Welcome

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

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Social Struggles: Problem Causes And Some Solutions

Society does not change with the passing of laws or the imposition of will; people have to move in a direction that they want to and that takes time both to improve or to deteriorate. People in Barbados talk about how their society has 'done to the dogs' or the Bajan equivalent of 'we have sunk down low'. One has enough evidence on a daily basis to agree that people here behave in less than ideal ways, but that is not unique. Clearly, many adults here think that their compatriots behaved better in bygone days. I think often about how and why a social downward slide occurs. Below are a few observations on two issues: juvenile behaviour and crime.

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My little daughter goes to one of those 'better' schools in Barbados named after a saint, but all are not saints and some can easily become sinners. I repeat my mantras of 'it takes a village to raise a child' and 'children are what you build'.

I was at the school last Friday, rummaging through stuff for a stall where people could come and buy the next day. It was adults doing the sorting. A girl, in her early teens, was talking to a class mate, standing by my shoulder, and I heard her snap, "You shut up!" I asked her what she had said (see image above, and click, it moves). "Nothing," she replied quickie-quick. "Excuse me," I said; she shuffled her feet and looked at the girl at whom she had yelled. I put on my Obama mantle. "Look, I said, why are you looking at the person you just insulted? For support? For defence? When you resort to that kind of remark it shows that YOU have lost confidence in yourself and by insulting the other person YOU might have won a verbal battle but have lost a major moral war. She can never respect you again, no matter what she says or what you think." A teacher came alongside midway through the conversation, and nodded as I ended my 'presidential moment'. The girls left, muttering.

I recalled later that I had encountered this girl about a year ago, saying something a bit harsher to another school girl. I wondered where she got her linguistic and moral support. It's probably from her peers, because I hear this phrase a lot amidst the chatter of children here. I rarely see any parent or adult intervene, so some additional support is coming from the indifference of the 'upper levels', if I can call the adults that. I would like to give the teachers the benefit of the doubt and hope that they curb the behaviour whenever they come across it. I am not afraid to.

A few days later, my daughter and I were walking into school. Every child we encoutered we greeted with a "good morning". Most of the children did not respond; some even continued their yawn or their teeth picking ...
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Is Barbados safe? If you read the local papers on any day you see a litany of crimes, minor and major. 'The courts' section of the Nation today has 'bedroom bully pleads guilty, two facing assault charges' 'murder trial delayed', man on bail in wounding case': we have a range of personal assaults, robberies of persons and properties, rapes, drug dealings, reckless driving, frauds, etc. Barbados does not have the daily carnage of murders that one reads about in Jamaica or the dramatic and terrifying crimes such as frequent kidnappings that seem to be the rage in Trinidad.

Someone asked the other day whether I thought Barbados had a crime problem. I replied that I really did not know if there was a 'problem' but I know and hear that there are crimes being committed, and on a wide geographical scale. In my street of two dozen houses there have been burglaries reported during daylight. I see many homes with 'burglar bars' and several big dogs and warning signs about them: that suggests that people are concerned about intruders, By contrast, when I lived in the Washington DC area, I never had a guard dog (I had a pool of man-eating gold fish), and no burglar bars sullied my windows or doorways nor did my exterior doors have multiple dead bolts nor were they made of steel. I often found that after being out at work all day, the house had not been locked. Admitted, my house was in a dead end, as here, so you entered by mistake or for a purpose; its back was adjacent to a busy road and could offer access to intruders--but these were mainly deer straying to eat my plants or drink from my pond. My wife and I sat on our porch or deck, day and night, and we never had our (non-existent) shotgun on our laps.

I felt safe in both places. Then again, I always feel safe in Jamaica, even in those really dicey parts of Kingston about which my relatives warn me. I take an attitude of 'ever vigilant' based on having lived in a lot of high crime areas, though never having been the victim of a personal attack. I am very wary of people coming to my house, wherever I am, and no one purporting to be from 'the water company' or such gets past my gate if I have not called for them. Badges do not impress me; any fool can make a fake ID. I do not take delivery of packages about which I know nothing; if needed, I check with my wife if she has ordered something. If I do not get a good answer it does not enter my home. I do not suffer from 'stranger danger' but I try to not let certain risks develop.

When I am in a car going home I always check the rear view mirrors (even as a passenger) to ensure that I am/we are not being followed. I always did this in London, and then in Washington. But for about 15 years I worked for an institution that was often a target for hate and more recently I have been in a 'sensitive position' where I or my family could be targeted and some of the training and warnings that I received I had applied before but I had them reinforced. I always get into my car quickly and have it ready to start--a little like putting on my face mask first in an airplane emergency--and encourage passengers to get in quickly, because my car can be a defensive weapon as well as a place of (temporary) security.

When I go to get money from an ATM I always make a visual check of the vehicles parked nearby and note those parked with passengers still inside; I keep my self sideways on so that I can see out of the enclosed area. Unfortunately, in Barbados, most of the ATM booths have locks that do not work and do not need the card to be opened. When you point this out to the bank staff you get that customary 'not my problem' shrug of the shoulders. If I get robbed in one of those ATM booths I will gladly try to sue the a*** off the bank for at least contributory negligence.

If I go to play tennis around dawn, I always check for casual passers by and usually wait for at least one person to arrive whom I know before I go off and leave my things unattended. And so on.

I do not see this as paranoiac, but just sensible precautions.

Barbados does not have much crime involving firearms, but some are being reported. Knives and machetes (Collins knife) are more common, as are sticks and fists (oh, the good old days). I have heard several stories from different visitors of being held up on the road, often where there is a hill to slow down the vehicle or where there is some natural obstruction.
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Stuff is happening. Some is reported, some is not. If we don't like it, then we better get our butts in gear and deal with it.

Our island lifestyle is easy going but we should not become easy targets for degenerative social behaviour.

1 comment:

ESTEBAN AGOSTO REID said...

Dennis, excellent post re safety issues and concerns!