by Marlon Madden
Saying goodbye is never easy, particularly when a special bond has been formed, and both parties have derived benefits from the relationship.
Though it has been just under three years since the Ambassador of the Argentine Republic to Barbados Gustavo Pandiani came to Bridgetown, he admits, “It feels like it was 10 years or 20, maybe”.
It was love at first sight when he landed in Barbados in January 2018 to take up his diplomatic post here.
“From the very beginning I felt well-received and at home,” he recalled. Describing it as one of the most open societies with warm, welcoming people, Pandiani pledged that Barbados will always be his “home away from home”.
“That is why it is really hard for me to leave the island. I never expect to be leaving so soon. Every day I start packing, I just stop. I don’t want to pack because unconsciously I don’t want to go,” he said.
Pandiani is due to depart Thursday, November 5, to go back to his native Argentina.
While the Ambassador has been to other countries in a similar capacity, he said none compared to the bond he shared with the Barbadians and their culture.
“It is very special. I fell in love with the people here. I have a romance with Barbados as a community. I am a part of that community. I am taking with me so many memories, so many moments and I will treasure them even if I am in Buenos Aires, Europe, the US or wherever I am,” he gushed.
To many, Pandiani was the Ambassador who got his hands dirty by engaging every and anyone at all levels of the society, whether it was to hear their concerns, share a laugh, play a sport or outline plans.
The 54-year-old, who said he came from humble beginnings, said engaging with “regular people” has been a privilege for him to this day.
“It makes me more open and understanding of the needs of the citizen and the common people. So I can have a business meeting with your elite and the community of business people here in Barbados, and at the same time, I feel very comfortable dealing with the farmers in the field,” he explained.
An avid footballer and jogger, Pandiani has also taken the time to become a little Bajan, having learned a few choice words and their meanings, as well as the famous wukking up.
“You cannot force a community to take you in and you cannot get into that society if that community does not open their emotional gate; their heart. So it has been very emotional … sometimes I feel my heart is broken. I am not ready to go. I need a little more time to say my farewells, play more football, eat more macaroni pie, enjoy the music and try to be better in my wuk up abilities,” he quipped.
“I started realizing that I am becoming Bajan in many ways – the way I speak, the way I react… I became, officially, a Bajan when I started strupsing (sucking one’s teeth),” he said, adding that his gesture was now natural for him.
“A Bajan for me is someone who is from Barbados but shares with me values, passions, and culture. So I didn’t know the word Bajan before coming to Barbados, but now I discovered the Bajan culture, which is different from the Barbadian official culture.” He said.
“These almost three years have been a privilege and honour for me. I feel I grew up as a person [as well as] a career diplomat. I have been in this business for 30 years, but Barbados hit me really hard. It is an experience I will never forget.”
It was easy for Pandiani to connect with the people of the 166 square mile island. He said while he thought about Barbados’ beauty as being its beaches before he arrived, he later found out this was not necessarily the case.
“Now I realize the most beautiful thing you have in Barbados is not your geographical or physical beauties, it is your people. It is the way you are, it is the Bajan way – that thing where you invite me to eat macaroni pie without knowing me,” he said.
He also attributes his comfortable stay and love for the island to its safety.
While in Barbados, Pandiani also developed a strong love for journalists; a profession he knows well, having practiced and taught
in that area.
He believes journalists in any society have a significant role to play in helping residents understand issues that affect them and to help maintain democracy.
In his life before diplomacy, Pandiani was the dean for the Faculty of Journalism in Argentina at the Universidad del Salvador.
The diplomat said he has no regrets, and said while he will miss Barbados and its people, he was equally happy to return to his family. He has four daughters – two in Argentina, one in Europe and one in the US.
He said he was not in a position to say exactly what post he will be taking up in the public sector when he returns home, but said he was ready to continue to serve his country in whatever capacity.
“I am going to put my shoulder to the different situation my country has right now,” he said.
“I am going there with my love for life, I am going to put everything I have for the benefit of my own country, and as I did in Barbados, I will be working with my community. So regardless of my formal position, I am going to get involved in community service,” he said.
Maintaining that he would treasure every gift he received from Barbadians, Pandiani told Barbados TODAY he would try his best to keep the lines of communications open with his “Bajan friends”.
His first diplomatic post was in Jamaica at the age of 25. He also spent time in the US and Puerto Rico. But he said, while all countries had their uniqueness and various special moments, none compared to Barbados.
He also lauded Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley for her forward thinking and for being “progressive, modern and different. She is like a tornado. She passes by and she changes things,” he said.
Pandiani said he had one message he wanted to leave with Barbadians – keep your heart open to receiving and welcoming people to your country, but do not be naïve.
“Keep taking the risk of receiving people within your house, your family and community. Take care of yourself in the pandemic,” he said, adding that he was confident in the island’s ability to continue to manage the pandemic.
“My main message to you is, do not change. Do not change that sense of innocence you have in the good sense. I am not talking about being naïve, I am talking about being well intended.
Barbados gives you the benefit of the doubt . . . They didn’t care about how I look, the way I spoke with this strange accent, they just gave me the benefit of the doubt. So I wouldn’t like to see Barbados losing that innocence or open-mindedness. That is your main capital.”