NO COUNTRY FOR SATYAGRAHA?

The Husband is off island, somewhere much colder, where the ice is under his boots rather than in his glass. Well somebody has to earn a living around here. I tried wearing a suit and tie and telling people to buy low, sell high and not to be such Nancies just because their hedge funds were down thirty percent. Would they listen? So, I put The Husband in a suit and tie, told him to tell clients to buy low, sell high and not to be such Nancies just because their hedge funds were down thirty percent, and, crik crack, a guru is born. It helps that he looks handsome in the suit and tie combo and is a professor of economics.

His absence from the rock is also a signal that standards can change just a little. We shift from his, the early bird catches the worm, to my, start slow, then ease off. The weekend finds First Born, Second Born, Jack and I snoring until hunger finally beckons and we head to Brighton Farmers Market. For urbanites, this is a farmer’s market with a twist. It is a market, on a working farm, rather than a pavement in Chelsea, selling the produce of their land. Yeah, it took us some getting used to as well. Apart from the opportunity to buy fresh vegetables like sweet peppers, carrots and beans, this is the place to find a chunk of the off-shore banking fraternity consuming fish cutters with their cappuccinos. Perhaps it is not so different from Chelsea after all.

Once we had breakfasted and caught up on who merged and who acquired, the kids voted we hit the beach. This is not as straightforward as you might think. All beaches are legally public spaces for our common enjoyment. But if you build an ugly, huge, hotel next to another ugly, huge, hotel, next to a set of “stunning” high rise villas, the public access points get obscured. It takes determination, stamina and decent hand-eye coordination to actually make it to the water’s edge.

First you must find a place to park. Then you must walk from car to beach, often crossing main roads with buses and vans hurtling down playing “oops, just missed the pedestrian”. Having reached the access point, it is often a smelly, little, dirt tract. At the end of the tract you will see the sea. Do not stop concentrating. This is where many a man has come undone. If you let down your guard you will trip over hotel chairs and sun loungers that have been strategically placed to provide an obstacle course. Make it past that and you have found your well-deserved place in the sand.

One man, whose hedge fund was doing very well thank you, wrote to the Financial Times of his attempt to bypass this boot camp by buying easy beach access on the platinum coast of the rock. He approached the owner of a chattel house, (vernacular architecture for the poor man), fronting the sea, and offered the elderly owner a cool $2million USD. He reported that my man shook the big-up’s hand and explained: boss man, what I go do wid two million dollars? I already living pon ah west coast beach.

I knew there had to be a cheaper, easier way to access the beach and indeed there was. Five months on a waiting list, endorsement by a few members and we can enjoy a club on the beach. We can park in a car park. We can enjoy a tranquil beach, use chairs, take showers and buy food and drink. What I failed to fully appreciate was that this club was a little ghetto. Actually it was two little ghettos, co-existing as only Bajans know how. At one end of the beach the pale, blue rinse brigade can be found taking full afternoon tea at 4pm. The rest of the beach is usually occupied by the Second Estate, distractedly eating Yvonne’s cakes.

We arrived to find friends, parents from the kids’ school, various captains of industry, drinking buddies, and my yoga teacher, all enjoying the beach. I finally settled under a tree with rum, coke and two fabulous women to contemplate sex, art and the extent to which the hairstyles of a senator and a few students of Samuel Jackson Prescod Polytechnic have contributed to the moral disintegration of civil society.

A couple hours later as we stirred to join the kids for a sea bath, something happened to jolt us out of our stupor. A breakaway tactical unit of the Third Estate, having decided that the velvet revolution was not delivering public beaches, had taken matters into their own hands. Some in Bim have cake - maybe even a few Purity Bakery jam puffs. And what does the sans culottes have? Is bare salt bread pon ah morning – eff yuh lucky.

The moment had arrived for the masses to engage in satyagraha - Ghandi’s non-violent protest that inspired Martin Luther King Jr.

