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, December 10, 2008

Let's Be Friends.

My previous post was about a seemingly pleasant incident with some Muslim neighbours, which has at its base a first real contact between people previously unknown to each other and a gesture of goodwill. I was happy for this to occur because it was a nice piece to add to a series of discussions I had been having with an American lady about whom I had written before (see links to You cannot be serious and Happy Days). As a preface, I must say that I have no fear of Muslims, in the same way that I have no fear of any religious group. Members of my own faith have said and done many things to make me fearful, even though they may not have ever conducted any acts of terrorism. As a man married to a woman and the father of three girls, my concerns for their equal treatment, especially within my religion, is as high as my concern for their general and individual safety.

I wrote several weeks ago about an encounter that began by e-mail via this blog, with a woman I named "Daphne". Our first point of contact was about her fear of Muslims and how they could threaten her planned holiday to Barbados. She has lived most of the past few weeks dealing with a series of challenges I have posed, directly and indirectly about such fears, her political views, and more. She has in the process made many discoveries about herself. All of this was possible because she was willing to put her head about the turret and say "Here I am". She showed me that she had good points, from my very personal perspective, because she brought me a "peace offering" of boiled peanuts from South Carolina. I can be like Pooh and honey. She also demonstrated one of those truths that I hold self evident: that if you share a meal with someone you will end up sharing much more.

Some people express surprise that one can start interactions with "total strangers met on the Internet". I must say that I find that concern bizarre. It's hard to find anyone that I call a friend who did not start off as a complete stranger; that's even more apparent for the group of friends I now have in Barbados, only one of whom I had ever met before coming to this island. Once someone has moved to the elevated status of 'friend' it is not static, and needs to be nurtured. I take a dim view of friends who visit this island and don't make contact until after they have left and then say "I was in Barbados but...". That, my friend is not something I would ever do. If anything, I go the other way and try to prepare the person for a possible visit once I touch land.

Even my wife started off as a complete stranger to me. Her friends are certainly not my friends by obligation. I would not expect her to take my friends as being hers. It may happen, but it's a matter of luck and circumstances. Being introduced to someone does not make them known. I am always sitting with a wry smile on my face when I read stories about 'villains in our midst', such as spies, criminals, etc. and the way people trot out comments such as, "He seemed such a decent man", "She was a good neighbour", "Who would believe that this child next door could do such a thing?", which basically indicate that the persons that was there circulating with you were unknowns. So, proximity to people does not necessarily give knowledge about them. People let you know what they want to let you know about themselves. What you choose to know about people is what you are prepared to find out: it's also interesting how we reject the bad/accept the good about people we say and do the opposite for people we truly dislike.

But, back to Daphne. Our exchanges have encouraged her to write, and she offered me a piece last week and left me free to use it on the blog, if I wished. I am not a paid critic and have the left the piece basically untouched (though minor editing or additions I mark in red below; various observations I make in [...]). These are her thoughts and her expressions. I share below what she sent to met.

It has been said that writing can be cathartic or can help you sort out your thoughts and feelings. I see it as bringing what’s in your heart and soul to the outside, organizing it, throwing away the trash and keeping the good stuff. I’ve never written anything just to do it without an audience in mind. But, here it goes.

About a month ago some of my family and I went on a trip. This was during the presidential election of 2008 – one of the most historical elections of all time. See, at that time I just about believed everything I heard from the media, e-mails, blogs, etc. I was doing a little research on the Internet and found a blog site that caused me to become quite upset about our up-coming trip to Barbados. The blog I read was about Muslims in Barbados and whether they would kill or not. [Here is the article from Barbados Free Press, entitled 'Muslims Wont Kill Anyone Unjustly'] The Muslim response was that they would not kill ‘without cause’. There were also some very demeaning, abusive remarks directed toward women. Well, I kept looking and found another responsible web/blog site and decided to be brave and send an e-mail to a total stranger to determine the safety of our trip. I really did not think I would ever hear from it. Within a few minutes, my e-mail was answered with an attitude! He said my note really disturbed him and he didn’t know what country I was looking into, but it was obviously not Barbados. They had a far less Muslim population than the US did and what difference did it make anyway? I was so relieved that he thought the question ridiculous, that I overlooked the attitude part. Now I could plan my trip and not worry about Muslim extremists.

But, this guy wouldn’t let it go and neither would I. So, somehow we ended up in a political discussion/debate via e-mail. The only problem with this is that he is much more educated and interested in the facts than I am. I’m a wife, mother and nurse that really only pays attention to politics during an election - unless there is something really major going on. He on the other hand is a very politically opinionated person who really does base his opinions on knowledge. Imagine that!

This was such an unequal exchange between the two of us. I must be a really secure person to not let this ‘walking encyclopedia’ of political, geographical, philosophical, social, financial and spiritual educated liberal intimidate the cr** out of me! But, what I lack in knowledge I am good at BS. Just kidding! Maybe he just wanted to sway my vote or maybe he wanted some humor in his life. No, he is a stickler for truth regardless of the reason and probably wanted to set the record straight.

In my defense, like a lot of Americans, we are too busy doing life to pay attention to politics. My statement has been that I am not a political person – that’s just not my thing. Now, I do see that it is important to pay attention and develop your own opinion. So, because I vote – I am a political person and to be a responsible voter you need to recognize the difference between media hype and truth.

December 2, 2008

One of the most frustrating things about these ‘conversations’ to me is that it seemed like my feelings toward terrorism (Islam in particular) were not adequately recognized. Tolerated maybe but not understood. The depth of my anger, hurt and disgust felt toward evil people and their purposes of attack was shocking to even me. Upon questioning several friends and acquaintances, I found that their feelings were equal to mine or greater! Some believed that the Muslim terrorists were trained from childhood to hate America, Christians, Jews, etc.

