descendants of the Eleutherans. Some are also related to the Loyalists who fled the southern United States during the American Revolution and built enormous plantations here.

After the abolition of slavery, life in the islands changed drastically. The plantations were dissolved, and both blacks and whites turned to the bountiful sea (sponging and fishing) or tried to farm. The lack of fertile cropland prompted the islanders to become a nation of seafarers, and the skills were used for legal and illegal purposes, as mentioned above.

Bahamians take great pride in their past and their family origins in the "Out (or Family) Islands"--places other than New Providence, such as Andros, Inagua, Bimini, and of course Eleuthra. They can be especially proud of their names. Common names include: the Gibsons, reputedly from Scotland; the Alburys, Malones, and Russells are said to be descended from Irish Loyalists; and the Eleuthera Bethels say they came with the religious freedom seekers. Black Bahamians' roots go back just as far, as evidenced by the many who took the name "Rolle," after Lord Rolle, a wealthy and much-loved planter in The Exumas who, after emancipation, gave his land to his former slaves.

Now, for a few points about food--just a few now. I am only going to touch on the first meal I had on this trip, Crab 'n Rice, an island favourite which is more easily prepared when crab is plentiful (May-July). Now, if you know Bahamians you know that they are different and see themselves as truly special--like everyone on every Caribbean island. So, they must have special animals too. These crabs don't live in the sea, they live on land. (I know you see land crabs in Barbados but they are fleas compared to the monsters here.) These crabs are big, with legs that can spread a foot from side to side. They live in burrows among the mangroves and in low-lying broadleaf coppice where the water table is close to the surface.

In suitable habitats, there may be as many as a thousand crab burrows to an acre. The burrows go down as much as a yard to the water table where the crabs can immerse themselves in water and keep their gills moist. In The Bahamas, most crab burrows are well away from human habitation, but I understand that in Florida they can be somewhat of a nuisance where they dig up lawns and eat garden vegetables! Land crabs are primarily vegetarians, eating leaves, fruits, berries, flowers and some vegetables. Occasionally they will eat beetles or other large insects.

The annual trek of hundreds of thousands of crabs begins three nights before the full moon. The eggs are released in the sea and soon hatch out.

The island of Andros has a large population of land crabs and has recently established an "Andros Crabfest", which occurs in June at the time the crabs take to the road--quite literally--on their journey from their burrows to the sea where they must go to lay their eggs.This is not to be confused with activities in Caribbean islands further south, such as carnival or Crop Over, when what could be mistaken for crabs with legs and arms several yards apart, but in florid costumes, take to the road and do a lot of burrowing.

In the islands few people know about the hidden life of the land crab--most are more focused on the hidden pleasures of land grab or landing crab onto a plate. They never see the crabs until they emerge from their burrows and begin the trek to the ocean to lay their eggs. Then, the islanders come out in their dozens to catch the crabs as they run across the roads on their way to the sea. "Why did the crab cross the road?", children ask. Some islanders, apparently, make a very good living from the crabs, bringing them from Andros to Nassau; today are being sold for US$ 25-30 a dozen. On some islands, the crabs are an important source of protein. For the crabs though it is all unfortunate. They get killed just before reproduction, which is the quickest way to kill off a resource. Let's hope that enough crabs don't get grabbed and make it through for the species to survive.

None of the Bahamians I know have any really good stories about going crabbing. I met some vendors from Andros today who told me that the funniest thing that happens is when someone tries to catch a crab for the first time and it's the crab that does the catching. The crabs love to put their pincers on the fingers or something else that is pendulous. If you are quick with your flashlight you could try to stun the crab. Some of the crabbers are not so brave and use a stick to hold the crab in place before lift it into the crocus bag, which can hold about 6 dozen crabs. The black crab is supposedly sweeter to eat. But I'm not giving up on the search for an inside scoop on crabbing. For the moment, I will content myself with having eaten a sumpteous feast of crab 'n' rice already.

Dear ardent admirers.

I would be lying if I said that I do not like nice comments about my blog; I don't write for the accolades or for anyone else, but everyone should appreciate appreciation and I am no different. I am glad that my policy in terms of how I write finds a response that is usually at least equal in tone and civility, and sometimes better in terms of appreciation of a topic.

This blog could have super-soaring numbers if I allowed it to be littered by my own profanities and immoderate expressions, and if I accepted comments that were similar. I am not trying to take a holier-than-thou attitude, but part of the role of a moderator is to moderate, and an editor should edit. Even the most foul-mouthed remarks can be edited to give all of the essense of the strength of feeling without resorting to swearwords, or descending to intemperate villification of individuals. I often use irony and try to be satirical, and I hope that it works in the sense that it is meant. I would like to feel that everyone about whom I have been critical would not be able to look me in the eye and say that I had insulted them.

