Brazil, again

It's long past time for me to write about Brazil. I spent almost 3 weeks there in May and it changed my life. I'm not certain where or how to start, but the time that I spent there with Marta and her family has taken root inside me and has changed me somehow. It's made me more silent, it would seem, but also made me more contemplative. As I slide into my fifties, it helps to bring the ends of my life together, knitting the past with the present in ways I had no idea would ever be possible when I stood weeping in the parking lot of Pearson College nearly thirty-three years ago. But let me begin at the beginning.My journey to Brazil began on the day I took my Music GCE O-level, though I didn't know it then. It's a day I can remember almost from beginning to end. It started with me sitting at the front room window looking out at the rain pouring over the two huge sisal plants in our front yard, waiting for my mother, or for someone anyway, to take me to my exam. I don't remember anything about the exam myself. All I remember is that everyone else I was close to had finished their exams, had finished their high school life, had got past studying and were thinking about the prom and what came after, and I had a morning exam. The morning was dark, almost wintery, and the rain was hard and real, and the air outside was green with it.I remember nothing about the exam--not where we sat it, though I want to imagine it was the QC music room and not Epworth Hall, where all the other exams had been taken in rows of desks laid out precisely by a math teacher with a yardstick--nor what was on it, but I do remember that when I was collected from the exam it was by my mother who was bursting with excitement. I'd got the scholarship. The scholarship, the one to the United World Colleges. Not to the one I was dreaming about; not the castle in Wales, but another scholarship. This one would take me to Canada, to Vancouver Island, a place I'd never really been aware of. One didn't look west from the Bahamas in 1979. One looked east, across the Atlantic. One looked to England, or maybe, occasionally, north. To the east coast of the USA or the centre of Canada. If one had to. I had to consult a map to find it. Not Vancouver, a city I had heard about; Vancouver Island. I had never know there was an island there. And when I looked at it on a map, I didn't think it was much of an island. More like a small continent, it seemed.So anyway, I went to the United World College on Vancouver Island. Named, fittingly enough then, after Lester B. Pearson, before his name was on Toronto International Airport, it was the first United World College to be purpose built, and the Canadians who built it had thought of everything. Like how many students from different countries to put in a single room. Like how the campus was laid out. Like what we were and were not allowed to do. A grand experiment in the middle of the temperate rain forest of British Columbia.My trip to Brazil began on Vancouver Island at the United World College of the Pacific, where I met Marta. We were friends in our first year, and roommates in our second year, and she introduced me to Brazil, another place I was vaguely aware of but hadn't really imagined into reality. When we left Pearson together, heading back to our respective countries, we promised to visit one another.She made good on her promise in 2001, back when she was pregnant and newly remarried to a man who is a doctor and an inventor. They were in the USA working on selling the computer mouse he had developed, something which, unlike every other mouse (or trackpad) on the market then and now, was designed to fit and support the human hand, and to get to where they were going (California?) they were passing through Miami. Only a hop and a skip to Nassau, and they came to visit, Marta and Julio and Julio's daughter Barbara and, in Marta, their not-yet-born son David.Last year Marta made me make good on my promise, and so this year I spent two and a half weeks in Brazil.My time there left me with questions and inspirations. Questions such as what, fundamentally, was different between Brazil and The Bahamas that left me feeling hopeful while I was in the first country, but close to despair when at home? It cannot be ideas of corruption, or poverty, or political equality; on paper at least, The Bahamas has Brazil beat in all of those areas. Questions like how did a country that was founded, as ours was, on the institution of slavery, raise up citizens who had the audacity to imagine the unimaginable--like a gigantic statue of Jesus Christ erected on top of an already-spectacular mountain, or a cable car linking two equally spectacular peaks when ours has trouble imagining that it needs even one national university? The answer, perhaps, lies in the recognition in Brazil that at least some of its citizens are humans and are worth all the amenities and wonders that are afforded to humans everywhere (I don't think we have quite come to the same conclusion here in the Caribbean). And inspirations like the fact that out of a country that was ruled by right-wing dictatorships for much of the twentieth century could come the kind of democratic upwelling that marked the end of that century and the beginning of a next—a sign that regeneration is possible when all hope is lost.

