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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Sunday, November 30, 2008

What Did You Say? Me, Change?

My father-in-law (FIL) has no idea that he has caused me several sleepless nights. I had had it in my head to think hard about him during my visit to Nassau, but I did not realise that he would make me think so hard. Here are a few reasons why.

He has assailed me in the nicest possible ways this week with the remarks, "I admire your persistence" or "You spend a lot of time doing what you are doing". Much of the time I have been working on my laptop, in a corner of the family living room; not because it was especially comfortable but being an older house it has very few electricity outlets and I wanted to be near to one of them. It did also offer me a very interesting vantage point from which to observe the week's proceedings. Much of the time I was writing, organizing photographs, dealing with some tricky economic issues with am economics professor friend/colleague who was travelling from New York through Luxembourg, then London, then on to Doha (Qatar), where he was due to make a presentation to a UN Panel. I was also trading, and it was month-end, which meant some book-keeping tasks. In short, I was working. To him, I guess it looked like time spent with a Game Boy. I don't know what he would say if he saw my friend, BW, with his Kindle.

What he meant was that, whatever I was doing, I seemed to be doing a lot of it. My eyebrows rose every time, and I often replied that he too was very persistent. I mentioned that my father had said years ago, "If you want to achieve anything, you must do something." I pointed out to my FIL, gently I hope, that he left the house at around 7.30am and got back around 5pm, and that too seemed "persistent" and "spending a lot of time doing what he was doing". He replied that he had been working. I mentioned that he was supposed to be retired and said that I rested my case.

One of my FIL's challenges is that he finds it hard to let go of certain ideas, added to which he struggles to understand many aspects of modern technology. Although he has a computer he has barely managed to use its word processing, and has not mastered the Internet, so finds it hard to understand how people use a computer to do many things. So, while he heads off to a library to research his articles, I search online. While he has an array of phone calls asking for legal advice and more, I chat through one of several online options. While he drives to his office in downtown Nassau every morning, and spends a good 8 or so hours there or in the courts, I fire up my laptop and have exchanges with people as far away as Dubai, Madagascar, and Luxembourg, to name a few places that were on the map this week. He will complain about having to spend hours in a line to get something done, and be bewildered by the suggestion that next time he spend time online to complete the process.

His family have told him over the years since they bought him the computer that he needs to rise above this challenge. He did say again this week that someone needed to show him what to do. I told him that I wont buy that and explained that in the same way that when he needs information he goes ahead to search for it in a book, he needs to learn find a book that will guide him how to use the computer. Maybe "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Computer Basics" will be on his Christmas stocking. I believe that self-teaching can often be the best way to cement an idea, as one understands best how one absorbs information. I will see if he takes on this challenge, and told him that I will see where he has reached by Christmas.

He has said to me several times this week "Ignorantia Juris non excusat" [Ignorance of the law is no excuse], and because I paid attention in my Latin classes, I was able to reply that ignorance is no excuse for anything at all.

He has also had my head spinning for another reason. That was brought fully frontal with a not very neutral comment, "You're wearing that?" (concerning a lovely pink striped shirt, with French cuffs that I had chosen to wear--my wife loves pink and I'm an exponent of "real men wear pink"; having searched for this shirt in London's Jermyn Street, we had been happy with the choice). If you have not read Deborah Tannen's book "You're wearing that?", which focuses on conversations between mothers and daughters, you might not have thought much about meta-messages: those comments that are meant to sound like helpful suggestions but are also strong opinions. You can listen to Ms. Tannen's own explanation of her book:




A remark such as "You would look better in a [white] shirt" is both a suggestion that the [plaid] shirt you are wearing may not match the rest of your outfit, but it also says clearly to the listener "I do not like your choice". When Gerard Nierenberg coined the term meta-message it did not supersede the notion of reading between the lines, but it put the notion more clearly that the impact of comments come from their context, the relationship, the timing, and the purpose.

I must admit that I think about meta-messages a lot. If you don't understand why someone responds negatively to so-called “positive” words, consider the meta-message. A simple example that is often cited is when someone arrives late and says, “Sorry to keep you waiting. A call came through that I simply had to take.” This may be greeted with a scowl [or something much worse]. To the listener, the meaning as: “My time is more valuable than yours [or in a work context, I outrank you and have the power to keep you waiting].” Bodum, I smell conflict brewing.

I cannot say if I hear meta-messages more than other people, but it's always interesting to watch what plays out when you think that meta-messages are at work. Children get a lot of them from their parents and the title of Ms. Tannen's book covers one of the topics over which much parental meta-messaging goes on, but it involves food, and friends and much more. Spouses exchange them all the time, and because we are dealing with people who tend to see themselves as equals, their meta-messaging is a tinderbox with which many explosions get started.

I wont get the chance this visit to tackle my FIL on meta-messages, but I think we will have to get down to it over Christmas. But maybe he will surprise me and send me an e-mail message before then and we can discuss the topic over the Internet.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Shout Out For Villagio Restaurant.

My mother-in-law (MIL)is one of life's really sincere and kind people. She loves to acknowledge life's goodness and those who do good in their life. This morning, after her youngest child's wedding yesterday, her only concern was that someone acknowledge the wonderful work of the staff at the restaurant where we had the reception, Villagio (see website). I had already noted this when I put pictures up on Facebook but as my MIL is now learning about the Internet she asked me to put up something that the world could see.

Her real motivation was the fact that, with slower economic activity hitting the tourist sector in The Bahamas, and lay offs occurring, the people who work in that sector need a lot of support.

The food they produced was great. Bahamian favourites such as conch salad were a real surprise, and for those pepper lovers like me, it was jamming. They provided tortilla skins and beef and chicken fajitas, with the usual guacamole, salsa and sour cream to go along with them. They produced sides of roast beef, with salted buttered roast potatoes: we agreed that these were not Bahamian because they were small and everything Bahamian is large (see the women) and in charge (see the women). They had a roving buffet too with bruschetta, smoked salmon, battered prawn in a wicked pepper soy sauce. My wife loved the prosciutto and melon stand that also had a range of cheeses and salami. Did I mention the roast beef? Oh, yea, had to have seconds. We had champagne, and Yellow Tail Shiraz. Fruit kebabs.

After all that, we had to dance, right. Reggae, meringue, junkanoo, wuk up like for Crop Over. My little daughter was at her first wedding reception and did her best to go the distance, but at 5, your clock winds down fast after 10 pm. Her elder sisters? Well they partied, though one slept and had to take the last "bus" home with a cousin. In the end, no bodies lost, no bodies gained. A great day. An awesome wedding. The music, the food, the ambiance of the location. All worked well as you could sit in a cozy inside room and not deal with the evening cool air.

Tennis this morning was an attempt to get the body back in shape. But, just an attempt. Fish fry beckons.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Wedding Daze.

I've spent the past week in The Bahamas living through in-law family preparations for a wedding. An important event at the best of times, this one is special as the last of five children gets married. Marriage is not for everyone but there are lots of social conventions that lead people to tie the knot. Even those who have tied it once and found it untied, learn to tie it again--better the second or later time around, we hope. Weddings, like births, always carry hope,

We have had the rehearsal of the ceremony. The flower girls, including Miss Bliss and her cousin, Zaza, took a while to understand how to do the fancy march steps. But, with Bibles in hand in place of flowers, they mastered it well enough. So, did all the young ones, and the bridesmaids and groomsmen. Of course, the rehearsal is so odd because of its informal attempt to get the formalities right. "Who's gonna be the priest?" we had to ask because the presiding official was actually not there. A little odd that, and a first as far as I was concerned. Maybe we have moved to self-service weddings, like automated check-in at airports: no priest needed, please swipe your ATM card so that the church can get paid for the use of the building.

