IN WITH ANGER, OUT WITH LOVE

Hindu philosophy teaches that a man’s life is divided into four stages: student, householder, retired person and finally ascetic. At least they had the decency not to suggest the average woman’s unendingly overlapping life could be so neatly defined. Women know they will never have the luxury of retiring from secular duties to spend time reflecting on the meaning of life and death. The best we can hope for is that our yell above the fray for Five Freaking Minutes Of Peace and Quiet Please is respected. But the minutes of quiet contemplation are a double-edged sword. Peace provides a moment to acknowledge that I am always being caught on the back foot. By the time I have figured out the stage of life I’m in, that phase is either past or future. This is my explanation for being such an adult child and childish adult and I’m sticking to it.

It may also explain why I have to be hauled into the next act of life’s drama kicking and screaming. You see they want me to become a Squash Mom. Hindsight reveals this was inevitable. Their grandpa has played some decent squash and despite being British has been co-opted into and/or coached national teams of Barbados, Guyana and Jamaica at various times in his life. Of course the minute his grandsons were given a squash racket they determined to beat him at his own game. And that is how the entire family came to spend last weekend at a tournament with First and Second Born playing in the Under Eleven category.

I learnt that the role of a Squash Mom is to provide bananas and sports drinks on command. She must also be able to tie shoelaces to the athlete’s precise comfort level and anticipate when said athlete’s sweat glands have necessitated a new t-shirt or towel. She must be encouraging and interested and between matches may not curl up in a far corner reading her novel as this signifies she is Not Totally Committed.

A Squash Dad on the other hand is completely committed by simply showing up. The local paper’s headline has labeled The Husband a “guru” after he gave a public lecture on the financial crisis. He’s got an idea or three and in a crisis, where everyone is panicking, a rational voice can be elevated beyond its rightful status. I have made it my life’s mission to ensure he never gets too arrogant or believes the hype. Hence, it has been his duty, and will remain his duty, guru or no guru, to take out the garbage. All year. Everyday. One bag at a time.

Back at the tournament the boys played with children much more experienced and skilled but they showed both spirit and sportsmanship. But before it was all over we were treated to a glimpse of things to come. First and Second Born were drawn against each other for their final match. In the 1950s two of the top squash players were brothers, Hashim and Azam Khan, and they often met each other in the finals of international championships. By all accounts they were fiercely competitive but wholeheartedly supportive of each other. I have told our boys about these brothers in the hope that they would emulate this model. But the twins’ hearing needs testing. From the aggression, energy and skill they only showed while fighting for each point, of each game, against each other, they must have thought I said emulate Genghis Khan, who, cheese-on-bread, ended up killing his brother over some stupid hunting prize.

So it was excellent timing that hot on the heels of this war we had Divali, the Hindu festival of lights, celebrating the triumph of good over evil and light over dark. Being an atheist gives a license to be thrilled by any religious celebrations you fancy. These celebrations are all cultural events and I am a culture whore. In London I would, with equal zeal, queue at Christmas to hear the Tallis Scholars perform Renaissance sacred music, watch dragon dancing over Chinese new year and celebrate both big and little Eid. But Bim’s population is largely Christian churchgoers. People are unconvinced and sure my behaviour is a cover for some deep, hidden religious zeal. Velma, the housekeeper, is especially unconvinced.
“What yuh mean yuh eh have religion? Yuh have to look bout de chillren dem. How deh go manage wid out religion?”
I paused, remembering the mantra E. says with exaggerated feeling and elaborate hand gestures whenever life proves challenging: in with anger, out with love, in with anger, out with love, in with anger
“I tell the boys to say we are humanists and I teach them to respect all religions.” I reply in a calm, measured voice.
But she was quick off the mark.
Humanists? Wah dat? It eh have no religion name so.”
With the argument settled she triumphantly walked off, shaking her head and muttering loud enough for all to hear.
“And she mudder is such a good lady dat have nice, nice religion.”

