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**

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Green Banana CouCou And Salt Fish

Hunger is a vital reaction that should not be ignored. Even as a metaphor, it is important to follow it where the mental stomach leads. One of things that is most lacking about working at home is the ability to exchange freely with others on whatever topic is at hand. As an office maven, I was not one who spent a lot of time on the phone. From the earliest time, I was more inclined to walk to find my colleague and we would sit and thrash out some issue. It was good not least because in a world where being sedentary is easier than being active, it offered some limited exercise. When at the Bank of England I had to march through several corridors and up three flight of steep marble steps, a day's work was also a day's work out. We also had open plan office set ups, which made it easier to have lots of face-to-face contact. At the IMF, people tended to be more of the Dilbert type, happier in their cubicles and talking at a distance. Why talk to someone when you can leave them a note? That was made worse once the computer and e-mail really took off. We are all still suffering for that.

What I now do does not really require a lot of personal interaction. A high speed Internet connection is all I need to get to the on-ramp of the cyber superhighway. A lot of information that is relevant is right there at my computer screen. At any given time, I have about five different programs running, apart from my trading platform; that platform gives a lot of market information, and I have charts and other information streaming to my computer. Added to that, Twitter has become in vogue. So, many traders now exchange information with Tweets. One of my trading gurus has discovered how to send charts by Twitter so he is updating information on strategies about 2 hours faster than he used to--a huge improvement

But, I also have my literary side to feed. My writing is always on the go, even if it is in contemplative mode. By accident, I got into some exchanges on immigration issues on another blog. What did I do that for? The reception was very hostile, and in some instances downright rude and vehement. I had the temerity to challenge the 'accepted' notions and say that I had not seen one solid figure to back any of the claims. A lot of political dancing with no music ends up looking like something really bizarre.

But, guess what? I'm not someone who was encouraged to be intimidated, least of all if I felt that right was on my side. One of the things I had been pondering since I came to Barbados is the almost ritual defensive posture that comes from a comment that is deemed critical. Some of my reading of slave history and the role of Barbados in that led me to some uncomfortable conclusions about how local character might have taken on certain aspects of the colonizers. Some of the subsequent alignment of Barbados ("Little England") with England proper is interesting in that context. Sometimes, its apparent recent drawing away from an unequivocal alignment to the rest of the Caribbean is perplexing. But, it's a tense relationship, because Barbados is not England, and the English, much as they love the island, know it. Barbados sits firmly within the Caribbean, so any drawing away can only end up as isolation. The island can get stuck between a rock and a hard place, or out to sea without oars, or similar.

So, off came the gloves. My style can be annoying to people who are accustomed to just giving blah-blah (what a Bajan friend calls rum shop logic) or that noise trumps substance; they are not at ease being constantly asked to justify, the sometimes ludicrously wild, claims. This same pattern often appears on call-in programs where the moderators' requests for "What are the facts?" are met with shifting of the ground or subject, some outrage, but for sure, no substance. "Come back when you have the facts," is a familiar sign off to a caller. Outrage does not cut it.

I am not one to rail, especially if I am faced with flaming language, and personal insults. I gladly recite Desiderata as the verbal plates crash against the walls. I move to what I see as the higher ground and try to stay even tempered. Angry people hate that, because they want to have their anger validated by anger in return. Sorry. So, my mother and father were insulted, my country, all I did, the kitchen sink I chose to put into my house, my lifestyle, my former employer, the socks I wore at graduation. A little respect came when I cited Gandhi: "Be the change you want to see in the world". But it was a breather. I was even reeled in today by someone who saw me and my kind (Jamaicans) as responsible for everything that had gone wrong in the western world--The Holocaust? 911? Flooding in Louisiana? Two World Wars? Barney? The re-election of George Bush? Italy beating France in the World Cup? Milli Vanilli? The Macarena? "Rahtid. Jamayka Man powerful fi true!" I said to myself for a second and was ready to pump myself up like Jimmy Cliff as bad boy, Rygin, in 'The Harder They Come'. But, a cooler head prevailed. I took a breath and rolled my eyes. Could someone believe all that froth? At that point I was glad that so far video-enabled blogging is not the vogue.

For serious reasons, I needed a change. So, I let my wife grab me in a sensitive area and draw me along to Villa Road (that's in Britton's Hill) to a little corner shop, run by Miss G. She welcomed us into her foodery. "Do you have soup, today" I asked. "Soup is Tuesday. We have black eye rice and stewed turkey; banana coucou and salt fish; fried snapper and salad." My mind was made up: one or two of these would be fine. She explained that the salt fish was what I would think of as red herring. I would wait to see if that was so as I had eaten a good plateful one weekend in Surinam (St. Joseph). A few moments later, the plates arrived. My missus had the fried snapper and in no time was dealing with it.

We discussed nothing much deliberately, as it was interesting enough to see another slice of life slide in and out for food and drinks (always in brown bags...we know what you're drinking). Why was the first group after us workers from a maintenance truck from BWA? So, we got into it on water rates. "You all need to gi we betta service." Just for that, the green banana coucou was finished. "Wha' else you wan'?" I treasured my last few mouthfuls.I asked Miss G if she had anything sweet for afters. "I got mangers. I grew up with them." I declined, but told her to be ready for me to eat mangers on Friday. In return, I would bring her guavas. "No need for that. I go' bring you mangers anyway. You coming for barbecue tomorra evening?" My calendar was free but her ladyship hinted that plans were in the works. We talked a bit more about how people just seem to be downright unhappy with their lot. I explored an idea I had. "Do you think that if life had stayed simpler things would be better now?" I expanded and argued that people really had not adjusted to office work and government work and helping tourists. But they did not want to stay growing sugar. The mistake had been that agriculture was not developed to break the link with slavery and new and exciting crops grown, so that agriculture could be seen as a lively livelihood. Miss G did not really know. "I run my shop and I happy. I go bring mangers tomorra." I did not want to argue, nor did I need to have a long discussion. She was right.

There you have it. Let Barbadians become small entrepreneurs and national happiness will be assured.

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