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, August 09, 2009

You Make The Best Of What You Have. But Never Throw Your Friend Under A Bus

Strap in. Get a good drink and some food. This one is not short. I had the ideas bubbling from very early on Sunday but I had to get through the day first for the pieces to fall into place. I also had to deal with a few instances of people who seem incapable of reading what others write or understanding what they themselves write, to the point of arguing in a circle that they don't express themselves for fear of reprisals and intimidation and when others write (OK, me a foreigner) that should be restricted because 'he dominating the discussion'. That's like what happens when volunteers are requested and the rest of the group take a step backward and one person is left 'stepping forward'.

Jamaicans in Barbados, and worldwide, celebrated another day of independence this week. Here, things were brought together at a Jamaican Association of Barbados lunch on August 9 at St. George Valley Resource Centre. This time last week, I was in Dominica and had no intention of attending the lunch. The reasons were simple: I do not like disorganized organizations, and I had felt that this was another example of such. Over two years in this country and still no contact? I had gone to fund raising events and passed on particulars but the dickey bird still has not reached my house. I called the Jamaican honorary consul when I first arrived in Barbados, and gave my details, as I had done with the British Embassy; that sort of thing could and should be a way of getting tabs on new arrivals. The British High Commissioner has changed at least once and I got notification of that. The Jamaican consul has left and his replacement arrived some months ago and I only got to know when I called to ask about a visa matter and Mr. Azan's office informed me that he was no longer THE MAN. I guess the attitude is that the consular people do not need me or others as much as we might need them. I know many Jamaicans who have been here much longer than I, yet who do not know of the association and the association appears to not know of them. So, I had decided that aloofness was alright. I liked the Jamaicans I have met at random and it seems that my needs for compatrioticity was being well met. But, Lady Luck stepped in and one of the association executives crossed my path during tennis midweek--with another Jamaican. She pleaded with me and I said I would think about it. Some other Jamaican friends I met at a party indicated that they were going and that we should show solidarity. I agreed and lunchward I would head.

But ahead of that, I had to deal with several pieces of Jamaican puzzlement that also came across my bow. First, I had been enjoying the week before a long, lazy day with friends at the beach at Carlisle Bay. My contribution to the staycation was to offer lunch from Kingston 10. I was full of steamed snapper and steamed vegetables; my hosts were stuffed with jerk chicken, stewed pork, rice and peas, festival, etc. Later in the afternoon, we were joined by Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford, former PM and Ambassador-designate for Barbados to China. It was our first meeting, and I also met his wife, who is Jamaican. Sir Lloyd was more interested in a televised cricket match than with other things at first, and left us all enjoying the sea air and a pile of mangoes from his yard--majestic, large, sweet Imperials, whose sweetness flooded my brain with delicious boyhood memories because I had not eaten many since I left Jamaica.

When he came up for air from the match, we got into a long discussion about cricket and its role in Caribbean life. I knew that I did not want to get into aspects of economic policies in the 1990s, nor discuss the immigration issues, and I had tried to start off with some observations about his heading to China, and the challenges that would pose for him. My wife's uncle had held a similar post, but non-residential, and I alluded to that. Our discussion was quite spirited for a first meeting and we did not agree on several things. But, we ended up sparring over Sir Lloyd's contention that one of cricket's great values for Caribbean people was that it was the most intellectual of sports. I questioned that, but moreover asked why our striving for excellence at it had not translated into striving for excellence in other intellectual pursuits, like chess. We left that question unresolved between us. We had also sparred over some of cricket's bizarre characteristics, such as the well-known ability to play for days and yet get no result; and for me the unique nature of a competitive sport where a player could remain 'active' while attempting to make no play, e.g., by letting series of balls pass and offering no stroke if it seemed that the wicket would not be hit. In boxing or judo, you would get penalised for that. In baseball, you could be out if the 'ball' you hoped for was indeed a 'strike' (and you don't argue that with umpires). In football, you would have conceded at least one goal; in rugby at least one try; in fencing, your breast would have been pierced; and so on. I had difficulty setting that aspect of cricket with the intellectualism argument except to ponder that by thinking of greatness somehow it would appear. His wife was less interested in cricket and she and I discussed some aspects of life for Jamaicans in Barbados. Her time here has been extensive and I think her views are well known.

