“Toto, I get the feeling we aren’t in Kansas anymore!”
– Judy Garland as Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz”, 1939
The nightly countdown has begun and well-known entertainer Peter Ram is constantly reminding us to “Get Ready for De Gathering”, the big event slated for next year when Barbadians living abroad are invited to come back home, and hopefully, invest in the nation to aid our economic recovery.
But as we “get ready”, there are many factors we must consider to make this event a memorable and enjoyable experience.
Recently, the Northern Group of Returning Nationals made a plea to lawyers, contractors and other professionals not to fleece their contemporaries who may want to put down roots in their homeland.
The president of the association Reuben Rollock said: “There are certain people who seem to think that because you came in from America or Canada, you went to Buckingham Palace and took off a piece of gold.
“It’s not like that. People want to come back to Barbados and live, but they don’t want to be taken advantage of.
“Sometimes they get shortchanged by contractors who tell them certain things and get them confused, and sometimes lawyers tell them things that are untrue.”
Rollock said his association has a shortlist of contractors it trusts and works with who act as advisors to his group’s members and other would-be returnees.
If We Gatherin’ 2020 is aimed at getting people to invest in the country, either by setting up a business venture or building a house, it would be useful for the Government and private sector to host workshops to walk them through the process on which Government departments they need to consult, the documents and other information they need, pitfalls to avoid and how to seek legal redress – via the court, Fair Trading Commission, Barbados Bar Association or other agencies i if they end up out of pocket owing to unscrupulous business practices.
One commentator has suggested that hotels, guest houses and other such establishments offer returnees specially discounted rates, as is the case with CARICOM nationals at many hotels.
After all, if they have been away for a very long time, the chances are they may not have any surviving relatives here, the family properties might have been sold, or their family members on the island may not be in a position to accommodate them.
Also, if they already own a house that is being rented out, it may not be advisable or practical to evict the tenants if they are only going to spend a few weeks here. Rental car agencies should consider offering reduced rates as well.
As Dorothy discovered along the yellow brick road, there will be a state of “culture shock” where the returnees are concerned, and this is where they often run into trouble with the local population.
Rollock said: “Many find it difficult when they come back because some have been away for so long they still expect a sweet bread to cost 20 cents.”
True, they often complain about the prices, the amount of cars on the road, the way people drive, and how every single business house operates, which hardly wins them any favours with the ‘natives’, especially if they come across as having a ‘holier than thou’ attitude.
So, they will have to recognise that the same way their adopted homeland has changed, Barbados has not remained frozen in time just for them.
Ideally, apart from the workshops for would-be investors, there should also be community-based ‘rap sessions’, during which the returning nationals can share their stories.
They can talk about their careers and work experience, but also discuss everyday matters like the cost of living, managing the weather, housing, transport, racism, the challenges of adjusting to different work ethics and ways of thinking, the education system and so on.
This might be especially beneficial for young people who might be considering studying or working in another country, to give them an idea of the issues they will face. Such sessions will also help dispel some of the limiting, and often negative, beliefs older people who remained “at home” might have developed about their contemporaries who took up opportunities overseas.
Both Scotland (2009) and Ireland (2013) have held similar reunions with the diaspora over the past decade, and they were considered successful.
The Irish venture brought between 250,000 and 275,000 new visitors to that country in 2013 and generated 170 million pounds in revenue, and they have decided to host a Gathering Ireland every five years.
Now we have no idea how many overseas-based Barbadians, not to mention their children and grandchildren, will make it here for this event, but if we want them to eventually come back ‘for good’ and ‘put down some roots’, this is an ideal opportunity for a meeting of the minds to see how best we can work together despite the cultural differences we would have accumulated over the years.