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, May 29, 2007

Make me an offer!

Before eBay became a buzz word, there were regular public auctions. Now, Barbados is technically up there, but it still has auctions. Not of great treasures found in attics or under beds, but of the stuff that Americans dispose of each week through yard sales. I took a little visit to one today (David's Auctions, in Black Rock). I managed to sell something before the auction began as a wily man heard me asking about how to place items and how the commission works, and quickly engaged me in a negotiation, which saw two of us happy to trade a cordless telephone that I did not want and he clearly did. I got enough for lunch; and unlike a gambler, I did not immediately look for some bad item to waste it on.

Inside the auction were a group of no more than 20 people, mostly older Bajan women. Most are regulars as their names are known by the auctioneer. A few newbies had to spell out their names. What is on offer? From what I saw, not a great deal. A set of new kitchen sponges; glue sticks; mismatched china; assorted tools; bungee cords;
cast off electronics; some fridges; antique furniture. I did not have time today to sit and see how bidding went on the 300 odd items on sale: the smaller items go first. Maybe I should have bid on the Monopoly and Tiddlywinks set. I could not deal with the tension of leaving a bid on an item and waiting for a call to confirm if I would be the proud owner of [....]. Most items seem to go for B$10-15, though someone went crazy bidding B$30 for a leather bound decanter and two attached glasses. Cans of spray paint seemed to fetch high prices and I wondered if some of these seniors were part of graffiti gang.

For sure, eBay gives the sense of success when that useless toaster gets sold for more than you paid for it, because you happen to hit on a Procter-Silex buff who needed one to finish a collection. But real auctions are more fun! It's funny to check out eBay for what items related to Barbados are on sale: lots of coins and stamps, but also a PanAm 1990 destination tag
True, someone is also trying to sell a "Barbados" bedroom set for over US$2000 (no bids yet), and if it does not sell on eBay, I feel it won't appear in Black Rock next week. Some of the antiques in David's auction could fit out some plantation houses nicely, so I won't laugh off those who are there patiently waiting for their bargains. I don't know if the fans of David's go to other auctions; it could be addictive for some people. I'll limit myself to at most once a week.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Masters of the Universe

For several years, the Wanderers Football Club has hosted a Barbados International Masters Football Festival, now in its 11th year; to be eligible players should be over 40 years old. I came to Barbados in 2003 to play in these matches, never suspecting that I would be living here a few years later. I vividly remember the pain of having to get back into training and the shock to my system of having to play competitive football again in my late 40s. I decided after that tournament, and the birth of another daughter later that year, that enough was enough. So, I stayed away from most of the activities this year, feeling that now that I am over 50 I can hang up my boots for good, even though I love the game of football. So, this year, I got to sample the finals afternoon on Whit Monday, without any twinges or scratches or blisters or hangover.

It's a good piece of sports tourism for Barbados, with an estimated 300 visitors this year; local sponsors get good exposure from associating with it. As usual, a spirited crowd (full of Bajan distilled spirits, true) was doing its best to help the sponsors, players and officials. They got to take out their frustration on the officials, though showed some restraint when one of the refereeing teams was made up of all women. Some of the fans had also been in full training for the event and hoped to be able to continue their preparation for some time.

Teams had travelled a good distance, as usual, to participate, and the international representation came from Canada, the US, England, and Trinidad, for example; it was good that one of the finals was between a team from Toronto and New York.Teams came with their faithful followers, including a set of "WAGS" (wives and girlfriends, for those who did not follow the last World Cup) from Netherall, Cumbria, in England.

The final was between two local rivals, Black Rock and Benfica, which ended in a narrow win for Benfica, 1-0.
It was great to see some of the local stars, now in their later years, and if you don't know "Cracker" and "Coolness", then you'd better buy a ticket and come to Barbados to watch some of the regular season Masters football here.

