Permit me to offer you a pepperpot today. There are a few things I wish to muse on. I attended the educational session hosted by Sandra Husbands, St. James South Candidate for the Barbados Labour Party, earlier in the week. The session sought to provide historical context for voter patterns in Barbados as well as other general attitudes and behaviours we find in our governance and administrative processes.
She outlined the genesis for many behaviours and attitudes that Barbadians exhibit in their daily lives. For instance, Husbands was able to make the connection between our habit of seeking out ‘somebody we know’ in a business setting to the individual favours the Africans competed for from Massa. One African would easily turn on another if it meant that there was some personal favour for his gain.
This created a work atmosphere with a fair amount of mistrust and rancour. It has also left a relic of people liking to only work for bosses they feel ‘treat them good’ or can easily relate to people. Working and contributing to the development of the company, be it a private company or, in the specific case, in a public service agency, is seen by most as a favour. Barbadians offer work for people they like as opposed to being invested in the goals of the company. This leads to poor customer service at all levels of government services and it trickles into private sector companies.
Husbands noted that Barbadian workers felt no more invested in their places of work now than their ancestors perhaps did working in Massa’s expanse. My mind rested on my experience being nebulized at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital over last weekend. Above the nebulizer I was on was the duct in the picture above. As I reconciled the state of the duct with Sandra’s presentation, I could not help
If you were proud of your job and wanted to be the best at it, that duct could not be in that state. Whether you were the Minister who was known to be a hard taskmaster and insisted on the best from all aspects of the ministry you oversaw. If it was the team responsible for maintenance or the nurse who is the advocate for her patient. Even if it is just the doctor who wants to ensure patient comfort to maximize heath care provision. If people felt invested in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital as their place of work, that duct could never be in that state.
As Sandra wove the narrative around our political system and our wider system of administration and services, I started to wonder how we could change these perennial attitudes that we have. I worked out that we were not talking about any one day process. I also worked out that people like Sandra Husbands who were offering themselves for higher office had to have done exactly what she obviously did. They would have to have been actively engaging on the problems we have in Barbadian societies, put theories and hypotheses to them and then create solution platforms.
Husbands is doing this by engaging and encouraging her voters. It is a commendable activity and one that needs to be replicated across Barbados at election time and beyond. Tied into the type of education that Sandra is doing, but also completely unrelated is that I believe we have to create more spaces for Barbadians to be exposed to wider life experiences. We have created a national image in Barbados where everybody has gone to school, everybody is literate and thus everybody is capable of full functioning in all areas of endeavour needed in the adult experience.
As I go about various chores in Barbados, I am beginning to wonder more and more if Barbadians have as full a grasp of all the life skills we assume. It has been a pet concern of mine for a long time how Barbadians react in the medical space. I have had many friends or acquaintances visit the doctor and then return home to call me and ask me for an interpretation of what the doctor said. I have also watched many people accept medication from pharmacies without going through the instructions with the pharmacist. I have also seen patients try to get information about medication given to them, to be treated less than cordially by pharmacy personnel.
I think we assume that people can read and interpret instructions on labels. I think we assume that all will google what type of meal is adequate to take certain types of medication on. I think we assume that Barbadians understand how exercise, sleep, diet and medications are all interconnected and I do not think what we think squares with reality. We’ve made people start to pay for medications but has this stopped the wastage of medications that we flagged as a first issue? I do not think it might have. I believe programmes to educate Barbadians about how to talk to medical providers to get information and better manage their medications and health would go a longer way.
The final concern which rested on me was how fast Barbadian society was moving away from some of the more positive national characteristics we have become known for. There was once a ‘shine’ you could associate with a Barbadian. They dressed the part even if they did not have a premium knowledge set. Barbadians ensured that they were courteous and seemingly even willed in public. However, there is a tone creeping into the psyche of Barbadians which disregards dress and appropriateness.
Do not for a minute think that I am glorifying the overly passive and docile nature Barbadians are known for. That is very far from the point I am making.
I am more concerned about the slippers I see some people dragging on their feet. The loud and open mouthed chewing of gum. The boxers being left exposed above waists. I suspect that the sum of all of this might just be that I am getting old and staid. However, there just feels to be a ‘look and attitude’ which feels different about my Barbados from anything I’ve known even in my most rebellious days.
Alas, my friends tell me they notice it too. So if it is just age, at least I am not getting old alone! Do you notice it too?
(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies.