Hello friends, family, acquaintances, (strangers perhaps?),
The year 2018 is just over the horizon. And I am once again spending this time of year in a warm climate, the exact opposite of Canadian current seasonal weather. It has brought back memories of my time living in Melbourne, Australia, where I did my Ph.D. It was always weird enjoying a beer or wine on ice, in someone’s backyard at a BBQ or at the beach swimming in the ocean, while folks were celebrating xmas.
One image always comes to mind. I remember being in Adelaide in 1987 for that 1st xmas, traveling with an international exchange student from Thailand, Vich (or Vic – can’t remember now how he spelled his first name since it wasn’t pronounced as Vic from Victor but Vich). He was part of a cohort of students in the landscape architect program, a discipline I had never heard about until then. This was actually my 1st time in Oz, having arrived in July to attend an international youth/student conference after having just graduated from U of Waterloo. That conference by the way changed my life forever, and in a way has led me to being here in Barbados. (read an old post from March 2017, “How did I end up doing international development?”, http://professorasparagus.ca/2017/03/14/end-international-development/). Back to my point…
You know when communities have these ‘flags’ they put on light poles, small banner type decorations which can either depict seasonal images or advertize businesses. Well the image was that of a kangaroo with its pouch filled with presents. I thought this was a clever and cute adaptation of the santa claus a la Oz. I will toast those memories at this time of year with a nice cold Barbadian beer!
I should explain why I am in Barbados so soon after returning from my volunteer posting in, Lima, Peru. This certainly was not my intention. You see I had no job to come home to. I was not on leave from a job (I wish) unlike some of my more fortunate fellow volunteers. And so I kinda get freaked out if no funds are coming into the household, especially as we are and have been for a few years more or less living on retirement savings, with some farming income. We are frugal people, living simply, very unlike the typical consumer, carrying no debt whatsoever. We are very fortunate that we don’t carry a mortgage which is one of life’s biggest expenses (that or rent). Our biggest expense is our car. Living rurally we need a vehicle which includes registration, insurance, upkeep and gas. We can’t afford new or newer vehicles, we live with $1500 CDN vehicles. And so every few years you have to do repairs, especially with the poor road conditions in our province. The wear and tear on a car is immense here. Upon return back to our farm, alas we had to pump in thousands to get our car back on the road as it was time for a safety inspection. In this were new tires something we knew was coming up but the cost – ouch!!
So I knew I did not want to be at home with no income coming into the household and having no job prospects where I live. Despite being very well qualified, educated, skilled, there is no work for my background. The vast majority of jobs are service industry which are then seasonal, and of course pay minimum wage. I have had no shame in considering and even applying for the odd job that I thought I was qualified despite a ridiculous downgrading in pay, and skillset for that matter. But of course I am over qualified then. And there is of course the scourge of nepotism here. I’m pretty sure that the jobs I have applied for are often already filled but they have to go through the motions. Heck I was even prepared to work at the local (45 minute drive away) frozen food processing facility but when I found out you stand for your long shifts, you are in a cold room environment and you need to use your hands (according to a hand surgeon I have severe osteo-arthritis in my wrists but thankfully little chronic pain – yet), I was like I am physically not able to do this type of work, unless it was part-time but all the jobs are full-time. I would actually enjoy a part-time job. However, I do joke that I would be fired after the 1st day if I was in food service as I just wouldn’t tolerate most of the customer’s behaviours.
So my solution was to seek out another volunteer gig for the coming months. I have planned to teach a university course, the sociology of food, for the fall semester 2018. This is if the course gets funded as it would not be part of the regular course offering so I have my fingers crossed. I mentioned in my 1st Barbados post that I had not anticipated to get a posting so quickly but it all worked out this way. Despite not receiving a salary with these volunteer postings, you do receive a monthly living allowance or MLA. It is meant to cover your basic expenses such as food, utilities, toiletries, clothing and other ancillary costs. Thankfully rent is covered and paid separately. Alas I have learned that when the organization (WUSC) that is responsible for this PROPEL project were determining what the MLA should be, they averaged the cost of living in the 5 countries where the project work is taking place. Well it turns out living in St.Lucia is way cheaper than Barbados. Lucky me (meaning not), Barbados turns out to be the most expensive place to live in the Caribbean.
I have not been ‘disappointed’. Boy is it ever. I have been dumbfounded at the cost of produce in the grocery stores here. As a more or less vegetarian (unless I know the source of the meat – the animals life and killing) this is a wee problem. Fortunately I have since gone to the Saturday morning farmers market and found cheaper foods. I say cheaper since the cost would be equivalent to the cost of buying produce at a Canadian grocery store at full price, i.e. no sales. Of course my most recent point of comparison was Lima & all of Peru. I really appreciate now how cheap food is there, even the organic produce (not organic processed foods – these are still quite expensive even to Western standards). At least I just don’t eat much but when Mr.C5 is here that will change.
I did find out that rum can be had here that is cheaper than any other type of beverage including soda pop. Alas rum is the booze I first got drunk on and so the taste is not appealing to say the least, unless of course it is well masked in a fruity drink like a pina colada! There are rum shops all around, a typical drinking establishment. Experienced one last weekend when the project group xmas gathering was had at one. Cheap food and tasty (I just had chips & salad, not interested in the meat offerings). I gather you buy rum by the bottle, small or large, and mix to go with it, juice or pop.
Fortunately as well, country wide bus service is cheap, costing $2 BBD or $1 U.S. for one ride which could be from one end of the island to the other. Not that I need to take the bus much. I can walk most places thankfully due to the location of my house flat. And the local supermarket I go to has a free shuttle service direct to your door (now that is service – thanks Massy) which is awesome so you don’t have to carry/walk home with heavy bags.
I have learned there is the Barbados Association of Retired Persons where you can get a discount card and the qualifying age is 50!! I’m 54 so guess what – I might just be getting my 1st seniors discount card. Heck yeah – I am not too proud to do this. But I will first check what are the discounts since it could very well be there wouldn’t be much for me as a minimal consumer.
Well more on food in a future posting.
So I find myself in Barbados for holiday season 2017. Xmas isn’t my thing and hasn’t been for years – I am not a christian and I find the consumerism of this season intolerable. Solstice is my day of celebration, an ancient ritual, my church being mother nature. This time I got to be in warm ocean waters for this one and that can’t be beat. I will be watching my fav xmas tv shows (from my childhood – thankfully they are on youtube) and movies. Call me crazy but I have been looking longingly at the scenes of snow. Otherwise I have been housebound for a few days after I sprained my ankle. All is much better now so I can go back to my morning ritual of beach walk and sea bath.
These are terrifying times – for those of us who look beyond the mainstream. All we can do is get some joy and peace from the little things. For me this is the patterns of the sand as the ocean waves crash and retreat, the plovers as they run around looking for food at the edge of the surf, the daily rainbows I see as I take my sea bath, the small little green lizards that visit my balcony, the brief but intense rainstorms, the sound of the wind in the leaves of the banana trees in my neighbour’s yard, the stray neighbourhood cats, the feeling of the sand under my feet, the sound of the mourning doves, the little birds that are everywhere. These things help me be in the present moment albeit briefly. I too hope you have your ways of being grounded in these times as we head into even more difficult times.
Mother nature endures…
For 2018, I wish you a peaceful inner strength to endure, to resist and to engage the forces that inflict such pain on all forms of life. I hope you can get the support you need to seek the changes in your life and community that will make life better for the planet.
The journey continues…