Sure, we were there for the football, but it was also a good lime and the blog can't do justice to all the sense and nonsense that goes on around the games. And it's a lime which builds on friendships on the island, and stretches over the continents.Don't be fooled, though: there are some hot local rivalries, and any chance to take a cheap dig at an opponent or official is not wasted, especially from the side line after a few Banks have been drunk. But, it's also good to see that the event has a family flavour, especially with a lot of children present. People tend not to misbehave off the field, though on field, some players forget that they are 40 not 14. But the veterans get their love of the game early, and they try pass that passion on to their children.

I played football for 40 years, and also refereed and coached, so I love opportunities to be involved in the sport. I've passed my passion on. One of my older daughters also played football in the US, and also referees and coaches young girls there; she enjoyed sampling this little piece of Barbados during her short visit while on summer break from university. I may take a dip back into the football water in Barbados, though not as a player; perhaps as a referee or coach.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Times are a changing: views on news from the UK

Whatever jibes may be made about Barbados being "Little England", I'll take an educated guess that none of the news items below, which I read in a recent issue of The Times (so they must be true, right?), will have any parallels in Barbados. The silly season is not yet on for news, but I see that the journalists are coming up with more surprises every day.

First, a story about two transsexuals who are about to make unprecedented history as Mayor and Mayoress of Cambridge, England.Both were born as men, then underwent gender "reassignment". The Mayor, now named Ms. Bailey, is the father of two children, now aged 18 and 20. Her former wife is reported to be "incredibly proud" of her ex-husband's achievement at becoming mayor. I find the whole story a bit confusing, to say the least.

Second, perhaps more warming for the tourists who have fled England to practice their golf, is a story about an amateur golfer in California who made 14 holes in one during four months. Practice makes perfect, they say, but luck plays an important part. Tiger Woods eat out your heart!

Third, the small island nation of Mauritius (population 300,000, just a bit bigger than Barbados and often cited as a good comparison for Bim) has become the first to open a real embassy in a virtual world, by doing so on Second Life (see link). Sweden is reported to be the next real country to go this virtual route. The virtual world seems to be taking on more reality for many people, so this seems totally logical. The mind boggles at this kind of development. But the reality is that you can't escape reality, though plenty of people never cease to try.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Talking trash

We were struck very soon after we arrived in Barbados by the apparent absence of recycling of household waste, in an island that seems to have moved well ahead in some other environmental areas, and has a long history of using renewable energy (see link about renewable energy scenarios). Barbados had windmills in the 1700s, after the introduction of sugar production, and now has most houses and buildings fitted with solar panels for water heating. In 1980, when the late Prime Minister Tom Adams introduced the Homeowners Tax Benefit which allowed the homeowner to claim the cost of the solar water heater against income taxes, the industry received a major boost. The government of Barbados would like to have renewable energy contribute 40% of the island's primary energy by 2010, from some 15-20% now.

We have lived many years in the UK and US, and accepted the need to separate all forms of household waste: recyclables (glass, plastic, paper, aluminium cans, cardboard, garden trash); food scraps; hazardous waste (like car batteries) could be collected separately. So, we feel very uncomfortable filling trash bags with things that we know can be recycled.

I understand from discussions with some in the hotel industry that there is a well-developed system for recycling drinks bottles, where the volumes are of course considerable. Nevertheless, one of Barbados' controversial subjects in recent years involved plans to use a landfill in the inappropriately named area of "Greenland", in St. Lucy parish. (Someone mentioned to me recently, with shock, that Barbados was due to ship its rubbish to Greenland, thinking that boatloads of Bajan trash would be heading north to Europe.)

I was pleased to find that there are measures in place (at supermarkets) to recycle mainly glass and plastic drinks bottles back to local producers, such as Banks Breweries; there's a refund on each bottle. A private company, B's Bottle Depot, will take for cash any form of plastic bottling, plus glass drinks bottles from local companies, as well as aluminium cans.They collect from homes. The company wants to expand to take all forms of glass, which would be shipped to Trinidad, but the market price for the product is very low and that business has stalled. They are based in St. Thomas and want to expand into recycling cardboard, but await planning permission to build the needed extension.

