WE NEED A BLUNT INSTRUMENT

I hate chaos. A butterfly somewhere in the Pacific probably flapped its wings and we have ended up with annoyingly wet weather for the past week in this, the dry season. And readers in cold climes will not sympathize but the air is a tad chilly at night. That is almost my last complaint about paradise. My very last complaint - well for this week at least – is that a terrible serpent has entered our small rock of Eden. Actually we don’t have nasty snakes in Bim so I’ll re-phrase that: an ugly mongoose has been seen flaunting himself all over town. I feel this acutely because I forgot to have breakfast on Wednesday.

If you skip the most important meal of the day then by 11am, after a morning of running around doing stuff, you are likely to be hungry. I was. Wave after wave of hunger descended as I was about to enter a hardware store. Clearly I could not last through the protracted negotiations of buying a pair of French doors and a sash window without sustenance. But the cosmos was on my side and there, across the road, was a fruit vendor.
Banana.
All I needed was a banana and I could face the hardware’s Business Prevention Officers employed to stop consumers injecting cash into the economy.

A tall, slim gentleman with dreadlocks and his non-Rasta lady friend offered a perfect banana for 75 cents. As he handed over the fruit, Jah’s son gave me the biggest smile.
“You know Cindy?” he asked.
“No, I don’t think so. Sorry.”
“Man, you look jus like she. She even smile nice jus like you.”
I smiled again. It is rare to get a decent banana and a compliment all for 75 cents. He turned to his lady friend.
“Ent she look jus like Cindy?”
The lady looked me over and sneered.
“All dem Indian does look de same.” she replied and turned away.
I froze for what felt like a long, long, time. In a daze I walked back to the car. French doors and windows would keep for another day.

I am not naïve about racism. Equally it is not something I come across often or simply accommodate and hope it goes away. Hatred of Guyanese, particularly the Indo-Guyanese, with the usual chants that these aliens are in Bim to steal jobs and women, are regularly heard on the radio call-in programmes, blogs and TV. Sadly xenophobia slides off the tongues and pens of big-ups, boys on the block, and lots of people in between. What was appalling about this incident was the casualness of the racism. In her eyes I was so worthless she did not need to hide her contempt. We left London hoping our boys experience less of this. Racism is racism - whether it is white on black, or black on brown, or brown on black, and or any other colour of the rainbow against another. It just hurts more because I claim these Caribbean islands as my home.

So I shall not be trying to get back to wherever it is these racists think my clones and I should go, and nor, I suspect, will Bajans be rushing back to Africa. Is tolerance of difference so difficult? One method of bringing people together is through music. Daniel Barenboim and the late Edward Said have famously brought together young musicians, Jews and Palestinians, in the West-Eastern Divan Workshop and Orchestra, since the late 1990s. Bajans and non-Bajans have demonstrated we can come together to wuk up to soca, sing along under Rihanna’s umbrella and, more recently, shed tears with James Blunt.

Yes, the man with the most popular song to be played at funerals (Goodbye My Lover) performed during the Barbados Jazz Festival. We, the people of Bim, shared his sense of loss as he sang the hit “You’re beautiful”. It’s the one about seeing a face “in a crowded place, And I don’t know what to do, ‘Cause I’ll never be with you”. And there was not a dry eye in the stadium when this former soldier, who has traded a deadly gun for a mighty guitar, sang of atrocities witnessed in Kosovo:

There are children standing here,
Arms outstretched into the sky,
But no one asks the question why,
He has been here.
Old men kneel to accept their fate.
Wives and daughters cut and raped.
A generation drenched in hate.
Says, he has been here.


We say not another Burundi until Rwanda.
And then we say not another Rwanda until Kosovo.
And then we say not another Kosovo until the Congo.
Surely Bajans have no desire to be part of that cycle of hate.

WAITING FOR A MAN LIKE YOU (WITH APOLOGIES TO FOREIGNER)

We should have been in DC for the inauguration. Accommodation, flights and babysitting were sorted since the end of November. The guilty party knows who he is. Let’s just say that when I refer to him, if I refer to him at all, he is, His Grey Eminence. And to compound the disappointment I found out on Facebook. There, posted on his page, was a flyer announcing his keynote speech to the Reserve Bank of India in Mumbai the day after the inauguration. Somehow this Trekkie thought he possessed a Transporter. Using voice commands like “Energize!” he could dematerialize at will from Pennsylvania Avenue, only to be reborn whole on the Subcontinent, and all in time for a quick chapatti before his lecture. Even Mr. Spock would conclude that this was highly illogical.

So the day America, and it seemed the world, welcomed a new, bright, handsome prince, I was a world away on this small rock glued to a TV screen. What an experience it would have been to hear the old people who came up from the south tell their stories and to feel the sense of hope and renewal surge through the two million strong crowd as they looked on, often through tears, and in almost complete silence, as he placed his hand on Abe Lincoln’s bible. Of course he had constitutionally become President five minutes earlier. The cameras showed his wife gently touch his shoulder at the stroke of noon to announce history had been made.

About a dozen of us, representing many nationalities, were gathered around our TV. Some had taken an extended lunch break while others had successfully pleaded for the Court of Appeal to recess for the afternoon so they could sit on the sofa and laugh and cry as we witnessed this overwhelming moment. When Aretha Franklin belted out My Country 'Tis of Thee from the depths of her soul, my spine tingled. And a tear or two might have rolled down my cheeks had I not been annoyingly distracted by her rather distinctive hat. Sista, even if you are the Queen of Soul, there are some crazy bow and rhinestone creations that belong to the 1930s, and should remain in the 1930s.

Like many non-Americans I had never bothered to watch an inauguration before so it was a novel experience. It must be the closest Americans get to a royal ceremony. Substitute the black beast limos for gilded, horse-drawn carriages, and a young, dark-skinned couple for some old white folks, and you could almost have been on the other side of the pond. If QE2 was watching telly I think her advice to the new royals would be succinct: practice your wave. Take it from a woman who has waved at crowds for over eighty years. You can’t keep up that enthusiastic movement of your wrist. The proper royal way is to slowly and gently rotate your uplifted, open, palm back and forth through no more than a forty-five degree turn or you’ll soon suffer repetitive stress syndrome.

The inauguration of the 44th President of the United States of America while regal was also full of moments ordinary people could relate to. When Obama sat down to sign the oath of office and took the pen into his left hand, the four lefties huddled around our TV squealed with excitement that he was one of them. Then someone shouted out,
“Man it look like Biden and Obama getting married!”
And if you did not know anything about the characters and proceedings, for a split second it did resemble a gay wedding being witnessed by two supportive families.

But not everyone was convinced by the joy of the occasion. Among our number were a few skeptics and conspiracy theorists. Obama’s choice of a classical quartet instead of some rhythmic African drumming was interpreted as a sign that he had, even in these early moments, already been assimilated into The Matrix. Instead of opening their hearts to the sounds of Yo-Yo Ma’s cello or Itzhak Perlman’s violin, there were mutterings that the John Williams composition, Air and Simple Gifts, should now be considered The Matrix theme song. West Indians are a tough audience.

Yet all agreed that even if the handsome prince were to lose his common touch he would never be touched by any, eh, overly enthusiastic White House interns. Who would want to have to account for themselves in front of this new, formidable First Lady? And Biden’s lady also put the brazen hussies of DC on notice. We already knew she had a doctorate but post inauguration we also know she has fabulous legs so don’t be messing with her Joe.

And so it continued for a few hours as we watched the ceremonial passing of power unfold. As Obama walked Bush to the waiting helicopter one of our posse blurted out,
“It look like Bush being escorted off de premises! Yes Obama, make sure he leave good and proper!”
The sight of him physically leaving, taking with him corruption, greed and a disregard for the basic human rights of others, was a profoundly satisfying one.

All over the world people listened as Obama’s words ushered in a new era of responsibility and dialogue. The ghost of Martin Luther king Jr. must have been smiling. How far fetched his dreams once seemed. Now we wait. We wait to see if the words match the deeds. We wait to see what will happen in 120 days when his temporary suspension of trials at Guantanamo Bay is over.

We all want so much of you Obama and we’re waiting.

MIS-GUIDED MAPPING

I don’t know where I live. Honest. The main post office in Bridgetown assured me I lived in St. Michael and doled out my unique postcode – a phenomenon only introduced to this small rock within the past year. But the local post office spends several minutes a day scratching out St. Michael and substituting St. George from all our post before our post lady zooms by on her scooter to deliver it. Having consulted both parties and found that neither is willing to back down in their territorial claim, I fear an ad hoc arbitration commission will have to be convened soonest before the postmen and women come to blows. Personally I’m hoping St. Michael wins out for reasons that will be obvious later.

In some ways the St. Michael/St. George territorial claim is academic since there isn’t even a street sign to indicate you have reached Beacon Hill. Town and Country Planning said they will look into the matter but the gentleman I spoke with was pessimistic. When pressed, he explained,
“Madam, fuh ah new sign a body go have to make an inspection. Den de body go have to report de sign missing and den ah next body go have to get de sign make and put up.”

With so many layers of bureaucracy to penetrate I have little faith in getting a street sign before First and Second Born come of age. But this is a new era - the Yes We Can Age. Undefeated, I have actually made an (official-looking) one – ply wood painted white, with black letters, in what I hope passes for Times New Roman. But that was only half the problem. In a family of Hobbits, even aided by a ladder, none of us can attach the sign at a height that would be of use to anyone other than fellow Hobbits out on the St. Michael/St. George border for a stroll. There’s nothing for it but to persuade a passing Light and Power truck to nail it to the electric post at the start of our road. Failing that, the next tall person to visit may have to climb for their supper. So if you visit mi casa, are a good six-foot without shoes, and of sound body and mind…well, you have been warned.

Apart from naming a place, have you considered the other ways in which both my neighbourhood and yours can be mapped? Wandsworth in London is identified as a borough South of the Thames. It is also identified as “Nappy Valley” for having the largest number of residents aged 5 and under in the UK. When we lived in Battersea, a mere mile from Wandsworth, doctors told us we would never be natural parents. So we moved from our family-sized terrace house to a funky, white, glass cube in Wandsworth. Within a year not one, but two babies, were projectile vomiting their pureed, organic carrots all over that glass space. No one knows for sure but urban mythology suggests it’s all part of a top secret government experiment with the cappuccinos served at local cafes. The truth is still out there.

So what is the truth about the eleven parishes on this small rock? The opportunity for investigation came from a most unusual source. The Barbados Art Marathon, hosted by the rather posh Lancaster House Gallery, invited artists to be the art world equivalent of Jack Bauer and make a work of art, from idea to ideally wall, in 24 hours. Being crap at producing anything decorative I decided to do a map of Barbados with a twist. I handed out questionnaires to everyone who set foot in Lancaster House asking them to list the parishes they have made whoopee in the last five years. Once people got over the shock of the question they seemed eager enough to comply. One grown-up daughter was visibly shocked to see her mother happily ticking away while she had just the one parish on her list. Several people completed their forms only to retrieve them saying they had forgotten about “Bathsheba” and wanting to confirm that this sleepy village on the east coast was indeed in St. Joseph. Only one person refused to complete the survey and one man said I should be ashamed of myself.

The results showed that St. James is on top and a cluster of gold stars suitably identified this parish on my mis-guided map. St. Lucy is full of people sleeping alone so a few dried berries from the Casuarina tree were all that demarcated that parish. If you can’t make it to St. James then Christ Church (pink hearts) followed by St. Michael (multi-coloured foil confetti) is your best bet for a good time. Most people ignored St. Thomas and headed for St. Philip with its wide-open vistas and bracing winds. St. Andrew is not as dry as St. Lucy but still I don’t want to move there anytime soon. Perhaps St. George just has too many cows to rank in this survey. Now you understand why if Beacon Hill is where I am putting a new kitchen I really, really,really want it to be in St. Michael, BB19191.

OLDER AND LIKING IT

In the manner of the Queen (or a former lady PM), we are delighted to announce that we were one in December. Yes, Notes is still contemplating life on this small rock and not much closer to penetrating the idiosyncrasies that make this place so beguilingly unique. For example, can anyone explain the Bajan obsession with cleanliness? Yes I know about the dirt/godliness axis, but why does every check out person in Supercentre wipe the conveyor belt before, during and after your tea, lettuce and ketchup have moved along its surface? And how does a Londoner morph from being bemused at Bajans driving around the island looking at tiny houses decorated with a disproportionate number of twinkling lights to actually having a night out privately rating these public displays from St. Lucy to St. Philip?

I seem to have done a lot of rating of public displays this season. On a small rock once you agree to judge one show you are asked, ever so nicely and persistently, to judge all manner of vaguely related shows. So the fact that I was a judge at the Caribbean Art and Craft Expo meant that when the Barbados Museum had its Christmas fair and wanted to give a prize for the best stall I was called up for duty. While I strolled around with the kids looking at the displays and helping them choose presents for grandparents and teachers etc., the other judge, armed with clipboard, attacked the fair in a methodical fashion, properly scoring each stall. In the end we separately came to the same conclusion and awarded the prize to a stall suggested by First born right at the start. He had taken a look around and declared the winner a stall that was neat, with everything clearly displayed in a manner that enticed him to spend his pocket money. If only I could steer him away from his passion for racing cars he could have a fine career as a critic.

Apart from looking at lights, craft, and also helping award the critic’s prize in an excellent show at Zemicon, (the only art gallery in Bim that dares to show experimental work), the mood of the festive season was subdued. Maybe it was knowing that this rock is not insulated from the effects of the global financial crisis that halted some of the excess of Christmases past. Ours was a simple holiday of pottering around nibbling the yummy Trini Black Cake Alison had thoughtfully sent. Our household imbibed more than the recommended number of daily units of alcohol and settled grievances in the time honoured fashion of Chinese Checkers and Monopoly by day and Scrabble by night. By New Year’s Eve while others dashed from one good time to the next, I was ensconced in a hammock with duvet and pillow, gazing at a star studded sky, and being gently rocked by the cool Christmas breezes. I have a vague recollection of feeling simultaneously smug and horribly middle aged that hammock plus stars plus breeze equals perfect happiness.

But all the signs are that the festive season is nearly over. Only a few straggly slices of the second baked ham are left. The Black Cake can make it to tomorrow only if we confine our servings to communion-thin wafer slivers and the kids are frantically finishing their school project on spiders. Bet you didn’t know there is a Spitting Spider or a Diving Bell Spider. Bet you don’t give a rat’s ass either.

But the end of the festive warmth was properly signaled by L. reporting that her seventy-nine year old auntie was almost a victim of serious crime. She surprised a would-be thief at her home. He grabbed her handbag and whispered menacingly,
"Ah going to rape yuh today."

Auntie froze on the spot.

But within seconds her expression went from terror to a coy smile to a grin of delight.
"Hold yuh horses sonny boy!" she yelled, "Let meh bathe and powder-up first!"

Our burglar dropped the handbag and ran at a speed that would challenge Bolt's 100m record.

But he can't hide. Someone answering to his description was spotted yesterday - in Grenada.