Now, to your comments. I have a policy that I do not take "anonymous" comments. However, I realise that not everyone understands that to make a comment and add a name requires a little more than just writing the comment and hitting the "submit" button. The comment fields have several option and I just ask commentators to choose the option that allows a name; from there you are free to choose any name you like. Because I sense that this is a challenge too far for some, if I appreciate the comments--and that does not mean that they are favourable--I reject the comment as submitted then resubmit it with a name that I think fits the commentator. This I did with the latest comment, which is now from "Ardent admirer".

There is no way that I can trace a commentator through the blog; all comments are sent to me without identifier and I cannot reply directly to a commentator. Sometimes people ask me for information. But I cannot respond because I do not know who the commentator is or have a means of contact. So, in such cases it might be better to send me an e-mail at livinginbarbados@gmail.com.

I think I will have to live with the fact that I have to go through this process of clarification periodically, and I don't mind. Like I don't mind editing comments a little, if I feel that is needed.

Now for my ardent admirer, an attempt to respond to your wish. This blog has a picture of Nassau at night. For you and others, I hope that I can continue to shed a nice light.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What you don't know often helps you.

They say that you never know who you are going to meet, or what may fall into your lap, or other such phrases to deal with 'coincidences' or the unpredictable events that happen. I am one of those people who does not believe that meetings happen by chance; they are not necessarily predestined, but there is a unknown commonality involved that is part of the reason why you are "attracted" to meet another person. I also believe that sometimes things are taken out of your hands for a good reason. I had that thrown into my face yet again yesterday.

There I was, heading to Miami then Nassau from Barbados, due to take off just after 7 in the morning. My day had started at about 3 am, when I woke and decided to see what was happening in the financial markets as London was just opening. "Holy Toledo!" What had made me wake up? There was the Euro heading for a new all-time high at 1.6040, and the pound just soared to US$ 2.015, the sort of levels that had not been seen for at least a couple of months--all of this in the matter of a few hours as a mix of fear about a real financial meltdown in the US, coupled with data on much faster inflation in the UK. Well, that's how markets are sometimes--exuberant. I was in no mood to panic, and did a few adjustments while I got myself ready to leave home at 5.30. Sorry, the markets were just going to have to come to terms with things without me. Metaphorically, I had fried as much fish as I could and turned the burner off. I headed to the airport.

All went well, although with a few of the usual travellers' nightmares. I was due to travel in business class and had headed out first of all the passengers, only to be hauled over and frisked on the tarmac in Barbados. This is not a first, in fact it happens a lot and I am well used to it. This time, I decided to just get on with my business and took the opportunity to send some messages on my BlackBerry, knowing that I would soon be "off air" while in the air. Well, my frisker was a rarity: he waited until I had finished--saying afterwards that he saw that I was busy so did not want to disturb me. So, instead of us each getting on with our tasks at the same time, things took a bit longer; no harm given the frequent absences of any sort of consideration from officials at the airport. Well, of course I was not first onto the plane, but I had no special reasons to want to be first except to try to catch up on my sleep. That was going just nicely after breakfast till I heard a baby start to scream behind me. Well, I guess 20 minutes was all I needed. I then watched the film, "Spiderwick": a jolly little adventure about how a man learns to see and talk to fairies and goblins and a fearsome ogre; he gets whisked off by sprites into the sky; then his grandchildren move into his house and find the book of secrets he had written, and read the book and reopen the ogre and goblins' frenzied search for the book and its secrets. Just the kind of mindless drivel that is great on a flight.

All was going swimmingly at Miami. I wanted to see what had happened with my financial affairs and made a quick check with my BlackBerry. "Holy Un-Toledo!" Someone had bashed all the traders with a huge bat and got them back to their senses: I cant really find what words were in Bernanke's testimony to Congress that had really sowed calm. I think it was just the fact that oil prices fell about US$6, and the dollar was kicking butt big time. My deals looked just rosy. Only problem was I did not have my computer working. I had to get through immigration, get the luggage, get through security, find the lounge and log onto a computer. I did all that, and after an hour that seemed like a day I got to find that the public computer would not load my trading program fully. I could see what was really happening--large profits were sit in my trades but I could not close the deals! I eventually figured out how to get T-Mobile wifi to work and after my credit card was validated I could try to log on with my own laptop. All that took another 20 minutes. Eventually, I could see all the details. Being near lunch time the markets had settled. Clickey click. I took my handsome profits and reset some deals, then just cooled out. Maybe I should leave the markets more to give me what they want; it seems to work out better. I had just had my second best trading day of the year; the best day being when I had left my deals to fix themselves while I went off to Paris to watch tennis. A clear lesson there, that I knew but had found hard to apply.

