Why I am surviving eight years of underemployment in recessionary times

Bible Study 1

Bible Study 1 (Photo credit: DrGBB)

All my passed-on relatives are precious to me in their individual way. Today I remember that quiet, soft spoken gentleman, my grandfather Carpus “Jack’ Cossey, whom I called ‘Dad’ like everyone else in his multi-generational household.

“Dad, lend me $2 ‘till tomorrow, please” I said.  Now, that took lots of courage and enough desperation to be willing to endure a two-hour lecture about the virtues of saving and the dangers of ‘licking out yuh money’, topics that were lost on me, a teenager.
But I am lucky this time as he fishes into his self-made, draw-string, blue demin, wallet-size bag and extracted two silver dollars which he examines carefully and slowly counts at least four times. Struggling to hold my patience and inwardly swearing, I reach forward to take them.

He hesitates again and then said: “Bring these back  tomorrow, as I gave you. Two silver dollars; not eight 25-cents pieces, not …”.  Without raising his voice or stressing a syllable for emphasis, he carefully spells out the combinations of two dollars until he finally runs out.

He then places the silver dollars, deliberately, one after the other, in my now tired outstretched hand, and returns to his newspaper and Bible where he continues to compare world events with Bible verses as he prepares to throw down a fire and brimstone sermon on those souls gathered at Sister Gay’s or Bannister’s or wherever  is  his next preaching assignment.

Thanks Dad for hard lessons without them underemployment would have ‘buss my tail” .

(PS: non-fiction)

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Don’t paint everything racist look beyond for the uninformed

Sometimes in the developing world, you are so caught up with your country’s second-tier status that you start to believe that the people in the developed world are sophisticated and their comments well-reasoned. I came back to reality when reading comments on MSN.com regarding Black History Month. It also reinforced to me the importance of having information about a subject ahead of commenting.
I laugh very loud when I read “What about White history month you racist SOB’s” and “someone please inform me as to when is White History Month. Guess I just have been missing it every year for 73 years. Surely it is also a very important celebration, right.”
Gracie Mansion, Rev. Martin Luther King press ...Readers jumped on these commenters’ case, calling them racists but how can you do that? What I detected from these posts are a lack of knowledge and  inquiring minds, albeit  extremely lazy ones. The commenters should have asked themselves the same questions they posed first, or the reverse, why a Black History Month. In this day of quick Google searches, they would have received that answer as well as what was done by the promoters of the idea to get the February declared as Black History Month. The latter would have shown them the route which they could take towards agitating for a White History Month or a month about anything, else for that matter.
As I continued to read I start to wonder what the chat will be in October when the United States observes LGBT History Month that includes National coming out day. One poster described Black History Month as one of the most racist things in America, only second to Martin Luther King Day and I wonder if he will see LGBT as most an anti-heterosexual day. He argued that “Black will never be treated and considered equals until they stop feeling the need for special treatment,” so what will be his advice to LGBT.

LGBT Pride Parade San Francisco 2009Having a month to celebrate an event or to focus on a subject or a people does not lower the status of another event or subject neither does it prevent new events or subjects from getting the same treatment. Moving a cause to the forefront of national focus require people with courage and strength in their convictions to take the long and difficult road to such achievement. Some however, find it easier to set at their desks and spew venom. What are you a talker or a doer?

Coming out with all … powered by social media

Someone I knew came out. Nothing new but she is an ordinary person and I always associated ‘coming out’ with celebrities so her public declaration surprised me. In fact, I never understood coming out.

“Was I still inside, I asked my buddy who snapped that I was insensitive to gays. Honestly, I was provoking him into discussing the issue, to help me figure out why make the announcement.  Was it necessary?

“To have to come out suggested that you are different,” I say, ‘in any case is coming out only for gays?”

“It means you were keeping a part of your life private and is now making it public,” he replies.

“Why,” I ask.

“Are you a child that you have all these whys,” he answers and returns to his reading leaving me to ponder.

I’ve always thought that gay people and everyone else should follow his or her sexual orientation in choosing a partner and introduce that person to the important people in their life. So I never understood ‘coming out’ apart from the cases of celebrities, into whose lives outsiders feel they have a right to poke.  After all the speculation, a celebrity is likely to say ‘this is the story, takes it and leave me alone’.

I argue with myself that all relationships are kept private during the delicate early period and when you reach the couple stage, you allow it to become open. Some people you seek out to make an introduction, like your best friends or parents; others find out naturally. You don’t deny it, you admit it with pride.

Is that coming out, I ask myself. I instantly think I am wrong because ‘coming out’ suggest a public announcement.

Then I thought once more about this ordinary young mother posting her female lover on Facebook and proclaiming “me and my boo” to the world wide web of people.

Perhaps her reason is the same as that of the celebrities: “let the people talk and get over with it.” The avalanche of criticisms, congratulations, that peak of gossip/discussion will soon decline to a few whispers and then silence. Why walk slowly up the hill of gossip and hidden partnership when you can race to peak and head for normalcy?

I recalled a manager who announced to a staff meeting that his marriage was over. Two months later, it came up during a discussion on invitations for a staff function and it was discovered that workers who were absent from that staff meeting did not know of the separation.  The news had lost its gossip value so quickly that in an office known for rumour mongering, the otherwise juicy bit of information was squeezed dry by the announcement and did not spread outside the meeting.

So the manager came out. Is there a life lesson here for all of us, I asked myself?  Apart from our sexual orientation, we keep some ‘personal matters’ private while the public speculate, should we ‘come out’?

Pregnancy was one of these private matters, years ago. In the Caribbean, you would tell your inner circle that you are pregnant; the others found out naturally as your body grew. Now everyone is coming out with their pregnancy’ check the scans of the four week old blip. I know of the start, finish and mid-streams of many love relationships; I know where everyone is going or went; what they cook and if they got drunk or had a spliff.

Thanks to Facebook and other social media tools we are coming out with everything. We seem to have a desire to bury privacy and expose our every step to the world. Is that why my ordinary friend came out? Was it that necessary? Was the natural road too hard to follow? Is it a fad; a mimicking of celebrities? I am still trying to understand.

Why me… why so much pain?

One look into his bulging eyes and my heart burst under the weight of sudden excruciating pain. I open the door  with a “good-evening’ that conveys my faked cheerfulness.  He replies faintly audible in a voice strained by the residue of conflict.

I know he’s always unsettled by his demons who never release him from their grip though at times they slacken the pressure. Today, somehow, somewhere they’d run amok.

I want to know what happened yet I don’t want to know. He feigned normalcy, perhaps wanting to extend this rare patch of peace we’ve been experiencing recently but his manner betrays him. Every few minutes his chest rises aggressively, his nostrils flares and he fights hard to concentrate on eating his dinner, which today is his favourite boiled fish and vegetables.

Little calm exist in this stormy existence which I call motherhood that is my life. Depression is a regular companion so today I ball myself into a tight foetal wad and welcome it into my bosom as I lie in bed. What gave him these inner raging demons; why does he resort to settling his arguments with threats and fists? Where did I go wrong? Was it the long hours at work in his formative years? Other single mothers did that too but with good results, why not me?

Was it because a woman can’t father a son? Was it my choosing of the wrong sex partner turned absentee father but never caring dad? As usual my brain is too swamped to process and analyse any information. I know the past can’t help me; it can’t be erased so I skip the introspection and strain my brain to thinking about sources of help.

The Bible … for God alone knows, through pray He can help … the internet for 24/7 spiritual guidance. My browsing brings me to an article, When our children go astray. It tells of parents with similar troubles but life differs from fairy tales and the guarantee of a good outcome; the dreamed turnaround of a love one isn’t on that page.

Disillusioned, I am barely able to read it completely or objectively. Fear of the unknown grips me; flooding my whole body, turning my feet to liquid. No tears come to my eyes, though I’d welcome their release but my bladder is full.

The dreaded official knock comes. Bang, bang on the door. I know that knock no matter whose knuckles are doing the pounding; I know who’s there, no matter who’s wearing the uniform. Panic completely invades me and as I open the door my bladder empties itself of all my grief.

Letting Go

From 20 feet away, I saw her looking out her front window, as usual, with folded arms resting on the sill and cradling her head.

I exhaled. Ella was asleep, so I moved stealthily. Good morning“, I heard as soon as I was within her line of vision.