From our vantage point under the tree we saw ten adults and thirty under-tens heading down the beach. They were marching, single file, and with determined stride, towards our end of an otherwise empty beach. They asserted their right to enjoy this public beach by noisily occupying sand and surf in front of the club as opposed to the swathes of deserted beach next to it. Their tactics were well rehearsed and included a game where all thirty boys and girls ran into the water, in two separate lines, splashing about as much as possible and shouting at the top of their lungs. The element of surprise, the running, the splashing, and the shouting, worked. Those who were previously having a peaceful paddle beat a hasty retreat out of the sea.

But this was no one-sided battle. Admittedly, the First Estate simply went into the dining room for lunch. But the Second Estate fought back the way the Second Estate does best. They stared at the insurgents. Really deep, piercing stares. But the sans culottes had seen this method of social exclusion before and just turned up the decibel level of their play. After about 45 minutes, with the suddenness of it all slipping away, what was left was a sense of a busy, noisy part of an otherwise empty few miles of beach. Those who had previously left the water when Operation Reclaim commenced began to edge back in. Discomfort gave way to peaceful coexistence. The ghetto was now everyone’s hood. Then just as suddenly as they arrived, they disappeared. All was quiet on the southern front again. The First Estate peeped out. Peaceful but separate existences: that’s how they like it in Bim.

THE LAST KINGS OF BIM

A frequent complaint of new arrivals to the rock is that the local newspapers are not substantive. If you are looking for the latest news and analysis I am inclined to agree. But The Nation, The Advocate and Heat do so much more. The classifieds are a must read. One woman wanted a job “babysitting, selling bread from a van and looking after the elderly”. Your call, but given her skill set, odds are if you entrusted her with little Johnny, or elderly aunt Mavis, they will end up spending a lot of time inside a bread van. My personal favorite remains a daily advert for Keisha’s Jewelry accompanied by a photo of a man Interpol might advise the public to report if seen, but under no circumstances approach. Keisha, is that you?

Several of the columnists are great fun and it is my addiction to reading them that has led me astray this week. Now, I am a simple woman. When I read in a popular newspaper column that the best pudding and souse (pickled pork and sweet potato), a Bajan Saturday lunch ritual, is to be found in Lemon Arbour, St. John, I believed. Last Saturday, while The Husband played cricket with four little boys, I headed out with faith and a map. We are still licking our lips from the best pudding and souse as well as barbeque chicken, macaroni pie and vegetables.

So when the same columnist wrote that the best freshly salted fish is to be found in Martin’s Bay on a Tuesday, “just ask for Mr. King”, I want to do just that. Trinis make a wonderful snack called bulgol with salt fish tossed in olive oil, onions, garlic and sweet peppers accompanied by locally produced crackers called crik. No other cracker is deemed appropriate. The kids love it and mama enjoys indulging them just a little. So the search for Mr. King begins.

The phone book has 53 listings that include King. I eliminate the obvious unsuitable candidates, including Dr. King the family GP, Dr. King the dentist, Mr. King the physiotherapist, Mr. King the lawyer, Mr. King the auto repairman, Discount King, Door King, Security King and Chicken King. But none of the remaining Kings yielded a salt fish supplier. As happens often on this tiny rock I only mention my quest in passing to a fellow artist and she thinks she knows who it might be. Leigh shares a long-term cottage rental overlooking the sea at Martin’s Bay and knows of a King family in the village. Since we are making work together we decided to combine this with the salt fish quest by having our weekly working session at the cottage in Martin’s Bay.

From our worktable we gazed out towards Africa, wind in our hair and pounding waves in our ears. Inspiration flowed and grand ideas emerged for changing the artistic landscape of Bim by creating spaces where ideas on contemporary art are exchanged and challenged through collaborations, exhibitions and happenings. But the devil is always in the detail and by lunchtime reality has set in. Given the miniscule percentage of the total population engaged in contemporary art, we are lucky just to have found each other. The rock is too small to contain and sustain activity of this sort without engagement from at least neighbouring Jamaica and Trinidad. There is nothing like an epiphany to bring on hunger and so the quest for the salt fish King resumed.

