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, August 29, 2007

Start them young: A twist on doubles tennis at the US Open

We watched Bahamian Mark Knowles and his Canadian partner, Daniel Nestor, make easy work of their 1st round men's doubles match. There were some spectacular plays at the net as usual, but also some superb serving and hitting from the #2 pair. But the highlight was really after the match. Usually, after the matches the players are escorted away by their security handlers and not seen again till next match day, or by chance on TV with a press conference. This time, in the early evening, the players hung around and chatted with family and friends. Mark then heard the call of his 2-year old son, Graham, who appeared with his mini racket, and wanted his dad to hit balls. Mark stopped everything to get his racket and ball and then did as his son requested. There is already a little similarity evident between the big and little Knowles, especially their smiles. So, remember, a few years from now that you saw the budding player here.

Rolle it, girl! A special day at the 2007 US Open Tennis

If you are involved in sports, you often wait for those days when you feel that you are witnessing something great, or someone who is bursting onto the scene. You may not be right, but the sense that this is happening is something special. Today, at Flushing Meadows, 22-year old, Ahsha Rolle, had one of those days. She had entered the tournament as a "wild card", being ranked as the world #109, and had already caused a major upset by beating the #17 seed in the tournament in the 1st round (see blog from August 28). Today, she played a 20-year old Italian, Karin Knapp, who is ranked #57 in the world, and won again. I focus on Ahsha mainly because, though listed as American, her family hail from The Bahamas (the islands of Exuma and Andros).

When Ahsha played on Monday, many things were different, not least the atmosphere, as she played on one of the outside courts, without all the hoopla that is associated with playing on the big stage "show" court. Today, she had to deal with the big stage, playing on the Grandstand court, and did so very well. This is not the place for a play-by-play analysis, but here is a flavour of the key parts of the match. After a rocky 1st set, which Ahsha lost 3-6, the 2nd set was tense and delicately poised at 3-2 in favor of Ahsha. The next game was for me the turning point, as the players fought to win and the score was tied at 40-40, 10 times, if I recall correctly, and the game seemed to go on for at least 10 minutes before Ahsha got the winning point. Ahsha wasted many chances but kept on getting help from her opponent's inability to serve well. When the game resumed, things remained tense and Ahsha tried everyone's hearts dearly by wasting more chances to win easily, though finally got the set at 6-4. The third set was equally tense, but one had the feeling that the Italian realized that she was up against an opponent who had found a deep conviction to win and it seemed clear that the tables had been turned.

When Ahsha won the final point of the set, she collapsed on the court and enjoyed her moment of glory sprawled alongside her racket, perhaps because the match had been over 2 1/2 hours (the longest women's match of the tournament so far).
She soon made the customary waves and started to enjoy the victory as she should. On Monday night, she had been ready to sign almost anything presented to her and had stayed on court a long time trying to satisfy the fans. This time, she was not allowed the same luxury, but she did a good amount of greeting and appreciated the well-wishers from The Bahamas, Barbados and Jamaica. Her parents, grandmother, other close relatives, coach and friends were there and understandably ecstatic.

Ahsha has a very tough 3rd round match ahead, against Russia's Dinara Safina, the #15 seed. One could say that nothing should be expected of Ahsha, but I'm beginning to wonder if we should expect much more of her. This could be her time to burst out.

Lessons from America? Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

When we look at America, especially a place like New York City, we tend to see a place where the constant motto is "It can be done and quickly". We got a vivid reminder of what that 24/7, never sleep, always ready aspect can mean, when we needed help to get into our apartment; within 30 minutes of calling a locksmith had raised himself from his sleep to come to let us in. The cost was less than a night in a hotel, no major crisis arose, and once again we ask ourselves if we can get the same approach in our Caribbean homelands. Barbados saw some of this readiness when a rescue team from Miami rushed to Barbados within hours to help with the problem of the apartment building that collapsed at the weekend.

But we know that this approach in the US does not make them immune from problems on a personal or national level, and not everything moves rapidly. Today is the 2nd anniversary of the landfall of Hurricane Katrina, the US's worst natural disaster; a tragedy from which New Orleans, other parts of Louisana, and America in general is still trying to rebuild physically and emotionally. Here, however, we see also an aspect of the US that will surprise: the progress of recovery seems to have been moving at a snail's pace. Fingers are pointed in many directions and the frustrations of those on the ground are very high and real. Are the various layers of government the problem? There still seems to be an astonishing lack of agreement between agencies about what to do. President Bush stands by statements that money is available, yet it seems not to be flowing. New Orleans Mayor, Ray Nagin, now sees the problems rising before his eyes as a new homeless "camp" is developing in front of City Hall. Homelessness has reportedly doubled since Katrina; rents have gone up by 30%. The problems are many and complex.