My tripping over politicians with Jamaican connections continued this weekend, when I was having lunch with a friend, and enjoying her curry and roti, pumpkin and split peas. She and I had met at breakfast earlier in the morning, as is often the case. However, for lunch, we had for me an unexpected visit from the former Minister of Tourism, Noel Lynch. He and I had encountered each other once before on a radio call-in program. He was in the most festive of moods, as 'his man', Red Plastic Bag, had bagged the Crop Over crown and he wanted to crow about it. He had fun at our host's expense, waving his red bag rag, and then donning a red T-shirt in place of his blue Ralph Lauren. I had no part of this and ate and laughed at the two of them fighting over the radio and turning on and off "Something's happening", the winning song, with the Minister chanting "Young people wuking up. Old people jumping up. ...Something's happening." Watch the video and imagine RPB being replaced by NL.

But, as the afternoon wore on and we were joined by several others, including some female lawyers and a Catholic priest, we got into some deep philosophical discussions. Somehow, he made me his 'brother' by dubbing us "two old sinners". I really objected to the "old" part, and wondered how he seemed to know that I needed to be saved. He gave a good argument about how we had clearly shown the quality of our religious upbringings. He told a wonderful story about how he first encountered 'bad behaviour' at university in Puerto Rico. He left the 'scene of the crime' thinking that if his father heard he had been there then licks would be too good for him. We talked on and around a range of subjects, including the crux of why criminals are that way. I enjoyed my rum punches and he enjoyed punching his bag. The spirit of the afternoon flowed as freely as the spirits during the afternoon. My wife showed up with a well-known Bahamian dessert made with guavas and again we had something happening, this time with everyone joining in. Minister Lynch called up his successor and aired some grievances about tourism. I am so glad that I do not have a vote, because his successor as Minister happens to be the MP for the area where I live, and I like him too from our meetings. We shared one last joke about holding on to seats. By the time I was ready to go, Minister Lynch and I seemed to have become good buddies and he just reminded me to stay with him, and wait just 862 more days, and he is still counting down.

I was totally cracked by mid-afternoon, after my usual early start, and needed my siesta before heading to a farewell party for one of the heads of an international organization (oddly, a Canadian woman who represents the UK and is married to a Jamaican man). By chance, the first person I met at the party was a Jamaican friend who has just come back to Barbados for a second tour, and she was talking to Dame Billie Miller (another former Cabinet minister from the last administration). We had all met before at a diaspora conference in Washington some two years ago, but Dame Billie needed a reminder--no surprise to me as I had started to try to stay under the radar screen in Barbados. I quickly made Dame Billie aware of my blog (free PR is still good PR) and that I would probably write about her. "Why would you do such a thing?" she asked. I replied that I would find a reason.

Anyway, we three got into another spirited conversation, this time about some of the wonders of Barbados, and Dame Billie gave me a short history and geography lesson. We found a common love of the Scotland District and Bathsheba and shared our best moments of driving over Orange Hill (mine in a very small car with Bahamian in-laws who think that Barbados is like the Swiss Alps--"Dennis, you sure we going mek it?" my father-in-law had asked). She also gave me another short personal history lesson about her views of Jamaicans and Jamaica. She recalled how, when studying in the UK , she met Jamaicans en masse for the first time. By reputation, Barbadians thought them brash not least because they thought Jamaica was the 'centre of the universe'. Barbadians, however, felt that they were superior to any Jamaicans, and their universe was all centre. However, when she visited Jamaica in the early 1970s, she discovered that Jamaica did seem like the centre of the (Caribbean) universe. She noted that alas she did not have to deal with that shock for long, and Jamaica's economic slide began soon afterward. She smiled with smug self-satisfaction. We talked about the freedom of not having to work on the old routines and the joy of working in one's pyjamas. We laughed a lot and I drew into the conversations a senior staff member of a regional organization who was holding court alongside. He seems to have gotten himself into a bit of hottish water for some remarks he made recently about some things to do with Barbados' domestic policies, and I thought he could cool off with our ribaldry. I think we have all agreed on a tour of Barbados (not a rum shop tour) but one that looks at the sights and character that local people cherish but which foreigners do not get to admire as much. I hope that it goes through Surinam and Orange Hill, both of which remind me so much of rural Jamaica.

My foray into old-time Jamaica continued this morning, when a friend passed by, not really for breakfast, but he took a bit of the fried dumplings and salt fish I had prepared. While he had decided to do nothing for Independence this year, he told me about how he had been at the National Stadium on that August 6 day in 1962, as a 20 year old. At that time, I had been a mere boy of seven, just under year out of Jamaica, with no idea of what independence meant. I told him that my first time in Jamaica over Independence Day was last year, during the Olympics, with Usain Bolt giving it 'to the world'. What a joy! His memories were vivid: the shock of seeing foreign journalists smoking during the ceremonies, more noticeable when the lights dimmed and the glowing butt ends shone; new national flag that would not unfurl (was that a warning?); the following cavalcade of diplomats who were to be the first to recognize the new nation (Britain, Canada, the USA), in cars that showed off their countries (Jaguar, Pontiac). I could see him shed the years, and I could feel the coming of some tiny tears.

