Friday, 23 February 2007

Call of the Wild

I watched a programme a few days ago called “Caribou and Wolves” about the Canadian Artic Tundra and two of its most important species and their complex relationship. I have always found wolves fascinating. Besides their beauty, they have this haunted look in their eyes and the howl of a wolf strikes right at your inner core, the call of the wild. I read Jack London’s book by that name when I was about twelve and absolutely loved it, but this feeling turned lukewarm when I became an enlightened teenager- I did not like his portrayal of the Native Americans. I learnt from further reading that while espousing socialist views, he held many racist views about non-whites and believed in the superiority of the white race.

Historically, human attitudes to wolves have varied, from the reverence of Native Americans and Ancient Rome to the largely negative image of Western folklore. In Europe and particularly North America, the fear of wolves combined with “modernisation” and a desire to conquer the wild led to wolf populations being decimated. However, significant research beginning in the first quarter of the last century, public education programmes aimed at demonstrating the importance of wolves to the eco-system and countering the myth of a dangerous beast and specific laws protecting wolves have resulted in some change in public perceptions of these beautiful animals and an improvement in their numbers. However, much remains to be done. Recent reactions to growing wolf populations caused by reintroduction programmes highlight that this fear is deeply rooted in humans. Hunters also continue to argue, erroneously, that wolves compete with them for prey, while ranchers and farmers view them as a threat to their livestock instead of acknowledging that continued destruction of natural habitat and therefore their food is what leads wolves to attack domestic animals.

I read an article earlier today about the reappearance of some twenty wolves on the heaths of Lusatia, a region along the German-Polish border. While wolves were largely killed off in much of Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, there are now isolated groups of wolves in Spain, Portugal, Italy and France and bigger populations in eastern and Central Europe. Ecologists and biologists have welcomed this development but old fears have emerged and a campaign has been launched to have the wolves shot. Let us hope common sense prevails.

Saturday, 17 February 2007

Giving Jack His Jacket

West Indies cricket has caused its fans in the Caribbean heartache after heartache in the past ten to twelve years as the team has sunk to depths never before thought possible. Much of the blame rests with the administration and structure of the game in the region, but blame must also be apportioned to the players, many of whom demonstrate a total lack of commitment to West Indian cricket, its past greats, its history and its place in West Indian society. I think the carefree, materialistic, undisciplined, prima donna type behaviour of a large proportion of the team is a reflection of the times we live in and the direction we are going. Many people make excuses about a young, inexperienced team that is now learning, but I don’t buy that. So many players cannot remain young and inexperienced after five and six years in international cricket. The comments they make, the performance on the field, the conduct off the field and the general deportment only serves to highlight their disregard for the rich history of the game in the Caribbean and for us the fans.

However, while I believe in constructive criticism, I also believe that praise must be rendered when it is due. Ramnaresh Sarwan is one team member who I have criticised heavily for not living up to his immense talent. However, I came across an article yesterday about an educational and sports trust fund he has set up in Guyana to assist less fortunate primary and secondary school students. The Ramnaresh Sarwan Education and Sports Trust Fund will award a financial grant to be used to purchase uniforms, footwear and educational materials to a total of fifteen students, to encourage them to stay in school and obtain an education. This venture of Sarwan is commendable and I am happy to see him giving back to his community. Let us hope that this social consciousness is an indication of his maturity and furthermore, that this maturity is manifested in his performance on the field.

Wednesday, 14 February 2007

Memories of Past Glory

*Photos from and BBC Website

It snowed on and off yesterday evening/night and also for part of today. I was watching the news a little while ago and as usual the snow seems to have caused its fair share of chaos. I saw a little boy playing in the snow with his father earlier. One of my nephews came to mind. My sister is studying in Ohio and from the time my nephew was told he would be joining her there, he was on about playing in the snow in America. He was about three then. A year and a half later and the poor boy has hardly seen any snow. Last year there was a small amount and this year there has only been heavy snow there once or twice. At least he did get to play in the snow, even though not as much as he would have liked, and can tell his cousins all about it when he goes back home.