In my mind, I had it settled that those were evil men who happened to be Muslim who staged and carried out the crimes in the USA.
But, I was wrong! My heart has never been settled on this subject. I researched the Koran and found that it does indeed tell them to kill infidels (non-Muslims). So the term Muslim extremist is accurate. Islam taken to the highest degree, which is what their scripture says, is to kill nonbelievers of their religion. How can one rationalize that in their mind to come to an acceptable peaceful mindset??? If Muslims follow their religion by the book – it will definitely lead them to destroy anyone that is not Muslim (unless they ignore of that part of the book). [I think this is a misinterpretation of "Jihad", which has four components and is meant to represent the duty of fighting against Satan ('struggle in the way of God'), which can, but need not, mean physically fighting against God's enemies. But it is essentially about self-comportment and leading a good religious life. See link to 'The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Islam' or read the Koran.]

So, it appears that I have come full circle in my thoughts and feelings concerning Muslims.
The only difference now is that I have researched it and found that the most dedicated ones are the most dangerous. I do not trust them or have a desire to be understanding or tolerant of their belief system. However, my Christianity says that Jesus died for them. So, what is my obligation?

They are a warring religion with individuals that belong to an organization based on an evil doctrine of killing. [We have not discussed this and I wont go any further than to recall the Christian Crusaders in the Middle Ages, which went on for nearly 300 years in fighting mainly Muslims, but also any groups viewed as "pagans" (which at the time included even Greek Orthodox Christians). Europe lives with the legacy of those wars to this day.] I really do not know any Muslims personally who are in my sphere of daily living. As bad as I hate to admit it.

I always like a happy ending . . . there simply isn’t one on this subject.
With the exception that Jesus did die for the sins of Muslims and provided a way of escape from their battling turmoil. I pray God’s love is in my heart toward all people, and I’ll be ready to show them a different way if given the opportunity.I have learned many things from this friend, who I did get to meet in Barbados. He sparked a fire for understanding politics. Is there a book Politics for Dummies? [Yes there is, and here is the link.]

I have a great respect for our new President Elect Obama that I did not have before.
I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts on this at a later time. It has been a journey over the past 6 weeks that has been a real roller coaster ride!

God places people in our lives for a reason.
My thinking world has been changed during this process. The way I see things is clearer – maybe the hunger to know the truth in situations is greater. The rut of thinking the same way all the time, without question, has changed. Just because someone agrees with you does not make them your friend. It’s not always a good thing for everyone to agree and not question what is going on around them. Look at the frogs in the pan of water – they just sit their slowly cooking and not even knowing it until it’s too late, and they can’t jump out. Someone needs to pay attention!

I agree with the notion that people come into our lives for a reason. I am also happy to say that I will gladly strike up a conversation with anyone, and it will go where ever it goes. That can lead to wonderful surprises (my apple and cherry crumble this week--thanks to '39 Steps'). At the weekend, we had a lady shyly ask if she could join us as we went on a wine tasting evening; she joined us and the band of friends who arrived afterwards. We got to know her a little and look forward to seeing her art show next year.

Certain items for children often say things better than erudite works. Kipling's Jungle Book as put out by Walt Disney may say it best on friendship:

To put icing on this cake, since I started writing this earlier in the morning, I have been to play tennis with a Bajan man I met several months ago during one of my regular visits to the farmers' market. We met again over the weekend, and agreed on a 6am hit. I introduced him to one of the friends I have made here, and they spent a good time on Saturday getting to know each other.

In an hour, I shall have breakfast with two people whom I have never met before. The man is Jamaican and writes several blogs, including 'Moving to Jamaica' (see link). We had some interchanges from last year when I was doing work for a conference on the Caribbean diaspora. His wife is from Trinidad and found me on Facebook, and she too is also a writer, but also a photographer, who is trying to help expatriate people make the transition to life in Jamaica. He turns out to be a good family friend of "Ja Niece", who is a godmother to my new friend, Thesephone, and who visited Bim earlier this year. I got a message via Gmail to say that they were in Bim for a few days and wondered if we could met in real, not virtual, life.

Following that, I shall possibly do a stint on the radio ("Brass Tacks") arranged by the husband of a new friend of my wife's whom she met at a bookclub (if I recall correctly). He will put me on a call-in program hosted by a man (Pat Hoyos) whom I first met one weekend while at the mall: I recognized his face and introduced myself and suggested we get together to find ways to collaborate on putting local and international economic issues on a more understandable basis. He in turn happens to have been married to a Jamaican woman whom I met for the first time some months ago at a regular social hosted by some new friends of ours. And so on it goes....

I now have a better understanding of why it is I am less inclined these days to read 'works of fiction'. Real life has plenty of interest, so why do I need 'make believe'?

For me, somethings are very clear. Friendship, if true, is like love: it's unconditional and it's unambiguous. Note how children play. "I'll be your friend if..." indicates that they know the worth of having friends, but feel that it's something you can negotiate; later in life they will call this diplomacy. Friends do not use each other as foils: no true friend ever negates that friendship by not being frank with the person who is supposed to be a friend. If a conversation holds phrases like "Those people whom you call friends say... about you" and this is the first you are hearing these views, then clearly these are not true friends. You may have to swallow some bitter pills with this discovery, but like a bad disease, once discovered you can find a way to deal with it. My antennae go on 'red alert' when I hear or overhear remarks such as "Let me tell you something about X..." and X is supposed to be a friend.

I never know who I will meet who can become my friend, but I do know that when I am in need my true friends rally to support me, and when they are in need I do whatever I can to help them. No questions asked, no explanations needed.

So let me go off and meet some friendly people.

1 comment:

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