Visiting Brazil

For the past two and a half weeks I have been travelling. To be precise: I accepted the invitation of my roommate from Lester B. Pearson College to celebrate our fiftieth birthdays by FINALLY visiting her in Brazil. When I got there I wondered why I hadn't been sooner (simple: money, family obligations, money), and I knew I would like to go back. I'll just post a few photographs from the trip just to whet people's appetite. I'll be blogging about the trip in more detail over the next few weeks, as I learned a lot from the trip (as well as enjoying myself, I gook the opportunity to try and find out why Brazil is the B-letter in the up-and-coming BRIC countries (the next superpowers: Brazil, Russia (not wholly convinced), India, China). The centre of the world is shifting from Europe and North America and I wanted to have some idea why. Brazil's the closest upcoming superpower to us, and I'm convinced we in the Caribbean could—and should— be learning from our South American neighbours and learning not to always look north for inspiration and models of development. But more on that later. For now, some photographs.

Abaco Islands

We remember islands by memories and photographs.  After a lifetime of driving by car on the Abaco Islands in the Northern Bahamas, I have begun to erase old memories and photographs of beaches and water, for stories of dusty roads and lonely towns.  Today, I remember the Abaco Islands by their interiors.

Abaco Islands.

The narrative is interesting though not wholly accurate (i.e. children of illegal Haitian immigrants are not Bahamian citizens, as one of the meditations suggests) but the images and the perspective are worth checking out. Found the essay via StumbleUpon, a webresource I don't use nearly enough, but which I plan to use more often.

Stranded Due to Volcanic Ash - Some info

For those of you who don't know, I'm one of the million or more "ash refugees" around the world. Having come to Belfast for a conference last week, I've been the victim of two flight cancellations because of the closure of UK airspace since last Thursday as the result of the erupting Icelandic volcano. (Don't ask me to spell or pronounce the name. At some point I may try and copy-paste the name but not now.)Of course, this has raised many questions. It's clear that this is not a frivolous move on the part of the UK. Safety appears to be first in all things -- never mind the millions and millions of pounds being lost by cancelled flights. In this, I'm rather pleased to be in the UK, who are notorious about not being bullied into making decisions -- at the moment the more airlines and other agencies squeal the more intransigent the UK authorities are likely to get.But are they being overly cautious? In some ways, I hope so! I'd hate to be in the air over the North Atlantic and have the jet plane lose engine power owing to volcanic ash. And what is the realistic chance of this? In seeking some answers, I came across this:

The decision not to fly any aircraft across Europe since last Thursday is based on the latest guidance from the International Civil Aviation Organisation. In turn, the UK's traffic control organisation, Nats, and the Civil Aviation Authority follow the guidance to the letter.The flight which sparked this system was BA 009 - a 747 from Kuala Lumpur to Perth where all four engines stopped at 37,000 feet in 1982. An international agreement followed - and the bottom line now is that volcanic ash means no flights.The agreement set up a number of volcanic ash warning centres around the world. VAAC London (actually based at the Met Office in Exeter) covers Iceland - which is why the UK has taken the lead on this volcano.

via Volcanic ash: how do you spot the next volcano to disrupt flights? Every one listed | News |

It's an interesting piece, and well worth following up. Join me in the challenge.