I saw an article in today’s Nation about the plans to honour the members of the Clive Lloyd led West Indies teams that won the first two Cricket World Cups in 1975 and 1979. There will be a brief ceremony before the opening match of the tournament on March 13th where the surviving eighteen members will be presented with memorabilia. Families of three deceased players as well as the family of the late Sir Clyde Walcott who was manager of both teams will receive presentations later in the tournament. As far as I am concerned, this is the best news about the World Cup in a long time, especially as we have been having our fill of negative stories about large sums of wasted money, corruption, slow ticket sales and visa disorder. What better way to honour these great players who brought glory to the Caribbean than for the Windies to lift that trophy on April 28th in Barbados. Let me indulge myself a little bit more: a Lara century and a Bradshaw five wicket haul. Ok back to reality now. They probably will not even make it pass the first round!

Monday, 12 February 2007

Intellectual Drought

I went to the doctor today for a check-up. He says he will take off the cast next Monday and put on a new one. In the meantime I have to keep my foot elevated to help with the pain caused by having the cast on. The blood flow is restricted by the cast and causes swelling, discomfort, tightness etc.

The doctor’s office is always busy and even though everyone has an appointment, inevitably you end up waiting very long before you are seen. I took along George Lamming’s “In the Castle of My Skin” to read today but did not get further than a few pages. Too much noise and I couldn’t concentrate. Most of the noise was from this obnoxious woman who speaks at the top of her voice or complains endlessly as if the rest of the world really cares to hear what she thinks. Worse of all, she seems to be there every time I go!

I read In the Castle of My Skin many years ago so I decided to read it again. Lamming like so many of his generation is brilliant. Recently we lost a great mind- Oliver Jackman- and I honestly am of the opinion that Barbados is not producing the calibre of minds that we once produced. I think about Clennel Wickham, Charles Duncan O’neal, Wynter Crawford, Frank Collymore, George Lamming, Errol Barrow, Kamau Brathwaite, Oliver Jackman, Austin Clarke, Woodville Marshall, Hilary Beckles, Cammie Tudor, Gladstone Holder and so many others and then I look at our intellectual landscape today and there is a serious dearth. Yes bright minds are still around, but most of them are over fifty and the younger minds are few. There are however a lot of pseudo-intellectuals walking around. When I look at the quality of the social science graduate from Cave Hill, I am frankly appalled. I have read essays students in the social science faculty have written and gotten Grades A and B for and I wonder what the world is coming to. The grammar and sentence structure is poor, there is absolutely no evidence of any analytical or articulation skills and overall it is difficult to grasp the central argument of the paper. If this is the best we are producing, then I am pessimistic about the future of Barbados!

I blame much of this on the way we have whole heartedly embraced so-called modernity (television, dvd, playstations etc) while relegating books and reading to the back burner, along with a continuous lowering of standards and settling for mediocrity. When I was growing up there was no tv in our house, much less whatever gadget was around at that time (I think Atari came out when I was in my teens) and so we read. Instead of having images on a screen, our brains were forced to create our own images based on what we read, to imagine and analyse. We hardly did multiple choice in school and when we did it was mostly for Mathematics. We had to write compositions from the time we were in infant school and we had to do comprehension where proper sentences were expected, not one word answers. We spoke Bajan but we were expected to know how to speak and write the Queen’s English. We have sacrificed much of this to make life easier for our children. We spoon feed them and we lower the bar so that they pass rather than keeping the standard high and ensuring that they aim at the sky. At the end of the day we will have done them a great injustice.

Sunday, 11 February 2007

Escaping the Rat Race

I ordered food from on Thursday and it got here Friday morning. Ten years ago who would have thought that it was possible to shop from a room in your home with the click of a mouse!

I read widely and I like to share information, so I send colleagues and friends articles all the time. Now that I am home and have so much time on my hand, I have been emailing my colleagues everyday with different articles. Then there is the usual discussion that ensues between some of us on whatever topic the article is addressing. End result: a constant assault on their inboxes!