So, time quickly passed and I headed to my little putt-putt plane area, at around 12.30. Rain was now teeming down. "The ramps are now reopened" I heard. Previously unaware, I now quickly realised that a tropical storm of sorts was beating the south east coast. No planes were going anywhere fast, especially those little ATRs flown by American Eagle. OK. Time to hang around again; back to the lounge to see how my friends were doing. That was when I met my new "buddy". "They've cancelled the flight" he said to me, obviously recognizing me from the boarding gate, "Might as well have the short wait here than the madhouse down at the gate". I agreed and we were rebooked for a flight two hours later, and went our separate ways.

Fast forward two hours, and I bump into my bud again as we quipped about whether this plane would actually see the air. The rain had not abated. "The plane has arrived, but we are now awaiting a crew. We will give advice at 3.30." OK. Off again to the lounge. I was getting hungry but the thoughts of my mother-in-law's fried snapper and crab and rice were keeping me sustained.

Fast forward half an hour. Back at the boarding gate. "Things look good?" my bud asked. "I'm not sure. Ask me when we have wheels up," I replied. Then we started talking. He was an American who now lived in St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. He was headed to Nassau for business, dealing with desalination. Interesting, I thought. We shared the usual first pleasantries, and as I mentioned what I do, I saw his eyes widen. "You trade? From home? I spent 20 years doing that starting with a firm after I left college. I eventually moved from being a trader to a deal maker as that paid better." We laughed and then proceeded to share thoughts and opinions about the psychology of traders, panics, financial markets and the difficulty of understanding them, relationships between finance and real things, and so on. Gabble-gabble. Walking on, gabbling. Onto the bus, gabbling. Gabbling as the bus approached the plane. Then, my bud remembered that he had plugged in his phone to recharge it and had left it at the boarding gate! Ay Caramba. He quickly approached the driver, who somehow had difficulty getting her colleagues to understand her message over the radio; but at last they knew where to look. We tried to call the phone using mine to see if anyone answered. No reply. Onto the plane we went. I had 9C, he had 8C. He asked his fellow passenger to move so that I could sit next to him. I gave up thoughts of getting friendly with the lady I was due to sit next to.

On we went with our gabble. His son was touring Asia, back-packing for several months, after giving up work as a business consultant. He had travelled the Silk Road, and would reach Los Angeles next month. Then, he would start work with an NGO in Kenya (The One Acre Fund, helping farmers with some credit and some knowhow to develop more profitable crops. We discussed what I knew about Africa and I encouraged him to visit Kenya, where I thought he would see better living conditions than in many places in the US, but for a very small few, and the worst squalor he had probably ever seen, but for millons. He did not seem convinced, but I hope he makes the trip.

The plane doors closed. Just before take off the flight attendant brought him his phone. It had been passed to the pilot through the window.

My bud's visit to Nassau was going to be for just one night, and as we drank free Bahama Mamma cocktails in the baggage claim, I thought about offering him a ride into town and even chancing an offer of my in-law's fish and crab and rice, but he had his travel plans. Well, he said he would probably be headed to Barbados soon, so I said to not hesitate and call me. We did the half-Japanese thing, and I took his business card but had none to offer in return.

What did the meeting mean? I have no idea. Will we meet again? I have no idea. I am just glad that we met and am fascinated to think under what conditions we will meet again.

The day's events prepared me well. My mother-in-law's meal was as good as I had imagined it would be; so much so that I had to have it twice. My financial dealings? They had to be put on hold even longer as the Internet wanted to work but would not. I was in the hand of fate and sometimes that's the best thing. My little daughter, who arrived the day before and will be in Nassau for the summer had already focused on her girl cousin of about the same age, and was already distressed that they would have to spend a night apart. I read her a bedtime story about a father who bought himself some trousers that are too long. It's written in French but she insisted that I read it with a Jamaican accent--not easy.

I had no thoughts about financial meltdowns. I had no thoughts about strangers coming into my house and night. I had no fear of the boggieman. She had no such thoughts either. I had no thoughts of tomorrow. Right then, I knew that all was well with the world. We fell asleep.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Brighton early morning

Taking my Saturday breakfast in the bucolic setting of Brighton's Plantation has now become a regular feature of the end of the week. The heavy downpour of rain around 5.30 am was not going to dissaude me from seeking my fish cutter (with plenty of pepper) and cappuccino at around 6.30 am. This Saturday, with my family doing their part to bolster the US economy, I had no other program; my simple intention was to read The Economist. As usual, I was privy to a lot of conversations, as people shared little tid-bits with each other. One lady was so taken by the chatter she did not realise that she was not sitting with her group of friends; she moved her stuff and went to find her friends and presumably continue talking up the same storm. I did not feel at all lonely, even though none of my usual posse had decided to come to the market this morning.

"Come and sit with us", suddenly hit my ear. "I sometimes come to the market on my own and no one talks to me." A white Bajan lady, who had arrived at the same time as me, and adjacent to whose car I had parked, smiled in my direction. I slid my towel and my truck to the next table, and off we went into conversation.

