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**

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Rihanna needs help

I heard at St. Matthias Church this morning that a 2 year old, Rihanna Alleyne, who attends Sunday school there, has had to be taken to England to receive treatment for a bad liver. A transplant is needed but donors are scarce, so another procedure will be used, hoping that this works well. The family needs 100,000 pounds sterling (the equivalent of B$400,000) to cover the costs. Parishioners have given generously at several collections. However, if everyone in Barbados gave a mere B$2, the cost would be easily covered. If Barbados' more famous Rihanna (Robin Fenty--see official website) offered a small portion of her earnings, I'm sure that would easily make a huge contribution to the needs of the Alleyne family.

I am not a spokesman for either the Alleyne family or for St. Matthias Church, but felt a strong irony when I heard of the needs of little Rihanna Alleyne and thought of the help, which every Barbadian could offer.

Have a healthy heart

Today (September 30) is World Heart Day. Heart disease and stroke is the world's largest killer, claiming 17.5 million lives each year. The World Heart Foundation (see link) will be sponsoring a host of events worldwide. Their theme this year is “Team Up for Healthy Hearts!”. World Heart Day activities include free screenings, walks, runs, jump rope sessions, fitness events, public talks, scientific forums, exhibitions, concerts, sports tournaments and much more.

In Barbados, The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Barbados is also helping to celebrate World Heart Day and started this morning with a thanksgiving service at St. Matthias Church, in Hastings. The Foundation also has Heart & Stroke Week, and the activities can be found of their website (see link). There will be an open day on October 2. The Foundation is always in need of general support so this would be a good week to get to know a little more about what it does, help out in whatever way you can, and start to make changes in life style that can help reduce the risk of heart-related illnesses.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Talking rubbish again

I have written previously on this blog about what seems to be a total confusion about what to do about waste in Barbados (see link). Now I see in today's Advocate that the Sanitation Service Authority's (SSA) Engineer says that "greater measures must be employed by Barbadians to reduce the quantity of waste entering land-fills". Similar sentiments were apparently uttered by the so-called Solid Waste Project Unit. Useful figures: 1000 tonnes go to the Mangrove Pond Land-fill in St. Thomas every day. Of that, 7% is metal, 16% plastic, 24% paper/paperboard, 6% construction and demolition waste, textiles account for 6%, and organic matter accounts for 30%. Thus, almost all of the garbage is recyclable, and the authorities know this. But, clearly, the public do not know, or do not know where to put recyclables other than in the regular trash.

Other than telling people to "set it aside" and do composting, I have not heard or read of anything that helps people move ahead after setting things aside. I have mentioned a private company (B's Bottles) who take most glass and plastic beverage bottles, aluminium cans, and other plastic containers. B's want to take other material but that must await an expansion of their plant. The one company that used to take newspaper told me some months ago that they get adequate supplies from the newspaper publisher and have stopped taking from the public because they do not have demand for the recycled material (which was used to make chicken litter), so what can one do? If I fill my yard with recyclables that I have "set aside" I will have a house looking like a land-fill in no time! I know that having the regular garbage collector take the waste has proved to be the most workable solution in most countries, where household recylables are separated and collected by different trucks. Composting is fine if you have a garden, and are an active gardener. One other alternative is to have municipal sites to take organic waste. In some US urban counties, one can take leaves, tree debris, grass cutting, etc to such sites, which do the composting. In return, one can take away for free ready composted material. As I wrote before, solutions are there so I want to hear more that platitudes about setting recyclables aside.

Another downside to not organizing recycling is that people make sport of littering the place. Drive along any road in Barbados, on any day and count the number of bottles and cans on the roadside and in bushes. It's a large number. Remember, that all of these can be recycled in return for cash. Occasionally, I see people walking along collecting the debris, and making a little business for themselves. That's fine as far as it goes, but that does not cover everywhere. Add to that the polystyrene food containers, which now seem to adorn roadsides instead of flowers, and you see quickly that a significant amount of people dont know or care are what to do with garbage.

I have spoken to people running a few hotels and some of them are also at a loss to know what to do with recyclable waste. The very few that have some sort of eco-friendly program are light years ahead.