Disasters stretch humans and organizations to their limits, and often have a way of accelerating action and policy changes, but they also dash people's hopes and test their faith. As Barbados passes through a short period when a string of disasters have struck the island during the month of August alone--especially two tragic road accidents and last weekend an apartment building collapsing--many will be looking to see how government responds and what changes will be proposed and actually made. People also look to see whether these disasters reflect lack of action on the part of agencies or individuals. Will we see doors closing after the horses have bolted? It's too early to know how people's hopes and faith will be affected, whether they will have to endure frustrations and see slow progress in dealing with the problems. In this important, though limited area, let's see who between the US and Barbados can be the better teacher and learns lessons well.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Serving it up: Views from New York City

Over the next few days, I will be spending time at Flushing Meadows, New York, watching tennis at the US Open. Spending time abroad is always good for reflecting on things at home, wherever that happens to be. I am going to be more extensive over the next few days, but for the moment the post will be brief, as it is nearly 2am in the morning, and my day has ended with a little drama. We were locked out of the apartment where we are staying and had to summon a locksmith to open the door.

But I want to reflect briefly on what was served up today. The US Tennis Association celebrated the 50th anniversary of Althea Gibson's winning the US title with a show including local singers and marching band, Aretha Franklin, a parade of black American women who had been firsts in their fields, and fittingly followed that with two singles matches featuring the Williams sisters (see www.USopen.org for details). Beforehand, each had paid fitting tribute to the doors opened for them by Althea Gibson.

The day also saw a short parade of black tennis talent. Donald Young (an 18 year old American, who previously won the junior US Open, and this year won the junior title at Wimbledon) won his 1st round match, and showed that the recent run of good form may signal that he is now ready to be a real player on the senior circuit. Ahsha Rolle (see photo; an American of Bahamian parentage, ranked #109 in the world, getting a wild card entry and never before getting past a Grand Slam 1st round) beat Tatiana Golovin, seeded #17, ranked in the world's top 20). Could she do a Marion Martoli in the US Open? Scoville Jenkins, from Georgia, played well but lost to Roger Federer. No surprise!

There is no one playing singles at the tournament who is a true product of the Caribbean. Mark Knowles, a Bahamian, is a doubles specialist, and is ranked very highly with his Canadian partner. Ryan Sweeting, also Bahamian by birth, but studying in the US and choosing to represent the US, is a young promising player. As I watched the match involving Donald Young, I met one of Barbados' best tennis coaches, Sydney Lopez, and asked him what it would take to produce players to compete at the highest levels. He merely remarked "US$150,000 a year". That kind of backing does not seem to come forward readily in the region. We ought to take a look at the talent we have in the region and wonder if we are letting a set of good assets go to waste, not just in tennis but across a range of sports.

The Americans showed how they can put on major events, and I have to admit that at many times during the day, I reflected on the experiences with Cricket World Cup, and wondered how we seemed to be all at sea over some of the logistics, knowing that there is so much expertise available to help put on big sporting events. Admittedly, a large part of it comes down to budget and what the customers expect, and for what they are willing to pay.

I'll try to tackle some of these points and other things with more energy over the coming days.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Off the island: Britton Hill disaster

I left Barbados on Saturday and was not planning to blog for a few days. But I have read the news yesterday of an apartment collapsing into a cave in Brittons Hill, and five members of a family missing. I will point you to Barbados Free Press, Barbados Underground, and other blogs for up to the moment reports, which so far seem very thorough.

Sending prayers to those involved and those trying to help.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Thinking about the issues: the example of foreign investment

The past few days have seen some interesting discussions on various Barbadian blogs about foreign investments and what they may or may not bring to the island. What they highlight for me is that issues are rarely cut and dried, and that there appear to be some real efforts to get beyond the surface of the issues. I like the piece I read today on Notes from the Margin blog(entitled "Barbados and Foreign Investment",see link), which tries to identify how aspects of foreign investments may or may not benefit the domestic economy. This adds useful points to consider made on another blog, Barbados Underground (entitled "Going, Going And The West Coast Of Barbados Is Gone!", see link). These discussions were spurred by a Middle Eastern news report (see http://www.menafn.com/) of a recent visit to Barbados by a Saudi prince, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, chairman of Kingdom Holding Company, to discuss investment opportunities in the tourism sector.