As a contrast, I noted today on the BBC website that the UK government is due to introduce a trash charge. English municipalities would get powers to charge for rubbish and "give rewards in cash" for those who recycle. The government also announced a clampdown on junk mail, excess packaging and plastic shopping bags in a bid to meet tough EU landfill waste reduction targets.

Barbados has many models in Europe and North America it can follow on how to organize recycling. The government's Solid Waste Unit has recently had a series of workshops to raise awareness of the needs and possibilities for recycling. Let's see if things change soon on the ground.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

In pursuit of excellence

Last week we spent a great time in New York as an extended family. The occasion? College graduation for my stepdaughter, from Columbia University. For the two days of events we had more than we needed in terms of good weather; in fact, it was too hot on the second day when we had no covered seating. Unlike at Kensington Oval, the seats were free so we could not complain about the cost.

The commencement ceremony for Columbia College had Matthew Fox as its guest speaker. I had never heard of him, but he is apparently a star in a popular TV series called "Lost", and he is a graduate of Columbia from 18 years ago. He listed the speakers from the preceding four years, including Tom McCain in 2006, and wondered if the audience would be skeptical about the current choice. He was witty and said things to which the student could relate, and they seemed to enjoy that.

The ceremony for the whole university on the 2nd day supposedly had 40,000 people! That's more than some Caribbean islands.
Admittedly, the size of Columbia makes it hard to feel intimate with the graduating students, so it's a real pleasure when you manage to greet each other in a sea of waving arms and to rejoin each other afterwards.

We were proud that after that ceremony we could take some photos with the national flags for the student body. My stepdaughter was the only Bahamian in the class, and waved her flag with genuine pride. Pity there were no junkanoo bells and drums to go with that. We saw flags for Barbados, Jamaica, and Dominica (represented by Ivy League 400 metre sprint phenom, Erison Hurtault), but no students came to lay claim to those for their pictures. So, we just have to be proud for them too and their families.

The Caribbean keeps producing brilliant students, unfortunately most of those who graduate live and work outside the region, mostly in the US. We have not figured out how to get them to either go back or to make contributions in the region. Our economies remain too small to stop the brain drain. That's a shame. In the meantime, we have to continue to encourage our children to be good students and great ambassadors: living proof that we value education, wherever we are.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I lost my BlackBerry. Boo-hoo!

I've been tempted for a while to write about BlackBerry-itis. Like what happens to drivers once they get behind a steering wheel, most people's behaviour seems to change almost overnight once they get a BlackBerry. I can understand that the constant access to e-mail is a benefit, for busy executives or for other adults who use e-mail as a way of organizing life. But there has to be some thought about limiting its use.

I just came across some really pertinent articles. The first refers to the Chicago Sheraton Hotel that offers a BB detox, and will lock away the offending device free of charge, so that vacation time can be time for not checking e-mail. The second article is really scary, and highlights that more couples are sleeping in separate beds or even different rooms due to addiction to their gadgets. Forbes magazine has written that "around-the-clock access to the office often results in fatigue, a lack of intimacy, resentment, increased conflict and even premature career burnout."

My wife has noted that she has seen more people using BlackBerries in Barbados than anywhere else. I think they are very visible in Bim, but that may be the gimmick as they have not been on the market long. It seems cool to have the thing on show, like the top strap of a thong. Having just been to New York, I saw plenty on show, but I think that in the US people don't feel the need for such PDAs, ie "prominently displayed assets".

I won't pretend to be holier-than-thou. I never had my choice fruit until I arrived in Bim, and it has been wonderfully useful, I admit, because I had been accustomed to being close to my e-mail in an office. But now, being at home most of the time, or somehow attached to my toddler, my berry proves its worth. But I am still going to push for better social etiquette from BB users. We went to dinner recently and an acquaintance spent most of the meal time tapping out some "important messages", while complaining about how tired she was and how long the day had been; she barely touched her food.