“Good morning Miss Ella,” I replied muttering under my breath, “you have inbuilt motion sensors?”

“What?” she asked.

“I was saying, ‘everyone is fine at home, thank you.” I’d planned to add that to my greeting since she normally asked about my family and while I was replying, she would search for another topic to lengthen our conversation.

I quickened my pace hoping to be out of earshot before her 89-year old brain could react but she was fast.

“Not going to church this morning? I will tell the priest you are off to do the devil’s business,” she chuckled.

“No service this morning,” I replied. Time was ticking on my full schedule while her only chore was trapping passers-by into long conversations but I couldn’t ignore a lonely old lady dressed in her Sunday best on Tuesday.

“Senility isn’t wrecking my brain; it’s loneliness,” she said “old age is a bitch. Eat, drink, look out this window; that’s who I’ve become. No one to chat with, unless someone like you pass by and spare a minute with an old bird.”

My head dropped in shame. I left an hour later, my soul at peace but my schedule wrecked and my heart broken from looking deep inside old age.

She’d spoken with pride about being able, as a single mother, to pay her children’s fare so they could migrate to jobs in London during the 1950’s. They send me money now but I need to feel loved, she’d said, her eyes filled with tears.

“Was I right to let them go? ”

P.S. I wrote this partially true story for the trifecta which challenged writers to produce a story of between 33 and 333 words using the word ‘bitch’ defined as “something that is extremely difficult, objectionable, or unpleasant”. 

Should I have cut my story at three paragraphs before the end and add more words conveying feeling earlier? Or would that be over done? Please tell me?

All hail electronic friendships … down with traditional friendship

English: happy friendship day

Are you in the right group? Are you compatible with the others within your circle?

You may think the answer is ‘yes’ but suddenly you have an awakening that straightens you out. You ask yourself: financially, emotionally and intellectually, am I properly matched.

Examining yourself within that framework can be revealing. In fact, I’ve learnt that such an examination should be guided by what others think since this shapes their attitude towards you. You may consider yourself an equal but they may see you as the group’s football not purposely but because you sit on a low rung of the financial, emotional or intellectual ladder.

That is why I believe that traditional friendships that thrive on physical contact are overrated and are losing importance. An ‘electronic friendship’ is focused on the common areas between persons and the matters that are likely to cause division are downgraded in these modern ‘distant’ relationship.

Social media widens your circle of contacts, expanding areas of interests, places and races from which you can draw friends. Differences in time zones instead of reducing opportunities for relationships are now broadening them. Whether your sleep pattern classifies you as an early bird or an owl, you can tap into the computer and find someone anytime for a chat.

On a recent television programme a group of mental health experts promoted the view that social media and other digital technology tools were causing people to be more distant with each other and was therefore breeding loneliness and leading to an increase in cases of depression.

I strongly disagree.

During my recent awakening I’ve realise that my electronic friends are not interesting in things external to our common areas; and having a variety means all areas of my life are fulfilled. They encourage me and seldom put me down. Traditional friends on the other hand disappeared with negative changes in my fortunes; loss of my job, declining finances and so on.

So off, I go nurturing my electronic friends.

Sex on the first date, anyone? What about if I gave you a gift?

Film poster for Casual Sex? - Copyright 1988, ...

Today’s Jamaica Observer on-line forced me to recall a discussion which years ago kept several of my friends locked in discussion for many months. It seemed then that the conversations in every group – no matter the permutation- would reach the point where someone would ask: “Why women can’t have sex on the first date without someone bashing them?”

The ‘with-it’ women argued against “old-fashioned sexist ideals’ as they agitated for equal rights with men. “We are working for ourselves; we are in careers similar to men, we are independent, why can’t we screw men on the first date if it feels right.”

Those taking the moral high ground would quote the Bible only to be slapped down by others citing the very Bible as support by using the story of David and Bathsheba or other Bible heroes who had concubines.  It was usual for this Bible discussion to be doused by someone who would simply say: “Why intellectualise, if he looks hot, and I feel hot why not out each other fires.”

Of course, comments about sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies would be thrown around and these would lock horns with arguments about condoms. A winner could never be declared but this was never, I think, the point of the debates.