One of the roles of a good, free press, is to be able to sense where in the issues of the day they need to go and dig deeper for the good of the public knowledge. Investigative journalism is not an easy task and there may be social and institutional blocks that stop it being a common feature of the mainstream press. A mark of a mature democracy is the fact that the press is broadly free, and reporters are generally able to work to pursue stories with a large degree of physical and literary liberty. When such investigative journalism seems to be lacking, the door is opened wider for those who are not part of the mainstream press who are prepared to press the tough questions, and do so until they get satisfactory answers. Even where investigative journalism is well established and known to be of very high quality, there is still plenty of space for others to probe, and the Internet has made that task much easier.

Having spent much of my life in the UK or US, I am accustomed to difficult questions being raised without the messenger always having to beware that there could be reprisals for even raising an issue. Some of the comments I have had on my blog suggest that in Barbados a good number of people feel that to raise questions is to open oneself up to a possible reprisals. Nevertheless, I hope that people in Barbados will see this probing as a normal part of what is needed to get a wider and better understanding of problems. Not all of those who write and comment are in a good position to then provide the answers. But probing should also help in getting at the information. I remember being told when I first went to work: "We don't expect you to have the answers, but we do expect you to know what are the right questions".

One of the questions to think about is why foreign individuals and enterprises who have the choice of where to invest their money choose to invest in Barbados, and are the factors that make Barbados attractive legitimate and sustainable. Two related question come from this. First, if the environment is right for foreign investors is it the same for residents? Second, if Barbadians have funds available, are they investing in the island, consuming or are they saving, and why are they making these choices? Food for thought over the weekend.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Trying to embrace Africa

I have written a post on my other blog, Caribbean Comment, which poses some questions about the challenge of embracing Africa, spurred by the upcoming Bicentennial Global Dialogue conference, due to start in Barbados on August 23.

Also, technical problems with Blogger are preventing me from posting as I wish on this site.

Monday, August 20, 2007

What is blogging about?

I read last week a post from another Bajan blogger, Doan mind me, who wondered if blogging was dead. I think the post touches a point for many who blog, which is can the process be kept up and stay fresh? I am not going to take issue with the blogger, Jdid, but would offer the thought that people have things to say and blogging is a way to do that and share with a wider audience than ever before. New tools are being developed all the time and being an instant publisher is very simple.

No doubt, it's hard to create good content. However, the value of each person's contribution can be seen with stories such as that of, Miles Levin, a teenage cancer sufferer who blogged for the past two years from hospital in Michigan, who died yesterday (see report; the hospital website is http://www.carepages.com/ and the blog can be found by searching for LevinStory). As the report quotes from his blog, Miles wanted to "...leave behind a legacy of victory. Dying is not what scares me; it's dying having had no impact. I know a lot of eyes are watching me suffer; and -- win or lose -- this is my time for impact." Sure, for some of the 15,000 bloggers who were responding to Miles, it could be like a reality TV program, and many people could get a chance to be closer to the subject by sharing what they are living. Whatever else is going on with society, people still seem to want to reach out to each other, especially in times of need. Blogging allows that to happen easily, and I like it for that reason, amongst others.

Some of the local bloggers have been discussing recently the impact their blogs may be having on local political decisions, and that is an interesting debate, though it's hard to know what one can prove. It's clear that many people now turn to the Internet as their prime source of information. The well-established news sites such as CNN and the BBC tend to have a reputation for comprehensive coverage, but as we have seen over the past few days, these news services also turn to bloggers to try to fill out information. They do this whether or not they have local reporters. Bloggers have developed a reputation for "telling it like it is", so at critical times, the major news services know that the "official" reports may want to down play some of what is going on for various reasons. Blogs tend to respond quite fast to events as they develop, even if many blogs are not "news" oriented. Bloggers are not necessarily neutral or objective, but they seem to have begun to fill a number of gaps in supplying information.

I was fascinated to see what has happened to this site over the past week, as the hurricane season got a full head of steam. Visits and page views have increased four to five fold. While Barbados represented about 25-30 percent of visitors before, now about 40 percent come from the UK and 30 percent from the US, and the Barbados audience share fell to 5 percent. I imagine that many people living outside the region but with Caribbean connections have been trying their best to get coverage of developments that could be affecting families and friends. It will be interesting to see if that readership size and structure are sustained beyond the hurricane season. In the meantime, I will continue to welcome all new readers and hope that they can get a different insight as a result of what they read.

