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**

Sunday, March 01, 2009

I Remember You Well

A few weeks ago, at my favourite Saturday breakfast spot, a relatively new acquaintance asked me "Do you notice that people gravitate toward you? But how do you remember them all?" I was honestly a bit embarrassed by the first part of the question and dodged it, but had an answer for the second. "I take people seriously. If I meet someone I try to absorb them. I try to focus on the context of the meeting and what the experience gives me. That may be a good or less good feeling, but that's what I remember and the rest flows from that."

When I meet people I usually try to get the name the first time round, but am not averse to asking for it to be repeated. When I meet someone again, I'm not ashamed to say that I remember the face and where we met but have forgotten the name. In crowded or noisy settings the names often get lost.

I rarely ask people what they do, as I believe that this locks one into a positioning based on views about jobs and their worth. I usually try to gauge from where the person comes and am apt to play a game or two to get that answer. I'm pretty good with accents so will often try to pinpoint someone based on how they speak. I try not to fall for the 'sound English, must be from England' fallacy.

I often try to make a connection. Someone from Jamaica will get the "Which parish are you from?" question, so that I can make some geographical link directly to me (Kingston born and raised initially) or my parents (who came from two different parishes). People from the UK are often fun as I lived mainly in London so can play that against the fact that I know the north and many of its dialects (like Geordie) well and also lived in Wales, even speaking that rare language, Welsh, a little. People from elsewhere in Europe are great fun as they often do not know different English accents, so I can roll them around a bit, and then confuse with a bit of French or Russian to throw them off the scent.

Lots of things flow from having a real conversation with someone about yourself and/or your family, as opposed to latching onto a subject like 'exchange rate misalignment in post-colonial small states', riveting though that can be, when facing a firing squad and there is a need to stall for time. That is when the commonalities start to appear. But, it's also simple as you just have to be honest and yourself, not whatever you are employed to be.

I often try to make a quick link between someone new and someone I already know who is present, just through that simple "Do you know each other?" question and then making an introduction, if needed. I was advised a long while back "Only connect". I'm often apt to let the new acquaintances get to know each other, even if I then take a back seat as things like "You went to JC, too? What year?" and so on. Lots of new friendships have started that way and I am not one of the friends, just an acquaintance.

That kind of approach explains a lot why my friends and acquaintances are often quite an eclectic bunch.

I met some new acquaintances yesterday, when a friend brought her Jamaican guests to the breakfast place. The ladies lived in Kingston but were born in other parishes (one Montego Bay/St. James), the other Clarendon). They were immediately interesting because one had a 'normal' name, like Elaine, while the other had a Jamaican nickname, 'Sissy'--because she had been the young child. I mentioned that I was Jamaican--my English accent doing its usual camouflage job--and had been born and lived in Vauxhall Avenue. "Oh, that is in the east" one of them said. I laughed. "East of where? East is St. Thomas", referring to the parish that goes to Jamaica's eastern point. Then a few moments of reflection later, one lady said "Oh, that is near the Windward Road", which it is, and near Bray Street (if you want to go find it). I said that it's now a part of run down Kingston inner city "inna de ghetto". They got on with their morning and were busy observing the 'interesting' things to see at Brighton's Plantation. And there, I thought, I had left the meeting, as the ladies were due to leave on Monday.

But, God has his plan. My friend and I spoke on the phone after leaving breakfast while I was stuck in traffic, and so was she; we needed to deal with a usual Saturday chore of getting people to swim class. Then came the subject of what the rest of the day held. "The ladies are going to cook Jamaican food...escoveitch fish..." she said. My wail into the phone was shrill enough to have been like squealing brakes. Well, the ladies heard it, and despite my friend's pleas to not do this, they insisted on inviting my wife and me to dinner: "Im go eat we outta hous an' home. Don' do dis!" my friend told me she had said. Such friends!

So, to the evening. Tra-la. Amongst the guest, who were a bunch of the usual Jamaican suspects, was a Bajan couple. I immediately recognized them from a brunch we had attended...two years ago...during Cricket World Cup...on a very rainy Sunday. I reminded them of that as we sought to recall how we knew each other. But, what a happy reunion. They were well known to the ladies, going back many years and several places. He, whom I shall call 'Leisure', was clearly a man who knew how to enjoy himself. But he was also one of life's odd fish, a contract bridge player. He regaled us with stories of how during the recent Beijing Olympics he had had to witness the rigours of dope testing. Amazing for card players, and we really got no real insight into what performance enhancing drugs these characters might take, but heard how some had to administer their insulin shots during games, or were on hypertension medication, etc., some of which might have exposed the team to expulsion. Whether they had been herbalists earlier in life we never heard. Nor did we explore the need for steroids to be able to fling down cards with great force. She, whom I shall call 'Morris', won my heart easily by producing a cassava pudding that I was prepared to fight man and beast for (not forgetting our two ladies' contribution of THE bread pudding and sour sop mousse). And the evening rolled along.

At one stage they asked me if I knew a certain Bajan who had worked at the IMF. I answered that I knew him a little, but he was great friends with one of my best men, who happens to be Norwegian. We spoke about playing bridge, which I did from high school into my early 30s, but not since. Different systems. We joked about how playing 'one club' and 'blue club' were not to be confused with playing in night clubs.

And the night rolled on. We all bashed and defended bashment culture. We all argued about financial and economic Armageddon. We lamented the loss of Allen Stanford's money for cricket. We prayed that West Indies would pull off a victory against England. We discussed Agrofest. We ate jerk chicken, roast pork, escoveitch flying fish, rice and gungo peas, and more. We drank great rum and 'Fat Bastard' wine. We limed. We parted ways. New acquaintances made; previous acquaintances refreshed. I hear that I will soon get a call to come and remember how to play bridge. Becoming an Olympian through this athletic pursuit seems like an alright prospect as I meander through the coming years.

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