Dr. Sandra KnightThose views roamed through my brain as I read the passionate plea of the chairman of Jamaica’s National Family Planning Board (NFPB), Dr Sandra Knight: “… for sex to become a part of a context where it’s not a man-meet-woman-and-go-to-bed situation …
“where (Jamaicans) are thinking about (their) families, and thinking about a mate with which to have a family.”

I asked myself, how many people having casual sex are thinking about a life partner? Aren’t they either satisfying an urge or having sex for transactional reasons? To find an answer, I tried hard to remember the details of those past fierce and friendly debates that revolved around the right time to have sex. This mental search produced flashes of friends and acquaintances, who bravely confessed with smug smiles to enjoying sex-at-first encounter with someone they didn’t care to see again. It was just satisfying a primal desire.

Today, some of them are married with children and are now preaching from that moral high ground. They even scorn the ‘third date rule’ which media reports suggest that western cultures use to determine the ‘sex date’ or the appropriate time for a new couple to ‘go all the way’.

I agree that anyone who took a path, they later recognised as dangerous, is likely to encourage others to avoid that route but I believe such guidance should be laced with empathy, or it is likely to be rejected.

I can’t help but wonder whether we are too self-righteous in our approaches, to reap the full potential of our programmes.

To me, the Gleaner story is not only a Jamaica story but a Barbados story, a Caribbean story. Therefore I look at the many messages promoted by my mother’s and grandmother’s generations which were aimed at taming the sexual behaviour of the then  ‘wuffless (worthless) young people.’

These elders dished out condemnation and advice although the village held many examples of a man having two or more families at the same time: one at the house where he slept with his wife or recognised partner and one or two more in homes where he did not spend a whole night but was the chief financial and sex provider  as well as the father of several children. The ages of these children bore evidence that as one woman was hugely pregnant, he was doing his best to impregnate  one or two others.

Seeing this, the message from those older folk was hypocritical and I wondered if that affected its potency? All these things, I pondered.

In Jamaica, the 2012 HIV/AIDS Knowledge, Attitudes and Behaviour Survey showed that 53 per cent males and 23 per cent females surveyed had sex for money or gifts since the last survey in 2008.

Poverty has encouraged transactional sex; a woman would give someone ‘a piece’ in exchange for money, food or some favour needed to properly provide for her children.  I do not know the Jamaica situation intimately but in Barbados, there are now some cases of young people -boys and girls selling their bodies to buy the latest gadgets; popular brand shoes and bags. The buyers are not people of their own age but older men and women, some in church and others in dance halls. Our messages are usual towards the sellers but what about the buyers? A market need both supply and demand to flourish.

Is it about poverty? To me it is about the definition of poverty. The United Nation Development Propgramme defines poverty by income per day but under peer pressure, poor is seen as not having those things that are owned by the ‘average’ person. It is somewhere entangled in that mess of  “longing to belong” and thrives in our materialistic world, where overpriced brands and unnecessary show pieces can be used to judge a person’s worth.

We therefore need to relook our message to ensure that they are compatible with today’s realities; that when we speak we do so with sincerity and empathy.

This sincerity must lead us to target men in our programmes with as much vigour as we target women rather than to behave as if women are the only gatekeepers of our countries’ morals. I say so I note Dr. Knight’s concern that more Jamaican young women were lowering their standards to sleep with multiple males in exchange for material possessions. This statement in light of figures that show 23 per cent of women compared with 53 per cent males were having transactional sex.

Babysit my child… Not me!

I have never babysat my children and I never WILL!” my friend was ranting, so I was quiet allowing him to defuse his emotional bomb.
What could I say? I was unsure where the outburst came from and more importantly what it meant. So like John Keats’ naughty little boy, I stood in my shoes and I wondered.
He was livid which was unusual. ‘Tom’ is a peaceful, mild-manner soul who up until then I thought was impossible to provoke, but I had done so; I hit his emotional anger main. So I flipped through the mental pages of our conversation looking for the point in the script that led to this outburst, which I was now fighting hard to crowd out.
A few moments ago, I was talking to him about the rewarding learning experience I had as part of a small supportive group that attended my friend’s defence of her doctoral thesis. She had researched love-power and its effect on gender roles in contemporary middle class relationship. My female bias was evident as I emphasised that society had slotted certain domestic chores under the female category and even top middle-class ranking career women in the Caribbean were still following this categorisation. So, why was he getting so upset?
“Women are just as responsible. In fact, you are the chief offenders, I hear it every time one of you says it and it grates me!” he said.
Yes, that is it! In a small footnote during our conversation, I mentioned that people, men and women used words that keep the culture going but I had not gone into detail rather I had ploughed into other evidence.