Blogging raises some complicated issues about freedom of expression. The tendency for bloggers and commentators to prefer anonymity suggests that the general feeling is that freedom of expression has a price and that "reprisals" are possible. These need not come from any authority; they can come in the form of harsh and obscene reactions to posts or comments. I can understand the search for anonymity more when I read some blogs, which take tough or very critical stances, but when I see it on some simple, apparently noncontroversial blogs, it makes me think. Some of the need for cover must reflect that some bloggers are hiding identities from their employers. This desire for self-protection is rarely seen in the established media such as newspapers, magazines of TV; it occurs on radio call-in shows. There's a lot of food for thought in the freedom of expression issue and it's worth pondering more. But not today.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Hurricane Dean Blog

The Jamaican Gleaner has a hurricane blog running (see link), for those who wish to follow events as reported by a range of Gleaner reporters. The picture, borrowed from the blog, shows some of the devastation in Kingston. You'll read that some people still seem to act as if the hurricane will not pose serious risks to their lives.

The brunt of the storm (which is still at category 4) seems to have so far been felt on the southern part of the island, especially Kingston. But let's see how the rest of the night develops.

Hoping that Jamaica can come away with less than a total battering.

Chinese Whispers and Arithmetic 101: The Four Seasons Project

The saga of the Four Seasons luxury resort project takes on another twist. Today's Sunday Sun reports and interview with Michael Pemberton and Robin Paterson, executive directors of the developers, Cinnamon 88, talking about dealing with the labour shortage. (The picture shows Mr. Pemberton with a plan of the project.) The project is now two months behind schedule, with the search still on to find the 200 workers needed to start this US$ 380 million project. This search has already created a huge furore about "cheap labour" when it was discovered that many Chinese workers were already on site and working, apparently without having properly completing the process for work permits. We now read that 57 Chinese and 33 Barbadians are employed. By December the project is supposed to need 500 workers, and 800 by the time that peak construction is reached in mid-2008.

Several aspects of how the project has reached such an unhappy state regarding its search for workers are hard to understand. Now we have to struggle with another possible confusion, or cause for concern. I have to wonder if the smoke and mirrors are getting too much. Like the game of Chinese Whispers, perhaps things get lost in the retelling. The paper reports that job adverts have gone out locally and regionally. It reports that "In June, the developers received 40 applications, with 34 people being interviewed. Of these, 22 were successful." It then adds that Labour Department officers were present for the interviews. Mr. Paterson is quoted as saying: "More than 50 per cent of the people who came for interview are working in Barbados illegally...We agreed with the Labour Department that we will only employ those who are legal."

Now if at least 18 people interviewed were illegal, leaving no more than 16 legal, how could the company employ 22? What did the Labour Department do about the 18 plus people who were found to be working illegally in Barbados? Perhaps the reporter will offer more information subsequently. In the meantime, I imagine that more skeptism will be raised about what is really going on. With the best will in the world, it's hard to say that anyone has a clear idea of what officials and the company are really doing.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Jamaica prepares for Hurricane Dean

While we in Barbados seem to have avoided the full brunt of Hurricane Dean, its path has caused a range of problems and deaths in neighbouring islands, especially in St. Lucia, Dominica and Martinique. For us, the force of the hurricane was a mere category 2 on the Saffir-Simpson scale (winds between 96-110 miles/ an hour). But the storm has gained strength as it heads north, and is likely to reach category 5 (winds over 155 miles/249/154-177 kilometers an hour). Its eye seems to be headed directly for Jamaica, which is already under a hurricane warning (meaning expected within the next 24 hours). Haiti and the Dominican Republic may escape the eye, which may then pass toward Mexico's Yucatan (which could impose new havoc on an area heavily damaged just two years ago by Hurricane Wilma). We focus a lot on the English speaking Caribbean, but we need to remember that we are one region, despite language and cultural differences.

From what my father tells me, people are making the best preparations they can in Jamaica. CNN reports that shoppers are rushing to supermarkets for groceries and essentials such as batteries, stocking up on gasolene and kerosene; Air Jamaica and American Airlines have added flights to try to accommodate those wanting to leave the island.

Jamaica has a long history with hurricanes. The Joyous Jamaica website indicates that there have been around 66, counting from the 16th century. That's plenty for one small country to have to deal with. Gilbert (1988) and Ivan (2004) are the most recent, but many will remember others, including the series during the 1930s.

Praying for everyone in Jamaica and hoping that Dean turns and unleashes itself not directly over the island.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Hurricane Dean may soon be beating at the door

Hurricane Dean does not look set to hit Barbados directly, but is predicted to pass about 90-100 miles to the north during the next 12-24 hours. But, lots of precautions have been taken in anticipation of perhaps storm force winds and heavy rain. At home, all of our shutters are down and windows closed, movable objects are indoors, and we hope that neighbours have done something similar. The airport closes at 9pm tonight and should reopen at 9am tomorrow; flights by the US airlines had already been cancelled from earlier in the day. Lots of business closed in mid-afternoon and road works were suspended and warning signs removed, in case they became missiles in the expected high winds. Reports indicated that people were rushing to hardware and grocery stores to stock up on essential provisions. Category 1 shelters were advised to open.

News reports indicate Dean had sustained winds, which strengthened to 100 miles per hour midafteroon today, taking it past the 96-miles per hour threshold for a Category 2 hurricane. Its center is forecast to pass the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe by tomorrow morning, and Dominica could also be in the eye. Some experts suggest that it could become a Category 4 hurricane (meaning sustained winds between 131-155 miles per hour). The hurricane can be tracked on Weather.com)

Ironically, our family visitors from The Bahamas left yesterday afternoon with our my little daughter (to spend a few weeks there), and we hope and pray that the hurricane does not catch them up north.

Some of the other Barbadian blogs are following the storm closely (especially Notes from the Margin). One of the blogs (Barbados Underground) noted that CNN had contacted them and was looking for a Bajan blogger to do a web cam interview with Anderson Cooper this evening; they had declined and suggested David Ellis (a journalist, who moderates "Down to Brass Tacks"). It will be interesting to see how the North America news develops its view of a "crisis" on the island.

Praying that everyone here remains safe over the next few days, and hoping that the other islands either escape or are well enough prepared. Hurricane seasons comes around every year, but each time it's a different roller coaster ride.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Let's hear it for heritage tourism

As Caribbean countries strive to find new products to market, other than sun, sea, sand, and romance, I hope that they will give serious thought and support to exploiting the rich history that exists in the region.

Professor Henry Fraser (Dean of the School of Clinical Medicine and Research, UWI, and former president of the Barbados National Trust) wrote in The Nation of June 17, 2007 about heritage tourism. His focus was on the "...wealth of fine buildings throughout the island exemplifying the highest order in architectural design and building craftsmanship" and making the clear argument that preservation of buildings could offer economic gains. He lists seven wonders of Barbados, which include St Nicholas Abbey, The Historic Garrison complex (including George Washington House), Sunbury Plantation House, The Jewish Synagogue, Tyrol Cot and its Heritage Village, The Morgan Lewis Mill (see picture), Gun Hill Signal Station. There are several others which Professor Fraser thinks worthy of mention and other Bajans would also have their choices for the seven and more, including the Parliament Buildings. Anyone who has seen these sights would agree that they are magnificent examples of well maintained architectural structures.

But my argument is not about the list. I think that Barbados has exceptional historical heritage that could be exploited as part of a structured set of sites for domestic and foreign visitors. It should include as many of the great houses as exist, the many disused windmills (whose restoration could also warrant a very worthwhile set of projects, that could use and develop construction skills), Codrington College, Sam Lord's Castle and more. Part of the challenge is to make these sites real and deal with what they represent in the birth and development of a nation and a region. It means going over and seeking to represent what was the slave economy origins of this country and region. It may be a painful project to construct, but it is one that is overdue. If the Holocaust can become a feature, then so too can slavery. Many of us are confused or ignorant about slavery and this would be an opportunity to help put some of the facts together in a way that would be tangible and interesting to old and young, resident and visitor.

In other Caribbean countries this is being undertaken, for instance in Dominica with the restoration of Fort Shirley by Dr. Lennox Honychurch (who ironically went to The Lodge School in Barbados). (See Dr. Honychurch's website).

PM Owen Arthur reportedly promised earlier this year that the houses of the country's leaders and those of slaves "can and will be restored" for future generations (see The Nation, January 14, 2007). This commitment came when he opened the George Washington house. He also reportedly "committed Government to reconstructing and establishing the entire Garrison area as a heritage site".

I read gladly at the weekend (see The Advocate, August 12), that the Director of the Barbados Museum Historical Society (Allisandra Cummins) has been discussing opening new museums, including a museum of parliament, a Living Sugar Museum, Marine Museum and more. Legislation to provide a basis for future preservation of heritage, which has been in development since the mid-1990s (why so long?), is nearly complete and just awaits passage by parliament.

I read with shock and despair that over this past weekend the 300 year old graveyard in an Historic Moravian Church had been destroyed by bulldozers (see Barbados Free Press story). The report highlights that "The Moravian Church Grand View cemetery has been the subject of an ongoing legal action in the Barbados courts since 1999". Presumably one party could not wait any longer for the slow legal process to work its course! Whoever one would wish to blame, I hope there is provision in the legislation mentioned above to compel developers to treat known and designated historical sites with due respect and care. But it's just a hope.

Across the region more needs to be done to preserve the historical realities of our past, even though we know they may evoke bitter memories. The Caribbean Tourism Organization has a consultant currently drafting a plan that would offer a model framework for developing heritage tourism. The report should be available before the end of 2007. No country will be obliged to follow this framework so we will have to see how this will sit with the various national strategies that are being developed.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Brighton Farmers' Market

The Brighton Plantation is located in St. George, dates from the 17th century, and is run by Michael and Alison Pile. From early every Saturday morning the Piles host a "farmers market", where you can get good quality fruit and vegetables at very competitive prices. The open air market begins at 6.30am, and closes around 10am. Produce is from local farmers as well as from the plantation. While some would say that a trip to Cheapside Market in Bridgetown would give similar bargains, Brighton is more than just a market for fresh produce. There are stall holders who provide breakfast items (fish and bake, spring rolls, breads, croissants, fresh juices, etc), and the Piles have their answer to Starbucks, with "Pilebucks" fresh coffee! Arts, crafts, jams, and sauces are also available. You may also find some gourmet stalls selling British sausages and fine cheeses.

But Brighton Market is also a social gathering place. The main eating area has picnic tables, a small climbing set for small children, and a good hill for them to run down. In the shade of the flamboyant tree, there is a lot of meeting and greeting, and the children love playing with the flamboyant pods ("shak shaks"). The crowd at Brighton's clearly has a lot of long standing regulars. I met a lady today who said she has been going there every week since it opened some 6-7 years ago.

Brighton's visitors are a mixture of white and black Bajans (somewhat more whites), and non-Bajans (including many white expatriates--the Canadian High Commissioner is a regular--and blacks from other islands who are now resident in Barbados, plus a good number of visitors to the island). Everyone tends to be at their friendliest even from the earliest hour, and many regulars are very quick to introduce themselves and greet new visitors.

Many foreigners like the market because it's very similar to those that have sprung up in urban areas of North America, or which have been going in Britain and Europe for even longer. Bajans like it for all that it offers. I like the fish and bake prepared by the group from Living Waters. Everyone really enjoys the view across the countryside, and it's one of those place in Barbados that truly resembles England.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Weathering the storms

This was not the scene in Bridgetown yesterday, but shows a man jumping into floodwater in India, swollen from the effects of monsoon weather in Asia (courtesy of Associated Press, see CNN report). The tropical wave that hit Barbados yesterday and dumped heavy rains on the island are a sharp reminder of how delicate is the balance in the environment, and that we need to keep an eye on extreme weather. Today's local papers (see The Nation, August 8) signal once again the concerns that are always there. When there is a long spell of dry weather, we see the threat of drought, withered crops, and higher food prices. When there is heavy rain, we see the threat of floods, crops that cannot be harvested or will spoil, and possible higher food prices. We already import large amounts of foods amongst other things, and we can already sense that despite urgings that this tendency be curbed, it is not a simple matter.

Those of us who are not experts but are concerned search for guidance from the "experts". But consistently we find that the "experts" cannot agree about what is going on. Is global warming the real problem? What can we do to change our behaviours to reduce the risks? When I try to find out more I end up confused.

The experts are failing to agree about the causes of extreme weather. Researchers Greg J. Holland and Peter J. Webster concluded that the increases coincided with rising sea surface temperature, largely the byproduct of human-induced climate warming. However, after these findings were published online this Sunday by Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, an official at the National Hurricane Center called the research "sloppy science" and said technological improvements in observing storms accounted for the increase.

So what should we do? Something or nothing? We in small countries are not so much of the problem if this is man-made. But we can suffer enormously from man-made changes that affect the world's climate. A large part of our economic existence depends on the benefits that nature has given us. If we believe that man-made changes are causing the bulk of the climatic changes we need to make sure that our small voices start to be heard much more. Even so, that may not make the big countries take notice, but at least we can say that we tried to make them take notice. This is an effort that governments need to push, but it is also an effort that needs to be pushed from a broader section of the population.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Crop over

Today, we went to our first Kadooment Day celebration (see link for a good history and pictures). Kadooment marks the end of the Crop Over season, which in its origins was all about celebrating the end of the sugar cane season. Crop Over's origins are far in the background for most people, who use the weeks of Crop Over to fete big time (ie, make party) and then play mas' (ie jump up, wind up, and wuk up to the beat of the Soca music that has been released for the season). Rain started in the middle of the morning, and made for a much cooler day for everyone. The rain did not dampen the spirits of the mascaraders. If anything, it gave them reason to put out even more energy.

