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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Putting the fresh (and the smell) into food

I just completed a marathon of travelling which took in Caymans, Miami, Vienna, and New York.

I had to stay over in every one of those destinations and ate a proper meal in every one.

Then something came to mind.

How fresh is the food. I mean, its a pretty simple question. The answer though isnt quite as easy.

You see in Dominica, I go over to the market for my vegetables and ground provisions or I call Royal George for my beef or pork, Morne Anglais farms for my local chicken, and get my fish and shellfish from San Sauveur. I wont mention the wild game that we get ever now and then.

Usually I can eat meat or vegetables which has had low chemical exposure, within three to four days of being pulled from the ground or sea or being killed. And you can taste the difference.

Caymans was good for the fish. But everything else is shipped in and distributed. Miami...might be decent on seafood but its still not fresh unless you explicitly search I guess. Vienna...I couldnt taste the beef in the beef, and in New York, well lets just say I accept that I am going to eat some stuff that has served some punishment time.

The other odd thing is this. When you step into a supermarket in the US in particular, two things shout out. The sheer size of the vegetables and fruit, and the lack of any, and I mean any smells.

I mean when you walk into a food market in Dominica, you smell everything. Onions, thyme, mangoes, even carrots, and tomatoes. Its like an assault on your nose.

You walk into Western Beef or Pathmark or Publix and you could swear someone has clipped your nasal capacity. Even pineapples stare you in the face with a kind of 'yes I am a pineapple but you cant friggin smell me' look. A pineapple in Dominica quickly becomes a car fragrance if left in the car for any longer than 5-10 minutes.

The flavor of course is key. And fresh fruit, vegetables and meat taste great.

We may not have great restaurants or a vibrant foodie scene, but in reality Dominica is food heaven. You just have to learn to make it for yourself or lean on someone who can.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Freedom to care (or not)

Small Caribbean islands have a high bs to reality quotient because the level of dependency is very strong. In a larger country you dont have to pretend you care or like someone unless they are your boss, your sole client, or in a position of immediate influence on your life.

Its a refreshing freedom that would eliminate many a 'dear friend' here in the Caribbean.

There are however a large amount of decent people who simply want your presence. These people are the elders in our society. They sit alone in many of our houses, needing someone to interact with, argue with, and share with. They just need your time.

If you live in the Caribbean (or anywhere), find an older person in your community and call in on them once every often. It'll help. Honestly...

If you spend your life interacting with people whose main need is to have their egos fed so that they can help you put food on your table, then....you will have many an imaginary friend.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

CSME - Head up

The Caribbean single market is supposed to engender the values of a single space. Much like the EU has tried to do, the idea is that people from within the region could seamlessly move without discrimination from point a to b.

Except like every other Caribbean institution, when the ethos has to turn into action it can easily get distorted.

Trying to get workers who are not degree educated doctors, lawyers or any white collar professional to get a skills certificate for free movement is like pulling teeth. The reason is that the CSME Skills certificate discriminates actively against skilled blue collar workers who dont have a degree behind their name.

Considering that their is a strong grain of skilled Caribbean workers who are not Terrence Skinner BSC MSc, you are left struggling to understand who the CSME is for.

So a highly trained machinist or signage installeris deemed to be unskilled whilst any crock doctor with a degree can move from a to b, ruin a life and abscond as quickly as they came.

Way to go free movement.

I understand the dilemma of the Caribbean. WHilst they want free movement, they only want the very best people being able to freely travel through the region. Everything in the Caribbean has to have a tier to it.

Ironically, a whole generation of Caribean immigrants to the US and UK argued that they were discriminated on because they were from poor countries and had little in the way of professional qualifications.

Sounds familiar ?

A suggestion. Create a bridge application process which allows professional references from at least three clients in both the applicants country (say you are from St Lucia) and three references in the countries they are going to (lets say St Kitts, Grenada and Antigua).