I've tried to limit my BB use when in company. I see no problem with viewing messages if one is truly alone, but the use should stop once another person is present. No sneaky peeky when your partner heads for the bathroom during that "intimate dinner". Like cell phones, one has to decide what is appropriate. It should be kept discreet in public, so no buzzing or ringing. It should not be used when a couple is in bed: that's a real libido killer. Nor should it appear at meal times. If the messages are that important, leave and read them then come back. I recall seeing a lawyer being interviewed on TV recently, and she obviously thought that no one would see that she was tapping messages on her BB while ranting about some issue, then the camera panned away and there were the furtive hands tapping away in her lap for the world to see. A moment of sincere insincerity.

And just like that, I'm without my Berry. Lost (I think in a New York cab). Does it miss me? I doubt it. Do I miss it? Not so much. I only wish it had the GPS set-up so that I could locate it. I dread having to set up a new device, though I think that BBs are easier than regular cell phones in that sense, and all important information will transfer automatically. That's my hope.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Getting to Yes...Maybe: Children's lessons for negotiators

After working as a professional economist for several decades, I now see things in the world of international affairs with a somewhat jaundiced eye. However, I am still learning about negotiation, and in the difficult arena of parenting. I have said before that children do not apply adult logic: adults are teaching children how to think and resolve problems from an adult perspective, but it takes time for a child to figure out what that means (see blog). When my wife says "Don't point!" Our three year old puts down her index finger and uses her little finger to indicate what she wants. "Pointing" means using the other finger, right? We will work on explaining that using any finger can be pointing. But for the moment, Toddler 1 Parent 0.

Sharing is one area where parents get unstuck often, thinking that by wishing it young children will see that it's good to give up something so that someone else can be happy, with the promise that you will get back your favorite whatever of the moment. What nonsense! When you look at how international politics is played out, you often see that there are some children who never learnt to share, so they can't let go of their toys (read "positions") and explore life without them for even a few moments. Children get bored quickly or see the sense because whatever seems threatened is changed, and that is often what saves heartaches over sharing.

Today was great fun when Rhian had her schoolfriend from a few doors away come over and play in the pool. There was a lot of taking and not giving, especially over who could use the pink plastic ring. Of course, the two girls love pink and wanted to be first to jump into the ring. Suggesting that one use the green dragon while the other used the ring did not work. But proposing that one spin in the ring then let the friend take a turn while you got out to jump in again worked a treat. Why? Perhaps each child figured that by getting out fast and being ready to jump in again would spoil the other's fun? Perhaps they saw that for a brief moment they were not competing for the same toy, so giving it up was not to see it immediately become the "love object" of the other kid. A child psychologist can perhaps comment and clarify. I just recall what someone explained about juggling: you have to be prepared to let go of the one ball otherwise you will never get to throw up another one. In a group it's a great experiment to show how if the balls are released quickly in a certain sequence a large number of balls can be moving in the air at any time. That way everyone can do more by sharing and cooperating than by trying to do it all by him- or herself. So, I hope that this anecdote gets posted on the website of a few international organizations and that "we can all get along".

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Barbados In Focus

Part of the fun of blogging, which I have discovered, is commonality of human interest and a place for contact. You find others who write about the same or similar topics, or you find people who make comments on pieces posted, or you make a comment on another blog, or you enjoy the material presented and the manner of presentation, and then a new form of relationship has been created. I guess I feel a desire to support other bloggers as I go along and I like the support they give to me. In that spirit, I'll flag a wonderful Barbados blog, Barbados in Focus, which hosts some beautiful pictures from all over the island. I really enjoy browsing this site often as it shows much more than I have seen or can offer. The images are captivating, whether in black and white or in colour. I encourage the host of Barbados in Focus to add more pictures of people to set against the images of buildings and places.