Kadooment is a full day affair and the start at the National Stadium in the morning is good to see all the bands, but it's tame compared to going on the street or jumping behind a truck into the night. There is plenty of colour to see in the stadium but much less atmosphere and energy. Also, the descriptions of the costumes start to wear thin after the first few bands have passed.

We went to various parties, and pre-parties, over the weekend, having a good time and seeing the different ways that people lime during the Crop Over season. Luckily, we have made friends with Bajans and people who have lived here a long time and are ready to include us in some of these social events. Our visitors from The Bahamas and Belgium get to taste some of this too.

We spent some time over the weekend arguing about the cultural content of Kadooment compared to Junkanoo (see link), which is a similar street event that takes place in The Bahamas (principally, in Nassau) over the Christmas and New Year period. I think every one of the Caribbean countries has strong feelings about its main people-in-the-streets event, whether Carnival, Kadooment, or Junaknoo or whatever. A lot of effort and energy is put in by all involved. In Barbados and Trinidad, for instance, costumes are mainly made for the performers to buy and wear. In The Bahamas, most performers spend a good amount of time making their own costumes (see picture of performer in Nassau).Each event has its own cultural richness, which comes from what people put into their part of the event (participating on the street or supporting from the side). It's funny, though, that the events seem to be mired in some sort of controvery each year, wherver they are held. In Nassau, one of the major controversies each year is about the judging. The festivals are also developing. Junkanoo costumes are essentially paper (now crepe) and card. Traditionalists may still feel that the event has good very far from its origins by moving from fringed newspaper, to now include beads, glitter, and feathers. If the style is to have costumes made for sale, so be it; this may give more people a chance to do what they want rather than finding scarce time to do another activity. It also creates another industry and that could be a benefit down the road (so to speak) when one thinks about ways of marketing the region's culture. Both events are now very colourful and energetic, and still manage to get a lot of people out of their homes to watch or jump each year. Junkanoo is also different in that the bands have their own music (with drums, horns and cow bells, which give the parade a very different kind of energy as the bands pass the crowds).

One thing that surprised me was seeing the Blue Box Cart band. This band was made up predominantly of over 1,000 white people (see clip below from a 2006 video); the band has been around for some 35 years. It put in front of the audience again one of those realities of Barbados, which is separation of the races. Given that Barbados' population is between 90-95 percent black, seeing predominantly black groups would not be a surprise.

This year 23 bands took part in Kadooment (29 last year), with an estimated 12,000 people. Blue Box Cart is one of several very large bands, with some 1,200 members. The largest band was reportedly Baje International, with 1,600, followed by Power By 4, with 1,500. All bands are being hit by soaring costs. Kadooment costume sales are estimated to be B$ 3.6 billion. It costs about B$ 300-390 for a costume; then a music truck reportedly costs B$ 10,000 (a lot of non-performers are needed to make the show run well). About 200 members are needed to make a good band, but 300-400 is probably better. However, the high costs have apparently put some long-standing veteran organizers on the brink of quitting (see report in The Nation, July 29).

Crop Over is a major event for Barbados and from a short time here it's clear that it brings in lots of visitors from elsewhere in the Caribbean, with or without Bajan roots. Some make the visit a ritual and no amount of inconvenience seems to deter them, as one Trini man told me after he had to island hop because he could get no direct flight. The music and events generate lots of fun, and visitors seem to be very glad to be part of these festivities. Only ten months to go till next year's events!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Another tragic road accident kills four

Just two days after the horrific bus crash, which killed six people, another accident occurred on August 1, when a small van collided with a minibus on the west coast road, at Mullins, St. Peter. Four members of one family (a mother, two daughters and a niece), in the van, died.

I have no particular comment at this time, other than a sense of numbness when I look at the result of the crash in the form of the overturned vehicle (picture courtesy of The Nation). Again, my sympathies go to the families and friends who are now grieving. It has been a brutal few days on this island.

What can you say about LIAT?

I was tempted last week to write a stinging article about LIAT, and the "terrorism" one suffers in flying with them in the region. Admitted, I am not a frequent flyer with LIAT, but had the sad experience of using the airline over two days to make a return trip between Barbados and Antigua. My departure from Barbados was one hour late, and my return to Barbados was two hours late. The apologies sounded hollow and people's reactions at the airports before the announced delays and after suggest that this is a common occurrence. This is a huge cost on travellers and the economy of this region.