Create a registration process where you can audit these referencing companies through Labour and Immigration in each of those countries (so you dont get referring shells), and voila, you have the beginnings of a solution.

But please dont once again recreate the plantation.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I doh like mister / mamselle

This is very simple.

Small country. Someone visits, goes to a small restaurant, eats a great meal. One day they are out with a local and they are looking for somewhere to eat, so brainwave comes. "Lets go to this great place I ate the other night". Away they start to go. Then local asks, but wait a minute, thats the place on x street ? Yes...the visitor says.

Oh. thats the place Sidney own. I doh like mister.

Seems simple right ? Well extrapolate that and imagine if you have enough people with a reason, any reason to not like one person on the other in small island and you can imagine the kind of stalemate the country can be in.

Dominica is in that funk. Everyone seems to have a cast of people they dont like or dont want to socialise around, do business with, or talk to.

So you have a complex nest of relationships with intermediary people who serve as gophers between different people and their cliques.

In the end you cannot get any real common agenda of development or societal push. Because everyone is concentrating on not patronising, helping, engaging or developing anyone they DOH like.

Its a strange thing. And it has nothing to do with good vs bad or morality etc.

Of course, a hurricane or crisis is always good catharsis. When we were hit by the CAT 5 Hurricane David, there was no bandwidth to 'doh like mister'. You had to get help. You had to engage. You had to talk.

Yes its a small island, and as such the mentality can be excused under that label, but it feels at times like we are in a little goldfish bowl with schools of competing fish. And for what ? Coloured stones ?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

decriminalise marijuana

This isnt rocket science. Year after year, young men, young local men, in what is one of the most underpopulated countries in the world, do jail time for smoking a spliff.

As I type this, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and a large amount of CEO's and entrepeneurs, are lighting up all over the world in the privacy of their homes, offices, boats and even their own little islands.

The obsession with ganja is almost consuming. In a country where there are so many more serious issues like abuse of women, child molestation, incest and petty crime, it doesnt seem to fit. The supply of large scale drugs is something which creates its own industry of zombies and that is worth cracking down on, but in an island where anything you throw on the ground can take root, it doesnt take a major supplier to create a spliff.

It might be worth putting away people who supply drugs for a long time, but unfortunately these people seem to enjoy the best legal support and spend the least time in jail. The lil spliffhead caught in possession is more likely to take jailtime.

One more criminal created.

So what could be done ? Decriminalise it. Give people the right to smoke a limited amount of ganja and if there is possession of any more than sactioned,then the state can get the right to bond them to serve as free working resource for a limited time, like 3 months. Nothing like hard work in the sun at no cost to the state (or a contracted entity) to encourage you to smoke your spliff in private quarters and for your own enjoyment.

As for the gateway argument, it is flimsy at best.

The only gateway from marijuana to cocaine is prison.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tropical challenge

Living in a small island with circa 60k people you sometimes have to remember you are pretty much a pimple on the backside of the world.

However it is very easy to think that this reality is more pervasive than it really is.

At first I used to despair of young people leaving the island almost inevitably to never return. And it still is something of a concern.

But my concern is now more pragmatic.

Because of the nature of this island, like so many others, there is close to zero chance of a young man or woman, who isnt politically or class connected to make anything of their lives. Not that those circumstances even help them. It just gives them some breathing room.

Travelling and encountering a different reality gives young Dominicans a chance. And just a chance.

We are dealing with a situation where there is a poorly equipped public library, no cinema, a politically polarised media (and thats being generous to call them that), and almost no intellectual base for anyone to rely on. On top of that we do not have any sporting facilities of note. In 2011 we have young people trying to qualify for the Olympic Games on grass fields with chalk lines, and there is no indoor court for basketball or volleyball (or any other sport for that matter). When it rains, the sports stops.

Dont ask about entertainment.

