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**

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

What A Production!

Moving home is no picnic, and doing so while having to change countries can really put a lot of life to tests. Having gone through that process several times over the past six years, I would not recommend it to anyone. It's more stressful than people imagine. The people who are there to help you, often end up being a hindrance, or worse, a series of aggravations. What is clear is that many of the things you have to do have to be done and you just have to deal with the frustrations along the way. Finding ways to stay sane or make light of the bungling has been a lesson over the recent weeks.

Moving gives you the chance to reduce clutter in your life, but it also challenges you to let go of things that you have owned for some good reason. I tried some time ago to do 'one in, one out', hoping that my personal effects would not increase. It did not work perfectly, but when you have not used things for a year or more then you should be able to say goodbye. However, when you are due to leave, people want to give you gifts, and all the well-planned packing ends up with additional bags and boxes. My idea of only travelling with two items of hand luggage on a plane just about held true: I travelled with one suitcase and found a box that I filled and put in the hold for all the 'last items'.

The people who were contracted to pack our Barbados belongings had their way of doing things, and it was universally at a slow pace and also to a daily working day that seemed short: arrive after 9am, take a lunch break, leave by 3.30pm. On leaving after day one, they said they would arrive earlier on day two: well if 9.30 is before 9am on your watch then they were not late. Hello! The crew was made up of all middle aged men, with a young man as 'supervisor'. I had met the older men before, when a friend moved back to Barbados last year and was getting things out of storage. I knew what to expect. The job that was scheduled to take two days, stretched into four. It was a constant battle to stop things that were not supposed to be packed being wrapped and made ready to ship. I did not want to have to ship back our landlord's belongings. That's stressful. I am always ready to share and they were ready to take as many guavas as they could find in the yard. It helped to keep them happy.

The man my wife asked to help move some furniture and clean, needed my help to lift things and created a environment in which I could not work, so forget about what I needed to do during the time he worked. He has a good heart, but when he finished his task and then went for a nap on the furniture he had moved--for a good two hours--I was pushed to not shake him and say "You're being paid to sleep!"

The people who were handling the shipping from the US end were giving my wife no end of grief, and I followed a stream of her e-mail messages that would have driven many a decent person to take drastic action to cull some of the world's population. It was not just the moving of personal goods, but also matters dealing with movement of people. I wont go into the gruesome details, but somehow, in the process of my resigning from the IMF in 2007, that eliminated her in the eyes of the IMF, even though she is an employee in her own right. She disappeared from an important part of their data base and was thus having a hard time getting visa clearance to go back to the US, even though she had renewed her visa recently and travelled to the US many times since my resignation. Don't ask me how that happened, or why the IMF and US State Department reconcile their data concerning special visa status staff.

Having sold a car and wanting to take the proceeds back to the US in US dollars (as the purchase had been financed with them), we had to go through the dark tunnel marked 'exchange control'. We were not impressed to hear that the forms that had been sent to the central back for processing were still 'awaiting action' nearly two weeks later. Cue dog-like barking at someone. Papers move. But why does the Inland Revenue have to be involved in the processing of exchange control requests? For the life of me, I cannot see what it has to do with bodies other than the central and commercial banks. Maybe someone will explain to me.

I have to say that closing our bank account with Scotiabank proved relatively painless. Ending balances were agreed. Documents signed. Exchange control approval noted. Banker's draft issued. All of that within 30 minutes, and only time lost due to the need for multiple signatures by bank officers.

Getting closure on my mobile phone account had more than its share of drama. Somehow, LIME could not allow me to determine termination of my contract at some future date, sign for that, and arrange for payment of the final bill when it became due. Given that there was a security deposit and other funds on the account, I could not see what was the problem. Why would I need to arrange for someone to go into an office after I left the country to deal with that account closure. Having failed to closed the account at a store, I sent a message to customer service, as suggested. I should have worried when I saw the address (windwardcustomercentre@time4lime.com). My message received an instant automated reply (and to this date no further response!). Perhaps someone from LIME can offer a reason why 10 days after sending a message to customer service, the customer remains unserved. Maybe the address should be changed: wayward may be better; that 'time4lime' aspect seems to be taken a bit too seriously in the organization.

"I know someone at LIME you can call," a friend told me. I said I could call someone I knew too, but I was tired of having to go THE person, and wanted to deal with a system that worked. Eventually, I contacted an account manager, whom I do know for the job that goes with the title, and she confirmed that all of my wishes would be handled and that I would be informed in mid-August that the account had been closed, with any refund due being sent to me. We did all of that by e-mail and I have every faith that she will carry through.

I know that life is not about smooth sailing but why should it be the case that processes seem to be set up that do not help people do things they want to simply? I know that one often has to do a lot of 'leg work' to deal with administrative processes, but given where we are with technology, why does it not offer the solutions it can. Who is holding us down? For example, I pay my LIME phone bill online by credit card every month, so why (except for doing the programming) cannot I deal with any other account issue similarly? Some of the contrasts are stark for me: I have had a US mobile phone account since being in Barbados, and everything I need to do with that account, I do online. I did not even need to actually go to get the phone: it would have been sent to me in Barbados by mail, but I happened to be travelling to the US and it was mailed to my then office address for collection.

Thinking through the answers to some of these 'challenges' can go a long way to seeing what kind of progress can be made in Barbados. Productivity is key to making economic headway, but we seem to find ways to thwart it.

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