The contact that develops amongst the blogging community is very much part of the culture created by the Internet, and the anonymity that comes with the medium does not mean that everything is impersonal. Internet meeting places have become very big business, as people realise that they can create their own content and substance. Just look at YouTube or Myspace or Facebook. These are just some of the better know examples, but have spawned new and different places for people to exchange ideas, particularly with freedom to write and show almost whatever you want. So, enjoying finding your own position in this very interesting and seemingly limitless environment.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Knuckle headed?

Barbados has launched the National Initiative for Service Excellence (NISE) and it can't take hold fast enough as far as many people are concerned, myself included. I had another example of how badly it's needed when I went to buy bottled water at the SuperCentre, at Rendezvous, a few days ago. With nothing else in my shopping cart but the bottles, I see on the register "Pork knuckle". "What's that?" I asked the cashier. She acted surprised and looked around to see where the knuckle was, and nothing remotely like a piece from a pig, raw or cooked, could be seen anywhere. "Sorry. I'm tired." she eventually replied. I counted as far as 3 then replied: "If you're tired, tell your boss and ask to take a rest. Don't go charging people for things they are not buying." A supervisor came over and adjusted the register, I paid and without any more discussion, left. When I mentioned this to some friends later in the week, they all laughed. "You catch her! She wanted to knuckle you for her dinner to take home later." I could understand that possible explanation of a form of petty pilfering. But wouldn't a smart person have tried to hide that knuckle-headed trick on a bill that had a few more items on it than bottled water? Maybe she wasn't smart and that's the problem. Or her eye sight was bad. Or she was finding a way of coping with the high cost of living. If you don't laugh, you have to cry.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Mark my words

Over the past few months, life for many people has been put on hold because of an obsessive focus on Cricket World Cup (CWC). The event has been the cause of much venting. Now it is over the assessment is beginning: truths, half-truths, economizing with the truth, white lies, real lies and other manipulations of facts and figures will be evident. Vested interests will get in the way of a clear picture and we may have to wait a long time for the real story to unfold. In the meantime, I have been amused by some of the phrases that CWC has spawned.

The most repeated phrase: "The government will move heaven and earth to make sure Barbados will be ready..." attributed to PM Owen Arthur in early 2006, who wanted to make clear his determination that Kensington Oval would be ready for CWC. Oversight of the project was moved to the PM's office from the Ministry of Sport. The phrase has been used repeatedly by political opponents since when other projects have apparently lacked resources or commitment.
It may hang like a haunting spectre as people start to voice concern after CWC about whether the same effort will be made to fix things that affect people's daily lives. I heard yesterday about the sad situation of the single bus available to transport handicap patients, which has itself been incapacitated for the past three months.

The "legacy" thing: "The legacy benefits of Cricket World Cup...", attributed to Ken Gordon, President of the West Indies Cricket Board and Chairman of CWC 2007, when saying "This will be another opportunity for the region to show it is capable of delivering a world class event in the same way that much bigger countries, with greater economies and resources, have been doing for many years...This is the first major example of what the Caribbean can reap in the future because of the investment being made now." There do not appear to be clear plans for using the stadiums that were newly built or renovated, so the jury remains out wondering if these may end up as mere "white elephants".

Taking liberties with a great expression: Barbados' Tourism Minister, Mr. Noel Lynch said several times during a press conference at the weekend that hosting some of the CWC games was Barbados’ “finest hour” and the effort had been a “huge organisational triumph.” Winston Churchill had made the "finest hour" claim for the British Empire and the Commonwealth back in 1940, when the British withstood while the French collapsed. One local commentator, Patrick Hoyos, has already labelled this hyperbole and I will leave it there (see Broad Street Journal). The foreign media and much of the regional media has been critical of how the tournament went and it's hard to see why one could claim that something that was at best a success mixed with lots of failure represented a "finest hour". Anyway, as Patrick Hoyos said in BSJ, politicians are "cherry picking" the winning aspects and leaving behind the sour fruit of the losing aspects.

I'll keep my eyes and ears open for more of these words to remember.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Why is living in Barbados so expensive?

