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**

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ants And Sugar

You should be familiar with the fact that ants like to find sugar. When they do, they take the little grains back to their nests to do ant-like stuff. This week, I fell onto the wrong side of two little children (a boy and a girl), aged around 8, whom I had only met the week before. But, let's call it a 'fatal attraction'. I really like the kids, both of whom are of Jamaican parentage: the girl lives there, the boy has lived in a variety of places including Barbados and the USA. Each is quite different, but similar, nevertheless. It started badly when I first met them and the boy asked me a set of "Why are you here?" questions. I explained, I thought politely and gently, that I was there to see his mother and that it really was not for him to ask me the question more than once. I got his girl cousin to explain to him, as my attitude is 'typically Jamaican'. She did and I thought all was cool. But, back he came again. I tried to give the message again. The two kids went away to the pool, but were hovering around me again in minutes. I can understand the curiosity that comes from a first meeting.

But, then, things took a bad turn. The boy's mother returned and he said in a flash "He's been mean to me." I took a breath and told him to hold on. I asked him to tell his mother what had happened and for his cousin to back up or correct his story. He told his side. I then told the mother my side, and said that I thought the boy should be very careful when making the kind of statement he had. All seemed cool, again. But I heard that the mother had to spend some 30 minutes calming her son who was now very upset. Fast forward.

I met the children again and we did a few fun things together. I went along to the house they were in to help lower stress with the arrival of a moving van and its contents. I was really doing that and trying to do my usual business, but in company rather than alone. After the first moving day, I passed by the next day, when the movers were due to assemble some large items and the mother needed to leave the house. When I met the children, they quickly reverted to "We're bored." I remembered that I had a wad of cash that needed counting and asked if they could do that for me. They agreed. I gave the girl a smaller wad and the boy more bills--it was just how the money had been, and I had no clear idea of how much was in each bundle. I just asked that they take care and not let the bills fly away. They sat nearby and started to count.

The girl 'finished' first--they say girls mature faster, so no surprise, I thought. She told me "57 dollars," and handed me the bills. I looked puzzled. I saw a 100 dollar bill in the pile. I asked, "Is 50 less than or more than 100?" She got it right in a flash. "How then can this be 57, when there is a 100 in the bundle? Have another go," I told her. In another flash, she said "166." I did not take the bundle. I asked if she was sure and she nodded. I then asked "What is the difference between 166 and 157?" She paused then gave the answer 10; then 12; then a series of other numbers. I then asked about the differences between 17, 27, 37, 47, 57, 67, etc. She got most of them wrong! We did a bit of elementary arithmetic and she seemed fixed. So, I asked her to tell me the difference between 167 and 157, and she was right with 10. I asked then for the difference between 167 and 166. Again, 10. Wrong! We did more maths and used more fingers and got to 1, eventually. I had by then had the housekeeper come to witness and she had tried to help by going over the fact that difference is subtraction. The child knew the process but just could not apply it.

Then, to the boy. He had been riveted by his cousin's task and had made no progress. So, I asked him to start and let me know his total. After a few minutes he got up and left and did not get back for about 10 minutes. I asked him if he had finished. He said he had not and started to count again. But then went off again, and he and his cousin came back with 'noodles' to play with in the pool. I looked at my money, lying on the chair, but said nothing. After some splashing, Noodle and Doodle came back. I went to the matter not-in-hand. My money had blown around and was lightly strewn. I picked it up and counted the bills. "1015 dollars, US" I said and wrote it down on a newspaper. "Let your mother know what happened when she comes back," I said. Then, I made a terrible error. I added "And please don't go crying to her about what happened." I realised that I needed to get off and try to write an article and that my mind was not going well with the elves.

The mother and I did not talk until way into the afternoon and she told me that she was very unhappy with how I had treated her son. I let her eat my head and apologized. My saying that there was no way that I would let her son fall into being a possible victim at school in a foreign country because he was known to run and tell and cry sounded good to me, but was not going to sway a mother. I would try my best to not let it happen again. She wanted me to show the boy that I had a good view of him too and I told her that I had done that, though not when she was nearby. I saw the boy again the next day and gave him nothing but lerv. He was pucker and chipper and full of fun with his cousin and another boy his age, all three curled on a sofa with some American cartoon playing. I think we are cool. But I have a task on my hands, of a sort.

When I retold the story to some people they said that I had intimidated the children and that they clearly could not function as a result. I begged to differ. They had said they could do the task--and I take children at their word. The first set of arithmetic mistakes made no real sense except that the child would not apply what she had learned. She even used her fingers yet found 10 fitted some many wrong situations. The boy was another story. He had been forgetful and that happens. But having forgotten he had done nothing else once reminded of what he had agreed to do. I do not see reminding him of that is intimidation. However, if one does then therein lies some interesting days ahead with children and people. There is history here, however.

The people who had seen my actions as intimidation were also the people who had not seen fit to correct a child's behaviour that they had found offensive, arguing that it was not their job to do that. I had extended that discussion to say that the uncorrected child would then find a very angry adult one day and get the chewing out that was avoidable. They also saw it as 'taking the law into your own hands' to do something to make another driver stop at a red light. I had told of how at a four-way traffic light, with all lights flashing red, I had arrived first, stopped, then moved my car into the junction and paused. My argument was that the oncoming bus, racing down the hill was obliged to stop first before it proceeded and I should not have been in danger. In fact, the real situation could have been that my car had stalled. Routinely, vehicles do not stop for flashing red lights in Barbados. People understand static red, but think that flashing red means roll on. I told of one instance where the bus had rolled on and a motorcycle cop on the other side had just roll in the opposite direction with nary a glance back. They had asked what if the bus had faulty brakes. I had replied that was no issue as the forensics would show the truth, and also ask any survivors from the bus if it had stopped anywhere along its route. It would be amazing if the bus had gone from depot to town with no stops. I had concluded by saying that the situation you live with is the situation you allow to exist.

I am not going to lambast any one in particular, but I will state my view. If you tolerate what you deem intolerable, please explain to me what you think you are doing.

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