As we drove to where the King family may be living, Leigh said I needed a little warning about the group known locally by the derogatory terms, Redlegs or Ecky-Beckys, which Mr. King belongs to. They are descendents of Scottish immigrants who came to Barbados particularly between 1627 and 1629. Of course there were the usual planters and settlers but there were also indentured labourers, political dissidents, prisoners – basically anyone the Scots wanted out of Scotland. The descendents of these lower classes have formed a small but distinct, traditionally isolated enclave, of poor Caucasian families living in the north east of the island. The younger generation is more integrated into mainstream society but Martin’s Bay is a hamlet that would prefer the outside to stay outside.

The significance of this small community of poor whites on the rock might seem absurd until you remember that this is a society largely made up of the descendents of white masters and black slaves. The stereotype each must bear is the equation that white equals wealth and privilege and black the opposite. Frantz Fanon in his book, The Wretched of the Earth puts it this way, “…the economic substructure is also a superstructure. The cause is the consequence; you are rich because you are white, you are white because you are rich.” Mr. King’s family turns this on its head churning up both fear and fascination in equal measure.

We found Mr. King conveniently taking the sea air on his porch in the company of a gentleman who looks a lot like him, and a woman who turns out to be his wife, and who also looks a lot like him. The gene pool is shrinking. It is clear their peaceful afternoons are not usually shattered by strangers. I do my best not to fixate on the almost translucent paleness of their skins, their ruddy checks and the slightly wild eyed look common to all three. Leigh did the talking.
“Morning. We looking for Mr. King who sells salt fish pon ah Tuesday down here.”
“I is Mr. King. But I eh have no fish. Yuh sure is King yuh want?” he asks.
“It was in de papers dat is de best salt fish. Better than de grocery ting from Canada. Fresh, fresh, salt fish from right here in Martin’s Bay. De papers say just ask for Mr. King.”
“It have more King dem round St. John by de hill but I doh know no body who does sell fish.”
“Yuh sure?”
“I ain’t have no fish. Yuh want eggs?”

It is clear there will be no more conversation so she politely declined the eggs and we drove out of the village. As the car bumped along on what passes for a road, we saw a man cleaning fish. Leigh put down her window (with the “married man tint”) and yelled to him,
“Yuh selling salt fish?”
Without missing a beat he replied,
“Well, de sea have salt, and de fish come from de sea, so dis Dolphin here is salt fish. How much yuh want?”

It was wonderful to end the day shattering so many racial stereotypes. Whites are not all privileged and a black fisherman is the best entrepreneur I have ever met. The quest for Mr. King continues. But I remain optimistic that when the sun shines Mr. King will come out of hiding and we can shine together, making the best bulgol ever. And if, in his world, it’s raining more than ever, he can have my umbrella. Meanwhile Queen Rihana is arriving today to a red carpet, double celebration, of her first Grammy and 20th birthday.

Long live the Queen. Ella, ella, eh, eh, eh.

LOVE BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE

Well happy bloody Valentine’s to you too.

It’s that greeting card, red rose and restaurant revenue-boosting day again. Don’t misunderstand - I’m all for romance. I just don’t understand how a typical Valentine verse like this, gleaned from the Internet, could ever speak to my darkest desires:
Roses are Red
Violets are Blue
Do Mice really like Rice?
Or even ice?
I don't know,
But I know that
I Love You!

However, to prove I am not immune to the impact of millions of advertising dollars spent on promoting the hearts and roses industry, this entire blog is devoted to luuve.

Big city love bears little relation to love on the rock. Urban life is still very much a throw away culture. This applies as much to plastic bags as to lovers. In London, for example, once you ditch Mr. Duplicity, you need never see him again. At least I have never bumped into the bastard since my request that he shoot himself as an act of kindness to the rest of humanity.