My in-laws do a lot of things together, so no one should be surprised that a lot of family time and effort has been spent together on the preparations. At its simplest, most of the women were involved in making the event happen. It's a ladies' thing about weddings. Somehow, the guys tend to revert to a role similar to that during procreation: a few necessary interventions followed by a long period of watching and waiting and hoping that the outcome will be good.

We had many pleasant things to observe, such as the making of party favours: a couple of the relatives are into catering for a living so they are on top of this process, as delicious icing covered cookies are prepared to go into delicate little boxes for the guests. Miss Bliss, who unwittingly is absorbing family traditions, was on hand to squeeze the icing tube with a great aunt and decorate a few cookies. I don't know if for her trouble she got to nibble a few of the goods. This was not designated as "man's work", so my role was to go and find sustenance for the crew. They could have contented themselves with chicken chowder and fresh bread from the kitchen; that sounded great to me and I booked one portion of that.No. They wanted conch salad, conch fritters and "sky juice" (a wicked combination of gin, coconut water and condensed milk, whose potency creeps up on you, and the happy-all-over feeling just happens).

I remember for our own wedding a mere six years ago (anniversary coming this weekend), our wedding had had an island theme--much in contrast to the reality of autumn in Washington DC. That had involved a wonderful feat of making the cake seem like it was set on a sandy beach: amazing what you can do with sugar.

The marriage is about a joining, and there needs to be much family rejoining for it to be really special. So, visitors have come from afar, like us from Barbados; our children from the US and Canada; other family from other Bahamian islands.

The collection of generations and relations is best cemented by a meal. What better day to have that than Thanksgiving Day, which although an American holiday is familiar to us and enjoyed immensely. We love a good roast turkey at Christmas and this is like a dry run: get that stomach ready. That it fell the day before the wedding was wonderful. Well, that turkey went down well, and though it could not gobble any more, we gobbled for it. We did not have the regulation 4000 calorie dinner that Americans reportedly eat, but we had a nice spread with stuffing, avocado pear (a must for any Caribbean meal), cranberries (we really ought to grow these in the Caribbean). Pumpkin pies and some small cakes were all we had for dessert. A wonderful creation that we had tried in Washington, pumpkin duff, was not on the menu.

The day before the wedding was also a day for buffing: hairdressers' appointments; manicures and pedicures, done thankfully by a lady who comes to the house--I know that she was there almost the whole day, till gone 8pm, doing feet and hands for at least 10 people. By day's end, the little girls, including Miss Bliss, had some neat "dos", with cute little bangs. The page boy's toes did not look like a bunch of black grapes anymore. All the ladies sported French polish on their hands and some had some dinky footwear in the form of wads of tissues between their toes. Watching them eat was so funny as they tried to ensure that nothing bad happened to their fingernails. We should have hired some feeders.

Today we started with an early family breakfast at 7am at Uncle Sam's--just a few minutes away by foot; but only I walked. Bahamians have evolved legs that only know how to press the pedals of a car. The rest of the day has become a frantic array of beautification: my daughter, fresh from the wintry clime of Montreal last night, headed off to beauty salons from 8am. It will turn into a feeding train as Bahamian souse gets delivered and redelivered so that the bridal parties will have some nutrition. I just saw a batch of fresh bread arrive, while my mother-in-law and I were slaving over roasting a huge ham. I wanted cloves and honey added; she had her special mustard baste to prepare. Press. Spread. Back in the oven, you beast!

The groom has not yet held a stag night so I'm not sure when that will be fitted in: the wedding is this afternoon at 5pm, but I am free the rest of the day.

I have to prepare for my part, reading Psalm 91.

The bride had severe migraine attacks yesterday morning and yelled that she needed a doctor. Why the stress? Still, she got some medication; took a nap and seemed better by early afternoon. Today, she seems to be too busy to have a migraine. Soon, a new set of real headaches will begin but I'm sure that she will think that she is headed for bliss.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Grating My Expectations: Finding Paradise Lost Again.

I received a message last night from a friend I had made in Guinea, whom I shall call "Chrysanthemum". Like many people these days, we have continued to stay in touch in writing and by exchanging pictures on Facebook. She left a very ambiguous wall posting a few weeks ago that she had left Guinea and was headed to Cote d'Ivoire, a neighbouring country.

It turns out that she had only begun a new adventure, after seven years in a country that draws all of your energy and sometimes places so much despair on your plate that you have to wonder how much more you can take. As a foreigner, you can leave. Imagine how a national feels.

She quipped that I am often passionate about food. True enough. But I had to explain that food is something that creates memories for me and I often savour the excitement of a meeting or an occasion through recalling the food that was involved. I gave her an example of being very excited about eating bread, feta cheese, cucumbers and fresh tomatoes. Why? The first time I ate that I was on a train (part of the Orient Express route) travelling from Greece (Athens), through Yugoslavia (Belgrade), into Austria (Innsbruck), then on to France (Paris) (see map). I had little money--penniless student at the time--and was working on eating when I got to Austria the next day. The train's guard struck up a conversation and I told him about the trips I had been making, travelling as a Eurorail/Studentrail passenger for a month. Lunchtime arrived. He unpacked a large printed cloth, and in it was...bread, feta cheese, tomatoes, and cucumber. He added some salt, and also opened a jar of olives, then extended the feast to me. I declined initially, but he frowned and said "Eat!" I ate. That memory is one of my first recollections of "The Give" and how people's inherent generosity can come forth. Never knew his name. Can barely recall his face. But the meal? Unforgettable.

Chrysanthemum travelled with a friend and two dogs to Abidjan in Cote d'Ivoire, having to dodge rebels along the road. But she did not stay there long. She switched coasts quickly, however, and went to Madagascar (a large island in the Indian Ocean) off Africa's east coast. Madagascar is much more than an animated film title. It is the land of lemurs; the island of vanilla and cloves; a country with family names like Andrianampoinimerina (which means something); a country that has lost nearly 75% of its forests since 1950 as coffee cultivation developed [11 million hectares were there when the island was colonized; 7.5 hectares remained in 1950, and only about 4 hectares remained in 1985; more has been lost since 1985]. Deforestation has put the island that once held five percent of the world's species on the verge of an environmental catastrophe; a country with levels of poverty that reach incredible depths is struggling to survive, yet remains unbelievably beautiful, truly Eden. Truly, paradise lost. Ironically, the same could be said for Guinea, from which Chrysanthemum had fled.

But, Chrysanthemum also met again many old friend and she has hope and suggests that she could become a "paradise counsellor", a modern eco-tourism guide. In Guinea she was involved in tourism, running a hotel and car rental business.

I have to be inspired by the fact that almost everyone I know who has had the chance to live in an African country has many fond memories, and tends to find ways to stay on the continent.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thinking Our Way Along.

One can often find milestones that have guided life. We talk positively about what we are told by our parents, other respected elders, relatives, and friends; even those we dislike helped shape our lives. That scary aunt, who made us very wary of people we knew and strangers alike. All of these people build us up; they help us cope. Whether it's oral nostrums like "Big boys don't cry" or notions such as "Always let the ladies take a bath first; they can't start a day without one. Boys and men can," these teachings stay with us.

Those with whom we work are also significant. When I first started working at the Bank of England in the early 1980s, my first supervisor told me "We did not select you because we thought you had all the answers; but we do expect you to ask the right questions". Several years later, another supervisor, whom I shall call "PK", used the adage "Only connect". That sounded very zen. PK's notion was that you have to see where a particular thread of thinking can touch other issues.

For about 10 years I worked with those notions in my head. When I went to work for the International Monetary Fund, one of the things that I found most difficult was how that institution approached its work. Almost opposite to what I had learned, there was a tendency to act as if one had all the answers; that way when things went badly it was easy to point out that the answers had been wrong. It's a very weird "blame game". It's corollary was that people feared sharing their thinking, holding on (literally) to the idea that "right answers" were some kind of currency. The other aspect I had to live with was an odd resistance to connections. The Fund is a very federal organization, and departments are like fiefdoms (see IMF organization chart; the Bank of England organization chart looks similar, but the thinking underlying how the pieces work together is quite different). Department heads essentially determine how the policies work. Once inside a fiefdom, one tended to be less open to notions that were not of that fiefdom. For that reason, an avoidable duplication of activities abounded because each fiefdom has to have its own "administration" rather than pooling and sharing of information, except in certain specific contexts, and other fiefdoms can even be seen as more foe than friend. Odd way to build an international organization, you would think. But, it's not so uncommon.