More information, about the effects of the wind on the ash cloud:

Q: unclecharlie – "There seems to have been little discussion in the news surrounding how and when changes in the wind may blow the ash away from UK airspace. Is this because they are unlikely to have a major effect? Or is it because such changes are unlikely to happen in the near future (i.e within the next few days)?"A: DrGrantAllen – "In response to unclecharlie, the reason we can not accurately say when the plume will not be "blown our way" is because we have been subject to what we call a "blocking high", similar to the weather regime which brought the cold snap in early January. The eventual breakdown of blocking highs is hard to perdict accurately, perhaps only with 2-3 days notice. Currently, and thankfully, it would appear that there is a likelihood that this high pressure system will break down around Friday, which would mean a return to Westerly winds from the Atlantic, which would mean the ash would not be blown South as it has recently."via "Iceland Volcano - millions remain stranded" |

And finally, this one, which explains why (pace Rick) I am far happier to be grounded by the safety considerations being followed by the UK government and authorities than to be hurtling through the sky as part of the profit-loss calculations carried out by airlines and their accountants.

there's an innate rationality to the logic of allowing bad things to happen. After all, car manufacturers, like airlines, are in the business of risk management. It's part and parcel of their existence that they take calculated risks, some of which will affect the sanctity of life for a few, very unlucky individuals.


Ask the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and it will no doubt cite a plethora of reasons for why airlines keep losing money. But they all boil down to the fact that projecting human beings 35,000 feet into the sky without killing them is exceptionally difficult. That makes it expensive. Which makes an invisible risk factor, costing £130m a day, something many airlines would prefer to brush under the rug.


... European airlines have been quick to rubbish claims by air traffic controllers that passengers are at risk. BA, KLM and Air Berlin insist the modest number of test flights they ran over the weekend conclusively prove the threat is overblown. The IATA says Europe's reaction to the disaster has been an "embarrassment". Yesterday, Simon Jenkins suggested on Cif that our healthy and safety culture had caused aviation authorities to overreact.

You shouldn't listen to any of them. Even if it turns out the duration of the flight ban was excessive, hindsight is a wonderful thing and that conclusion will only have been reached after days of testing.

via Martin Rivers, "When it comes to the ash cloud and planes, trust the scientists" |

I'm with Martin Rivers. So far, I'm stuck in Belfast now -- till Monday coming!

Happy springtime.

Recessing and Vacating

The last post generated some discussion over on Facebook, where I import posts from Blogworld, and where a lot of discussion takes place. Here's some of what was said:

Dennis Jones: Got to say I am not impressed. Starts with a good false premise about locals and conch fritters, then...'seeks to educate' those who presumably dont know the island either. Suggestion: why not offer an equally well written view of The Bahamas as seen by Bahamians and see if the FT publish it. I will wager they don't.

Ishmael Smith: hmmmmmn. creations of alternative authenticies in liminal spaces? chuckle

More was said, but I haven't got permission yet to quote everybody. The point is that Dennis is on to something, and I think I'm going to have to try and take him up on the challenge. Don't know if I'll go as far as sending it to the FT, but who knows?Off to ponder ... and to consider this little morsel:

[Bahamas] Ministry of Tourism denying Bahamian filmmakers opportunity while using Bahamian money to launch the careers of 14 UK filmmakers? Winner gets $20k cash, Red Carpet Premiere at BAFTA (UK Oscars) etc.

That will be the topic of discussion on GEMS tomorrow, so it's worth listening in. Don't know the ins, outs, truths, or fictions of it but it's worth checking.

A ‘recession vacation’ in The Bahamas

Ever wonder what tourists think of The Bahamas? have a look at what one had to say.I like it mostly because of the writing.

I imagine for Bahamians it’s a very different place. In fact, I’d be willing to offer long odds that most locals have never touched a conch fritter. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), the cloistered, painless, waterlogged, rum-addled tourist reality puts the native, presumably “real”, Bahamas largely beyond my comprehension. While I’ve spent what some might consider an eccentric amount of time in the country, I know almost nothing of it outside the half-mile stretch between my father’s timeshare in Cable Beach and the Crystal Palace Casino. Nonetheless, I was curious to see as best I could how the country was faring in this grisly economic climate, so I returned in September for my first “recession vacation”, armed to the teeth with sunscreen and indigestion tablets. / Reportage - A ‘recession vacation’ in The Bahamas