My new "friend", whom I will call "Ms. Barr", introduced me to her one-time-neighbour and acquaintance, whom I shall call "Ms. Madam", a native of Holland. Language quickly became a topic of discussion and Ms. Barr told me about how she and her husband had travelled to east Africa, where he had worked on a tea plantation, and about living in London for some 30 years. Africa had allowed them to learn Swahili, and that skill came into amusing play one day on the Underground, when they sat near a group who were criticizing everyone--supposedly without anyone understanding. Wrong. Their jaws dropped when Ms. Barr's husband gave them a Swahili greeting on leaving the train. I recalled a similar situation at my former work place, where two Russian senior officials were in the elevator criticizing staff mercilessly; in my case, I just said "very interesting views" in Russian as I stepped out the elevator. I saw their eyes opened in disbelief as the doors closed.

Ms. Barr's family has a long history in Barbados--over 400 years--with ancestors who came here as pirates. Her grandfather had done a lot of retracing, but had destroyed the records when he came across some family "skeletons" in the form of villains who had committed serious crimes and had to go to prison. The family's roots were from Scotland, and these were solidified in modern times when Ms. Barr married a Scot. She shared that she was now spending her retirement time writing from her 20 years of journals, but also waiting for her ex-husband to die--he has several forms of cancer and is now living out his days in Scotland's Outer Hebrides. Where he has chosen is one of those places known more for things than people: peat cutting, some special highland plants; a stable if cool temperature (about 40-50 degrees all year round) because of its location between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf Stream; a long history going back at least 5000 years.

Her friend, a poet and photographer, had been diverted by a chance meeting with some Dutch people and had been off speaking to them for a while. When she came back she asked me how I was enjoying my time with these "kooks"--at first, I thought she was still speaking Dutch, and wondered what she was talking about. But she elaborated: people like her and Ms. Barr, who see the world so differently, like the lady who makes the calendars of flowers that we all see but she manages to capture differently. I shrugged and told her that I had never been encouraged to follow the flock and be like other people; I was in my kind of heaven. We all laughed.

Our little group bounced along and I shared some of my recent doings, having to explain what a blog was and getting a lot of nods regarding the peculiarities of Barbados. Ms. Barr shared one of her "please don't expect service in Barbados" stories: the three month wait for a modem to give her an Internet connection, was trumped by a call to say " We comin' to gi yu di modem tomorra mawnin'". "No," she had replied. "I wont be here." Some discussion followed with the "business prevention officer" about whether or not she still wanted the service. Suffice to say, she still has a dial-up connection.

Ms. Barr told me a story too about how, having been out of Barbados for over a generation, despite all the history here of her family, since her return several years ago she has been excluded by the tight cliques that form on this little island. My friends and I who wonder about the seeming inhospitable nature of Bajans need to think hard about how and why Bajans like to keep "doors tightly shut".

Two other acquaintances then came along, or I should say I encouraged them to come over and say hello as they were sauntering to their cars. One, a Bajan lady, whom I will call "Ms. Marcos", is a friend of my better half, and is a reader of my blog; she was quick to ask me if I would be taking up her invitation to visit her parish church. We jostled on this topic for a while, as I tried to explain that I was having trouble reconciling my Church's position of accepting gay bishops but wanting to reject women bishops: their definition of "inclusion" was baffling me (cartoon courtesy of The Times). The other acquaintance, a Canadian diplomat, whom I shall call "Ms. Firestone", came and boosted my ego with praise for my writing and asking me whether I was writing a book from all of this material. These two acquaintances already knew each other and shared with us some thoughts that had come up during their recent book club--the need for a good editor to eke out the best story. They urged me to find an editor, and a publisher (especially one that paid an advance). That was a lot to come from a quick exchange.

I did my part: I connected these newer and older acquaintances and hope that they will find each again as a result of this chance meeting.

So, there I was, not surrounded by the usual group of women and girls as on other Saturday, but surrounded by ladies. Nevertheless. My morning breakfast had been much longer than usual; it was nearly 9 am. My head was buzzing with what the morning had already served me. I really wanted to write about it all straight away.

It's now Sunday morning, and I have had a very different morning. A walk on Carlyle Bay at 5.30 and enjoying sunrise and rainbows. Seeing a man strip off naked to shower at the outdoor the public facility--something I would have gladly said I would never see in Barbados. Having an attractive buxom Jamaican lady bare her body next to me while I rinsed off the sand from my feet at the same public facility--something else I would have gladly said I would never see or experience in Barbados. Vive la difference! I feel refreshed as I take my coffee, and listen to the news of gloom and doomin the affluent suburbs near where I lived in the US that is being caused by housing prices that have halved and increases in abandoned homes in the past two years.

I wonder what else will be served to me. The third heavy shower of rain is lashing down, as promised earlier on the radio. No two days are ever the same; no two people are ever the same. The bright and early morning that followed my Brighton early morning will no doubt have a few more twists and turns.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Putting it on the stump.