So, whatever the government agencies are doing they ain't doing much, at least the figures suggest that. Now, what would happen if you tied SSA's and Solid Waste Project Unit remuneration to success in getting the recyclable percentages down to say half? Interesting thoughts over the weekend!

Chaos for lack of information

One thing that is a great irritant in Barbados is figuring out what to do in any given circumstances. This could be in part of a problem of being relatively new in a place, but there is more to it here. I have travelled extensively and have figured out many things quickly in countries where I do not know the language, because there are clear signs, or public information is "user friendly" and easy to find. Or there is enforcement of rules, which means that one learns them at least by experience. You must have a ticket for public transport and there inspectors to check. Or, it is an offence to disobey traffic signals and there are often officials present to apply sanctions.

In Barbados, a perverse pleasure seems to come from things being without explanation, or one is left feeling vague; or it is taken for granted that one has a lot of local knowledge. I will give one recent example of this. I received a notice from the postman that a package had arrived for me from overseas, and that I needed to collect it in person, from "Parcel Post GPO", as stamped on the form. The form gives no address or means of contact such as an official's title, or institution's telephone number or e-mail address. So, I have to search in the phone directory to find out where this place is located. The directions that I was given presumed over the phone presumed that I knew Bridgetown well and could find the GPO from a certain place. I found it, with the help of my wife's driver. I should have had concerns when I looked at the form, which indicated that duty may be payable in dollars and cents, or pounds and pence. From what I recall, Barbados moved away from pounds, shillings and pence in the late 1960s! My advice to the Barbados Postal Service, which is I guess what used to be the General Post Office or GPO: you need to move into the 21st century in terms of public communications.

This lack of knowing what to do is what spurs a lot of the frustration on hears on the radio. I hear a lot of complaints about how unehelpful public instutions are: people often cite horror stories of how they had to walk a mine field of rudeness, inaccuracy, and other poor service when they deal with government departments. I heard on a radio call-in program yesterday a plea for the town planning department to have a public relations office, which would give one consistent set of answers to people's question about land use and proper procedure. The caller indicated that depending on which official was contacted, the information given was different. That could reflect great inefficiency, or it could be a state of utter confusion, or it's a don't care attitude. Maybe there is a sense of superiority in the public service, which has within it a sense that it is NOT about public service. Message to those in government offices, performing PUBLIC SERVICE: remember that your task is to SERVE THE PUBLIC.

My third example deals with road traffic. I have seen recently several major junctions where the lights have been set to either flashing red for both directions, or flashing yellow for one direction and flashing red for another; this I have seen outside rush hours but I don't know if they are also set that way for rush-hours. Clearly, drivers here do not know what to do in such circumstances. In the UK and US, the red light means stop, even when flashing. So, flashing reds at a cross roads mean everyone stops before proceededing. In the US, for flashing red in both directions, the rule is first-come-first served, so there is a clear sequence of which vehicles should proceed and when. Of course, when the lights are set up like that drivers are normally reminded on the radio or local TV, and sometime, police are at the major junctions just in case. Flashing yellow means proceed with caution, you have priority, but look out; those with flashing red need to give way to those who face flashing yellow. What I have seen here is whoever is coming fastest continues, and no particular rule seems to apply. I have heard nothing on the radio giving advice or reminders, and I see no one monitoring the junctions. I have seen many near crashes, and lots of irate drivers cursing each other. So, message to those responsible for traffic control: explain to the people what they are supposed to do, before there is no terrible accidents at one of these junctions.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Tourism anyone?

Today (September 27) is World Tourism Day, and tourist havens such as Barbados will no doubt be feeling proud to celebrate the things that tourism has allowed small countries to do. Not surpisingly, Barbados' local papers have flagged that the country has won several prizes recently for its tourism products. However, I am personally always in two minds about tourism. I welcome the opportunities for new and varied local jobs, higher pay, associated infrastructure developments such as roads, airports and sanitation, etc. I also welcome the opportunities for countries to exploit and showcase to visitors their culture, their environment, and other positive attributes. But there is always a delicate balance to hold and I also get concerned about the "negative" things that tourism can bring, with a faster pace of exposure to certain outside influences, which while common elsewhere are not necessarily in line with the Caribbean outlook. In that regard, I think of a certain willingness to exploit what seems to come once "foreigners with money" start to arrive.

