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







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

We Are Friends

Every now and then there is an odd confluence of people and events that leads to what all agree is a superb occasion. The joy of spontaneity is that 'the best laid plans' are only the backdrop. Last night, a group of twelve people who two years ago were not known to each other, had one of those occasions. It was a birthday celebration for one of our 'queens'. Her husband had done what men occasionally do: organize everything himself. He had made the requisite calls (at least to me) to tell of time and place, and had said very little about who else would be present or much else. So, on the evening, I spent part of the drive going over what I might order, knowing that the process of managing a lot of tastes can eat into the event viciously. But, our dude had taken care of that too. On arrival, food started to arrive within minutes of our sitting down, and so it went on as courses arrived--appetizers then a great array of main courses. He allowed himself a little pleasure by ordering the wine once we were all present.

But, the magic was not in the food and drink, but was in the foolishness and drivel, and even in the way someone only known to the hosts who was visiting, just dropped happily within this group of extraordinarily regular people. Subjects came up and were used as props for quips, for friendly criticism, for exploration of relationships. We were all like dogs: our underbellies were laid bare because we did not fear that we would be attacked savagely. We lay there in our supine position, liking also the occasional stroking of a warm 'hand' in the form of a series of unprompted kind words.

Whether by design or by accident, we had the restaurant almost to ourselves. The other patrons who came in behaved impeccably, sitting in a corner table and having quiet and polite conversation. As befits a group of highly educated and accomplished professionals, we acted like we were at a high school prom, and we had the restaurant staff in tears of joy by the end of the night.

We talked of how women love to pack their men off, and also of women who equally love to be sent packing. We shared stories of how night owls preened, unruffled and ruffled their feathers. We kept our beady eyes on the threads of all the tales.

We checked if a man could remember when he was married and after he spent an eternity telling us about how it seems like time has no start, no end, no curve or bend, and the elasticity of eternity when one feels bliss, we checked with his wife, who agreed on the month. But an astute sister-in-law told them they were both wrong! When asked when their first child was born, they agreed that it was the day after the wedding--a day between marriage and birth sounds alarm bells in our region. We heard how a tailor man delivered a fitting jacket on a certain wedding day, and as things go in Jamaica that seemed to pass off without incident. We spoke of peckers and peccadilloes, of showers, soap and rope; of tennis and of menace. Is a man a brute because he does not use Imperial Leather? Will Peter Wyngarde ever live down those ads for Hai Karate?

We mulled the true meaning of "Don't despair. Get a spare."

A woman wondered if she needed to find it first before she could do anything with it. A man bragged that his was 17 inches, and was wireless; he's being screened as I write. We discussed whether it's better to look up or to look down; envy is still a vice. We heard why men don't go to the gym but just play tennis, to avoid having to use communal bathrooms. We spoke of men on the download and whether they needed to be taken out for a hard drive. We heard tales of nails but could not put our fingers on their meaning; some snorted in disapproval. We spoke of offshore finance and of sure financial disasters. We spoke of BNB and bed and breakfast. We spoke of CLICO and how we are wary of cliques. Oh!

And so the evening meandered.

We took our jollity onto the street in Holetown, as we extended our farewells and acted like people who had not seen each other for years, hugging and kissing and carrying on.

I have to admit that I am taking on a hard mission in 'cultural detoxification', if I can use that term in a way that is not too harsh. The British left us many things of which we should be grateful, but they left us the inglorious stiff handshake as the greeting of choice. When you think of arms-length diplomacy, this is what should come to mind, and if you really are afraid of catching something from touching another person, then it's the perfect "How are you". However, I personally prefer something warmer and more tactile, and which I find more in keeping with African traditions and for that matter with traditions in much of Europe. I institute the hug or embrace and the kiss. It's a hard sell for some, because it has no gender boundary, save for a certain deference if there is obvious revulsion. So men have to be ready to be seized and seized of the moment: President Obama is making the 'man hug' a common place in the public space. Women are less fearful of such trends, it seems.

We sang the traditional 'Happy Birthday' but I have to admit that it was less of an event than the rest of the evening. I am not keen on the idea of waiting till this time next year to do a similar celebration.

Those who know know that this year's birthdays have had some serious direct and indirect celebrations. This trend, if continued, could lead to a rash of deportations later in the year. What a way to go!

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