Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : December 22nd 2013 Contents A25
December 22, 2013 www.guardian.co.tt Sunday Guardian
In a tiny hairdressing salon in
St James, a striking woman,
Angelica (not her real name)
with girlish dimples and velvety
skin (like the inside of a sapodil-
la), was blow-drying my hair.
There was the sound of run-
ning water, women s low voices,
the curiously aromatic, mingling
smells of coffee and chemicals.
For an hour or two, the women
in here were buffered from the
harshness of reality. Some closed
their eyes under the dryer, allow-
ing themselves to succumb to
waves of soporific dreaming.
My phone, then Angelica s,
rang in quick succession. She
paused the dryer. We overheard
one another s conversation with
our offspring, exhorting them to
be safe on the road, encouraging
them to study.
As women do, we became inti-
It was her birthday. Looking at
her, I pictured her in a cheeky
dress, delicate heels in a cocktail
bar with friends, or having din-
ner with her husband. But if
there s one thing I ve learned in
life, it s that nothing is as it
She was cooking pelau, she
said, and salad for 50 people. Ah,
"a domestic diva," I thought, in
the way we like to pinion people
That was not what she meant
Bit by bit, as she put rollers in
my hair, she told me her story.
Angelica s story:
"I am the eldest of four chil-
dren. I never knew my father. My
mother was not a stable person.
She would leave at night. I didn t
know what she did. I would see
her getting bigger, lying down
and a baby came. She would be
quiet for a bit and go out again
until another baby came until
there were four of us.
"We had a stepfather for a
while, but he didn t want us.
Mom left us four at my aunt s
home and went back to him. My
aunt couldn t handle the respon-
sibility, and so my mom took us
to Point Fortin to live with my
grandmother, whom we had
never met. I saw our mother
twice in three years. My grand-
mother saw something in me.
She sent me to school. She wrote
on the blackboard to help me
through Common Entrance exam,
which I passed. My siblings
didn t go to school.
"We must have got too much
for her. One day my grandmother
took all four of us to the unfin-
ished house in St James without
toilets, informed the Catholic
Church that three children under
ten needed care, and left three of
us there. She took me back to
Point Fortin, but soon got ill. I
met my mother at her funeral.
"Mom took me home, but I
was 14 now, and my stepfather
tried to interfere with me. When
I told my mom, he got mean. He
said it was his money feeding me
and he didn t want me to eat
from his earnings. Mom dis-
tanced herself from me.
"At 14, I met my daughter s
father: a taxi driver who got me
pregnant and took me back to a
place he shared with his friend. I
was 15 with a baby, washing,
cooking and cleaning for both
men, wondering if I had made
the right decision to leave home.
At 16, I had another child, but I
couldn t bear my life. I visited
the late Archbishop Pantin, who
said he would pray for me, and
promised me $250 for each day I
couldn t find work. He had that
much faith in me.
"That same evening I went to
the pharmacy for something, and
saw the sign saying Sales clerk
wanted. I filled out a form. I had
a job the very next day. I began
working. I studied hairdressing
and cosmetology. I began taking
private jobs and here I am today,
working 12 hours, sometimes six
days a week, but my own boss,
in my own home, with my
grown-up children, in my own
I brought the conversation back
to Angelica s cooking for 50 peo-
She told me that every year on
her birthday she distributes 50
boxes of food to the homeless.
She does the same for Christmas.
It s what gives her joy. She s far
from well off, but knows what it
feels to be falling off the edge of
the cliff, to be given a leg-up to
safety. Now that she has it, she
wants to give back.
Angelica changed something in
me. Around my tree is quite bare
this Christmas. I have asked my
children s permission, now that
they are no longer little, no
longer believe in Santa, and old
enough to know they have been
blessed in many ways, to give
someone a leg-up on behalf of
To my surprise, this decision
took a weight off us all.
The irritability I felt at Christ-
mas plastic, baubles, fake trees
has given way to a benediction
and a way out of the madness of
shopping, spending and consum-
ing. I have been able (among
millions of non-Christians who
celebrate the magic of December)
to make my way back to the
centre, to forgiveness, to hope,
and yes, love. Merry Christmas.
Everyone has a charity close to
his or her heart. Here are mine:
Abandoned and abused kids
Raffa House: 627-3389
84 Belmont Circular Road,
Terminally-ill cancer patients
Vitas House Hospice
112 Western Main Road, St James
Web site: www.ttcancersociety.org
FINDING THE CENTRE
Three thousand layoffs are
plenty in a small country
like Barbados. Finance
Minister Chris Sinckler
announced just over a week
ago---on Friday 13th---that he
would dump 3,000 public-sector
staff, most of them next month,
and the rest in March.