I have tried to hold onto the right questions perspective--and believe me, it is hard. Certain people love to ask questions and answer them themselves, thinking that somehow they have discovered something other than their own opinion. Thanks for sharing, I would say. But that is not thinking about issues. Bureaucracies often do this when they only look internally for solutions and only in a crisis go outside for objective advice.

One of my earliest teachers was a well-known philosopher, Bertrand Russell. When I say "teacher" I mean that I read his works extensively, as a teenager, and they shaped many of my views, for example, on matters like pacifism. What I discovered during my life and travels is that how I think about things, while shaped by what I have read, is also shaped by the way those around me encourage me to think.

A book entitled "The geography of thinking" (written in 2002) is a worthwhile read. It notes that people in different cultures are taught to think differently. We gather information, process, rationalise, justify and communicate our ideas in culturally determined ways. Europe is often regarded as having pragmatic, inductive thinking (northern cultures cultures) and rationalist thinking (rest of the continent). Westerners and Asians develop different mental skills and capacities deriving from the nature of written and spoken language, the relative importance of learning by rote or investigation and the social environment. For example, western children are expected to ask questions and test ideas for themselves, while in Asia it is less acceptable to question anyone senior in age or authority, including teachers. Westerners base thinking on reason; Asians base thinking on harmony. Whenever people of different cultures work together, different ways of thinking create barriers to understanding and communication. This applies to many spheres of work. One can see it playing out in a room full of different nationalities discussing issues.

Today, I will think more about how we think.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sporting Your Choices.

Every now and then I hear sporting metaphors and wonder why they capture a situation better than expressions from other aspects of life. True, accounting expressions such as "balancing (or cooking) the books" can sometimes give great metaphorical flavour, though they also raise the eye brows. Medical terms such as "putting him under" (anaesthesia) or "taking the medicine" or "doing what the doctor ordered" can fit well in certain social contexts. Of course, being a one-time sportsman, it's probably the case that I catch the sporting metaphors better--a kind of aural reaction syndrome,like if I hear "Duck!" I bend down rather than peer into the sky.

Of course the nature of the sport renders the metaphor different, and that can also render them inappropriate at best or misunderstood at worst. In the Caribbean, most sporting metaphors relate to cricket: "going down the track"; "batting on a sticky wicket"; "bowling him a googly"; "going with the spin"; "being stumped"; "hitting it through the covers" are a few that easily come to mind. As I wrote, if you don't know cricket (and now shame is ready to be poured on your head) then these are terms lost on you.

In the UK, football (aka soccer) terms abound nowadays: "scoring an own goal"; "being shown the red (yellow) card"; "moving the goal posts"; "catching them offside"; etc. However, athletics terms used to be very popular--I guess in the days when sport was really for gentlemen, and not those money-grubbing good-for-nothings: "it's a marathon"; "getting over the hurdles"; "breasting the tape"; "raising the bar", etc.

In the US, terms from baseball ("getting to first base"; "hitting a home run"; "a new ball game"; "throwing a fast (curve or spit) ball", etc) or American football ("punting the ball away"; "quarterbacking"; "getting good yardage"; "throwing an interception" etc.) tend to dominate. I have to admit a certain ignorance here, because I know certain sports are popular in north America and they have terms that are used, but I am not familiar with them. I did not hear Governor Palin use any ice hockey, or moose hunting, or snow-mobiling terms so she did not help the rest of us get an idea of how the sporting life as seen from Wasila (or is it as seen from Russia's east coast?).

Likewise, I don't know how popular are metaphors from the martial arts or show jumping or gymnastics or water polo or curling. There are limits to knowledge.

I can think of nice metaphors from pool, snooker or billiards ("being behind the 8 ball"; "using a straight cue"; "right into the pocket" etc.) These reflect not wasted days but sleepless nights, during an era in England when they began to develop a TV audience for those who liked to see balls roll across a green baize.

These metaphors can have their time and their place; but they can also can be very misplaced. It is also inadvisable to mix sporting metaphors. Politicians trying to be clever will try this: "I am not going to be a Monday morning quarterback and try to say that fixing the financial crisis will be a slam dunk" might work, though the image of a man padded up like he's heading off into space trying to leap--maybe in a single bound--and plunk a big ball into a hoop is a bit mind boggling. Likewise, those English MPs who would say something like "I had to show the Member from Thorton Thicket the red card for his comments, but have to admit that had I had to face such hostile bowling on a sticky wicket, I too might have been tempted kick the ball into touch," do show off their knowledge of sports but they also have us running all over the field.

Keep your eyes open and your ears pricked.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Chirstmas Already?

One of my American readers sent me one of those circular e-mail messages that you are supposed to forward to a bunch of friends. I was not in the mood for that, for no particular reason. But I did like the content of the message, which was about spreading the Christmas cheer. For me, and most of the people I know in the Caribbean, it's a bit early to get into gear for Christmas: we normally prefer to wait for Advent. However, I know that in the US, once Thanksgiving is on the horizon, the turkeys are already in a state of panic because their necks are already on the block, and those who get through this week know that the day after Thanksgiving means the clock is ticking for their turn next.

I liked the idea that we should get into the spirit of the season, but I also believe that we need to keep that spirit all year round. Why do we have so much difficulty being nice most of the time? While you ponder that answer, take a look at a list of questions. My own instinctive replies are alongside.

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags? Either: it depends on the gift.
2. Real tree or Artificial? Real, without question or hesitation.
3. When do you put up the tree? Not before Advent.
4. When do you take the tree down? On the 12th day/night of Christmas (Epiphany).
5. Do you like eggnog? Love it! Homemade, of course, and with rum or brandy in it.
6. Favorite gift received as a child? A bicycle.
7. Hardest person to buy for? My father: he wants nothing and needs nothing, he says.
8. Do you have a nativity scene? We are never at home over Christmas, but my mother-in-law always has a Nativity scene.
9. Mail or email Christmas cards? Mail for cards, if we can organize ourselves; email for messages works well with friends dotted all over the world.
10. Favorite Christmas Movie? It's A Wonderful Life.
11. When do you start shopping for Christmas? Never, if possible.
12. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? I think re-gifting is a good practice, especially for things that are not personal wear, such as utensils.
13. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? Jamaican black cake or real Christmas pudding.
14. Lights on the tree? Definitely.
15. Favorite Christmas song? Twelve Days of Christmas and Silent Night.
16. Travel at Christmas or stay home? Travel...The Bahamas or Jamaica.
17. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer's? Yes (Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen).
18. Angel on the tree top or a star? Either.
19. Open the presents Christmas eve or Christmas day? Christmas Day.
20. Most annoying thing about this time of the year? People thinking that it's the only time to think about, and be generous to, other people.
21. Favorite ornament theme and color? Not a great one on themes and colours.
22. Favorite for Christmas dinner? Turkey and ham, rice and peas.
23. What do you want for Christmas this year? Friends, family, love, good cheer.
24. Who is most likely to respond to this ? Everyone I hope: you have to be honest, not obliged to agree.
25. Who is least likely to respond to this? Grinches.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Some Thoughts on Caribbean Migration.

A sad aspect of my coming to Barbados has been to discover a sentiment that I really did not know existed in the Caribbean--a fear and dislike of foreigners, in particular those from other Caribbean islands or countries. I had lived in England for 30 years and seen first hand the wide scale fear of foreigners exhibited by the host white population, especially against those with brown or black faces. These took on many violent manifestations from personal attacks, torching of homes, desecration of property etc. Over the years the friction between the host and immigrant populations sometimes bubbled up into violent confrontations between groups that were even riots, involving deaths of civilians and police.

