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, March 24, 2009

Who Is Keeping Score?

My father is officially 80 years old today, March 24. Many people could, however, celebrate his birthday on April 13. In Jamaica, being precise about dates of birth did not used to be that important. His grandmother mixed up the birth registration for her two daughters' infants and for most of my life I thought that my father's birthday was in April. He never told me the right day until he was much older, retired, and past caring whether he was born in March or April.

He has had more than his three score years and ten, and now he has gone for four score. Amazing!

When he had a stroke in late 2006, I was sure that he would be at death's door if things worked the way they usually do in rural Jamaica. Like in many poorer countries, we have limited medical facilities to treat even routine ailments, and people die for loss of time more than lack of treatment. Luck and some contacts mustered up an ambulance and he got to the main hospital in Kingston--a two hours drive--where a cousin is a neurosurgeon, and he was at least saved some of the worst ravages of the stroke trauma.

Having lost most of his freedom of movement, he seems to compensate with freedom of thought. Many contentious issues he has seen and experienced over the past 60 years now get a full diatribe.

He has taken on the "lying and thieving politicians": his bitterness was highest when he talked about the myth of free education, that meant that women like his mother never went far in school because her parents were not connected.

He never had time for gangsters and criminals and now even less, given the way that they have taken over so many parts of downtown Kingston that he knew and loved through the 1950s and 1960s. They have turned them into 'political garrisons' and crime 'war zones'.

He loves to remember the Kingston of those years: walking around Parade, going to the theatre, and going dancing. He loved his work, at the mental hospital, proud that a 'small boy with a good brain' could do good work to help other people.

When he returned to Jamaica, after some 30 years in England, he quickly returned to the land, even though he had not had to farm for four decades. He planted oranges, which grow superbly in the hills of Mandeville. He planted cassava, yams, corn, sweet potatoes, gungo peas, and callalloo; he reaped enough to feed him and my mother, and have enough to share. In return, as life had it, he got avocados, mangoes from those who could grow them, ackees (Jamaican!), sugar cane, coconuts. Whatever, someone had to share; or nothing in return but good neighbourliness. He built a fowl coop, and bought himself some chicks; he became a chicken farmer.

A hurricane destroyed most of the country's chicken industry, but his fowl coop stood strong. He was not in the business of making business, so changed nothing: he sold to those who had always been his customers, and barely raised prices except to cover the higher cost of feed.

He got into the local Anglican church. He started taking exercise regularly, joining an aerobics and yoga class: he was the only man in a sea of middle-aged women. Bliss! He walked regularly to town to the gym, becoming as well-known crossing the golf course as any of the people actually playing a few holes.

I remember how he started to be the barber in his street, where several other returning families had moved. He encouraged some of the 'wayward youths' to get a haircut and look decent, telling them that they could then walk up to someone and ask for work. He had a string of young men, coming for a trim. His shears clipped and the young men were sent off neater, free of charge. Some of those who had the early trims are still in my father's life, as a gardener for him and neighbours, as a driver, or as a frequent visitor, when time from steady work allows.

Fast forward. His life was never one of great travel, after the great journey from Jamaica to England in 1961. For that reason, I treasure the efforts he (and my mother) made to visit me and my family several times in the USA. I really stand amazed that he visited me in west Africa, not once but twice, a few years ago; even learning a few phrases in French and some local languages during his stays. He loved having to drive through barricades of burning tyres and rocks being hurled at our vehicle after we came from a long road trip to find that the capital of Guinea was under siege by its youths. By contrast, his trip to Barbados in 2008 would seem like a breeze, but of course it is not when you can hardly walk.

These are mere snippets, and things that pass through my memory easily. After a long life such as his, I would be joking to try to capture it in a few sentences.

But, the day should not pass by unnoticed by me and my off springs, who are also his off springs. I hope that all the fruit fall close to the tree.

I have to give God thanks for carrying him this far.


Anonymous said...

Best wishes to your old man D. Mine is going to be 82 come August if he lives. Only thing wrong with him is glaucoma but he can still read without glasses while I cannot even try that.

What is that "...did not used to be that important. " sentence? Written like how a Bajan would speak. LOL

Unknown said...

What a beautiful tribute to what sounds like an amazing man!

Unknown said...

Best Wishes !!!!

Great memories Dennis!..... Need to look him up soon.