In with anger, out with love, in with anger, out with love, in with anger

LET THAT ONE EAT MACARONI PIE

I remain unreasonably optimistic that this small rock is the location to make a life in our troubled times. This optimism might be fueled in part by email responses I have had to a request that friends, acquainted with our 21 by 14 miles of coral, share what makes it unique. The consensus is that the drawbacks are many - like the unending road construction that is sparring to rival Boston’s Big Dig that went on and on and on. But shovel the rubble and you find deep affection for this quirky rock and its proud people.

There are certain preconditions that must be met before you can settle comfortably into life on this small rock. One such precondition is patience. I don’t have patience. Indeed my patient Papa often sighs, reflecting aloud that this trait is part of my inheritance. He’s seen the same behaviour in both his wife and mother-in-law. But I am really trying to be less wired and more in touch with the good karma of the universe. So what if the container and truck finally made it up the driveway to deliver our stuff only to smash a parked tractor on the journey down the hill. And what if in officially clearing these goods I had to deal with a gentleman who hit on me - albeit without charisma, wit or a dental plan. He even called our home and expressed amazement when I warned I wanted nothing to do with him and was going to put the phone down.
“Yuh gine put de phone down pon me?” asked Joe The Idiot incredulously.
Click.
(Note to self: must train Jack to bite on sight all idiots: Joes, Samuels, licensed, unlicensed...)

A much more welcome visitor was someone from school days. Despite the intervening decades it is odd how little people change. Of course he’s all grown up now but R. is still fundamentally the same unassuming, bright kid I remember. Throughout his visit First and Second Born remained unconvinced that we grown-ups were ever eight years old in spite of the stories R. recounted. If I had never moved here this kind of lucky encounter with the past would probably not have materialised. Indeed, so many long lost friends are promising to visit that I have transferred the data to an Excel spreadsheet. The next step is an online booking system for the winter season.

And just to prepare for all this entertaining I had “volunteered” to work the food stall at the school fair. It was a difficult fit. J. warned it would be busy, busy, busy. What she failed to appreciate was the level of fluency in the vernacular required to comprehend complex orders from no less than three hungry Bajans at any given time. Maybe if it had been just the one hungry Bajan at a time, we would have, through a combination of speech and gesture, arrived at a satisfactory outcome. Instead I felt like Ban Ki-Moon being suddenly accosted by Chávez in colourful Spanish, a static, non-committal smile on my face, while someone discreetly provided sequential translation in my ear. The only constant was that each order seemed to end with,
“And put ah five dollar pie.” (Translation: may I have a small portion of macaroni pie.) This is almost a meal in itself, but hey, at least it’s not the eight-dollar portion that is the entire recommended daily carbohydrate intake for an average family with 2.4 children.)

The food stall lacked capacity to cope with servers needing translators. I could see a reprimand followed by dishonourable discharge if I did not act fast. It was time to pull out all the stops. Among other things, the stall served two types of roti – one filled with beef and potato and the other with chicken and potato. All I had to understand was that, “Two beef and ah chicken”, for example, meant two beef rotis and one chicken roti. This was a no frills operation. And being served by a short, Indian, woman might be, from the customer’s viewpoint, a more satisfactorily authentic experience. I could even, ahem, have been the chef. For the longest two hours I filled and wrapped roti after roti while wearing a subservient smile that said, “Please don’t harm me. I am merely serving roti like I do each day of my doomed and troubled existence, which of course you can trace through hundreds of years when my dirt poor ancestors were tricked, or kidnapped, or sold into indenturship and dumped on the strange shores of these islands.” And if you had any doubts about the power of humility, the proof of the roti is in the eating: this dumb ass woman’s bad ass food sold out first.

A BRIDGE TO NOWHERE

How do you keep a blog flexible and relevant week after week when you live on a small rock where nothing much happens? I’m not a philosopher so this lack is not the condition precedent for a state of higher consciousness. This is a vacuum of insignificant emptiness. If I lived somewhere more hip or important I could at least envelop myself in a more significant void. Although come to think of it, Iceland is having a moment of significant nothingness and look where that’s got them.