You add in a party political system which is vindictive in punishing those who do not conform, and a hypocritical and yet strangely dogmatic interpretation of religion which is as literal as you could get in Medieval times, and well...we're screwed.

Well...unless you like that reality.

A couple of us are forming a small charity to try to build facilities to stimulate both mind and body locally.

We shall see if that will head off the storm of barbarism that threatens.

The flip side ? Its a beautiful Caribbean island and you can live naturally :-)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Junk everywhere

One of the biggest ironies of Dominica is that whilst the economy contracts, more and more people are importing food and inferior products and dumping it on our markets.

Many of the brands we are now getting to see are not brands you will see in first world markets. Not that brands are the be all and end all, but the standards of production and quality are often linked to the brand.

But again in Dominica , price is king, and by flooding the market with low cost product, the average local distributor is guaranteeing a market. The Dominican consumer is addicted to cheap, to the point where they will ignore waves of bad treatment to return to a retail outlet, on one promise only.

Its going to be cheap.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Defying common sense

A few years ago an external agency created the 'Defy the EVeryday' brand identity for Dominica. Part of the reason it failed so badly to capture the essence of what Dominica is, is because the agency didnt really know Dominica at all.

There is no hidden code in that commentary. Its just so. The two last agencies who did substantial work for Dominica were from New York and Miami, and the new PR agency is from Minnesota.

Dont get me wrong, most tourism accounts need agencies in foreign markets to target the demographies they need. At least 8 of our IN Network counterparts have major tourism accounts we can learn from and collaborate with.

However most tourism accounts also need a regional / local agency to help define what our countries are, back to those same agencies. Instead the local model in tourism is to consider the local agencies as grunt shops and to deal with international agencies directly. The personalities of international agencies is that they enforce their identities and camapaigns on Caribbean clients much easier than they can on their 'in market' clients or on agencies. Hence you get some very odd campaign paths.

It is for the same reason why the most successful regional companies actually have a global agency, a media booker, and a regional / local agency. And it isnt about having more money either. Its about applying context to identity.

This reminds me of the first attempt of the mascot for the Cricket World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007. It was a mongoose, which is considered a pest in the region. The agency had to quickly withdraw it. They were of course an Australian agency.

When they met a group of us in Jamaica for the creative agency briefing they talked forcefully about how they were in charge (and they were unfortunately). That WC summed up how much they, and their clients, ultimately the ICC / WICB, were in charge. Truth be told, the World Cup in 2007 was eminently forgettable. And it was so partly because it applied the Defy the Everyday model.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Bear with me on this topic....

There is plenty debate in Dominica about the role of the Chinese in unfair business practices (I swear I laughed a little when I wrote that...like there is some ethical business model as standard).

The Dominican merchant most affected by the Chinese, like every other merchant of their type in the Caribbean operates on the import and sell with margin model. It is the essential playbook of capitalism that we all practice if we sell commodities we do not produce or manufacture.

Many of us import goods from China, amongst other manufacturing countries where they produce cheap and in bulk.

At the same time there has been a constant ‘im cheap, im good’ message trumpeted in Dominica. Before the Chinese community came along with their import advantages, some of the existing top of the heap merchants operated on the same principles.

Dominicans became addicted to cheap. Quality and service are almost dirty words, and as such it was the perfect market for the Chinese merchant to sell into. As such I can understand the Chinese being puzzled about what is going on. They can see that this is a cheap price is king market. And they can see how the existing powerhouses in general (and there are notable exceptions), have treated the consumer base.

What is there to be loyal to and what is the business community complaining about ?

The average Dominican cant even return a defective purchase in a couple hours, much less days. Now, if the market was built on quality, then the Chinese would find a niche, but not dominate. But as people did before them, so now the Chinese are doing. They are putting serious pressure on any operation which depended solely on price.