On this rock, by contrast, lovers cannot be discarded with any realistic hope that you have seen the last of them. Throw a lover away and they boomerang right back to you while waiting in the checkout line at Supercentre or when relaxing on Accra beach. There are good odds that before long you will be attending the same christening, wedding or funeral. So, love on the rock is guided by the best principles of sustainability. Old lovers are discarded with due care and attention.

A popular practice on island, if you don’t need a full time Mr. or Ms. Lover, and, ever mindful of waste, is to have a share in one that is currently in active use. This usually lasts until a new or recycled lover becomes available. Sometimes the arrangement is prematurely terminated because the main interest holder finds out about it and demands that you cease and desist yuh shameful watlessness or dey gine come by yuh yard and make bare trouble. Admittedly this aspect of the love waste management programme has come in for severe public criticism from both pulpit and polite society. But in private many seem to have adopted the more tolerant, “don’t ask, don’t tell” stance. A popular calypso even urges that if yuh come home and find a bare back man cleaning yuh house, and yuh wife real tired, don’t call it horn, call it assistance.

Do not for a moment think that recycling love is something confined to a particular class or race in Bim. The love footprint in Bim is the same for an Ecky Becky (a particular group of poor whites in Bim) from Martin’s Bay or a resident of Sandy Lane. This rock is so small that even as an outsider, prodding along alone in my studio, I have heard a few tales of the complex shenanigans of former ministers, prominent business people, as well as the nocturnal antics of villagers near Mike’s Bar in Christ Church.

But there is at least one love that dares not speak its name in Bim. Yes, on this rock you are free to love as long as that excludes the same sex. And before you get the wrong idea - I am a vanilla heterosexual with the statistically appropriate number of kids and a picket fence. (Okay, okay – I like a little chocolate but you get the picture). My interest is simply the human rights of us all. Surely paradise has room for me and my gay brothers and sisters. But if you read the blogs, newspapers, listen to radio or talk to my man eating lunch by Chop’s in “de Pine”, there is visceral fear and pure hate of homosexuals. For a society that gives Christianity such importance it shows moral bankruptcy in terms of tolerance of otherness. The church equates homosexuality with evil. Evil? The people who committed genocide in Rwanda are evil. Consenting adults who make love in private, that causes no harm to others, are not. But they continue to be criminalized on this rock. Has decriminalization of homosexuality all over the world, and in other parts of the Caribbean like the former Spanish, French, Dutch colonies, US and British territories, made these places where evil homosexuals have ruined the moral fabric of society?

This Valentine I hope you love freely, responsibly and sustainably. Forget all those red hearts. Green is the colour of modern love man. I must confess however to not really being any closer to truly understanding this thing called love. The poets say we can’t and never will. But for a concept we consistently fail to fully comprehend, I like Auden’s kick-ass failure best. This one’s for you dear readers.

Law Like Love

Law, say the gardeners, is the sun,
Law is the one
All gardeners obey
To-morrow, yesterday, to-day.

Law is the wisdom of the old,
The impotent grandfathers feebly scold;
The grandchildren put out a treble tongue,
Law is the senses of the young.

Law, says the priest with a priestly look,
Expounding to an unpriestly people,
Law is the word in my priestly book,
Law is my pulpit and my steeple.
Law says the judge as he looks down his nose,
Speaking clearly and most severely,
Law is as I have told you before,
Law is as you know I suppose,
Law is but let me explain it once more,
Law is The Law.

Yet law-abiding scholars write:
Law is neither wrong nor right,
Law is only crimes
Punished by places and by times,
Law is the clothes men wear
Anytime, anywhere,
Law is Good-morning and Good-night.

Others say, Law is our Fate;
Others say, Law is our State;
Others say, others say,
Law is no more,
Law has gone away.

And always the loud angry crowd,
Very angry and very loud,
Law is We,
And always the soft idiot softly Me.