I had seen this fear extend in England to other white foreigners from elsewhere in Europe, who looked like the majority population but were not from England and maybe spoke other languages, especially Serbians (exiles from war) or other eastern Europeans (such as Poles, moving for economic reasons).

England was by no means unique and similar tendencies have existed in several western European countries (France, Germany, Holland, for example); but it also has its manifestation in eastern and central Europe (Russia, parts of the former Yugoslavia, for example).

The complaint was often the same: "they take our jobs"; "they get social services that they have not paid for"; "they live [big number] to a room"; "they push down wages"; "they are destroying the country's social fabric", etc.

I knew that in the Caribbean the groups that were of African origin sometimes viewed with mistrust those of Indian or Pakistan origins, who often occupied economic positions as merchants and businessmen and thus seemed to have their hands on many levers of economic control. This mistrust extended to the political sphere with the group out of power feeling that those in power would rule along lines that favoured the respective ethnic groups. But this broad hostility between races or ethnicities was largely confined to two countries, Trinidad and Guyana, where the racial/ethnic balance was about equal. It was also essentially an internal problem, not focused on migrants.

I really cannot say how widespread the sentiment against foreigners is in Barbados, but it has manifested itself widely enough in commentaries in the newspapers and on several prominent blogs. There, it extends to utterances about not wanting to be part of a Caribbean grouping that might contain the likes of Jamaica (with its immense crime problem) or Guyana (with its abject poverty).

Ironically, as I sat in church this morning, the Gospel passage was from Matthew chapter 35, verses 31-46:

Verse 34-36: Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.'
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."

As I reflected on what I wanted to write today, I was struck by something ironic. My wife and I stood near the altar of her family's church in Nassau to be blessed for our upcoming anniversary, along with others celebrating anniversaries and birthdays. There we were next to a couple of Bajans celebrating 56 years of wedded bliss. They had arrived in The Bahamas in 1956 and though they had visited Barbados regularly since, had ever returned to resettle. Add to this irony that after church, as I exchanged information with this Bajan couple, another Bajan exile joined us; he too had been in Nassau for at least 30 years ago (and is a brother of a current Bajan bishop). Each of these had been part of a wave of teachers, policemen, and medical personnel sought from the rest of the Caribbean not long after World War II.

What we know anecdotally and from statistics is that Bajans have enriched themselves and their country over the past 50 or so years by relying on other Caribbean nations' willingness to take them in. Jamaica was another popular port of call for Bajans. Further back in time, we know that many Bajans went to Panama to help build the canal. So, it really jars when one senses a wave against those who may wish to migrate to Barbados. This is not to say that immigration is a neutral process. Clearly, host populations tend to view foreigners with varying degrees of suspicion. Clearly, Bajan migration to other countries is not seen as an issue.

The animosity one perceives in Barbados is aimed largely at those who come from very poor Caribbean countries, particularly Guyana. I get no sense that Bajans are antagonistic to the flood of British migrants and investors. The difference may simply reflect where the entrants find themselves on the economic ladder: Guyanese may be involving themselves in areas that put them into direct competition with Bajans for jobs (e.g. construction) and social services, while the British are in areas where they are not really in competition with Bajans (real estate investment, for instance). It would also reflect the extent to which entrants had to mingle with existing Bajans: once migrants have to find housing in the midst of the existing population, friction often arises as different cultural and social practices come face-to-face.

The fear of immigrants often takes on a characteristic which is even hard to understand by those who utter it. I met a coconut vendor the other day and our conversation drifted to job opportunities. He thought he could perhaps go to the Washington DC and make this business work there. I pointed out the problem of the absence of coconuts in DC. He then mentioned Florida, and I replied that I somehow felt that the business was already well developed there. He then complained about Guyanese "taking jobs from Bajans". I asked him for his direct experience, and if he could tell me how many Guyanese were now coconut vendors: one, he replied. We then discussed areas where he thought Guyanese were taking jobs from Bajans and he mentioned construction and agriculture, where "they work for lower wages". I asked him what it was about the Bajan worker that stopped him offering himself at lower wage rates and he went on about "not being able to live" on such wages. I then asked him to take a tour of some local neighbourhoods and see how many Bajans he could find that looked that they did not have a job but also looked like they were seeking one. We talked about "boys on the block" and he said that most of these did not want regular work but preferred to hustle and "do a little thing" to earn money, which I took to mean crime including drug dealing. But in the end the problems he perceived had nothing to do with Guyanese immigrants.

Politicians have an important role to play in dealing with these issues. The issue of immigration is emotive so needs to be steered with as much good information as possible because misinformation is rife.

If there is a problem with illegal immigrants, it is not good enough to not give some numbers. If the numbers do not exist then please tell us how you can conclude there is a problem. If there is a problem of monitoring by the Immigration Department, then tell us what that is and what solutions are being considered.

If the scale or nature of legal immigration is a problem, then tell us what are the flows and what part of the legal immigration is out of control. If the view is that the policies and regulations are no longer appropriate then the weaknesses need to be highlighted and solutions discussed.

If Barbados feels that the provisions of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy with regard to free movement of labour pose particular threats then explain those concerns and indicate what if anything can be done to alleviate those.

It is too easy to feed people's prejudices and suspicions and the danger of letting them grow can easily become catastrophic.

A Man And His Reasons.

No matter what I plan to do, my trips to Nassau end up with lots of people watching.

My father-in-law is a lawyer of no mean learning, and also a religious scholar. He reads like most people breathe, and if he does not know about something that's just an excuse to read about it: "I've been reading since I was three. Everything I see I read." However, my mother-in-law sees his learning as not all wisdom: "Pity you can't read what it says about turning on this washing machine." He also writes a regular column for the Nassau Guardian (see his latest offering, The financial crisis: was it greed or ignorance--I will tackle that separately). He holds many ideas whose time have come and gone, or not yet come, but he is hard to persuade that he should drop them. So, this vacation, I am going to just note some of them, not all at once, but a few at a time.

Forgetfulness: He calls all of his five children by the wrong names. No doubt that he is their father, now, at least if physical characteristics and a few other traits are noted. My poor five year old just has to get used to being called the name of her older cousin who lives next door--she was around a lot longer so has taken the space in my father-in-law's mind. He regularly mixes people up when retelling stories, and he often asks about things that he should know are not relevant. My step-daughter (now in her twenties) often can be seen with steam coming from her head when having to deal with this; Miss Bliss--bless her tender years--just breezes along with it. He is now in his seventies so I am not going to fault him on these lapses, though he's always been that way since I knew him. However, He recalls almost without fault things that he has read. Interesting, that.

Comfort and clothes: He loves his pyjamas but only in bed; once awake he needs to wear regular clothes. His logic is that years of living abroad (i.e. in England as a student) in colder climes made him adapt to the need to dress and be warm once he got out of bed. I told him that I lived in England many more years than he did and I had never had this affliction, especially when I do not have to go anywhere in a hurry. By contrast, I love being in my pyjamas. Given that I now work at home I am often in my pyjamas until 9am. I start work before dawn on most days; then take breakfast with Miss Bliss; then wave her and her mother off at around 7.30. I usually work for about another hour then think about getting dressed, depending on whether I expect visitors. My father-in-law loves comfortable shoes, so is not at ease in open toe sandals, never mind that we live in sweltering heat most of the year. Each to his own.

Aphorisms (a short, pointed sentence expressing a wise or clever observation or a general truth; maxim; adage) and quotations: He loves sayings like "a fool and his money are soon parted", and Latin phrases such as "per ardua ad astra". Fortunately, I know most of these sayings and also paid attention during my Latin classes. We often exchange quotes between Winston Churchill and Lady (Nancy) Astor, such as:

Lady Nancy Astor: Winston, if you were my husband, I'd poison your tea.
Churchill: Nancy, if I were your husband, I'd drink it.