As for the consumer, my personal policy is simple. If you treat me like you despise me, I wont buy your product. So if consumers in Dominica buy from people who don’t patronize any of their own services in turn, who don’t have any respect for them, and yet get fat on their patronage, then its unfortunately your problem, not the merchant, whoever they are. So stop harping on about the Chinese and start to understand that everything has its eventual price.

The consumer has had their hand in creating this.

Ironically, the people who got the consumer addicted to cheap imports, can now only turn to quality and service to differentiate. So maybe we might have a renaissance. You cant turn back the clock. The Chinese will always be the cheapest. Maybe tomorrow they might get into frozen goods or your business sector whoever they are. What I do know is that the people who have been doing this for years with the constant diet of make me rich and get out of my face, cant turn around now and pretend to be indignant, when the Chinese merchants are making ground . Its just a cycle of a type of capitalism in the region. Come purchase from me but don’t expect me to be nice to you.

What goes around, comes around.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Shhhh

Whether you are in grenada or antigua or in dominica it is pretty normal that the people who prosper are those who understand the principle of party in power.

The contraction of economies means that more and more companies are dependent on government, either directly or indirectly, to make their corn.

In economies when the largest companies invariably have close interests with the government, if you rub them the wrong way, well, crapaud smoke your pipe.

In these times being silent is the most important thing to do according to some people. You dont get brownie points for articulating a clear position on corruption, a loaded judiciary, toadyism, large companies flouting taxation rules, or just pure nepotism. In fact you could go under in a heartbeat.

When you combine that with a fickle audience who will goad you to take a stand and proceed to stone you when you are down, it doesnt inspire much heroism.

Everyones waiting for the next guy to do something. Needing to pay your bills does that.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

A question of consistency

Small countries in the Caribbean inherited both their religion and their laws from the colonial powers.

The issue about homosexuality is that it appears at one level to threaten the fabric of the belief systems of Caribbean people. Many many people really do believe it is an abomination cursed by God.

With me its a bit more simple.

We have laws against buggery on our books. Either you enforce it or get rid of it. If you speak to any knowledgeable medical professional on this island you will find out that there is a fast growing incidence of anal sex amongst heterosexuals of all ages. There are other related complexities such as the amount of so called heterosexual males who are messing around with men, 'down low', which people dont like to talk about openly, but lets leave that.

Our laws do not discriminate and mention orientation. Sodomy / buggery is a crime on our books. For everyone.

Either accept it is part of the belief system the country wants to communicate to the world, or consider that controlling sexuality through a combination of religious thought systems and laws is dangerous and repeal the law.
The priest and the pastor own iconic roles in Caribbean society. Our populations feature the classic scenario where the masses take regular solace in church. And I wont make the mistake of pretending religion and church are so different as to not be related. They are very much intertwined. The church is part of a social and economic phenomenon in which religion is practiced.

Unlike Central America, the whole idea of liberation theology does not exist in the Caribbean. In fact, the pastor and priest are facilitators in the main for the status quo. This is unfortunate because in the main it is the most ordinary and the less fortunate who rely most on their words and inspiration and ‘pay’ their way. Ironic even.

So when a society features growing distress and yet the priests and pastors generalize and roll their words under their tongues, what is to be concluded ? Unfortunately, same as Africa, Caribbean people have not yet learnt that continuous praying doesn’t cause an economy to get better or for bad things to go away. In fact the converse applies (I recommend whywont godhealamputees.com as a test of your faith).

Of course after a 20 year timeline when a series of organic events causes a regime to collapse, advocates of religion and faith are quick to use the ‘ God don’t sleep’ reasoning. You cant beat the zealots with that logic. As one friend put to me…God may not sleep, but he doesn’t vote or agitate either.

It is one of the more cynical cons of life that most poor people across the region have to wait to the afterlife for justice, whilst their tormentors live large in real life. That is a nice reason to encourage people to wait till death to see justice exacted against the rich, powerful and corrupt. You will win in the end, but only after the credits completely roll, the screen goes dark and there is no audience. Yes…got that.