My friend who had done the Dame Billie reintroduction had been due to pass by for vittles before going to church, and we were due to go to the association lunch together. But, when I called her at 8.30 that voice was clearly one of a person just woken. She called back at 10, still sounding like she did at 8.30. "Later," I told her. She called again at 12.30 "No nah go mek it," she said, "Me body bruk up." I gave her a last chance to call me later and I would give directions if she was headed to the lunch, but I offered to get her lunch for her. "Nice, man. Me a go luk fawad to dat."

To the lunch. Jamaicanness was happening amidst Bajan hospitality--the association president said so, and he (a white Jamaican) should know what he's saying. The association president read PM Golding's Independence Day message. One passage struck me:

"We must resolve to build on the achievements we have made and to make up ground where we have fallen behind....for the dream and hope that inspired us at Independence, must never die.

When we embarked on Independence in 1962, we did so with confidence in ourselves that we could manage our own affairs and guide our own destiny. We launched out on our own but we never felt we were alone, for we looked to the world to help us grow and become strong.

That world has changed. Even though it increasingly recognises its inter-dependence, much of its goodwill has given way to fierce market competition. Economics, not politics, is what now defines international relations."

The call to Jamaica to raise up itself again is welcome. But the last passage bothered me, as it suggested that goodwill and market competition are opposed to each other, and that implicitly politics was involved with goodwill. Perhaps I read to carefully, but that last part seems totally bogus when one looks at the history of Jamaica's politics. I think it is also generally bogus, to the extent that the goodwill is often 'favourtism' or 'cronyism', not directed at the general population. Perhaps, I or someone else, needs to call Bruce out on that statement.

I found few faces I knew, but latched onto a family I had met before, at least the parents. We bantered and quickly got each other laughing. My adrenalin had been high for hours. I pointed out that I was trying to write about the Independence Day events from a range of viewpoints and was looking for notable comments. The father was quick to give his contributions, and as the food flowed, so did his quips. The goat head soup reached, but I did not get mine: "Mannish wata cum an some people no get nun. A wa dis?" His son was making faces into the soup and muttering about goat head: "De bway bawn a farrein. Im no kno nuttn bout no mannish wata. Is bwayish im drink." He looked around and raised his eyebrows at the number of people present: "Is a sereous turnout, even wi de rayne. Yu see wat B$70 tikit can do." As I laughed and got down into my late-arrival soup, and I jotted onto my BlackBerry, he said with true friendliness, "Gwan. Write yu bakside!"

A Bajan lady friend passed by and I expressed surprise to see her--she'd been scarce from our regular Thursday limes for a while--and as I rose to hug her, she said, "You know I does know plenty Jamaicans, now." Well, I did now. She introduced me to one of those Bajans married to a Jamaican--not Minister of Youth, Family and Sports, Dr. the Honourable Esther Byer-Suckoo, who was sitting at a nearby table with her family. Instead, a man. "You must listen to what he has to say about Bajans who marry Jamaican women," my friend advised. Before he could speak, she issued her 'health warning' about me: "But watch him. He's on 'Brass Tacks' and he will write about you on his blog." The man looked up and just said slowly but with full feeling, "Dem cuss aff me bakside. Wha me a do bringing de woman bak here?" I immediately put Bajan politicians and their marriages to Jamaican women together in my mind, remembering Sir Lloyd, thinking of Owen Arthur, and glanced over at Dr. Byer-Suckoo. I recalled a comment I had made during the week about how some Bajans seemed free to curse Jamaicans or vilify Bajans' associations with Jamaicans and my wondering if they could not feel the burning and hurtful insults thrown at many politicians and their families, to whom some at least must be related. Perhaps people believe that politicians deserve no kind words. But then what about ordinary people? I heard my head jangling. I wondered if Sir Lloyd would get a similar welcome when he reaches Beijing, or if the Chinese would just focus on vilifying him for his colour, or if they would just treat him with respect. I suspect that some or none will occur, not least because of the position he will hold. I had never suffered abuse in China, except from an overzealous policeman, who was abusing everybody. My experiences in China showed that their curiosity about black people is at least equal to their curiosity about white people with auburn hair and freckles. Both are rare in their society, and therefore warrant a lot of attention. I remember the attempts of Chinese villagers to rub off the freckles from my friend's face and asking her for some of her hair as a souvenir. She had been totally bemused. I regretted that I had not asked Sir Lloyd for his views on the lack of amity of Bajans towards Jamaicans, though I suspect that superb diplomat and gentle man that he seems to be, he would merely have smiled and looked out to the sea rather than give me an oral reply.