If we, dear, know we know no more
Than they about the Law,
If I no more than you
Know what we should and should not do
Except that all agree
Gladly or miserably
That the Law is
And all know this,
If therefore thinking it absurd
To identify Law with some other word,
Unlike so many men
I cannot say Law is again,

No more than they can we suppress
The universal wish to guess
Or slip out of our own position
Into an unconcerned condition.

Although I can at least confine
Your vanity and mine
To stating timidly
A timid similarity,
We shall boast anyway:
Like love I say.

Like Love we don’t know where or why,
Like Love we can’t compel or fly,
Like Love we often weep,
Like Love we seldom keep.


W.H. Auden

A COMPARATIVE STUDY OF METHODOLOGIES IN THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS AND WORLD PEACE: MRS. RAM, FATHER BROWN AND BOUTROS BOUTROS-GHALI

You might think that since we live on this coral stone paradise that we are not interested in world politics. Not so. World peace starts at home and this exceptional island leads by example having recently changed governments in an orderly fashion and with great dignity. There is the obvious leadership of politicians, the church and other pillars of society’s hierarchy. But for true guidance my man in the street looks to other sources - as I found out when I tuned in last Saturday morning to Bim talk radio.

What with the killings in Kenya, the bloody attempted coup in Chad and 50 recorded murders in Trinidad for a year that has barely begun, you would think people do not need to be persuaded of the need for peace. But they do, and well-known businesswoman and local celebrity, Mrs. Ram, has some wisdom to impart - along with bargain prices for objects you will need by the time she is finished. On live radio from 9am to 10am, Mrs. Ram brings us her thoughts directly from the shop floor of her emporiums, Furniture Limited and the Handy Man’s Hardware. In a stream of consciousness worthy of a Marquez novel, we are told that you can buy a 17 foot ladder for $495, a 32 foot for $1000, a 36 foot for $1200 and a 40 foot for $1400. Why do you need a 17-foot ladder you ask? Mrs. Ram’s sales assistant explains that standing on a chair is not always good enough, and, if you fall, as you get older, your bones don’t mend so easily. So before you say you don’t have $495 for a ladder think of the savings in time, money and stress. And while you are up that ladder why not change your curtains? Bajans used to have to go to Trinidad to get cheap curtains. Now Trini prices are def-in-ite-ly right here on Cumberland Street. Deliveries happen Monday to Friday in every parish.

On live radio we are informed that Debra, a sales person, is looking good today in a green T-Shirt with the slogan, “Girls Just Want to Have Funds”. Joanne, the radio announcer, says she normally cuts her hair very, very short in January but this new year she is keeping it long. And for you non-believers it is not “store bought hair”. We are reliably informed that you are as young as you feel; pomegranate is the colour for 2K8 and that Berger Paints have brought out a new, super fast drying paint, called 20/20 - named after the super short 20/20 cricket games. Yes, it is more expensive but then you always pay more for real quality. Oh, and Joy in sales hates talking into the microphone. But just wait for Peter or John to appear and you can’t shut her up. Joanne would also like her husband to note that either Mrs. Ram’s eight or ten piece comforter set would be acceptable for her up coming birthday or at a push, Valentine’s Day.

Then, just when I thought it could not get better, the woman herself joined the fray. Mrs. Ram said straight off that T-Shirts like Debra’s were too sexy and it is time for young people, and indeed the whole of Barbados, to get back to family and God. You can do this on a family day out at her hotel, Casa Grande, on 17 February from 3- 8pm, admission $25 - which she has to charge just to pay for the maintenance. The change in government was welcome but business people are being frustrated. At every meeting Mrs. Ram has been told that civil servants cannot deal with her concerns as “dey waiting fuh policy”. Meanwhile she can offer some nice 6 by 8, 13 by 13, 16 by 16, and 20 by 20 tiles, in hundreds of styles, and at prices to suit every pocket. If you don’t have the cash there is easy credit. Just bring your job letter, Identification Card and a small down payment. Mrs. Ram urges Bajans to “get off their backside and get some work done”. You can also hire Casa Grande to take your vows again “to make sure yuh married”. If you missed any of the bargains mentioned earlier, like punch bowls for $39.95 (you know you want one), or hand blenders for $38.95, then the programme is repeated on Fridays at 11am. Tune in.