And on the subject of being and nothingness, The Husband has registered a formal complaint about his portrayal in this blog and asked that I find a different fall guy.
“Why don’t you write about your brother?” he asked.
“I don’t have a brother.” I stated truthfully.
“Yes I know that." he retorted. "But you can invent one and make him out to be incompetent and foolish.”
“But darling, you’re the real deal.”

He retreated but celebrations would be premature. This was merely a surge strategy of as yet indeterminate effectiveness. No one side can claim victory. However, for the sake of marital détente I will henceforth only mention The Husband in neutral or positive tones. So I shall simply state, without embellishment, that he is off island during the annual school fair and that this is the second time he has managed to miss this seminal event. Of course I know the G7 did not deliberately timetable their meeting to dampen the fair’s gate receipts. But perhaps Honey Pie could have left the rock without filling in a volunteer form, on my behalf, that has me selling fish cakes for half the afternoon and helping little ones on and off the “helicopter” ride for the rest of the time. Ah, but Prince Charming was probably only trying to save me the hassle of having to choose where my energies and goodwill should be channeled. So, I think it only equally helpful that by the time Pumpkin steps off BA2155 next week, I should have worked out exactly where he might channel his goodwill. Soul mates, me and my Precious. He can have half my Lehman shares any day.

In the meantime I am still in the nothingness. Even worrying about my carbon footprint seems unimportant what with the chaos and volatility of financial markets everywhere. Although, given the extremes of weather on this rock, I should be deeply concerned about the environment. A couple weeks ago we were stripping off because of the scorching heat and now we are in a deluge with storm system after storm system hitting us. In a matter of days we have experienced the floods, thunder and lightning of Marco and Nana. Now Omar is threatening and Paloma is gestating in the wings.

Today we are drowning in yet another flash flood. The 40 foot container I had earlier cleared from the port could not be delivered. There was too much rainwater flowing downhill for the truck to make it up the driveway. The customs officers who were required to unseal the container simply refused to get out of their cars. I suggested they open the half full container at the bottom of my driveway and the officers could step into it, quickly check through my junk, and leave us to offload over the next few days. That would have required that they leave their cars and walk five metres with the aid of a device like, say, an umbrella. But as I had been required to make advance payment for two officers working three hours overtime they lacked the necessary motivation to walk those few steps. As they drove off, cheerfully waving, they said I should go back to the customs office to book them for three more hours overtime tomorrow when, God spare life, they will be able to carry out the inspection.

And so life remains in a state of nothing, on hold till the grand opening of the container, bearing all our worldly possessions from London. I had daydreams of it being like a birthday party where you got 153 boxes of stuff you always wanted. Boxes and boxes of favorite books mixed in with piles of old photos. We would sip from those delicate, eggshell-blue teacups bought in Borough Market and sleep wrapped in soft sheets, infused still with the faintest scent of First and Second Born as babies. But Bajan fear of rain, and rain itself, have temporarily halted that.

To fill the emptiness that had been slated as time to sort through these fragments of memory, I decided to brave the Bridgetown Main Post Office to collect a parcel. And would you believe it I arrived on Customer Appreciation Day. So what if I queued for twenty-five minutes to collect my tiny parcel because only one person was on counter duty. During the wait I was offered a choice of Sprite, Coke or Mauby by an employee. On the way out, another employee, also relieved of working at the counter, thanked me for using the Post Office, reminded me that the Lord is our eternal helper, and thrust a small take-away box of sandwiches, cake and fruit into my hand. That’s the dilemma of nothingness – it’s not clear if the lack is one that you should laugh or cry about.

IT’S ALL SUBPRIME TO ME

'That's a great deal to make one word mean,'
Alice said in a thoughtful tone.
`When I make a word do a lot of work like that,'
said Humpty Dumpty, `I always pay it extra.'