My mind went back to what had finally prompted me to go to the lunch. My Jamaican friend's vivid recollections of Independence Day 1962, and him sitting across from me with his black T-shirt and the motto "Established 1962", and his yellow beach shorts. How sad that Lady Gladys Bustamante, wife of Jamaica's PM at Independence, had recently died, and how fitting that she had been laid to rest on August 8. So many tributes have and will flow for her (see one Gleaner article). This friend and I had first met while he was posted to Guyana and I was working on the country as Guyana tried to negotiate an IMF program and get debt relief. Our reconnection in Barbados was by chance and I have used my bumping into a lot of interesting people here to widen his group of contacts and now friends. His earlier antipathy toward many things here--fostered in part by a fruitless search for an 'acceptable' Anglican church--has softened a lot as he realises that much comes down to the people whose paths you cross. He's now due to be here much longer than originally expected and seems very happy at the prospect: after all, Jamaica is so dangerous.

I left the memories behind and headed off to Enterprise/Miami Beach. I had forgotten that I had put a bag of guavas into the car and its aroma was almost toxic. I raced across the back roads and hit Newton roundabout in minutes. I dropped off the guavas at a Bajan friend's home. "Stop for a drink?" I declined but agreed that we would try for soup midweek. "Soup? Where?"he asked. I stopped long enough to tell him it was in Brittons Hill, and we agreed to go with his wife. He mentioned that Monday would be his birthday, so I guess we may have soup with candles.

I got to Enterprise and the place was like Cheapside Market, as a picnic or several seemed to be in full swing. My stomach was easing from my dine and dash, with curried goat, jerk chicken, ackee and saltfish, gungo peas and rice and fried fish melding happily. "I need a glass of water," I begged as I pulled into my friend's driveway. We sat and he worked me over with a plate of dessert--apple pie, his signature flourless chocolate cake, and the Bahamian guava duff and sauce from my fair maid's hands. We all settled into plastic chairs in the otherwise furnitureless room and watched Tiger. But, wait. Another group arrived: a Bajan man and his....Jamaican wife...and his mother. I capitulated. I got the theme of the weekend.

At last, I wanted to wind down my day. So, one last dash--for someone who tries not to do this, it was a lot of dashing in one day. Off to Sandy Lane and delivery of lunch. One grateful Jamaican lady smiled at me: "Man, me reddy fi dis." But she had the grace to offer me mangoes from her tree before the sun set. Shame. The monkeys had muched all the good ones. She chomped on the food and we talked about her last tour here. I told her about some of my recent interchanges and I showed her a few, as the messages were still in my email in box. "Unbelieveble," she said. "What is their problem?" I was too tired to offer an answer. "How am I going to re-enter into this kind of enviroment? The negativity. The willingness to accept the insults moulded by white people--'uppity'?--Rahtid!" I told her to focus her energy on getting her stuff out of the port before week's end.

I am just going to focus my energy.


Sargeant said...

First of all let me say that I respect you for entering into some controversial topics under your own name. Many of us ( including yours truly) opt to say the politically correct thing in public but only confide our true feelings when we are among those we trust or when we can hide behind a pseudonym. But to tease us in the other blog and say you had a conversation with a former PM and then it turns out that the conversation was about cricket, why heck anyone can have a conversation about cricket, it’s a safe topic. That politicians on the opposite sides talk to each other nothing new there, but I suppose that we learned that Lynch likes RPB, heck 90 % of Bajans like RPB.

I didn’t learn anything about Bajans supposed antipathy to Bajan citizens who marry Jamaicans, do you think if Bajans cared about that, that Sandiford or Arthur would become PMs?

The whole piece was a justification of your perambulations through the Jamaican/Bajan social scene but then again in your caveat in the other blog you said you didn’t write it for a mass audience- that I agree with- you wrote it for yourself

Have fun

Dennis Jones said...

I did not tease. You clearly made an assumption about the nature of the conversation, and it was wrong. If cricket is not controversial in the region then let's all relax while WICB and WIPA knock each other about.

But being realistic, what conversation would you have had with a former PM on first meeting?

I did not offer to teach anything about "Bajans supposed antipathy to Bajan citizens who marry Jamaicans". Your already being aware is not the issue. The Bajans being elected is also not the issue. The fact is that the antipathy is real, not supposed, and it has its effects, which may not be seen or known or felt by those who practise the antipathy.

The piece morphed for sure. I wrote as I said I do.

Sargeant said...