Those of us who are not politicians often suspect that a large part of getting "up on the stump" is a good degree of acting and game playing. For that reason, we can more easily understand how a not-so-good Hollywood actor can become president of a country. We can also understand why that great profession of "theatre without curtains"--lawyer/advocate/attorney--produces so many politicians; we are often confused into thinking that it's because we need lawyers to frame laws. Forget it. So, I have loved some of the drama dressed up as politics while Barbados moves to have a new government budget.

About 15 months ago, I remember a great deal of "gnashing of teeth" and cries of foul by the then Minister of Tourism when asked on a Sunday edition of regular radio call-in program, Down to Brass Tacks, how he had moved from near-beggar to millionaire on a minister's salary in the matter of a few years. The precise words are less important to me than the reaction, but listen anyway.



The Minister took umbrage at the question and said that he would not "lower himself" to respond, and that it was rubbish, and he was appalled that such a question could be posed of him. He then stormed out of the radio studio. I remember being flabbergasted by that reaction. The minister later got a sizeable settlement a few weeks later (B$ 60,000) from the radio company for a libel suit brought after this incident (see Nation report).

Since those days, the government has changed, and the former Minister is one of those now "working outside the house", so to speak.

In the long aftermath to this incident, it's very interesting to see whether politicians would be prepared to put their money on the stump (i.e., let us see their money to show that they are honest and good for their word).

It is amusing to see what has happened over the past two days following the new government's recent budget presentation. A little like "strip poker", the first garment was thrown to the ground: the new leader of the opposition, Ms. Mia Mottley, showed her all to Parliament! (We'd been warned by Matthew Farley that this would happen.) She stripped in front of those male members ... and declared her "sizable" assets to Parliament. Take a breath; calm down. While she made her response to the budget she showed that he had a whopping B$ 3.5 million in assets, with liabilities of B$ 1.5 million; well this "declaration" apparently covered at least her assets in Barbados.

In the theatre of politics this was a master stroke, given that the new government had put a lot of emphasis on accountability, integrity, transparency, etc. and stated that a declaration of assets would be a must for its ministers. It has not happened yet, so they stood bare naked for not having honored that pledge. Then, to show good political solidarity, the former PM, Mr. Owen Arthur, also declared his assets, though by limiting the details showed us a big "but". But, for the "record" he is worth about B$ 1.3 million (if I get the figures right), with liabilities of about B$ 0.5 million.

They should both take a bow, and wait to see if the government can do better in the "show-and-tell" that should follow.

I am no lawyer or accountant, but I know that laying some document in front of Parliament or making claims don't necessarily meet the tests needed to confirm that all is as it was declared. But let me not pick too many nits right now. There is no framework or obligation in Barbados for politicians to declare their assets. The declarations will and should be dissected and if they are found to have been "economical with the truth" (to use the words of Margaret Thatcher) then we will see where the axe falls. However, some "standard" has now been set for politicians to be open about what they are worth, and how they accumulated their wealth. It is a legitimate set of information about someone who is given the public's trust to handle and oversee the nation's assets. If a politician or public official takes umbrage at request for that information--no matter how it is phrased--then there is inevitable suspicion cast on that person.

In the realm of US politics, where a lot more money is involved in politics, we see politicians rushing to get the leg up by declaring their assets, getting their spouses to declare their assets, even their children if they are old enough to possibly have assets and not represent just a set of heavy liabilities. In modern democratic countries, strectching through Europe, Asia, and some of Africa, and Central and South America, being open with the populace about wealth is more the norm for politicians than the exception, though it's not universal. It's still not the norm in the Caribbean, and that should change.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

I'm as mad as hell! A message for Cable and Wireless.

Those of us who saw the film "Network" will remember the evocative rant from Peter Finch, as the news reporter, Howard Beale. Forget inflation, recession, ABC Highway, Crop Over, West Indies cricket. Let's deal with life's real issues. I need service!

Those famous lines:

"I'm a human being, Goddammit. My life has value!

I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore."

They resonate in my head everytime I feel slighted, especially by corporations and their operatives. Remind yourself with the video. I'm going to my window right now.



I've done a fair bit of screaming like this since I came to Barbados. So, without further ado, I will say why I am as mad as hell this time.

I was put on hold on the phone last night for 35 minutes listening to background elevator music and leader of the opposition, Mia Mottley, lay into PM David Thompson. Ms. Mottley eventually finished her "speech". I decided to hang up. I could take no more waiting for someone, anyone, anything who worked for Cable and Wireless, to come to the phone and talk to me, after I had outlined my problem. Someone other than me in this blog needs to get C&W to understand that putting a calling customer on hold for more than half an hour IS NOT SERVICE. (In the world of the Internet, bold letters signify screaming.)