I am going to put my intended article on hold for the moment, pending a response from LIAT's customer service regarding details of the company's performance over the past few years. I will admit that I am not optimistic about a reply, because the e-mail I sent from LIAT's website bounced back with a message that it could not be delivered. I hope that this is not how the company deals with customer complaints.

I have just seen the recent reports about new investment plans for the company, as well as the threatened LIAT pilots' strike. For the latest possible tail spin for the company, see an article in today's Barbados Free Press, written by Adrian Loveridge. I used the BFP picture, and hope that is ok with them. It seems so fitting.

My contribution to the discussion is to ask what is in a name? The way that a company is mocked tells you something about what people truly feel. I may be wrong, but companies that seem to be on track with customers are referred to with few comic cracks. So, given that my one day episode with LIAT, I would love to hear some of the "affectionate" terms used for it, I share here the better ones, which I picked up in one day's flying and hope to hear from others more endearing terms.

Leave Island Any Time
Luggage In Another Terminal
Lost between Antigua and Trinidad.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Eating too much conch?

My wife, a Bahamian, screamed with horror when she read in The Nation (see July 21 edition) a story about how Bajans are eating up all the conch on the island. As the report noted, it may be related to the popularity of the song by the same name by Li'l Rick, which is heard regularly during the Crop Over season. Anyway, the delicacy is apparently "moving quickly from the shelves". She shivered when she read about a "dish in a pickle form", and wondered what the people were doing that it "takes 45 minutes to clean [conch]". They should go to Nassau and get some training, she yelled. Truth is, we had discovered conch served on this island just a few weeks ago, in a cooked form. General verdict: tough, not very tasty; waste of a good conch.

In the Bahamas, people love conch! Fresh, uncooked conch is delicious when prepared in one of the traditional Bahamian ways. One favourite ("scored" or "scorched conch") has the conch meat scored with a knife, and lime (and sometimes orange) juice, onions, tomatoes, celery, sweet pepper, fresh hot pepper are sprinkled over the meat. "Conch salad" is similar, but the conch is diced. But there is also conch chowder; conch fritters (see picture, where it accompanied by the traditional dip); stewed conch; steamed conch; and conch pasta (which I personally have never had). Conch can also be deep-fried ("cracked conch", shown here with French fries). In Jamaica, we have also added curried conch (one of the many dishes at spots like Little Ochie).

Conch reputedly has amazing aphrodisiac properties. Now, why should that make it popular? But, now that this is out in the open so to speak, it could put a rush on ahead of the last days of Crop Over. Still much wuk fi do. But, while Bajans are wuking themselves up over conch, we have to say that they not eating the real t'ing, man.

The article mentions that the Barbados' Ministry of the Environment and UWI researchers are studying conch habitation areas. They better work fast as I fear that they molluscs may start crawling north to the colder waters of the Bahamas, where they know that they will be met with open mouths, if not open arms.

Emancipation Day

All of us who are the descendants of African slaves in the former British Empire should remember August 1, as the day when our ancestors were legally liberated with the abolition of slavery. (This really occurred in 1838 (not 1834, as cited by sources like Wikipedia). Parliament gave liberation in two stages: slaves became "apprentices" in 1834 but were obligated to work full-time for their masters without pay, for six years, which was shortened to four after extensive strikes, marches and demonstrations in the Caribbean.)

The history of Europe's slave trade with Africa is complex and very emotional. For a very good lesson on all that slavery entailed and the struggle for its abolition, I recommend Bury the Chains, by Adam Hochschild (see review). It is particularly illuminating on the role of the British MP, William Wilberforce, whose name is most closely associated with the abolition. He was indeed the politician who guided the laws through the British Parliament. However, according to Hochschild's account, he was not the prime mover in this process. That credit should go to amongst others Thomas Clarkson, who was a tireless organizer and searcher of information against the slave trade. Clarkson was belated acknowledged in 1996 for his role with a plaque in his honour in Westminster Abbey, somewhat less than the statue of Wilberforce, which was erected in the 1840s! Another main player was John Newton (who also wrote the song "Amazing Grace"). The Quaker movement also should get their share of the credit.

The latest twist in the emotions is discussion of reparations for the descendants. I wont discuss that topic today. But in thinking about it, I will ponder the role of the Anglican Church, which was one of the prime plantation and slave owners in the Caribbean (in Barbados, the Codrington estate in the east was a very good example). I will also ponder the role of Africans, who were indeed the important element of the supply of slaves.