In many senses, I have not found enough effort by those who run tourism authorities, and establishments that are key to tourism to fight some of these negatives. There are usually good measures in place to deal with many things that tourists fear, especially crime. In that regard, things have moved to a certain extreme by having tourists in "sealed environments". These can come in the form of "all inclusive" resorts, but they can also come in the form of highly secure tourist locations, where few locals can venture without serious checks. Other, lesser forms of harassment of tourists is commonplace but also more difficult to deal with. Whether it is the unwanted hair braider, or the drug peddler, or the taxi driver who takes a route that will ring up the costs, it does not matter. Here, I feel there have been fewer efforts to deal with the problems, often in defence of "letting the small people get a chance".

In Barbados, I think there is another issue. I think tourism has brought pressure on local prices (especially food) and I have a feeling (though hard to prove) that some have used the higher purchasing power of tourists to base prices higher than they should be. It may be useful for some of the local economists to try to analyse this impact of tourism. There appears to be much less insulation of tourism from some sensitive aspects of local life. And there may be a vicious circle. Because tourists have been tempted to live in villas and boutique hotels, rather than in large hotel complexes, they have moved more into buying local produce to deal with self-catering, or eaten out in local restaurants more than would have been the case. So, local merchants can charge more than they should for a reasonable profit, and because tourists are a significant part of the market and may be in some sense captive to these prices, the merchants will find that customers are not driven away. This phenomenon might have been going on for some time. Many people living here openly admit that they avoid shopping locally, and rarely frequent many of the restaurants for fear of the high prices. Instead, some people will fly abroad (to Miami, New York, Trinidad, Puerto Rico/US Virgin Islands) to stock up on non-perishables, and even certain kinds of perishables that are very expensive here, such as meat. A lot of talk has been heard over the past months about the high local prices, and the need to take care where one shops and what one buys. But that advice is really a bandage, and cannot make much real sense on a daily basis. Those who can travel to shop have taken this to heart. In fact, they have mounted a sort of boycott of local produce. If more people take the message to heart, it will be interesting to see how merchants and prices respond. For my part, I have kept eating out in restaurants to an absolute minimum over the past few months, and trying to find local places that offer great value. I too will be looking to stock up in a major way the next time I have chance to visit the US.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Need some TLC from C & W

When I read reports this week about Cable and Wireless (C&W) opening its regional network operations center in Barbados, I got really excited. You see, my regional operations have been roaming around for the past few weeks and I have had some difficulties with some basic C&W activities. I go to Jamaica, I find I cannot access my voice mail as simply as when I am in Barbados (where I dial *89); in Jamdown, I was roaming on a C&W network but had to dial a number in Barbados and follow instructions, which DID NOT GIVE ME MESSAGES. Frustrated, I got on with my business and continued to travel. I went to the US. On arrival, I get a text message telling me to call a Barbados number to access my voicemail. After a few days, I try it, it works. I'm happy. I travel again, this time to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands (BVI)--very solid C&W territory with no real local competition yet. I start to get a string of notices that I have voice mail messages, but no matter what I try I cannot access my voice mail. The local BVI access number does not give me access. Calling back to the Barbados number I was prompted to use when in the US gives me a series of options but they do not work! I cannot access my messages. In vain, I ask a C&W technician for a WHY and HOW and he could not get me an answer in 2 days, by which time I am back in Barbados. There, I can access my messages, easy peasy, but 3 days late.

Why is it that with a solid Caribbean regional network C&W cannot provide a simple, seamless, means of accessing services like voce mail within the region? I don't want to jump through hoops as I hop around islands and try to stay in touch with contacts. I also do not want to jump and put C&W into a bad light, but we're not dealing with rocket science here. Anyone from C&W listening?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Nature's little secrets

That's the motto shown on the vehicle license plates in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). This archipelago of islands is certainly not well known to many of us. But I have the pleasure of being based on one of them, Tortola, for several days, while I teach.
If you like hills, which I do, then this place is heaven, as there are large mounds everywhere. It means driving on roads with lots of steep inclines, and windy bends. But, with a population of only 24,000, the BVI is not too busy and it's easy to enjoy solitude and the breezes. The islands, however, are on an earthquake fault line, and I had my first experience of a tremor last night as a quake measuring 4.6 hit the islands. Reports so far indicate no damage or injuries.