“My children are mine as much as they are hers; I cannot physical carry them before birth, but I do afterwards. I am not a hired hand!”

I knew he was calming down because he was zeroing in on substantive bits of his argument. He was logical.  I was pleased because he confirmed that I never referring to him performing his fatherly role as baby-sitting. Perhaps I never did because babysitting isn’t part of my culture. In my lower-class rural Barbadian upbringing of extended families, when parents, usually a single mother, were going out, children remained at a home with an older sibling or went to a relative or a neighbour –whose relationship with the family was so close that you did not know that you were not blood relatives. The script used was “You gine by Aunty X or Momma G, she keeping you till I get back.” Keeping by practice meant caring and loving as if you belonged to that family unit. Babysitting is therefore not in the forefront of my vocabulary; it is one of those words popularised with cultural penetration through movies and books. It conjures up in my mind teenagers earning pocket-money.
Some of us therefore in Caribbean, particularly Barbados, use words that reinforce these stereotypes. Without deep thought, we choose words to suggest that men help us in the kitchen or in the laundry room for example, as if it is exclusively our duty.
Watch your speech and see how actions will follow suit and stereotypes changed.

Do you use words that encourage role stereotyping? What are they? Do you think women and men should have society prescribed roles?

Go to France!

My desire to speak French at a comfortable level is overwhelming. I don’t dream about speaking French only, it is constantly in my thoughts, though at different ranges on the scale.

theatre

Cinémathèque Française

At the high end are the many occasions when thoughts of chatting, sipping wine and eating in a French restaurant after enjoying a French play or the offerings at Cinémathèque Française are as upfront and vivid as reality.

At the lower end are the oddest of occasions when randomly and unasked the few French phrases I know hop out of my head and into my mouth. Then there are the in-between moments when I have flashes that remind me that French is lurking in my sub-conscious.

I love the cadence of language but now the needed inflexions are afraid to emerge in my voice for fear of being hacked to death by my uncultured tongue. I would therefore jump at an occasion to study there. Immersion in the home of my dream foreign language is what I desire and at my matured age it is the best way forward.

Learning a language; sniffing the French culture, indulging in the delights of that romantic city called Paris, who could ask for more. Not me.

CIMG0554But I don’t want to be stationed in Paris; Ferney-Voltaire is where I want to call home for the year. The country-side setting with the cows ringing their bells in the distance as I walk to the hypermarket will provide enough of the town-country mix that would ensure that I, a rural dweller from 21 by 16 mile Barbados don’t feel homesick.

Statue of Voltaire, Ferney-Voltaire, France.

Statue of Voltaire, Ferney-Voltaire, France. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ferney-Voltaire puts me on the border with Switzerland. From there I can commute to the cosmopolitan city of Geneva with its snow-capped Alps; learn about French cuisine or complete my studies in international trade and yet have access to cities where fashion, food, art are the hallmark. Get me that year of study, please.

Posing in Old Geneva

Posing in Old Geneva

Why sweeten the sweet?

A pedestrian walks along a remote road lined w...

A pedestrian walks along a remote road lined with sugar cane. Saint Philip, Barbados. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dark, I had to talk to you. It is about this sugar thing, I don’t mean diabetes but brown sugar, de type my daddy used to boil down at Three Houses factory; de type dat you tell me my great grandfather, Judge Maynard used to help mek by stoking fire at Three Houses. Every way I go I finding muff, muff sugar.

It is like Bajans recognise that sugar is no longer king here and they want to restore it back to prominence. Or perhaps they heard the Minister of Agriculture say that we are not selling anymore sugar to Europe but will use our production for local consumption, so out of patritoism they feel they have to consume all in one mouthful.