CARIFESTA: Arrival in Guyana

The biggest barrier to Caribbean integration is the difficulty of moving around in the region.All right, let's face it.  We were travelling from the northernmost point in CARICOM to just about the most southerly; there's got to be some challenge from moving from The Bahamas to Guyana.  But does it have to be this much?I don't know.  It would seem that the barrier posed by Cuba and Hispaniola to The Bahamas, the so-called "Gateway" to the Caribbean, is real.  You can't fly further south than Jamaica if you're flying directly from The Bahamas, not if you're flying commercial airlines. Everything else has to go through Miami, which is forty minutes to an hour out of the way.  So this is the route we took, flying on the routes that the airlines provide for us.  Now lest we imagine that the limitations on moving around the region are neocolonial, posed by the outside, barriers to movement controlled and managed by our former colonial masters, know this:  there are any number of local and regional carriers that I can name.  I'll start by calling the names of those I have already flown in my lifetime:  Bahamasair, Havana Air, Air Jamaica, Caribbean Air (the airline formerly known as BWIA), Liat.  Ooh, look:  five airlines that belong to the region!  And yet not one of them (Air Jamaica excepted) crosses the barrier created by the Greater Antilles to link The Bahamas with the Caribbean proper.The result:  it takes forever and costs a fortune to travel from north to south in the Caribbean, and vice versa.  Although it takes a mere 3 hours as the crow flies for a plane to get from Nassau to Port of Spain, and a mere 4 and a half, or 5 (depending on the Gulf Stream, I suppose) from Nassau to Georgetown, it took us from 12:13 (a quarter past noon) till 2 a.m. to get from Nassau to Georgetown yesterday.Part of the problem, let me tell you, was Caribbean Air.  I won't go into details now, but rest assured I will post about it.  There was a layover of 4 unscheduled hours in Trinidad and Tobago, a layover that was apparently foreseen but not foretold, a layover that has yet to be satisfactorily explained either to the passengers affected or to those people meeting us in Georgetown.We arrived here, eventually.  And we were comfortable enough last night, very well received, and treated with courtesy by the Guyanese.  But it didn't quite take the taste of our ordeal out of our mouths.

African Diaspora Heritage Trail

t-100logo2.jpgFor those who aren't aware of the fact, this October holiday (what should we call it? Not Discovery Day, please, but equally not Heroes Day either, for two reasons -- one, that it suggests/implies/opens the door to the idea that Columbus was a hero, and two, that Columbus didn't discover anything beyond the fact (ultimately) that he was pretty hopelessly lost) plays host to the African Diaspora Heritage Trail Conference.It's a pretty interesting conference. Most interesting about it are the people it brings together -- scholars and businessmen from the African diaspora, particularly the USA. Well. The ownership of the conference is pretty interesting. Bermuda owns the title/brand/idea, but the whole thing is managed by the Henderson Group, the African American travel company that links Africans in the Americas with Africans in Africa and elsewhere.The sessions are stimulating, and the keynote speakers remarkable -- from Shirley Franklin to Andrew Young to PJ Patterson to Jerry Rawlings. But what difference will it really make to us, here in The Bahamas, in the long run? Who have been converted, besides the converted?I suppose we shall have to see.

With all the talk about Bay Street Development

... we might want to take a leaf from the Bajan book. Here's a great post from about the beautification of Bridgetown, with pictures of the results.Here's a sample:

I took a stroll through town today and took some photos, and in the process realised just how much the city has been transformed. Places I used to avoid because they were so ugly and unattractive have become far more appealing. It’s really great.
independence square

The photo above is of Independence Square. A few months ago it was a run-down car-park. Now it’s an open space that can serve as a theatre, and with a statue of the nation’s first Prime Minister as its focal point (you can see the base of the statue from this angle, but not the statue itself; I should have chosen a better angle). I think it will look even nicer once the landscaping is really established.

We talk a lot -- about monuments, about beautification, about what-have-you. But we are not yet truly committed to put money behind the talk; we still tend to have a sense of waste about the spending on money on things that don't have apparent practical benefits -- or things, from another perspective, that don't have short-term, tangible returns.As though the long-term benefits that contribute to national and personal pride are irrelevant.