In some countries, when people get angry and want to be noticed they do extreme things. French farmers load up their tractors and dump liquid cow manure in front of Parliament and on the main roads. In Japan, they put on bandanas and head bands and walk around with placards in front of the corporation, demanding resignations or hari-kari--the ritual suicide for shame that is 'too unbearable'.

What can I do? I can wuk up with some soca music and hope that someone notices? (That's what I saw some strikers do.) I can threaten to not use my phone? Nah. I can threaten to not pay my bill? Nah. I can threaten to change service provider? Aha. That might work. Sometime during the day I will go to the other company and ask them if I can switch my service. Oh, that does not work so easily: my phone is locked to the C&W service. Cunning stunts, as they used to say.

I will make one more attempt today to get in touch with a human at C&W. If I fail, I think I will speak to one of the farmers in Barbados to see if I can get me one of those truck loads of tomatoes that they cannot sell and are due to rot in the fields. Or maybe I go up the gross scale and round up some barrels of African snails--more fitting in image. Now, wouldn't that make a pretty sight to have that truck load dumped in the lobby of one of C&W's offices?

Is this what I have been reduced to?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Will the Budget budge anything?

Barbados' Prime Minister made his first budget speech presentation yesterday afternoon. I did not get to listen to all of it, and I will not make plans to listen to the subsequent debate, not because I have no interest but simply because I don't have the time. I have no intention of pretending to be clever and make a full assessment of the budget. I spent a short while today reading the prepared text (see link), and a few things really struck me.

The PM stirred up the ants by waving again the red rag of implied lack of accountability and poor governance of financial affairs by the previous administration. He summarily cancelled the contract with a company named 3S for improvements to the so-called ABC Highway, to expand the highway and build flyovers. The PM has a very dim view of the financial rectitude surrounding this project:

"ABC highway ... is an example of the most reckless and wanton disregard for financial prudence and management."

He elaborated:

"Work started and no contract was signed and, despite the decision of the Cabinet of Barbados, Three S has still not signed a contract. No specifications, no bill of quantities, no working drawings and no contract! From an original projection of $119 million in November 2005, by May 6, 2006 the projection had reached $143,614,460.23 in less than six months. By December 17 2007, the figure for road widening only moved from the original figure of $40 million to a revised figure of $70, 231,220.00 and then to an amazing $117 million. Despite the
decision of my Cabinet, Three S is now claiming more.

Enough is enough!

As Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, I am ordering an immediate termination of the contract with Three S; a full investigation of that sordid mess - the terms of which will be set out shortly; and that the Ministry of Transport, Works and International Transport work with the Barbadian contractors to have the road widening completed.

Furthermore, there will be no flyovers!!"


I've made clear my views on the flyovers issue and applaud this decision as being sane and appropriate for a country of only 166 square miles, even if it has the world's highest traffic density and road network density.

But this road project is still going to extract a heavy price:

"In an effort to ensure that we meet previous commitments in respect of the ABC Highway project, I propose to increase the fees for the use of the highway with effect from August 1, 2008. The new fees will be as follows and are expected to yield an additional $46 million in a full year."

So, out of total expected revenue gains of B$ 104 million, two-fifths of this will come from dipping into the pockets of those who own, operate and use motorized vehicles. Barbadians have had a long love affair with motorized transport. (Visitors like me will get stung too, as my driving permit will now cost ten times what it did, from B$ 10 to B$ 100; I should rush out and renew early.) In my mind that huge bite for revenues is an unfortunate result of not helping people understand that increased wealth does not have to be manifested by higher car ownership, and the almost inevitable result of the real cost of fuel being kept low. Weaning people away from this love may be part of the PM's thinking. One could believe that, given other measures to provide or subsidized free public transport.

Ironically, there was some "guidance" in one of the newspapers this weekend on how to save money through changing driving habits. (See "The Cost Cutters – Easing gas pain " in the Sunday Sun; dont be fooled by the title, it is about driving.) It notably left out suggestions like sell the car, buy a bicycle, or walk. It did suggest "going public...on weekend outings such as picnics" or taking a bus excursion to the museum! It did mention consolidating trips and car-pooling. Here lies part of Barbados' traffic problem. The car has taken on the role of an essential. So, the main "sin" that Barbados has that can be taxed relates to the car; not booze or ciggies as it is in the UK.

The other aspect of the budget that struck me, and this I heard live, was a certain creative thinking. In different areas we like to believe that size does not matter. Barbados is very small, and it needs to deal with the fact that it lacks land to do many things that it feels are needed to help develop. It's not like Guyana with acres of land and very few people; it's a dot with a reltively large population, and not well-distributed. But , to help overcome this, it will "grow land", so to speak:

"To help solve this dilemma, Government has been invited by a number of private sector joint-ventures involving significant local and foreign investors of good repute and business success, to facilitate the creation of additional real estate acreage off the coasts of Barbados through reclaiming lands including constructing offshore islands and constructing marinas for yachts."