I am a very politicised person and I am very passionate about many issues. Unfortunately the constraints of my job mean that often time I have to be muted and keep my opinions to myself. Since joining the Ministry, I have used this avenue of emailing articles to colleagues and encouraging healthy discussions among ourselves as one way of dealing with this claustrophobia. However I still feel very restrained. I honestly believe I am more suited to academia but even then, these days academic freedom is under constant attack.

Recently, the idea of just removing myself from the rat race has become extremely appealing- moving to a farm in a remote area on some island and living a largely self-sufficient existence. I am sure Richard Hoad would love to hear about a young professional who decides that an easy life close to the earth is much more attractive. I don’t think I would do this in Bim though. It would have to be another Caribbean island- one of the OECS- or some other tropical place (need the sea) without all the so-called development that has happened in Barbados. A Barbados that is full of highways, traffic, flyovers, huge buildings, no glimpse of the sea as one drives along the coast, huge hotels, exclusive developments for wealthy foreigners, prime agricultural land turned into golf courses, inflated land prices that the average Barbadian cannot afford, people clamouring to live a materialistic lifestyle financed through credit, etc. appals me and I cannot really see myself being happy in such a place.

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Sporting and Environmental Dilemmas

Cricket World Cup begins in a few weeks and I have no idea how I will watch it. The rights to televise in the US were sold to Dish Network by the ICC. Unfortunately I have Time Warner Cable and get my internet through them also. It isn’t feasible to change just for World Cup especially as Dish Network, according to their website, can’t provide me with internet. This is not good at all. I am rather alarmed. Ideas/ suggestions anyone?

After a mild December and January, winter has returned with a vengeance. The only positive about staying home is that I have not had to deal with the freezing temperatures. I am not a cold weather person at all.

I was watching a programme about Alaska yesterday. Every time I watch something about Alaska I am amazed at the beauty. I hate the cold but I think the beauty is worth a visit! I was also reading a few weeks ago about a row in Peru over the building of a bridge near Machu Picchu and saw another article on the issue on the BBC website today. Environmentalists and the central government are opposed to it while the Mayor of the province has ignored a court ruling and continued with its building. The Mayor argues that the bridge will reduce the time villagers from Santa Teresa village need to take produce to Cusco from fifteen hours to three, increase commerce and tourism and end its isolation, while environmentalists argue that the bridge which provides a new route to Machu Picchu will lead to an influx of tourists and ultimately to the destruction of this World Heritage site. I have been to Machu Picchu and while I agree that the bridge will help to address the poverty experienced in the area, the concerns about thousands of tourists tramping around the site are very real. Already around 2500 tourists visit each day and many environmentalists believe that this huge number poses a significant threat. UNESCO is supposed to inspect the site this year to determine whether it should be classified as an endangered heritage site.

This dilemma is similar to a multitude faced in so many parts of the world, both developing and developed- “development” versus environmental protection. While I am very much the environmentalist and will always argue in favour of protection and against exploitation by multinational companies whose sole purpose is profit, I am also a realist. A number of the areas targeted by these huge companies with profits that are times larger than the GDP of many developing countries, suffer from abject poverty. In some instances, the case against allowing the multinational company to enter the area is compelling, especially when the local population is also in opposition. Here, I believe that a resounding no should greet the multinational. In other situations, I believe there is room for legitimate compromise (the diplomat in me) and sustainable exploitation of the natural resources. Obviously, it is never in the interests of the multinational to do this as their aim is absolute profit. However, strong pressure from both civil society and government can allow for operation in an environment of profit while still maintaining the integrity (natural, cultural, social, and religious) of the area and indeed leading to socio-economic advancement of the indigenous people.

The simple solution to the Peruvian problem would be to allow the bridge to operate (it has been built despite the court ruling ordering a halt in construction and will be inaugurated this month) but to limit the numbers of tourists visiting Machu Picchu. The villagers of Santa Teresa will benefit from the decrease in transport time to Cusco while strict limits on tourists will help to preserve the site. Tour companies and hotels which have supported the building of the bridge because increased visitors mean increased profits would have to be bluntly informed that long term survival rather than short term private sector profits is in the interest of the Peruvian people.