Myself, I rarely go to church. Its partly because church is boring. Also, I figure if all I want is for things to get better for me and my family and anyone else I like, I could stay home. At some point all this cross praying must be creating one big stalemate. And I haven’t even factored in other faiths.

However as a networking forum in a small society dominated by religion and faith, it cannot be beat. Just like the Masonic lodge (another irony), they do flock together. It is part of a rites of status quo passage which is very powerful in our societies. Yet at no time, not in Antigua, not in Jamaica, not in Guyana has the religious hierarchy done anything but stay in line with the leading horse.

Napoleon Bonaparte once said that religion is what prevents the poor from murdering the rich. I am inclined to agree.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Small Gestures

If you assess your own life, small gestures have huge significance.

Years ago, when I worked for a company called Breakaway Solutions, I lived in the Old Colonial Inn in Concord Massachusetts. I was there for a long time...over three months. I considered it long because living in a hotel stops being sexy when there is nothing new. But a great place it was and I am sure still is. Concord is the small town where the American Revolution began.

I worked nearby in Maynard and on weekends I would drive commute to New York. Once a month I would travel back to London where I lived in those days.

On the day my engagement ended in Boston, I decided to cut out early a Friday morning to go shop in NY before my flight, which was at 7pm in the evening.

Well, to cut a long story short, I was doing around 100 mph at around midday coming into Connecticut on my way to NY when a police car started flashing in the distance. My first reaction was to take the first exit I saw (I remember this so well), and I ducked into a gas station.A few minutes later, cop car pulled up behind me and I had to do the usual display license etc.

Speeding at that time was a jailable offence at the speed I was doing, but she let me off because I told her that I was overdoing it trying to get to NY quick before my flight. SHe marked me down as doing 85 in a 65 zone and I gladly paid the fine when I got back to London. I also sent her flowers.

Now in an alternate reality who knows how many things would have changed had I been arrested for speeding recklessly. But that small gesture helped me.

Thats why the small things you do for people can never hurt your chances of gathering good vibes. In a small country its even more so. In Caribbean countries people build legends and myths on things you do or say, both good or bad. So make the gesture and reap the good will.

Monday, April 04, 2011

The energy to do better

As you get older and you introspect you understand that very little is coincidence.

Dominica is a small country dominated by a small cabal of families who have little or no interest in the development of the island. In fact, any development which is likely to widen the economic base of this island will be resisted. And any government which does the same will similarly be compromised.

We have one great opportunity to revolutionise Dominica. That is Geothermal energy. It is not beyond this Government to totally screw it up, but I will go on record to say that Geothermal in Dominica is the only chance for the next millenia of fundamentally changing everything about this country. There is no other chance for the country.

Why so ?

Dominica is practically sitting on a geothermal generator. What this means is that we have incalculable CLEAN energy, which does not have repercussions like radiation or leakage.

To understand what could and should happen lets understand what it will mean if we tap geothermal properly.

We will no longer have to buy LPG gas, or import fuel. We will become a net exporter of energy, with the primary buyers being the French and Greater Caribbean. With almost non existent electricity costs, the society will gravitate to a manufacturing base as companies will see the total benefit of relocating to Dominica, ala oil produ

We could become one of the first societies of electric cars and a technological leader. Sounds far fetched ? It isnt really.

The biggest issues are whether the government is going to look past their own personal agendas to benefit personally on every significant deal (ala say an oil producing country like Nigeria in which nothing has changed for the consumption of energy). A bit of skimming is expected, but a national agenda has to be core.

The other big issue is whether the cabal, and their foot soldiers, are going to fight to kill the widening of the base because it will change them from big cheeses in a medieval economy, to small fry in a modern one.

You go figure. The stakes are extremely high.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Who are they

They do not care about sports, because they or their children do not play it.

