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**

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.


Ardent Admirer said...

Dennis Jones please post some pictures of Nassau for your readers to see (me). I have some very special friends there but hate flying more than anything else I can think of. So please let us/me have some of Nassau through your eyes.
I will not tire of telling you how much I enjoy your posts.
You seem so well travelled so I must ask since I do not know, what made you choose B'dos as home?
I mean it has always been my home so I love it but what about you?

Dennis Jones said...

Hopefully, you can tell your friends about the blog and they may be able to find me in Nassau.