Lady Nancy Astor: Mr. Churchill, you are drunk.

Churchill: Yes, Madam, I am drunk, but in the morning I shall be sober and you will still be ugly.

Biblical references: This morning, he was reminding my mother-in-law about how things that happened in the Bible happen today (now she knows the Bible as well as he, so really does not need this). He recited to her the story of Joseph (see Genesis 37), and how his 11 brothers were jealous that he was the favourite of Israel, their father. His father's love had been shown by a special coloured coat he gave to Joseph. Joseph's dreams suggested that he would become a ruler and the brothers' jealousy become worse. The jealous brothers decided to get rid of Joseph and buried him in a pit, then smeared animal blood on his coat to make believe he was dead. Israel, was distraught. Joseph was sold into slavery to Potiphar, one of the Egyptian Pharaoh's officials. From there stems much Christian history, and the rest of the story you can trace in the Bible.

As I write, they are having a very interesting discussion--it sounds pretty vigorous--about the value of preaching. One is accusing the other of being a Protestant, and another is stating a belief in the Creed (belief in the holy, catholic church). It is Sunday, after all. My father-in-law is saying "talk is cheap, money buy land".

He is just passing me by and is asking that I do not infringe his copyright laws. "Make sure you get the literary parts right. We can argue about the legal aspects later." Got to love him, really.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sleep Baby, Sleep? Not If You Want To Keep Your Job.

To be brief, "Living in Barbados" is in The Bahamas, for the wedding of a sister-in-law.

When Canned Heat played "On the road again" it was back in a day when travel seemed like fun. Nowadays, those who travel know that being on the road, or at least needing to go by air is one of life's penalties. I have joked often enough that if we could just find some nice-fitting plastic bags for us to travel in the whole process could be simplified: no need to strip off the shoes, the belt, the jacket, etc. What you see would be what you get. Those who are modest or don't want to be ridiculed could just have enough of a covering to avoid unwanted comments.

Our arrival in Nassau was as smooth as can be, late at night. But, it was so cold. Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and these Bahamian in-laws of mine used to love to come to Washington DC at this time of year to get a draft of America's cold air and of course do their part to keep the economy afloat. Now, they have no need to give thanks "up north" as they have their own cold snap here.

We loaded up the car and headed out of the car park. My sister-in-law honked the car horn as we pulled up to the cashier's booth. No reaction. We looked across to the adjacent parking lot where vehicles were leaving and we saw that there were two cashiers operating. Logical conclusion, our cashier was over there. Up gets my brother-in-law (whom we had met at Miami airport), who is in fact very much in the law, and strides over to the other booth. Meanwhile, the horn is honked again. Back comes the lawyer, with one of the two cashiers we had seen. My bro' says "She in there, they told me." Now hold onto your chair.

He opened the window of the cashier's booth, which had been in darkness, and there stretched out in her chair was the cashier, with her mouth wide open sucking up air and snoring like nothing on Earth. No wonder she could not hear the horn that was all of two yards away from her head. As they say in The Bahamas,"De woman sleeeepin'! Can you believe that? An' on our time. Well, I never." Our lady, whom my little daughter decided we should call "Fancy Nancy", is clearly the epitome of The Bahamian "business prevention officer" (BPO). Nancy had been asleep so long that the computer terminal that she used had logged her out. Nancy did not look up at us, as her sleepy eyes adjusted to waking and having to deal with "her job". There was a comedy sketch I heard on the radio in Barbados a few months ago. Two women were talking, and one said that her friend needed to understand that she was doing all she could to avoid having to live on handouts, but the job she wanted was not easy to find: "I looking for work but not hard work."

You have to believe that in an environment when people are losing their jobs as economic activity slows down, you must have a peculiar sense of job security if you can just curl up at your place of work and expect that pay will continue to roll in rather than your having to deal with getting your butt fired. I don't want to jump to the conclusion that the image that some have of those in the Caribbean as lazy and good for nothing is justified. But sometimes it is hard to argue against.

The saddest part of this all-too-common incident is that just this same week, the Kerzner International group announced the laying off of 800 workers in Nassau (see Nation report), saying that the "reduction in staff is based on the fact that the resort has experienced significantly lower occupancy levels due to the poor global economy." Kerzner reportedly decided to lay-off workers after cutting US$ 25 million from its Atlantis operations budget. Approximately 7,800 staff members remain employed and are expected to stay on assuming an occupancy level of around 64 per cent. First quarter bookings for 2009 are down 50 per cent.

The ironic icing on the cake is that Kerzner then had a gala extravaganza opening two days ago for a replica Atlantis resort in Dubai (see report) on Palm Jumeirah, which cost a mere US$ 1.5 billion to develop. While the resort has been open for a while it had been getting bad press not least for very poor service. Now it can get some really bad press. The bill for the light show that could be seen from space? US$ 20 million, mostly for the fireworks and flying in the celebs. There you go. I hope the Bahamians can feel that they did their part to make this a good party. If they don't I'm sure they will after they have slept on it for a while.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Not Just Hot Patty Bu'n Batty.

Just last week, when Beefy's party was being prepared, we had a minor scare in the temple of Thesephone. One of the minor goddesses, she who is in charge of nutrition, had a major crisis. "Me han' dem a bun up!" she was heard crying. "Whooyooiii!" The head goddess, Thesephone, always a pillar of sympathy, looked goggle-eyed and said "Stap yu cryin' no M!" And lo, the crying stopped. Poor old M had been jerking up the pork (sorry Rasta) and the chicken and she had been using raw pepper and doing it with bare hands. Now, any man who has ever worked in the hallowed halls known as "the kitchen, knows the crisis that comes from having had his hands in pepper. Should he forget and not wash his hands well, or even if he scrubbed his hands very well, then go to perform one of two personal bodily functions, he would be heard to call out: "Holy fada! Help me no! Mi tutus on fire!" Should he have displaced the woman of the house in the kitchen, who has by now come to see what is happening in the bathroom, he would then utter: "Woman. Is wha' you a stare pon? T'row water pon it no. You can' see de flames dem? Whooyooii!" The dutiful woman, would then get a pail of the iciest water she can find, without having to search for the nearest river, bring it back and with a glee that is all too familiar in Batman movies on the face of The Joker, would throw the bucketful of water in general area of the offended member.

That is a bad enough personal experience and I can say that I have been there and done that. Not fun.

But, we have another story to pepper you. Imagine a house keeper so charmed in the art of cooking that she can make world class burn-your-house-down pepper sauce. This pepper sauce is to be used with as much care as one would use when trying to cross a tight rope. Its colour is a rich red and its consistency is a mix between chunky tomato paste and a salsa. Now, here is the rub. Said housekeeper does not see the need to put this sauce in a jar that is clearly labelled. In fact, she is so unconcerned that she puts it into a jar marked "Mexican salsa-hot". Well, with hindsight you could say the warning is obvious.

Cue visitors to the island, who are squiffing a few icy cold Banks, watching the setting sun from my veranda; finding handfuls of tortilla chips, and leading these to a bowl filled with "salsa". These visitors are a good international crew: an American, an Englishman, and a Bolivian. I, the host, say "Dip in, guys." Within seconds I hear "Jeezzazzz!!!", "Holy s**t!" and "Aie caramba!" simultaneously. The gift of tongues? "We need new tongues," they all say in a mix of languages. Geesh! What a bunch of wimps, I think. Then, as if in slow motion, my handful of chips dip into the salsa. I move the loaded chips to my waiting mouth and close. I chew and savour... "Yeee!! This is not salsa. This is pepper sauce." I hunt for the housekeeper, who innocently asks if I could not see it was pepper sauce. Which part of not at all could she not understand, in English, in French, in some African tongue? More Banks, now, was the order of the day. When they talk about banks' bailouts I have my own image. That cold brew did eventually slake the thirst, but first it calmed a fiery mouth.