Having spent a whole year on the rock before discovering Mrs. Ram’s broadcast I began to wonder what other sources of wisdom blog readers have been deprived of. Well, there’s church - the epicentre of Bajan society. Not for the first time it is my friend Linda who comes to the rescue. She is a regular of Father Brown’s congregation. This week she reported on his special sermon for kids on the theme of responsibility and happiness.

Accepting that you determine your happiness (or lack thereof) is an excellent topic. Indeed, it is arguable that Mrs. Ram’s message to get off your backside and do some work is simply a practical route to owning one’s happiness. But how exactly do you convey such a complex idea to the under10’s? Adults routinely blame others for their unhappiness so why should children be more mature? And allocating blame in a post-Freud world is easy. It must be your mother’s fault. Had my mom breast-fed me for a year, would I still be a grumpy loner who would rather be force fed Mitt Romney speeches on a loop for 24 hours than spend 30 minutes at a coffee morning social? Sadly, I think I would. By the way, First Born, and Second Born (by three minutes), in case you ever read this blog, until you have premature twin babies of your own, and a six-inch cut across your stomach, don’t judge formula milk too harshly.

Christ Church parish has Father Brown to prevent our children from making such cheap excuses when they cannot or will not take responsibility for their lives. This week he started by asking them to put up their hands if they were happy. No hands. Then he tried asking them to share what made them happy. Silence. Animals and children – tricky creatures… But our Father Brown had not yet played his ace. Would the kids join him in singing the ever popular “If You’re Happy And You Know It”. It goes something like this:

If you’re happy and you know it
Clap your hands
(followed by hand clapping)

If you’re happy and you know it
Clap your hands
(followed by hand clapping)

If you’re happy and you know it
And you really want to show it
If you’re happy and you know it
Clap your hands
(followed by hand clapping)

Other verses usually follow with e.g. stamping your feet and clicking your fingers. Father Brown had them clap hands. Success! The church is filled with the sound of music and little hands clapping. Verse two commanded that if they were happy, and they knew it, they should “flap [their] wings”. Most made a decent stab at imitating a bird in flight and again music filled the church. But he had saved the best for last.

If you’re happy and you know it
Wag your tail


The bewildered kids were stumped. So the good pastor attempted to demonstrate by doing a little bottom wriggling in the aisle for them. The children refused to follow his lead. Frustrated, padre called for volunteers from the congregation to show them how to “wag their tails”. Not a tail moved. “Come come, there must be somebody who can wag their tail fuh de children dem.” he implored. Eventually from the back of the church a middle aged, white, Bajan lady put her hand up and gingerly walked up the aisle to the assembled cherubs. She then proceeded to vigorously wriggle her hips as if trying to shake off a Post-It stuck to her rear. This did the trick and the voices of the little angels reached up to the heavens:

If you’re happy and you know it
Wag your tail
(followed by tail wagging)

If you’re happy and you know it
Wag your tail
(followed by tail wagging)

If you’re happy and you know it
And you really want to show it
If you’re happy and you know it
Wag your tail
(followed by tail wagging)

Well screw the god delusion arguments. Look for me in frock and matching hat in the front pew next Sunday morning.

So when you're blue remember Mrs. Ram and Father Brown. Happiness is never far out of reach if you just take responsibility and try a little harder. Embrace your inner Jack Russell or Irish Setter.

As for world peace, I say we follow the succinct advice of former Secretary-General of the UN, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, as offered on Da Ali G Show:

Hello, I’m Boutros Boutros-Ghali,
Put down your guns,
And follow Bob Marley.


Respec. Here’s hoping your cup runneth over.