I've seen the benefits of land reclamation projects, and I know that such projects are part of Dubai's development plans, especially to boost tourism.

The budget is also treading a fine line in setting out a policy related to foreign investors. On the one hand we have the "already announced a policy of protecting our East Coast from Pico Teneriffe to Skeetes Bay as a national park area and from the purchase of land by foreigners", stated in the budget speech. This sounds like a slap for foreigers. But we also have the PM putting out feelers for what he calls "philanthropy capital", wanting to tap the supposed deep pockets of those foreigners who have made Barbados a second home, as well as Bajans living abroad who are looking to find ways of investing in their native land.

"Investing private capital for a public return is a new approach to development financing, where corporations or wealthy individuals “invest” resources on the expectation of social or environmentally sustainable returns, whether or not they also expect a cash return.

The new source of philanthropy capital has a range of advantages over traditional sources of development financing such as bilateral and multilateral aid or remittances. These include independence from politics, flexibility in development projects invested in and the ability
to provide seed capital and long term funding.

Financing economic opportunities for the poor in developing countries, coupled with the rise of social entrepreneurship using private capital to finance development challenges, is highly effective at transforming economies and fueling economic growth."

Now I will stop and think a good while and wonder what will happen. You just told foreigners that they cannot get their hands on any more prime real estate in the country, which is the asset that many of them want. Instead they can put their money into "social or environmentally sustainable"projects and do not expect a cash return. This is not even a second-best for most potential investors. Maybe the idea will work. Barbados will stop being the Caribbean choice for a lot of the rich, partying crowd to come and plough their money into real estate. Instead they will be hoping to get tapped up to finance a long list of worthy causes. There had better be a much better environment of governance, accountability and transparency for this to work. I personally don't buy the idea; yet am happy to be proven wrong. Even committed individuals don't plough so much into their beloved projects. Barbados' new government will have to do a lot of convincing for that general idea to change. Anyway, why give to Barbados that seems to be already wealthy and well developed rather than put money into the world's really needy regions? Maybe the Bajan diaspora will take this on.

So, in his first foray onto the budget stump, Barbados' PM has made clear that he has a very different view of what Barbados will physically look like in the near future. It will have no flyovers, and it will soon be an arhipelago. He will stop rich and famous foreigners owning land they want to buy, and instead hope that they will see Barbados as a new charity of choice. And they say that politicians lack vision.

Monday, July 07, 2008

The King is Dead. Long Live the King.

Wimbledon lost its king of the past five years, and crowned the new king yesterday. You can read several reports (BBC of Federer, BBC on Nadal). Cliches will abound. Records are meant to be broken. No one can be champion forever. Time to bring in the new guard, etc. The sportsman in me says that we saw the right result in the tightest of matches--number two bested number one, and became the new "top dog" on England's hallowed grass. Rafael Nadal won. Roger Federer lost. Nadal may get the statistical recognition later in the year as the number one player. Roger that. Over and out.

Everyone who was privileged to see yesterday's men's final at Wimbledon will have a particular recollection of the event. It was the best tennis I have ever seen and many commentators said the same, and I take their word more than my own. The class of the match was high for almost every exchange, and it's easy to run out of superlatives.

It was the longest ever final at Wimbledon, and it seemed like the longest day ever for watching a final event. We ardent fans of one player or another--in my case a huge fan of Federer--will be crowing or feeling sorrow. For most of the match my palms were sweating and I could feel tension like I was playing through every nervous point myself. I did not need the have a PlayStation, or Wii, or 3-D glasses to make me feel part of the action. It was me on one side of the net; pumping out every ace served; swinging hard through every forehand; slicing every backhand; crunching every volley; agonizingly missing the lines; querying every dubious call; nervously drinking between change overs; looking up at the darkening clouds. It was me against Nadal, dressed in Federer's body, and feeling his desperation and then hope, and then defeat.

One dear friend was exchaging text messages and phone calls with me throughout the match, from early in the morning till late afternoon. Her voice sounded shaky from the first set. As the match wore on she became disheartened, but ever hopeful. Towards the end of the match, she was so distraught that she had to hide herself in her bathroom, unable to watch in case she saw the moments of a defeat she did not want to happen. After the match, she was a mass of tears: proud that her hero had gone done in the most heroic of fashions with the final result determined not by the tie-break decider but by a clear loss of game. Later in the night, I sent her some extra information that over the whole match our hero had lost by five points (Nadal won 209, Federer won 204). We knew from what we had seen that the titanic struggle that was unfolding was as close as a match could be. The sport's best two players going toe-to-toe, shot-for-shot; neither yielding very much; each bring out his best play and forcing the other to match or go better--for over four hours and with the added drama of rain interrupting play.

