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







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

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.

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