But Dark, they misunderstand the Minister because it isn’t like Barbados has lots of choices. It is costing us more to produce one tonne of sugar than the price the international market is willing to pay but the Europeans were doing us a favour. They know they exploited their former colonies excessively, so they owe us, and were buying our sugar expensive when they could get it elsewhere at a cheap price.

Anyway, the rest of countries quarrel and threaten them so the Europeans agree that they will soon be paying us whatever pittance is the going rate on the world market. But that is another story and yes, I was ‘peeping under myself’ I should’ve said the Agriculture Minister played a public relations trick on Barbadians but it is general elections time so I am holding those thoughts close to my chest. I will tell you about our sugar policy in another post, but I want to tell you about misusing sugar, now.

Dark, I know you will say it serves me right because by example and by word you taught me not to buy already cooked food but I was supporting a cause, so I bought two stew dumplings and you know how I love them. I ate one; a single one.

Dark, it gave a belly ache out of this world; I was rolling up on the ground, crying long water out my eyes. Rashidi took pity and gave me a dose of black pepper in hot water but I was bawling so he handed me some peppermint essence to wash down the black pepper tea and then he went outside searching for gully root to boil so I could get lasting relief.

Those stew dumplings were really conkies because they contained more sugar than corn; more sugar than pumpkin; more sugar than coconut. You know what else had my stomachin an uproar? I know this one will shock you so I will whisper.

“The fish cakes had in sugar. As God is my judge that is the truth!”

I will never lie to you about something so serious. It was tantamount to being sacrilegious. It was blasphemy in fishcake town, if ‘fishcakians’ petition the Director of Public Prosecutions to start a trial against the fishcake maker, I will testify.

I wanted to tell you about something else long ago but I know I was disappointing you so I zipped my mouth but I am confessing now. Earlier this year, I went from church fair to church fair and bought pudding and souse. Good thing, I don’t eat pudding stuffed in pig belly strands instead I choose the one cooked in a pie dish.

Nowadays, they washing the ‘pig guts’ with soap powder or blue soap; you used natural water, lime and salt or a tip of vinegar. Not these new fashioned folks! I saw them with the soap and my friend tasted the soapy flavour but I don’t eat strands so it is the sugar in the mixture that got me.

Today’s pudding sweet, sweet, like sugar cake and brown like chocolate; at every fair I attended that is the going flavour and look. Sweet and savour like Chinese food but I am a West Indian, I want all savour even if it contains lots of pepper. I threw away many dollars in pudding. Oh how,  I miss your cooking!

This sugar trend is a serious matter though, not only because of my wasted money but Barbados has many cases of diabetes.

Remember Joe Muggs, well his son, Donville is Minister of Health. You know Joe (for me, Mr. Inniss) is dead. You must know because you must have heard him over there by now, Joe don’t keep his mouth quiet. Donville is like Joe. Donville speaks his mind although being a politician will push him to bend the truth, but  like a loyal Philippian (from the parish of St. Philip), he speaks the truth generally, so I will let you read the Government Information Service story which quotes him.

While noting that the prevalence of diabetes in adults in Barbados stood at 16.4%, Trinidad and Tobago 12.7%, Jamaica 12.6% and Belize 12.4%, he (Donville) said, “Our region, and Barbados in particular, has the highest prevalence rate in the Americas.”

The Health Minister also gave some startling figures on the disease … pointing out that it was the third leading cause of blindness here; that major and minor lower limb amputations averaged almost 200 per year, with Barbados being regarded, over the years, as the amputation capital of world.

He added that 40% of persons on dialysis had some kind of diabetic-related kidney disease, and … the average length of stay for a diabetic patient at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital was 17 days, whereas the overall average stay was 6 1/2 days.

So you see the situation is bad. Many organisations, including work places and churches have started health promotion campaigns;  Government too. The television station carried infomercials about living healthy including the merits of keeping fit and the dangers  of the high salt content in processed foods but not a word about sugar use.

We make it so like rum, we have to use it excessively; that seems to be the ethos.Bathsheba, St. Joseph

Sweet Barbados as shown by this scene at Bathsheba, St. Joseph. Compliments: JProject2k2 Production Presents

Barbados is sweet already, so why sweetened the sweet? Anyway, I will talk to you later, I am waiting to hear what everybody else has to say but your comment will reign supreme. Love ya, Dark, the real brown sugar.

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