Lewis Carroll, Through The Looking Glass

I place the blame for the demise of Freddie and Fannie, or Dick and Doris, or whatever these bankers call themselves, squarely at the feet of the American Society of Dialect. When they voted “subprime” Word Of The Year 2007, they should have known a word that has changed its meaning over a few short decades would exact revenge. What once related to lending below the now defunct prime interest rate has morphed into a term describing lending to people who are subprime in credit rating terms. And what screwed up revenge it has exacted. So The Brothers fall and we are expected to cushion the landing because … why exactly? They enjoyed the million dollar bonuses so why should we pay for the losses when it all comes crashing down? Well, say the low life bankers, shaking their heads most severely, don’t help us and the financial system will collapse. Yeah, like am I bothered?? Well I wasn’t until, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, would you look at what is happening. We didn’t save the greedy suits and now the system is collapsing.

So the world is in free fall. And what has occupied us on this small rock? The fifteenth Caribbean Gift and Craft Show. Everywhere I turn there is danger and chaos. The Americans might elect a nasty old guy and his stupid, banshee running mate. Contaminated Chinese milk products are probably being imbibed by the poorest in Africa with no hope of recall before they experience more death and sickness. The Tamil Tigers are on a bombing spree and an earthquake has rocked Tibet. But we soldier on determined to find the next must-have locally made gifts and crafts.

Now there are two types of gifts. There are the “oh you shouldn’t have” gifts which you stare at with a fixed smile and, with bated breath, search for the elusive, enclosed gift receipt. Then there are the “oh baby, come closer let me thank you properly” kind of gifts that have you whooping with delight. Let’s just say that if you gave any of the bowls, masks or key chains on display at this fair, fashioned, for that authentic, local, touch, out of coconut, you’ll get weeping not whooping. And the worse part for me is that I had agreed to give over two full days to join a panel of judges doling out various awards at said trade fair. The other judges, two Canadians flown in, and two Bajans on the ground, were a delight to work with and about ten percent of the stuff on display was actually pretty good. But as Tanty Merle’s nephew would declare, “never me again in dat”. Perhaps the whole experience is best encapsulated by the tote bag organizers gave to visitors. It was proudly “made in China” and the stitching on the steams fell apart within an hour of gentle use.

Gift production aside, it is wonderful to be living in paradise, greeted by blue skies and even bluer seas as I do the school run. But is the price of paradise isolation? Of course I have wi-fi that reaches every corner of the garden; the FT is delivered by 6am every day and when desperate I have even been known to talk to The Husband. But this is isolation from a dialogue with the rest of the world that no virtual social space can replace. It is a sense of being in a place that is deliberately, willfully, out of sync with anything beyond its immediate context. It is as if by denying this dialogue we can cease to be part of it.

In exchange for this denial First Born and Second Born were able yesterday to swim in cool waters after school, run around naked chasing a bemused Jack and hide in a gully collecting “ancient bones”. The Husband sat in the garden and communed with the world on urgent matters from his laptop ahead of his trips to Washington, New York and London to debate the financial crisis. My job is to complete the various art projects and writing I am committed to as well as project manage the building works on our tired house. But mainly I have been staring into the middle distance wondering why I am here and not there.

And that is when the accident occurred. Three cars ahead of us bumped and crashed into each other forming a neat daisy chain of crumbled metal. Luck and vorsprung durch technik saved us from being a part of the pile up in which thankfully no one was hurt. But as we passed by we could not help but be riveted by the scene. That’s when I understood why we live and thrive on this small rock. When you live in the centre you can’t help but get caught up in the frenzy. In London today I would have listened to the news over and over as banks in Iceland collapsed – all with the same ghoulish interest as looking at the aftermath of a car crash. But being here, so far from the epicentre, provides a chance to absorb that information and try to think it through, maybe even get a little perspective on the whole subprime mess. And that chance at perspective, dear reader, is reason No. 356 why you really ought to try a stint at life on this small rock.