Ever since we arrived on this little island, we have been astonished at the cost of living. From the very basic items that are bought each week at the supermarket to luxury items such as meals out, Barbados stands out at the most expensive place I have ever visited. On average, it seems that things cost about twice as much as in the US. Admittedly, many goods are imported, from the US and UK, though not from relatively cheaper local sources such as Trinidad (see below). According to the Index of Economic Freedom 2007 Barbados levies significant tariffs on non-CARICOM goods; average tariff rates are similarly high. There are, however, price controls on basic food items and fuel. No wonder that those who can travel to the US (or Trinidad) and ship things back in barrels or containers. They get better prices and better choices. That would suggest that the difference is not just transport costs and duties.

There was discussion several months ago about price levels, especially the cost of food, and accusations that retailers were price gouging. A week's groceries at one of the major supermarkets (SuperCentre, the island’s largest chain of supermarkets and pharmacies, accounting for a major share of the supermarket trade in Barbados, see) seems to run regularly at BS$ 400 (US$ 200). I certainly don't understand how the average Bajan can make ends meet living with those kinds of prices.

But looking at places like restaurants, I don't understand why meals including local sea food and other local ingredients are priced as if these were coming from Europe. It's hard to find a good restaurant that charges less that B$ 150 (about US$ 75) a person for a two course meal. Only if you eat roti or go to a place like Oistins for fish fry or outdoor BBQ joint like Just Grillin' does a meal come at a reasonable cost, say B$ 15-20 a person. Sure, tourists can deal with these prices over their vacations, especially coming from the UK with the pound very strong; though I'm sure they would love lower prices as few of the places are really that good. But, I suspect that there's a lemming approach to the pricing.

A task force was set up early in 2006 to monitor all aspects of food prices, after mounting complaints from consumers. In March 2007 the President of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI), Dick Stoute, claimed that local businesses were not to blame for the high price levels (see report in The Advocate newspaper). This followed reports by the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, and the Fair Trading Commission (FTC) stating that food prices increased by approximately 25 per cent over the past three years and inflation was up 13 per cent over the same period. What was clear is that no one knows or is prepared to say what is going on in the food retail and distribution industry, which made B$883 million in sales but no one has said categorically what the profit level was, though the BCCI has estimated that at end-2006 the average profit for food retail business was 3-4%. But what is the mark-up at the wholesale level, and to what extent do connected wholesale and retail groups manage to manipulate prices? The Barbados Shipping and Trading Company owns the major food retailer, Supercentre, and the household appliance retailer, Dacosta Manning, but also has major import and distribution subsidiaries.

The FTC report highlighted that increases in sea freight; increases in cost of packaging materials; increases in local energy costs; the Cess (6% tax on consumer imports) imposed by government; and a number of others factors were important contributory factors. Mr. Stoute also noted that with the removal of the Cess [from February] he expects that this will reduce prices over a period of time. Part of the underlying problem is that wages are too high: the gap between real wages and productivity widened between 1999 and 2004, and limited data for period after suggests that gap has not been fully closed (see IMF Staff Report for the 2006 Article IV Consultation). Part is also due to Barbados' appetite for imported goods. Central Bank of Barbados data for the quarter ended march 2007 show that total imports in 2006 were B$ 3.17 billion, about 1/3 of imports are consumer goods (and about 40% of this is food); only just under 25% of imports from CARICOM.

The official measure of inflation in Barbados, the retail price index has been accelerating on average since 2004, from 1-2% previously to around 6-8%. This a disturbing uptick in the trend, even price increases are still relatively moderate, but people are being asked to adjust to a much faster rate of inflation. (For more analysis of the trends see Broad Street Journal article on recent price developments in Barbados and Trinidad.) The central bank expects average inflation to decline by end-2007. Maybe we should put off shopping and eating out for the rest of the year!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Sports day

The message given clearly to the children was "Everyone is a winner." Some parents didn't like that because they could see their children not making an effort. Others had concerned children, nevertheless, because they were still concerned about being last.