It is now the next morning, and although my mouth is now glad to be able to taste all foods again, nature has to work its cycle.I did eat a mouthful of pepper sauce. My body has no need for all of that. It needs to get rid of some or all of this useless nutrition. I look toward that small room adjacent to my office. I feel the beads of sweat forming as my stomach rumbles one more time. I say a prayer. I enter the room. I take a comfortable seat. I close my eyes. "Whooooooooyooooiiiiiiii!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

You Animal!

A lot of evidence exists that people often resemble their pets. The visual similarities are but a part of an interesting connection. People also have animal habits, gladly most of us are potty trained early in life, so one particular habit is not as socially off-putting as it could be. Having said that, many men still have a primal instinct when the get near to a tree; they also have a difficulty holding back certain primal behavioural traits when they are near to the opposite sex. (I have to grin when I see a dog trying to mate with a chair and wonder if there are humans who are similarly challenged in terms of being able to figure out the mating game.)

Here are a few comparative types that I have identified, but I would be glad for other examples, with descriptions.
  • Squirrels: As our furry friends love to rummage and find nuts to hide away so that when winter is upon them they have a store of food during the frozen times, so some humans love to stash things away in little hidey holes, for times that are less specific, but they often could be called a rainy day. Like squirrels, who during the winter can be seen scratching their heads to remember where they hid their acorns, so their human counterparts are at a loss to remember where they hid stuff. Squirrels, unfortunately, have not yet invented money so have to either go hungry or be smart and see if they can find a nice human to put out some food for them. Their human counterparts often give up looking and head off to buy a replacement.
  • Snakes: Oh, my, my. I have only heard of these--often the butt of harsh comments--and don't really know any, whether or not they are in the grass. They are often spoken of in terms such as "Teflon people", "slippery types" meaning that they manage to slip out from under any problem or are good at hiding under a metaphorical rock until all is clear. These are the ones that are never to blame, even when their finger prints can be found all over. Children, are excused from this group because as they grow up they are either encouraged or discouraged from this shirking of responsibility.Fish:
  • Weasels: Need no description. I have only ever met these in the office work place.
  • Elephants: You know them: they never forget...anything. "Remember, I lent you a hair grip back in the summer of '75? Well, I'm still waiting for you to give it back." But they may also have selective memories, tinged with denial. "Yes. I gave it back in '82. You forget?" will be met with "If you gave it back I would have remembered." So, round and round in circles you will go, like elephants at the circus, each holding the other's tail in its trunk.
  • Bats and owls: We all have periods when our best time of day is the night. Those of us who are lovers come into their own once the darkness descends. We also have that nocturnal breed known as the "busy" person, who seems to be able to get things done only in the wee hours of the night. Working parents often fall into this latter category. But there are also those who just seem to be able to draw breath once everyone else has gone to bed. Teenagers are excused here because their body clocks are such that they wake up later in the day and want to sleep later in the night: it's really very natural for them to be "party animals" and quite unnatural for them to be expected to go to school and be alert in the early morning. (The American school system has not realised this and has teenagers going to school say at 7am, well before other school children have to start; see a recent report by the National Sleep Foundation.)
  • Vultures: These come in many forms, but they are known for carrying as well as carrion characteristics; rarely are they scrawny-looking. They can be amusing in the form of party goers who are always eating up all the food, with no regard for any of the other guests. In their Caribbean genus they are also known as "toters", always ready fly off home with their left overs.
So, I beg you, please, keep your eyes open and help me build up my list for the human zoo.

Write, Said Fred.

I am not the first person to find writing a cathartic process, i.e. it's cleansing or allows me to purge, if you want to get personal. It's great advantage (until such time as I launch into a book) is that I can let my mind wander over whatever I like. When I woke early this morning, my head was buzzing with ideas on which I could write today. I did not lose track of them, but as often happens, none of them sat up and said "Pick me!". I'll share briefly some of them, so don't be surprised to see them pop up in the future. Men don't only think about sex.

  • I had breakfast at Happy Days yesterday with my friend, Ingrid--she can be named as she is already in the public domain with her entertaining blog, Notes from a small rock. Not for the first time, she lamented how hard it was to get her writing together. This time, she had something in the works, but it was taking its good time to come together. All I know is that it concerns the aging process, and I guess that in keeping with that, it too is again gracefully.
  • Life's bitter sweetness. I was again recalling Jennifer Hudson's tragic recent losses, with members of her family murdered. I found myself in tears at my steering wheel two weeks ago, when her latest song "Spotlight" came on the radio. If you don't know the song, please listen to the lyrics carefully and hum along.



I have been hearing this song in the car a lot recently when I was transporting the kids, and we all bopped madly to it. That was before the deaths. Now, the song just evokes pain. Ms. Hudson's famed story of a rise from no-one in particular to a now famous film and singing star is one of true inspiration. The fact that she is from Chicago--Obamaland--added a certain peculiar overlay, the event happening just a few weeks before the presidential elections. As I drove along, the thoughts in the song mingled with planning to read a Bible passage at the upcoming wedding of one of my sisters-in-law; I hoped that someone would have this song available to play at the reception.

  • A little known disease, which I thought was called "Mercer" or "Merser". I had heard the basketball player, Grant Hill, discuss this on Bloomberg TV a few weeks ago; he mentioned how it was often contracted in gyms and sports locker rooms, and could be deadly. He contracted it while recovering from an operation on his ankle. Now, I find that the disease is actually "MRSA" (see link); it is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, often referred to simply as "staph," and are bacteria commonly carried on the skin or in the nose of healthy people. Occasionally, staph can cause an infection; staph bacteria are one of the most common causes of skin infections in the United States. Most of these infections are minor (such as pimples and boils) and most can be treated without antibiotics. However, staph bacteria can also cause serious infections (such as surgical wound infections and pneumonia). In the past, most serious staph bacteria infections were treated with a certain type of antibiotic related to penicillin. Over the past 50 years, treatment of these infections has become more difficult because staph bacteria have become resistant to various antibiotics, including the commonly used penicillin-related antibiotics. These resistant bacteria are called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.
I feel much wiser now.

But, the catharsis is not complete. I have many things about which I cannot write. Some are tragic, some are really quite funny. A certain discretion has to be maintained, I have decided. I am not a blog version of the "National Enquirer". A friend shared something very personal with me yesterday, with the warning "Don't you EVER, write about this!" I promised, even though we were talking on the phone and she could not see if I had my fingers crossed. I can assure her that my fingers were not cross and the story will never be written by me. In that same vein, I have been having a very probing exchange with someone about their social and political views, and there too I was asked to never write about these, and certainly not aim to embarrass the person by doing so. Again, it was easy to promise not to do that, and the promise in sincere.

Finally, writing has brought benefits that I had not imagined or sought. I thank the man who paid me an effusive compliment yesterday, about the quality of my writing, which he and his wife now enjoy reading. That was very satisfying. But I must stress that there is a huge difference between self satisfaction and feeling satisfied.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I Am Not A Number, I Am A Free Man!

If you grew up in the UK during the late 1960s you will probably remember a very intriguing TV series named "The Prisoner" (starring and created by Patrick McGoohan). Wikipedia has a very good summary of many of the key aspects of this series (see link). The plot of the series was as follows:

A former British secret agent abruptly resigns from his position, is abducted then held captive in a small village by the sea by an unidentified power that wishes to find out why he resigned. The unnamed prisoner, labelled "Number 6" by his captors, unsuccessfully attempts to escape from or change the authority of "the Village". However, Number 6 has numerous victories of his own, successfully thwarting the various individuals serving as the Village's chief administrator, "Number 2" in their attempts to break him or control the Village, causing a disconcertingly rapid turnover of personnel in the position. Eventually the series reaches its surreal climax: Number 6's tough resistance and his mounting bumps against the administration eventually threaten the viability of the Village itself, which forces its desperate warders to take drastic action. A sample of the very odd, surreal plot can be seen below:




The opening sequence was always a great scene setter for an episode whose direction and plot were almost impossible to imagine.