Life here has its immediate oddities. Very strong British links, and vehicles drive on the left, but most are left hand drive and large US SUV-types (needed for the hills). The US dollar is the currency. The islands have become very wealthy in a short space of time. Tourism and financial services are now the economic backbone of the BVI (see link), but new attractions are being sought. There is no major conference centre here yet, so events struggle for the right space (see for instance the forthcoming Business BVI "2007 Women of Power Summit", which will be held at the Community College Resource Centre).

What I found is that the the islands are in a new wave of democracy, having just had general elections on August 20, where the ruling New Democratic Party was ousted by the Virgin Island Party. Incumbents losing is the trend at the moment in the Caribbean region. The BVI will now have its first Premier (instead of a Chief Minister).
In familiarizing myself with Tortola, I found myself attending the first sitting of the new House of Assembly, which was taking place in the island's multi-complex gym as this has more seating space for the general public. The election was not close in terms of seats but the difference in popular vote was close. The new PM, Ralph T. O'Neal, won his seat by a mere 9 votes (see link)! The new government gave a flavour of some of the issues that gnaw away here. Talking of the need for unity, the PM stressed that he will treat supporters of the NDP with compassion, kindness and respect and that will be the practise of all ministers and backbenchers. The Minister of Natural Resources and Labour noted his election as meaning “deliverance for everybody” regardless of race or colour. From what I hear, that song of inclusiveness for foreigners from a Minister who is married to someone from the Dominican Republic, will not be sweet music to the ears of BVIslanders.

While physically very different from Barbados, what I have heard in a few days tells me that many similar issues affect the two places. BVIslanders have their ways, as does every community. Outsiders from elsewhere in the Caribbean say that they have a hard time breaking the barriers of not being "Belongers" or "Born Here". So, Jamaicans, Trinis, Dominicans, Vincentians etc. are trying to make their way economically and socially but find many barriers or points of resistance. However, many of these so-called "Downislanders" are keeping the BVI running, as they provide goods and services across a wide range of areas. Violent crime is becoming more common place, with armed robberies and other crimes appearing more, with the culprits being young men. The cost of living is apparently very high, and people take opportunities to dodge that by visiting St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, or Puerto Rico. Online journalism and discussions are thriving (see BVI News and BVI Platinum News, for example).

You can only get the merest impression of a place and its people in a few days, but I will take the weekend to see some more of Tortola and I hope some of the other islands.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Public safety: An ounce of prevention

They say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So does anyone know why the workmen on the construction site in the picture (part of the UWI Cave Hill complex) are working without hard hats and harnesses? My understanding is that there is an obligation on the contractor to ensure that these aspect of worksite safety are respected. Should there not be an occupational safety officer supervising the site to ensure that this is done? One hopes that it will not take an accident for such basic aspects of worksite safety to be applied.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Jamaica's election results

See my blog, Caribbean Comment, for brief initial comments on the results of yesterday's inconclusive elections.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Fire at McBride Caribbean

A major chemical fire started early this morning at the McBride Caribbean factory in Lowlands, Christ Church. As background, McBride's is the Caribbean's largest manufacturer of aerosol products and is part of the Goddard Enterprise Limited (see picture of fire, courtesy of The Nation, with inset picture of Martin Pritchard, Managing Director of Goddard Enterprises Ltd). Early news reports indicated that the fire was being bought under control, but that residents in a 3 mile radius had been asked to evacuate. A respiratory alert has been issued in this area advising persons to be on guard against any skin or respiratory ailments. Rather than repeat what others are reporting about the chemical fire, I will point to some good initial coverage on Bajan Reporter (see link), Barbados Underground, and Caribbean Broadcasting Company (see link).