For the players, they have to live with the thrill of victory and the bitterness that comes from defeat: no matter how close you get to a win, missing it is hard to live with. As a coach, I always had to preach positive lessons to my young players, so we never lost, we came second. But everytime we "came second" I felt a deep gnawing in my stomach, not for me personally but for all the players who had worked so hard ahead of the game and now would have to go back and reflect on what went wrong individually and collectively; revisit questions about one's own ability; dig deep to find if there was more mentally and physically that could be brought out to get to the level needed to be first. For the player, one has to rebound fast and rebuild belief in ability, commitment, and mental strength.

I remember when as a boy winning my first major championship. The race was a blur--it was the 100 meters--but all I remember was that my chest touch the tape first--look right, look left, no one there. Me! I did it. I looked up to see if I could find my parents, who rarely came to watch, but did this time. I could not see them but found them quickly after the result was confirmed. "Bway! You can run!" was all they said. As an 11 year old it was my biggest thrill. You get the medal; you have the record; nothing will ever change that. That's the sweetness. I remember about a year later, playing in a football final. There were only a few minutes left. I hit a shot on goal; it beat the goalkeeper; it hit the post and rolled across the line and hit the other post; it was cleared. On the break away, they scored: 1-0. The final whistle blew, and we had no time to even restart. We lost. I cannot remember for how long I cried. Disbelief at what had just happened in a matter of seconds. Bitter defeat pushed down my throat just where the sweet taste of victory competed more, there was never a sense as sweet as being a champion, individual or team--moreso as it is so rare. The empty chasm that is waiting for the defeated at the final hurdle is a dark chamber that never seemed welcoming, but it had to be entered sometimes and I never liked it.

The emotions of players during a match is something that commentators try to impart but usually fail to do. It's why the major TV stations try to have commentators who have been champions; they have the rare experience of that supreme winning moment. Yesterday, I saw for the first time how a commentator can impart the true sense of defeat, when John McEnroe was interviewing Roger Federer after the match. McEnroe is as competitive as there is and he sensed quickly that Federer was about to crack under the emotion of defeat. So, instead of one more asinine question, he hugged the player, saying he knew how hard the moment was. He did not lie, of course. He left it there.

When the news of a sports event takes on headline proportions in other completely unrelated areas, such as financial markets, then you know that something great has happened. That's clear from news reporting today. When, several weekends ago, I saw Tiger Woods come back on three consecutive days to win the US Open I thought I had seen the best sports drama for a long time. What I saw yesterday made that pale into a lesser event very quickly. Well done, Roger, for playing like a true champion. Well done, Rafa, for playing like a true champion. No verbal or physical outbursts from either player. Great sport. Great sportsmanship. Great.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Given all the difficulties that we are having to endure with the renovation of the highways in Barbados, it's enivitable that our eyes stare at certain obvious problems and perhaps glance over others.

Imagine that you have negotiated the Wildey-Y triangle and are now heading north towards Warrens, nearing the Bussa roundabout. You pass the CBC building and the road heads downhill to the roundabout. Your car, like it or not, is picking up speed. The open road for a stretch, as you know the roundabout is coming but clear road ahead for about 400 metres. Then, whoa! The man in front of you slams on his brakes and his car comes to a screeching halt. It's a bit wet, so you try to brake gently, but you start to skid. You see the concrete barrier on your right, so you try to manoeuver to the left hoping to hit the sidewalk rather than concrete and maybe oncoming traffic. Then you see why the car in front stopped. There is an old lady with her shopping bag and two young children trying to cross the highway. Wait! There is a marked and signed pedestrian crossing, about 100 metres before the roundabout. In the middle of a downhill stretch of a highway! This must be a joke! Too late. Your car hits the old lady and takes her and her shopping on a short space walk, and she lands behind your car. The children look bewildered, as she had managed to shove them out of the way. Ok. No need to get more gruesome.

It was imaginary as far as the tragedy goes, but it is a strong likelihood. My wife just told me that she witnessed a near tragedy on the stretch heading toward Mall Internationale this last week. I do not recall any visible warning say 200 metres away that a crossing is imminent. There is a sign just by the cross, but that's a tad late. I cannot recall ever seeing a four-lane highway with a crossing stuck in the middle; sometimes the pedestrians' needs are dealt with by having a traffic light, that is both visible from a distance and where drivers would be alerted to the need to slow down. If there is serous talk of flyovers then someone needs to think seriously about a walkway that goes over the highway. The need for crossing places is obvious because of the way that the highway has cut between parts of the island, but they need to be well placed and well signed. At the Samuel Jackson Prescod Polytechnic we see the common situation of people just taking their chances to cross between the traffic; not so hard while road works continue but likely very hazardous once the roadworks are complete.

A blog is not the voice of anyone other than its author, but it can help raise a cry that some will hear. I hope that someone responsible for highway design and road safety in Barbados reviews quickly what is to my mind a potential disaster designed to happen.