The series was eventually sold to one of the US TV stations, and to help American audiences understand a documentary was made (see video clip). I have no idea if this made things clear or not.



Many reasons made this series stick in my mind. One reason is that part of the opening sequence was filmed around the corner from my grammar school in Westminster, which so happens to be near Buckingham Palace (the home of Her Majesty the Queen). I recall on more than one occasion seeing the film crew working and thinking "Wow!" as a 12-13 yea-old would. Another reason is that it was filmed in a part of North Wales, Portmeirion (near Penrhyndeudraeth), that I knew very well from a holiday visit (see link). I'm one of those odd Joneses, who is not Welsh, but can speak a bit of Welsh and with my black face was often a thing of mirth in that part of the world famous for its sooty-faced miners.

Apart from the clothes, it is not easy to pinpoint this as a series that is over 40 years old.

For some reason that is utterly unclear to me, I recalled this series over the weekend. It may be associated with all the hoopla for the last James Bond movie, and I might have recalled that the actor who was in The Prisoner had been offered the Bond role before Sean Connery.

Maybe it was a sense of entrapment that comes from many days being housebound under the deluge of rain that has hit the island.

Maybe it was something Freudian to do with the bouncing balls that were sent to corral Number 6 when he went astray.

I'm not at all sure. Whatever it was, the key phrase is often so apt.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Jamaicans, We Are So Tired of Your Nonsense.

I have a Jamaican friend, BW, who has a theory about Jamaica--land that we love, place of our birth. Put simply, he believes that the people in this beautiful country are just lawless. And that lawlessness is a vein of life that means it is really hard to get any kind of lasting progress.

I asked him to write an opinion of the latest instance of such lawlessness-- (see Gleaner report). Jamaica's ruling party, the Jamaica Labour Party was holding its annual conference, at the National Stadium. The PM gave his speech. Violence was triggered by an altercation between men. The police tried to intervene, but a gun was drawn. Shots were fired that resulted in a policeman shooting one man dead inside the arena. Two others were rushed to hospital after they were also shot.

A stampede ensued. For the moment, most people have no idea what started the incidents. The picture shows some JLP supporters trying to block a police car, that they believe contained one of the policemen involved in the shooting.

My friend declined to write. His answer was "I can't, I really can't. I am sorry, but I am so ... "disgusted" is not the word but I can't think of it. Dejected, maybe; but that's not it either. I'm not ready to write about it. Sorry again, but thanks for asking." That's all he wrote.

When someone who is usually always ready with words or able to offer an opinion, even just to be contrary, cannot find words to express his feelings, you know you have hit a real bad place.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

O Pen, My Soul Is Bare.

I wrote lavishly recently about how I have gladly taken up the pen. Of course, I have done nothing of the kind. At the very least, my advanced years have not seen me hold on to all things old-fashioned. Nowadays, I take to writing on a computer like a duck takes to water. A long time ago, while working, I stopped using pen and paper to deal with writing. I, along with so many people in the world of office work, had been encouraged to become friends with IT. It soon became my friend. No more did I have to deal with slithery comments about how my comments were not legible, or that my handwriting resembled a manic chicken's footprints on the pages. I gladly dealt with documents in their electronic form and would insert my comments in the text from the ease of my computer, using that feature known as "red lining". No one could say that they could not understand what phrasing I wanted: I would rewrite the section and all would be clear. It looked so dramatic to see on the screen all of my changes rendering the document like a sheet splashed with little lines of blood. Those who like to offer criticism--positive or negative--would understand the satisfaction that came from that process.

Having said that, nothing will ever erase from my mind the shock of the new when I worked at the Bank of England during the mid-1980s. In those days, I was just in the process of seeing the transition from the typewriter to the computer. I drafted by hand and then a secretary typed the document. I wrote in either black, blue-black, or royal blue ink. I used a Parker 51 fountain pen. My hand was steady and quite legible. In those days, comments were always made in manuscript. I had worked hard on an analysis of the history of debt problems and my assessment had been passed to the Deputy Governor, a man named Kit McMahon. This was a great time to shine in the spot light of the gaze of the top officials. My department head had given his approval to my assessment. At The Bank, only two people were allowed to write in red ink--the Governor and Deputy Governor (DG). So, imagine my horror when I saw my note come back with the very succinct red-inked assessment "Utter S**t!" That was blood on the street of my career, I thought. The DG was a somewhat acerbic Australian (see brief biography). I put his phrasing down to that well-known Antipodean no-nonsense approach. Back to the drawing board, and this time my department head and I worked together to recraft the piece in a way that would be less s***ty; it got approval and the rest of the resolution on the 1980s debt crisis is history and my mark is there.

My friend, Thesephone, mentioned to me last night how her man was a bit miffed that when he left his last post all they gave him was a pen. That reminded me of something very deep.

I have been an unhappy man for a long time. I have a vice and as time has passed, I have been able to indulge that vice less and less. I used to slink along dark alley ways in London and peer into doorways. I would slide my fingers along long slender instruments and wonder what it would be like to have them forever. My favourite hangouts were places like Burlington Arcade, near Regent's Street, or some of the antique dealers in The City.

My father was the one who led me onto this slippery path, and I'm sure that he had no idea what he was really doing. When I passed my Eleven Plus exams and went to grammar school in London, my father gave me a gift to start my new phase of schooling. He passed onto me his old fountain pen. It was a beautiful Waterman fountain pen. A dark brown writing machine with a neat little side side lever to suck up the ink, into a rubber tube inside the barrel, and a cute clip (see picture above). (My mother had a grey mother of pearl Esterbrook pen that would have been a great addition.) I slipped it into my blazer's inside pocket and my educational path was set. Well, not quite. I lost that pen during my first year of school, either because it was stolen while I played football during one break period, or it fell out and I never noticed. I explained to my father and we just decided that I needed to learn all the lessons I could from that loss. He never mentioned the pen again and I now wonder if he was ever bitter. After all, it had seen him through his studies in Jamaica, but now his first born had sent it off to who knows where.

But my love had been born. I loved Parker pens and school was not far from their hallowed retail office in Holborn, at Bush House--ironically, also home of the BBC. Like a constant companion, Parker and I were bonded together. But like with so many relationships, things change and other attractions sometimes take your eye. I dallied with Schaeffers. I dallied with Platignums. Neither ever gave me the same satisfaction. Their nibs were never made of gold and never wrote smoothly in my hand. They were good for a few months but we were not made for each other.

They say that money cannot buy you love. But when I left the UK for the land of the mighty dollar, I saw that money could buy you happiness. Rolling in headier circles as I was in that prestigious international institution that I joined, I let my tastes rise higher too. I found in Washington DC not only the movers and shakers of politics and international economics, but also the best pen shop in the world. I would visit Fahrneys often. If I had a pen problem, their "Pen Doctor" would fix it. Rubber plunger, nib issues, missing clips, cracked shells, leaks? Nothing was too much of a challenge. And after all was fixed, the pen would get a buffing and a flush out to be ready to go as good as new. And the eye candy of new models on display. Oh, the joy!

It was there that I reached my peak, when I discovered Mont Blanc. Previously, I had not been much attracted to their stubby styles, even though in the world of finance they were almost as common place as Oxford Brogues and Wingtip shoes. Signing ceremonies for loans used to be as much about the loan as about the signing pens. I never had to sign for any loan so I only could look enviously as friends amassed pens. Would they share and just let me have one? Never. I think the resentment was getting quite deep. But I found some therapy. My money allowed me to graduate to Limited Edition pens. If I could not be a great writer, I could at least be closely associated with one. That's how I splashed out for an "Oscar Wilde" (as shown exquisitely in the picture). My writing really flourished with this Aston Martin of the pen world. To add charisma, my Pen Doctor introduced me to inks of different colour--like green and purple. I was hooked and as my situation improved so did my collection. I had my favourite but my mood could change and a few weeks or so with a new dainty model helped keep my true love fresh.

