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**

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The World Keeps Spinning And So Does My Head.

It's always a hard argument to try to agree on what is relevant and what is not. At a certain profound level, comments such as "one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist" tell you a lot about how hard it is to agree on what we might call fundamental facts. I look up at the sky, and it has some clouds. I think for a few seconds then say, "It's blue." My companion stares at me in disbelief: "No, it's grey," she says. I look again. "No, it's definitely blue," I tell her. Even a third set of eyes coming along wont help reach agreement: "You're both wrong, it's black." So, we agree in a weird way that it's not a light colour or shade but more than that we are cannot resolve.

If you have a base fear of people or things almost nothing can change that. I fear snakes, yet, I have never met a dangerous one in real life. I was born in a country that had them eradicated by introducing mongeese/mongooses into the sugar fields centuries ago. I then lived in a European country that had mainly little non-poisonous ones. So, why the fear? Just the notion of them slithering, and being cold, and coiling in a menacing way, and some bizarre image of being squeezed by a boa constrictor. Forget the Freudian images of nestling into my mother's bosom. Yet, I deal well with almost every other kind of living creature, big or small; an elephant poked its head into the window of my hut in Malawi one evening, and I did not run for cover. I have never picked up a scorpion, but saw one under a rock and did not freak out, even though there was no known antidote to the poison nearby. Some fears are just not about being rational.

People's fear of each other does not necessarily stem from anything rational and so takes a lot of shifting, and of course reaches extreme lengths when they wage war against each other. We only have to look at the last few days to watch the horrific film of dead and maimed bodies as Israelis and Palestinians attack each other, and show little sign of letting up.

Then there are whiffs of sanity as people's fears seem to dissolve. The Dutch city of Rotterdam has just elected the son of an Islamic preacher of Moroccan descent, who is a former journalist, as its new mayor. Immediately, the comparisons with the victory of US president-elect Obama are spinning, not least because Ahmed Aboutaleb is 47 years old but also because he seems to have overcome a country's racial fears. It's a Dutch first on many levels, not least in recognition for immigrants, especially of Moroccan or Turkish descent, who number some one million out of 16 million people. Expect more blah about 'post-racial' politics.

Here we are in our little corner of the world, the English-speaking Caribbean, trying to stay relevant in the eyes of the wider world and dealing with our fears of each other. Many understand that tourism has become our bread and butter but not enough do all they can to ensure that tourists have no fear. Jamaica is our prime example, where the national kill with abandon and somehow hope that tourists will keep flocking to the island. Of course, news of an attack on a tourist and we are front page news; but our killing of each other has stopped being newsworthy. It may also have hardened attitudes to our other real plights. Hurricanes sweep away all of the year's crops in several islands, we don't get much of a mention, except if we are getting 'aid' to 'help recovery'. I guess that in reality, Britain and America are more concerned if one of their own gets a scratch and a bad memory than if a whole island of ours has no livelihood because of damage to bananas or sugar cane or to whole towns and villages. Our lack of concern for them maybe has its parallel.

But I feel we have been relegated too far and I cannot see that it has anything to do with a real fear. I cannot figure out how the US television channel, NBC, decided on which countries to include in the 'Superstars of Dance' show that is now the latest piece of hit 'reality TV' (see NBC website). But I don't see any representation from the Caribbean. Usain bolted to gold in Beijing last summer and showed the world the 'gully creeper' and the 'nuh linga'; and maybe that killed Jamaica's chances. Sure, it's family television so we don't expect to see dance hall fashions such as 'dutty wine' or other sexually-oriented moves. But all we get are the US (not even country square dancing but some popular pot-pourri and, oh yeah let me look closely at the shade of those dancers--grey, blue, black?); Russia (Cossack dancing again, but not on horseback?): China (Kung fu in tights; no one knows the country and we will have endless debates about the ages of the dancers and if they were denied the rights to bear children and whether they have been in training since childbirth); India (I love Bollywood, and traditional Hindu dancing, but...). Sure, these four countries take care of the world audience on most indicators, including all the potential nuclear superpowers. But the next tier leaves me baffled. Why Australia (not even a play on "Simply Ballroom"; will we have hunky men dancing with a tinny or a rugby ball?)? South Africa (alright if it's some Zulu dancing but men in gumboots and mining helmets? Where is the morphine?)? Too much 'political correctness' by having a representative from Africa. Pleeeesee!!! Ireland (good grief, "River Dance" and its hyper jigging popularized by Flatley is as puke-inducing as remakes of "Mamma Mia"). Then, Argentina (the Tango is exotic and I hope that the contestants don't spit if they lose--yes, I'm prejudiced--or try to kick and punch the other contestants, forgetting that it's not a World Cup soccer match). I'm utterly baffled that they call this 'contest' a 'global' array. Oh yeah, the same global that has two American teams playing for the 'world championship' in sports mainly played by Americans and when they meet real foreign competition they look ordinary or accuse them of cheating. No Brazilian samba? No Swiss or German lederhosen dancing? No Cuban salsa? No Sabar dancing from Senegal (see the video)? Please don't try this before extensive training.

No North African belly dancing?

Boo-hiss for the so-called 'arbiters of taste'. Enough US domination of judging 'world' affairs. Yet, is our frustration and ire against America and Americans going to mount sufficiently for us to want to invade the USA and demand that they give us appropriate recognition? We are small in number but big in talent, right. Maybe those waves of migrants who are already there will start to rail and get up bad and start to damage a few places other than the cash registers at malls and restaurants to show that we mean business.

I try to get a gauge of where we as humans go wrong by watching what animals, birds and plants do. They apparently do not have concerns such as geo-political strategy to burden them and direct their fears, though one friend explains to me that the 'alpha male' in the ape colony is very concerned with geography--agreed--and politics are at work when he tries to win over the hearts of the females and diss the other males. Putting that aside for the moment, though, the animal and plant kingdoms can be instructive. They have been observed and measured by humans, who have noted a certain genetic disposition and it seems that they perform much in line with that. Let's agree that we agree on the fundamental observations. Animals and plants are affected by what we do, so they are affected by climate change, and by our desire to put unnatural things in place of the natural, or to reconfigure in a drastic way the shape and nature of the world. They also adapt to nature's randomness. But do they live in fear of us and are they likely to attack us for what we do to them?

Yesterday, I returned home from vacation and was stunned by what I saw in my yard. A man was standing by my car; it's doors were all open and he was throwing water all over the car. That was alright as the surprise valet service was a great touch. But, beside the car on the ground was something that should have been in the air; the branches of a tree were around my car. What had happened? A lightning storm had felled some branches, which went onto an electricity wire. Nothing much happened of note during the late afternoon. But this morning was interesting. All the birds I could see were on the branches of the felled trees. Many were taking advantage of the access to tendrils and twigs to take away and make nesting; clearly, labour saving is not alien to bird and why fly high when the material you need is nearer to the ground? I guess the environment in the yard holds few if any predators and they have not yet adopted any attack postures--they notably ignore the obvious predator in my neutered tom cat, who is seen as a washed-up threat (so low male self-esteem stretches over the animal line too, so much for reputation). There the birds have stayed and worked all morning, bar an hour when some guys from BL&P came to clear away the dead branches. These guys were not to know that they were doing anything wrong. The birds are now back foraging in the living trees and on the ground for what little the neatniks have left behind;I'll watch to see how they readjust to the loss of the limbs above and the rapid removal of the windfall that was on the ground. The cat remains unnoticed under the shrubs. Should be await a wave of airborne attacks because of what has been done to their 'homeland'?

My phrase for the first week of 2009 seems to be 'food for thought'. I admit that I think too much.

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