They do not care about agriculture, because they import as a staple of their business life, and buy local only means to locally buy what they import, unless they can get slave labour prices from farmers.

they do not care about the economy, because they are above the economy.

they do not care about crime unless it affects them and their ability to make money.

they do not care about education. their children will be educated abroad and the less educated the masses are, the better for their own interests.

If their interests are met, the country can burn and they will simply turn up the air conditioning and drive faster.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Dashing away merit

When you work across the region, it becomes obvious how the level of ignorance and mistrust could have worked for a colonizing force.

Being Dominican and well travelled makes it even more of a unique treat. I cant tell you how many times I have sat and watched well educated people trying to figure out whether my nationality is some kind of trick.

Caribbean people seem conditioned to look at a persons background, family, and nationality as pointers as to whether they should accept that person as a professional. It is also why non Caribbean people, even the worst shysters with little knowledge, can make such inroads in our societies.

On top of that, the typical Caribbean family run businesses are very suspicious of bright professionals (the theory I suspect is that they believe they are one bright young professional away from being screwed). Loyalty and subservience are considered more highly and as such there is a premium on those qualities at the expense of smarts, or ambition. It is natural I guess.

Therefore if you look at most institutions in the region, the prospects for a young person rising up the hierarchy are relatively bleak, except in the banking field, which ironically has to overcompensate to try to retain and build young professionals.

WHat this means is that our societies have even more grounds for being duncified. Its difficult for any person to want to stay in the Caribbean if they are ambitious and they decide they do not want to become an entrepeneur.

Everything is then about connections. A simple glance at Dominica and the level of incestuous relationships in business including huge conflicts of interest explains alot.

Unfortunately, the end result always comes back to haunt you. The more incompetent loyalists continue to drive more and more parts of the business and political hierarchy, the more the country will suffer.

And the more travelling I will do to avoid having to interact and depend on anyone intertwined in that mess.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Thick and Fat

If anyone stood up on any street corner in Roseau during Carnival one thing would be very obvious. Besides the fact that we have a population of beautiful women, we also have one of the most obese populations on the rise.

Dominican man is the reason in the main. For the average woman visiting Dominica, weight conciousness is not one of our complexes. I would go further to say that a fat or overweight woman has a better chance of getting a man in Dominica than a slim woman. That in itself is refreshing in a world full of body image nutcases but...the flip side is real pragmatic.

How does a population where the main active base is increasingly female, deal with the fact that they are higher than avg vulnerable to diabetes, high blood pressure and every other ailment you get with obsesity ?

Dominican man continues to tell women...I like your thickness, love your curves, and Dominican woman keeps on eating and drinking away. And its young women in the main, folds of fat everywhere, stomach hanging, short pants showing all the flesh in the world.

Thats just cosmetic of course. I personally like all body shapes, thick and curvy especially...but the real issue is what health crisis will we be facing as Dominican men continue to fuel the myth that there is no difference between thick and fat.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

one eyed men

I was asked today why Dominica didnt have an international airport and why there was such hostility amongst the so called business class to the idea of an international airport.

The reason is quite simple. A few people control the largesse of the Dominican economy.

The key word is control. Anything which threatens the control of a small cabal of people who put themselves, their friends and family, and generally anyone who kisses their ass, above anyone else, will be frowned upon.

But we cant afford an international airport ?

Can St Kitts ? Could Antigua ? St Lucia ? Even Barbados ?

It is tiring to see a country like Dominica have slaves on a plantation fighting to preserve the lifestyle of a few people who spend more time spending their money in Miami and New York than in the same country which facilitates their very economic position.

The principle behind access to Dominica is that it alows the world to discover Dominica, and allows Dominicans to discover the world.

However in the land of the blind the one eyed man is king, so it is natural.

But it is sickening to observe.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Poignant

It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena;

whose face is marred by the dust and s...weat and blood;

who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again;

who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause;

who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly;

so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat."

Theodore Roosevelt Paris 1910