I have no idea what the probability is that I arrive at another Caribbean island for the first time--Grenada--and one of the first people I meet is someone who is the son of Grenadian migrants who grew up in the same town as I did in west London, England. Someone who also played football in that same area; he was much better than me because he now plays in the English Premier League. But to add to the irony, he now plays for a northern England club in a town that I also know very well and used to visit often. I then go on to meet someone else from this island who also went to this same town in west London as an immigrant, where he raised his son, who has now gone back to their home island to help his father run their restaurant business.
But, so it was this weekend in the Spice Isle. All the things that went through my mind during the brief meetings go a long way along the road of the migrant experience in England. (I had thought about how Caribbean offspring may be about to make more political waves with Diane Abbott putting her hat into the Labour leadership race. I had also thought about how Ivorian, Tidjiane Thiam, who is the CEO of the Prudential Group, can stand up as a black man and not have his mistakes fall on matters of race, rather than competence.)
As for my chance meeting, we were none of us products of areas where migrants traditionally settled, ending up in some of the sleepier suburbs on the edge of London, and not getting lost in a bad educational experience. That the people I met had decided that for part or all of their time going forward they would go back to their native islands and try to start some venture is also interesting. I did not get into the issues enough to get a true feeling but even after a short time working in the Caribbean the full-time businessman and his son were talking about how hard it is to get used to how people do business, and their 'lack of professionalism'. Put nicely, they felt that making things work well would be 'a challenge'.
But, that said, there was something special about their being back in the Caribbean and working in what seems like a place that really values community and personal relations. Those are good and bad attributes. I do not know how long the father and son team will stick it out: the son was honest to say that his brother could not settle and was keen to head back to England. The father is set to stay, but he's been back less than 10 years. The professional footballer struck me as someone who has a head for other things and I would not be surprised to see him turn his interest and ideas into political leanings.
There is nothing simple about returning to the Caribbean and making things work. It's a hard fit. But, those who are trying it need more than applause and support, because two very different mind sets are now having to work together. I had a feeling about two years ago that recession in Europe and north America would lead to more of a flow of returnees to the Caribbean. I still hold that view, and I wonder how it will work out. The phase of outward migration from this region was extremely difficult for those who left and those left behind. I suspect--and know from some personal experiences--that the reverse movement will also be difficult. The diaspora has not been well nurtured over the years--exploited in the basest ways rather than used creatively, is my impression. But the region needs to change how it seems all its people that reflow back to the Caribbean need to happen so that all of its resources can be harnessed better for development.
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