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Helping other people: A lady named Kat

I know very little about this lady, except that we met every day at the US Open Tennis. That may not seem so surprising, given that she is meant to usher people to the right areas, but I never met her twice in the same place or at same time. Kismet? I have a list of coincidental meetings and those who have read the Celestine Prophesy will understand what I mean by saying there is a reason why I met this lady.

During our last exchange on Thursday, I told her that I wrote a blog and asked if she would be happy to be featured. She was and quickly took up a great pose! Her name is Kat, and when I asked her if it was spelt C.A.T., she replied sweetly, "Do I have four legs?"

Most of the week in New York City was pleasant, as previous trips have been in recent years. Manhattan has become cleaner over the years. Travelling by subway is relatively straight forward, and not too expensive. Food is always a great adventure, as is exploring the various neighbourhoods. Though I am no lover of shopping, it's hard to find a better place for bargains. I don't really know many New Yorkers well but the people we've met often have those well-known characteristics of the city: fast talk, quick wit, acid tongue (sometimes with a few foul mouth expressions). But we have also found New York people to be helpful, even kind. Some say that this has become more noticeable since the tragic events on September 11, 2001. A few examples for me on this trip. My wallet fell out of my trousers pocket on leaving a subway and a lady quickly signalled that before I got off the train. We stayed in the apartment of people whom we had met in Barbados, and with whom we had 3 days' contact: we had arranged a house swap but they could not make it south, but still left us the full run of their place.

I don't know if this lady is a native New Yorker but she is a great advert for the place. We had met because of her hat, which she promised me at the end of the tournament, but I told her I would not be in New York then. After that, we had met at various points in the huge tennis complex at Flushing Meadows.
Whatever the reason for the meeting, all will eventually become clearer, I hope. New York City is also a place for younger people, and even though children can have a good time there, taking very young ones around the city is really tiring. This time our little one did not travel, but we're still tired! But no complaints. We had great fun.

The terrors of air travel

Since September 11, 2001, many international air travellers have had to deal with a whole new world of increased security procedures before they can board a plane, especially for travel to, from, and within the United States of America. Those who travel extensively within Europe or from Europe to places other than the USA, will know that although stringent measures are applied there, they seem to be far less intrusive and often faster than when dealing with the USA. We have also had to deal with much "closing of stable doors after the horse has bolted" as with the bans on various forms of liquids. I read recently that one of the apparently sensible bans, on lighters will soon be removed! If this is true, then I have to wonder what kind of security measures are really in place.

However, I have had a concern for a while about the possibilities for thefts with this increased security. As someone who travels by air quite often, I am aware of many of the scams that take place in and around airports, with pickpocketing, calling card numbers being spied, etc. However, this new aspect concerning the security checks was highlighted again to me by a Barbadian family I met while travelling yesterday from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Barbados. They had just suffered the "loss" of valuable electronic equipment while they were passing through security at San Juan. What they retold was that while there was a check of the pocket book of one of the ladies in the party, other items which had passed through the scanner disappeared. Now, we can speculate about what is going on. There are a few obvious possibilities. One, is that an opportune thief saw the lady being delayed and took the opportunity to just nab the item and leave. Another possibility is that the security crew (or some of them) may be running a little organized theft scheme, whereby they target someone passing with a small desirable item like a portable DVD player, and arrange for the passenger to be distracted and have someone take the item. The family concerned are at a slight disadvantage in this case, as they did not immediately realize that the item was missing, so were perhaps compromised when they returned to the security area to report the problem. They said that they asked if there was a closed circuit video of what occurs at the security checks and asked for that to be reviewed. A supervisor indicated that this would be done and they would be contacted. I am not optimistic.

Now when I travel by air I limit what I carry by hand, and minimize problems with what I wear; I even do not bother with a belt for flights. I often travel with a laptop computer and have always tried to make sure that this is never out of my sight during the security screening, often putting it as the last item. Similarly, I am very cautious with a wallet at the security check. There may be some natural confusion over similar looking items, but I am also aware that opportunities can create motives. I try not to tempt a thief. I hope that my suspicions are not founded and that this family get back their possessions. But I would be interested in other instances that suggest that the security checkers are not so secure, especially in the region.