Kids don't have adult logic. They can also get thrown off balance emotionally even after lots of preparation. So, I always watch with a sense of trepidation to see if my 3 year old is going to have a bout of "stage fright" when asked to perform in front of all those strange people. She did not have a clue what to do with the hoop for "skip a hoola" and was guided by a gym mistress to the end rope for a respectable "winning position".

After that series of events, where they had the boys and girls competing separately, the parents of the entry class (mainly 4 year olds) milled closer to the events to give their physical support for the next set of events. "Egg and cup" came next. When I saw one boy look in horror at his fallen egg, and stare, arms folded and face scowling like John Cleese as if to say "You! You have let me down!" When aided by some elder kids and another mistress he dissolved into tears. Well, this event went well for the class, and the little lass ran well till she saw Daddy and veered off towards me, forcing me to take a position behind the finish rope to help her get there. Hugs and kisses and shooing off to the arms of the teachers again. This was getting harrowing. Well, I know that my kid can run, as she was happily doing laps around an apartment for afternoons on end over the past two months and fatiguing her at-home parent. And yes, she came up with a few tricks. She ran the 40 meters dashingly and looked happy and saw Daddy and ended up in the middle of the field for an even better "winning position".

That was it for the little ones and no parents/child race for us. The youngest ones were trooped back to their class rooms and had a little more real schooling to suffer, sorry I mean do. One boy had had enough and on seeing a parent in mid-morning clearly had no idea why he was not going home; he bawled.

Do I want to go into the moral of day? No. Times have changed. Lots of Dads were there and the Mums that were there were not all stay-home types. I had noticed from my time as a football coach in the US that the mothers are more rabid fanatics, and it is also evident in Barbados. Do you really believe that winning a sack and skipping race or skip a hoola warrants sreaming and jumping all the way along?
Time management was on good show and BlackBerry-itis was evident, dare I say mainly amongst the women. When I picked my lass up at the regular time, she said she had had a great day (after "I don't want to go to school!") and really enjoyed the sports where "I ran and ran." Rest of the day was good too. She got to play with a class mate who lives a few house away now and they played happily all afternoon at the two houses. My girl's Mum came back from her business trip too, so all's right with the world.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Just grillin'

One of the nicest places we have found for simple food is Just Grillin', which is an open air restaurant opposite Accra Beach on the south coast, that provides good, hearty meals of grilled fish or chicken (grilled, BBQ or jerk) at very reasonable prices. We had our own sampling of just grilln' at home, but the kind that is meant to protect us from sleep walkers who want to climb through our windows.. This is really a continuation of yesterday's story, as our team arrived early in the afternoon, then found that they had set up the wrong fittings, and had to go back to the workshop. "Back in an hour, man." Well, 3 hours later, after going to St. Thomas and back, and getting hit by traffic, no doubt, the team was back. At first there had been 2, but for the real fitting, there were 4.

So they were all up in the bedroom, drillin' to put up the grillin'; dust everywhere and I had to suggest that standing on the window seat in dirty boots was not such a good idea. "But he ha' a bad toe!" They repainted as they went along, so it all looked neat. Miss Intelligent of course wanted to be in on the job, and "I want to work like them and paint, Daddy. Can I use this drill?" Fortunately, most people love little kids around their work to break up the monotony. So, I can sleep with the windows wide open, as I had been doing anyway, and know that any human intruder will have to be Houdini to get in. Birds and monkeys? Well, there very smart and can get past such obstuctions. Sweet dreams ahead.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Life in the service economy

Well, within less than 48 hours of moving, I get to sample life in the service economy. This is not going to be an attack of Bajan service workers, but that may come.