But it had to stop. Marriage came along and boyish ways had to end. My new wife was also an addict, except I had not known it. I'm not sure when I first noticed that she was taking my stuff. But, each time I got a new model it would disappear. Then I would see it reappear at a casual check signing moment. How could she do this? The final straw came when I went to a special event and Fahrneys gave me a Mont Blanc gift--a beautiful bloc note pad, with a black leather case. "Oooh! That's cute. Now I wont ever have to search for a scrap of paper." The shiver those words sent down my spine is still with me; the bloc note pad of course is not as it now lives in the land of hand bags. And so it continued, till I decided that I had to maybe buy her her own stuff to try to break this habit. I stopped collecting; she increased her collection. I shed all of my special belongings; I was nearly naked. Now, I can say that I have none left. As its exclamation point, a German organization sent my spouse a beautiful pen as a gift for her work with a group of deprived children in Guinea. That finished me. What a circle to close.

But, yesterday, a little flame flickered. While searching for another piece of modernity in Thesephone's house (a headset for a mobile phone), I came across some good old Mont Blanc signing pens, which I presumed were her husband's. As I touched them I could feel old cravings come back. You never really kick the habit. You just have to be disciplined. I wont go back to those days of crazy spending to get my hands on these things. I know I can, but I wont.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Mutton Dressed Up As Curried Goat.

One of the many great things about being Jamaican is a certain love of food. It's really a love of certain food. As we say, "Don't mess wid it. Eat it!" I've always been amazed that Jamaican cuisine is not more widely known. Somehow, we can't market our style of food as well as we do our music. Unlike the Chinese or Indians or French, we are not know for a range of cooking, and we don't have restaurants dotted in many foreign lands. But once people get a taste of Jamaican food then they never turn back. True, that taste is often jerk pork or chicken, or what is sold as such, or Jamaican patties. But, you need to get serious about some of the other sweet-tasting dishes, man. King of the pot is curried goat. Now, if you have never eaten curried goat, I sorry fi you. De sinting sweet, yu see!

Thesephone and I went on a late night trip yesterday, not in search of anything, but on a mission--not impossible, but potentially very pleasant. Deep in the rolling hills of St. George Parish lives a man, whom we will call "Mr. Nurse", who many years ago took himself to England for work but after many years decided to return home. If I recall rightly, he had worked in developing ports in England. Now, he is a farmer, and nurses our insides by providing a range of fresh meat and poultry. He raises chicken--that well-known and loved staple of "Those Ones". (As an aside, I remember the joke in England that people from the West Indies were not concerned about Mad Cow Disease. But if it had been Mad Chicken then you would have seen panic.) Mr. Nurse also raises those quaint Bajan Black Bellied Sheep. But, more important, he raises goats. Now, as far as I can tell Bajans don't really eat goat meat. In fact, it's pretty near impossible to see a goat in Bim. Farmer Nurse, however, is married to a Jamaican. This piece of wonderful happenstance has led him into the lucrative business of selling mutton--goat meat to us--to near- starving Jamaicans, who need their goat fix for a regular life. They need it especially when they are putting on a function.

Cue Thesephone: she's planning a kids' birthday party for "Beefy" this weekend. For this fine Jumaykan mudda, there will be no Chefette "meal". Home cooking will be the order of the day. Mr. Nurse, for good measure, assured us that we were getting a "good fellow", as his wife had just prepared her version of the delicious curry for him that evening. Where was our share? You can' do dat to people, man! Anyway, that gets us off the hook when Magician Marcie put her hand pon the goat and season it up good, and we wax it off, and don' leave nun fi Missa Nuss.

Comedian Steve Harvey has a famous sketch about how an American parent phones a Jamaican parent to complain about his kid having curried goat at a birthday party, instead of pizza, ice cream and punch: "Weze 'Merican an' we don' eat no curried goat". The Yardie parent, of course, is well offended. Get it on, bredrin!



Well, I imagine that the parents or children will have no problem with the servings on Sunday, except if dem is "maga" (aka meagre, meaning small). I, for one, will not take any little helping.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Attitude? What Attitude? This Snarl is For Real.

This post is about nothing in particular and everything in general.

My friend, "Thesephone", invited me to an impromptu lunch. Well, not wholly unplanned, because she had plans for me--to help her pick up a new car. During lunch, she asked me to give a summary of what I thought of my time in Bim. I demurred a little and asked if I could give a pass or fail grade because it's sometimes difficult to say "how good" or "how bad". I then gave my overall assessment as being positive, but that if you scratch the surface the veneer peels away all too easily. My general take is that for a country so-called on the cusp of being developed there is a lot that is still nowhere near the excellent level. I find a country that has moved a long way physically but I wonder how far its people have moved along the road. Honestly, I added, you can find people who are really near the mark in terms of attitude, approach, diligence, etc. but then you get a raft of others who really need to start all over again. There seemed to be a hard attitude toward dealing with criticism, whether or not this was given positively. For my taste, there is too much service with a snarl (see previous post on this topic).

We found the first when we went to pick up the car from a rental company on the south coast: everyone was pleasant and working hard to make the customer feel that all would be right. The spare key needed to be found: arrangements were made to have new keys made by the initial retailer. There were some features missing: they were found, cleaned, and replaced. The staff were ready to engage in discussion about the vehicle and did not take questions as pricks in the skin.

I had the other image, of the "what customer service" kind pushed onto me again last evening. An old friend is visiting the island to do some consultancy work on data concerning remittances. He mentioned to me what he had found during his time working with institutions here. "They were not very prepared for our mission; "They have been putting numbers together and publishing them for years, but the numbers are no good;" "None of the financial institutions that are supposed to report have any standard instructions." That's quite a litany of "not quite there". Still, he was going to plug away for the next 10 days.

We then went to have a drink at a bar just a few hundred metres from my the hotel where my friend and his colleagues were staying. Smiling, he told me how the night before they had visited this nicely located beach side bar. They ordered a pitcher of beer and were told that it was two-for-one happy hour. Well, they explained, they really couldn't drink two pitchers. So, the barman said he would give them a "rain check" for the second pitcher the next night. Very reasonable, I would say. If you are offering such a deal it seems to make little logical sense when you take the two parts. Or so we thought.

There was my friend hoping to get his pitcher when the owner of said bar came to tell him that her barman had no right to promise this "rain check", and if he wanted a pitcher he could buy another one. It was again happy hour so I could see we would be in the same situation as the night before; this time I would offer to take the second pitcher home, if it came to that. Well, after a bit of discussion the owner said that her barman would be in trouble when he comes to work again, but would honour his promise. My friend is abrasive but also reasonable, so he offered to split the difference and pay for the pitcher. He thought that would keep all happy. But along came the co-owner, the sister of the first lady. "Why you think we need your charity? You have money, you can pay..." My friend tried to reason that if he was treated well he and his friends would be coming for beers every night they were in the island. That seemed to go no where.

For my part, I said to the lady, a Bulgarian, that this was not the kind of attitude that should be shown to visitors to the island; my friend had only arrived on Sunday. I added that, as her sister had said, they have a staff problem that they need to resolve and it's for them to do that, not for the customers to resolve that problem. I guess she did not like that, and when I offered to continue the discussion in Russian, she took that offer and we exchanged a few words, nicely I must add. She was surprised that I really could speak Russian and went off huffily. My friend was shocked that I could take her on in a Slavic tongue. For good measure, I reminded her that while they would be gone in a week or so, I would be back and would have no problem drinking all of my happy hour drafts.

Why is it, that on an island so dependent on tourism, the visitors are seen just as cash cows, and not really there to be treated well?