That is almost 12 per cent of
public-sector employees. Unem-
ployment was 10.5 per cent in
June. The layoffs will push up
the jobless rate by two percent-
age points. And that is before
the knock-on effects.
Those who keep their jobs can
relax, a bit. A 1995 constitution-
al amendment rules out public-
sector pay cuts. Last time Bar-
bados was in trouble, in the
early 1990s, pay was cut by
eight per cent.
Sinckler s announcement came
on the same Friday 13th as an
IMF report which noted that the
government has been spending
far more than it collects in
taxes. The fiscal deficit is head-
ing for 9.5 per cent of GDP this
year. And that is with VAT
already at 17.5 per cent.
Over-spending brings borrow-
ing. Government debt reached
94 per cent of GDP by Septem-
ber and is still climbing. That
does not include the debts of
state-owned companies, some of
them serious loss-makers.
Why the mess? Barbados has
always been the island that does
Transparency International s
latest corruption perceptions
index, released this month, rates
Barbados 15 from the top, just
one place behind Britain. It is
ranked cleaner than the US or
Japan, and way ahead of T&T,
which comes in at 83.
Education and health systems
are solid. Since the 1960s, there
has been a secondary school
place for every child. The UN
Development Progamme s human
development index ranks Barba-
dos better than any other coun-
try in Latin America and the
But Barbados is increasingly a
one-crop economy, dependent
on tourism---British tourism in
particular. Arrivals are down this
year, and they were down last
year. They are way below their
A dip in demand is not the
only problem. In a small and
crowded island, there are few
first-rank beachfront sites. Some
have gone to waste.
The former Cunard Paradise
Beach just outside Bridgetown
has been closed for 20 years. It
was sold to Sandals, Butch
Stewart s Jamaican all-inclusive
chain, who bickered for years
with the government over devel-
opment terms. They sold the
site for an ill-starred Four Sea-
sons scheme, which ground to a
halt in 2009.
The historic Sam Lord s Cas-
tle, once a flagship CL Financial
property on the south-east
coast, is a burnt-out ruin.
The proposed Pierhead marina
development in Bridgetown has
been stuck on the starting-
blocks since the 1990s.
When Neal and Massy took
control of Barbados Shipping
and Trading in 2008, the BS&T s
Almond hotel group came as
part of the deal. The timing was
bad---just ahead of the tourism
slump. Its largest property,
Almond Beach Village, closed in
April 2012; 500 staff were laid
off.You can market how you
want. It is hard to pull in
tourists without hotels to put
In October, Tourism Minister
Richard Sealy announced that
Butch Stewart would ride to the
rescue. The government would
buy the empty Almond Beach
Village, pull it down, rebuild,
and lease to Sandals. The former
Almond Casuarina stays open
and has gone direct to Sandals.
The Sandals agreement
marked a shift in the model for
Until now, there have been
relatively few all-inclusive hotels.
In Jamaica, they dominate. Few
tourists venture outside their
Sandals or SuperClubs. In Bar-
bados, by contrast, visitors have
rented cars, pottered around, and
spent money in independent
restaurants, bars and dive shops.
Until now, most Barbados
hotels have been locally owned
or managed. That started to
shift when Neal and Massy
bought BS&T; but the Almond
brand still had a local feel.
The Sandals deal includes
some very juicy concessions.
Sandals will be allowed 150
work permits. With a 60-year
history in tourism, Barbados has
until now pushed hotels hard to
employ local staff. Sandals
argues that it will need overseas
chefs for its themed restaurants.
But 150 of them? And with a
good few years to train Barbadi-
Sandals will import capital
equipment duty free until 2038,
then pay only half the normal
duty until 2053. Other big hotels
have had similar concessions.
What is new for Sandals, is that
this will also apply to food and
drinks, up to Johnny Walker Blue
for their all-inclusive bars.
Local hotels pay full whack for
their imports, and have to pass
on the cost.
The IMF does not like tax
concessions. Just weeks after the
Sandals deal, they are complain-
ing that the government s rev-
enue base "has been seriously
eroded by statutory and discre-
In February, Freundel Stuart s
Democratic Labour Party barely
squeezed a second term in
office, with just 16 seats to 14
for the opposition Barbados
They came home with a
pledge to protect public-sector
jobs. Says one former supporter:
"You don t know if you can
believe anything they say now.
Confidence is shot." Sandals is a
great brand---but putting Barba-
dos back on track is a "big ask."
BLUE CHRISTMAS FOR BARBADOS
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