Do you want to revisit what you wrote in the other blog?

• Totally by accident yesterday my path crossed those of two former BLP Cabinet members, one of whom engaged a current DLP Cabinet member on the phone with me. I also met the head of an international organization whose recent comments have annoyed some people. Each was informed who I was and I also explained that I write my blog, and put them on notice that I may write about them–though I promised to not do that today, which is one reason for not posting yet. They talked freely about a range of controversial issues, including Crop Over voting, immigration, economic policy, West Indies cricket. The previous week, I also had a chance meeting with a former PM and we talked for about an hour over a few mangoes. He also knows me for what I write. What does that tell me?
Some important political decision makers here at least are not afraid to express themselves openly on a range of issues, even when it is known that their words may be used by a writer over whom the have absolutely no control.
How is that not a tease? Why would I not expect much more? No Clico;Immigration; Economy; Eleven Plus; CSME; Obama; Land Reform; Tourism; Transparency and Integrity in Gov’t, ABC Highway; Ramphal; Land Reform; NISE
And the list goes on and on..

Instead we got cricket and mangoes

“What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?”

Dennis Jones said...

They talked freely about a range of controversial issues, including Crop Over voting (NL is an RPB fan and entertained no argument that has man was really the winner. He said that there was no cheating as far as he was concerned and that he does not believe there were any leaks earlier in the competition), immigration (you may need to read between the lines), economic policy (tourism is a key sector and NL did not add anything new in terms of BLP positions on the issue and his previously expressed views on his successor), West Indies cricket (you got that, and mangoes). The previous week, I also had a chance meeting with a former PM and we talked for about an hour over a few mangoes (you got that and cricket).

Now, you might have expected them to have said controversial things about controversial issues. But mainly they did not, perhaps fearing that I would write it and then they would not look so good.

heaven said...

I have one thing to say to all the people who have issues with Barbados and Bajans, leave. But they can't or won't because their precious,perfect, countries are too dangerous for them to enjoy the lifestyle they have here.

Dennis Jones said...

Sorry to say it 'heaven' getting rid of the people who say things you don't like is not the answer, because you still have the things they talked about. No one is saying that other places are precious or perfect, though many people here seem to jump to conclusions that do not fit the words written or said--as if they do not matter, unless they are nice. As people are saying, RPB won because he gave people a sense of "feeling good", without having to deal with any difficult issues. So, the people have chosen to turn a blind eye to dealing with difficult stuff.

I know that by implcation Barbadians are flocking back as soon as they can get seats on planes. Or is that not happening?

Sparky said...

DJ, keep on keeping on. These people seem either wilfully dishonest with themselves or they have been totally brainwashed into thinking that Barbados is in the forefront with the rest of the world in tow. It's so pathetic. Anything that sounds critical? Go long! Hopeless bunch. I've seen you doing a bit of summer school teaching on BU. They pay you for teaching the kids that need a leg up? You're brave. Not me!

Drey said...

D, you know you are my boy. I want the recipe for guava duff. Please. I had it once on a Bahamian calendar I got from a friend, but that went missing a few years ago.
Had some a long time ago, too long ago. Tasted so good. Also had some conch fritters at Bahamian day a few years ago at UWI. Tasted great too.

As a friend of mine says; ignore the haters then they will go away. Can't please everybody all the time, so it is always best to please yourself.

Dennis Jones said...

Drey, that is too long to go without good food. The PC can give the goods on both.

But, where ignorance is bliss, it's folly to be wise?

Dennis Jones said...

Sargeant, you noted "How is that not a tease? Why would I not expect much more? No Clico;Immigration; Economy; Eleven Plus; CSME; Obama; Land Reform; Tourism; Transparency and Integrity in Gov’t, ABC Highway; Ramphal; Land Reform; NISE
And the list goes on and on.." I do not know if the few I met, in a short time, and all essentially a first real contact basis, would be willing to let forth--in the same way you are hesitant until you know the person better. Or maybe the few I met are not among the some who would let forth. But your reaction is so intriguing in that you would expect the 'big' people--who have more at stake, I'd argue--to speak and yet 'ordinary' people don't. There's a disconnection there? Or, maybe the reprisals idea means big people can better protect themselves?

Sargeant said...

In your words “They talked freely about a range of controversial issues, including Crop Over voting, immigration, economic policy, West Indies cricket”

Remember Denis Healy and the First law of Holes? When you’re in one stop digging

Dennis Jones said...

@Sargeant, I remember DH's words well, and I look at the hands holding the shovel. I see a range of controversial issues discussed, of which, cricket was written about. Is the spade heavy? I wont go to dead sheep and their savagery.