In Alaska, I believe the area is too important to the well-being of the global climate to warrant any more destruction there. Instead of drilling for oil, the logical and sustainable option would be to invest in renewable and environmentally friendly sources of energy. Yes, I am being idealistic. Oil companies, car manufacturers, other multinationals and their brethren and sistren in government would never permit that. Short term profit means too much to them.

Sunday, 4 February 2007

The Politics of Fear

I am writing with Grover playing in the background. Needed some calming tunes after watching a Fox News Special (“Radical Islam: Terror In Its Own Words”) earlier. The right wing blogs and sites had been salivating all last week as they waited in anticipation for the programme to air last night and again today. As I expected (it is Fox after all), a load of sensationalist diatribe and propaganda aimed at demonising the “other”, keeping the populace in a constant state of fear and justifying foreign policy. I would write a long article dissecting and destroying each argument in the programme but I don’t think my employers would be very happy. Diplomatic life is very restrictive when it comes to voicing personal opinions on issues like this.

Food has always been an interest of mine, whether it’s eating, cooking or talking about it and while I definitely will not be going back to my days of gluttony, my obsession with food will always be ever present. I like watching cooking shows and have spent lots of my time home watching a number of them. Besides having to suffer as chefs prepare mouth watering dishes, I have been picking up many useful tips. For example, using the twigs of rosemary with the leaves still attached at the top as a skewer when grilling fish. This imparts the flavours right into the pieces of fish.

I came across this December feature on the BBC website. It is an interview of a Barbadian called Laurie Daniels, one of the thousands of West Indians recruited in the 1950s by the British to work on their buses and trains. It’s presented as an audio slideshow. Check it out:

While you are doing that, also check this: It’s an audio slideshow about the Festival in the Desert which is held every year in Essakane, Mali. I actually saw the link to the interview of the Bajan transport worker while I was watching the feature on the Desert Festival.

Friday, 2 February 2007

Hirsuteness and Beardism

I reverted to some manner of normalcy last night: went to bed around midnight and woke up at 8 this morning. My Ambassador had asked if I could come in for a meeting with him and a colleague at 11am today and I had obliged. As I was dressing, I got a call saying that the meeting had been cancelled and so I had an uneventful day.

I have not shaved since last Thursday morning. Shaving on one foot was not exactly fun! I think that since I cut off all my hair in March 1998 and then went to shaving my head clean sometime at the end of 1999, this is the longest I have gone without shaving except for some of those times on my four month (June-October) trip to India in 1999 when I couldn’t be bothered to. I was planning to give the people at work a shock this morning! Maybe I should go the full eight weeks!!! My beard has not been that long since first or maybe early in my second year of university : ) : ) I am sure the Beard Liberation Front and not to mention my religious Muslim brethren would be pleased.

Thursday, 1 February 2007

Cou-cou and Flying Fish

I am living like I did when I was at university: a totally abnormal schedule. I was up until around 6 am this morning. Watched some tv and was online. I had some breakfast at 5, then was lying on the couch and fell asleep. Phone woke me up around half nine.

Steve took me to BJ’s today to pick up some stuff. I decided not to use the little motorised carts they provide for old/disabled people and walk using my crutches. It wasn’t really too bad. We stopped in at Culpeppers for a late lunch. Cou-cou and flying fish obviously. I have not had that in while. Also brought home some peas and rice and king fish which I guess I will have tomorrow. My fridge is full of food. I ordered three sets of Indian food on Tuesday to save me from having to order food every day. As I tell people, the reason refrigerators/ freezers were invented is to preserve food, so keeping food for a few days in the fridge and for longer in the freezer is fine with me. I’ve been doing it for a long time and nothing has happened to me.

As I expected, the West Indies got thrashed by India in the fourth and final one-day and duly lost the series 3-1. Lovely preparation by the World Cup hosts.