First, there was leaking gas in the kitchen and the people from Natural Gas got someone to the house as soon as possible, well they arrived 3 hours after I called. No problem with that, and luckily I had decided to take lunch before heading off to stock up on supplies. A nice pair of public sector workers, with smiling faces and politeness; one older man and a quite young looking partner, whom we nicknamed "Gaston, the gas man". They crawled under cupboards and lovingly splashed soapy water on copper pipes and rubber hosing, hoping to see bubbles, but no luck. So, we have to get someone to come and look at the oven itself. A little girl had fun taking pictures and trying to figure out what the men were doing with the bubbles.

We also had to entertain just ahead of them the crew (6, and I can't understand why so many) who were delivering our sea shipment; it had arrived several weeks ago but had to take a longer vacation at the port while we waited to move. They arrived what seems to be the customary one hour or more late and did not seem concerned: "We're here, aren't we?" I retorted that they should try doing that at an airport, but as I had to repeat it twice, I figured that they don't get it. Apart from that, they were a strange bunch of mainly older, feeble-looking men, with one younger fit-looking driver, who took his rests as soon and as often as he could. Maybe it's how they arrange things in that company but it looked odd that the old guys humped the boxes while the youngster shifted them around on the truck or goofed off. They also acted like they had never unloaded a shipment before and no matter how many times they were told they kept on putting boxes in the wrong places. Worse still, I had to point out that it was no good filling the kitchen with all the boxes of stuff for that area as we would not be able to move around! Same for some other rooms. A lot of "Duh!" It's always a shock to see how some people can hold down a job with what seems like no capacity to do it. After living in Africa for a while I understand that economic development is more than just about having skills.

Then, just after our super little run to the supermarket, the man and woman team to fix curtains arrived. I guess that if they had been a bit later they would have waited. So, we now have dapper drapes in most bedrooms.

Waiting for service people or having them show up unannounced is often how it goes and when you move it's no major surprises. We have a roof over our heads and food in the cupboard. The air is fresh and people think that we live in Paradise. The little person in the house is very happy to see her books and toys again and reconnecting with them will be an absorbing activity in coming weeks. That quickly put out of her mind the return to school, which had been a bit traumatic first thing this morning, but had soon passed as a regular day. Life is great when you are kid. That last sentiment hits me even harder as I just got a call from a former colleague who has just been fired after 11 years. He says that he will look at this as a positive development. Good for him!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Moving time

After spending 2 months in an apartment hotel, we moved to a house yesterday. The beach front location was nice for itself: great views and sometimes lovely sunsets. But it was not so good being on the top floor with a 3 year old. Truth is, the child dealt with it very well: she got to like the beach and paddling in the sea, though preferred the hotel's pool. Anyway, we knew it was temporary and could have had to deal with situations that were really much worse. The move took a while longer than expected: the movers ran out of boxes and using a small elevator to transport things was not helpful. But, no bad thing as that allowed some of final cleaning up at the house to be done completely. Everyone was doing their best and the movers were all good spirited as the day wore on.

We now feel more at ease in a house, with a garden to run around in, and space to enjoy. It's better to not always be in the midst of the tourists, and the south coast traffic and night life. We have traded the constant lapping of the waves for the rustling leaves as the wind courses through the trees. We have a lovely view of 3 different coloured frangipani trees. We also have other views to choose from, all of them with a nice framework of trees. The birds seem very at home and constantly take over the kitchen and the terrace during the day. The sound of the frogs at night is nice to us.

After a very short time, we seem to have a budding pianist, and we'll see if she can maintain that interest, to go with strumming the guitar. The ladies have already started to make good use of the swimming pool. We all looked forward to living away from the tourist strip down in Worthing, and being up on a ridge, even with no clear view of the ocean, allows us to enjoy some wonderful cool breezes most of the day.

Now we have to deal with the other realities of life in Barbados. School restarts tomorrow after nearly a month off for Easter and then the Cricket World Cup. Today is strangely quiet as the May Day holiday has seen almost all shops closed and traffic is very light. Tomorrow could be a brutal reawakening. We're located closer to school now, but there is still a lot of congestion to deal with in the morning. Anyway, we can try to take to heart some useful (?) advice in yesterday's paper: plan to leave earlier or later than usual!