Don’t Take It Personal(ly)

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Doing business here can give you a serious inferiority complex.

Every so often the media reminds us that there’s something called “an ease of doing business” ranking and lets us know where this country falls on the index. Primarily designed for outsiders (also known as investors) who want to set up businesses here and others who need to navigate government departments for whatever reason, the ranking is supposed to give an idea of how easy it is to get through the red tape.

But what about the rest of us who have to live here? I don’t remember being polled, but maybe they didn’t want my opinion because I’d probably have to admit to not feeling the need to get up some mornings to do my daily exercise due to the amount of hoops that have to be jumped through that day. And that’s before I reach the person that I’m actually supposed to talk to.

It can take two calls per day for up to two weeks before you realize that you’ve been trying to reach the wrong person. And when you do get the correct name, you discover that the work required for their substantive post seems to conflict with what they’d rather be doing instead – so normal business hours don’t apply to them.

Waiting for a call back? Might as well go ahead and tackle those difficult calculations that you’ve been putting off. That way you can distract yourself from the fact that three days later you still haven’t received the call. So you can see how a person might come to the conclusion that “it’s my money they don’t want”.

You don’t want to go over somebody’s head, so probably the best thing is to find someone you know who knows somebody who knows somebody else who can move the process along. That’s when you rack your brain and play the game of six degrees of separation. Isn’t the person you’ve been trying to reach a cousin of the godmother of your best friend’s uncle? You’ll find that it’s a connection worth exploring when the usual channels don’t seem to work.

Let’s hope that the person you’re trying to reach is not away on a “business” trip, because then all activity moves from a crawl going nowhere to absolutely dead. Apparently only one person can do that particular job, so the absence leaves only an assistant to move some papers around and take your multiple messages which will be added to the others on the fire stack already waiting.

Nothing personal. Just business.



Whose Truth Is It?

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In my former job I got to hear a lot of stories – some from people I knew and some from people I didn’t who probably hoped never to see me again, after realizing that they’d divulged WAY too much information.

I always wondered what prompted people to tell me things that were really none of my business, but maybe for them it was more than making conversation. Maybe they just wanted someone to hear their side.

I was reminded of one of those storytellers last week, when someone I knew gave a different spin on a TMI conversation that I had quite some ago, and I had a feeling that this version would have been pretty close to the other party’s story. My raconteur couldn’t have known this, so maybe it was a simple case of embarrassment that caused her to pass me straight when she saw me a while back.

But then there are times when you wish that you had been in the room.

That way you wouldn’t have to figure out the truth of a story by listening to both parts, deciding what doesn’t make sense and making your mind up about the rest. But since there are some people who don’t think like the rest of us, that might not be such a foolproof way of going about it.

He said/she said makes for an interesting story, but it’s a different kettle of fish when you have a horse in the actual race. Sorry for mixing my metaphors, but you get my point. Very recently I found myself wishing that I had been a proverbial fly on the wall when I was told two very different versions of a particular conversation.

Unfortunately my horse (or fish, depending on how you look at it), was at a disadvantage due to age, and although certain details of the other story seemed to change mid-stream the victor had already walked away with the spoils. We’ve heard that there are three sides to every story – two for the persons involved and the remaining side reserved for the truth.

The problem is that both always seem to claim it.


How are you? Really?


When you ask someone, “How are you?” do you really listen to the answer?

Normally the responses are “fine”, “good”, “not bad” or “I’m okay, you know”. Some get a little more creative and say that they’re “blessed and highly favoured”, while others with music in their voices declare that they are “living in the Lord”.

But let’s face it – when we ask someone how they’re doing we’re mainly trying to be polite; it’s something to say as a greeting in passing. We aren’t really looking for the unabridged version. There’s always Facebook for that.

So what do you say when somebody answers your “How are you?” question with an “I’m not doing so good” response? You’d give a double-take for sure and then wonder if you heard the person correctly.

That’s what happened to my husband last week when he visited a business establishment whose door he hadn’t darkened in a long while – and attached to his salutation was the familiar question. Surprised by the response, my husband said he worried whether the honest answer was really a cry for help.

I asked whether he pressed him for details, but my husband’s habit is never to pry so he left that one alone. I was brought up to mind my own business too, but I wondered whether he would have been upset if I had asked him “But (name withheld) what’s bothering you?”- since after all he was the one who brought it up. I’m sure I would have had a lot more to write about in this post if I had.

I don’t suppose it’s my husband’s fault though, because when you haven’t seen someone in a while it’s only natural that you inquire about their health. But when he inquired of a wife about the welfare of her husband and he admitted to being a little thrown by the response – “he was fine the last time I saw him” – it’s clear that he needs to stop asking these questions. I understood where she was coming from though, because any number of things could have happened since she left him that morning.

And therein lies the danger of asking about the health of someone who isn’t right in front of you. These days, if you want to inquire about someone’s mother, father or significant other, it’s best to just use the general “How’s everybody  doing?”and find out about the changes that have taken place in the family that you missed. Because the only thing worse than asking a woman who’s put on a few pounds when her non-existent baby is due, is to inquire about someone else’s physical condition and realise that good health is the least of his problems since  – unfortunately, he’s no longer with us.


Wrong Number

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Recently I wrote about Google’s unfounded suspicion that I was a robot up to some harmful shenanigans. I didn’t take it personally because every other day we hear of businesses – large and small that have been hit by hackers. And every other day somebody on Facebook sends out an alert, warning their friends against accepting any new friend requests. 

A few years back I had to send out one of those “Sorry, it wasn’t me” notices to everyone in my address book when it came to my attention that somebody had been using my email account to send some pictures – or at least that’s what they said. I was mortified! Anybody who knew me would have known that I wouldn’t be the one sending any pictures via that medium and certainly not by prefacing it with the caption “Look at my pics”. 

Anyway, after sufficient time had passed I decided against changing my address since the damage had already been done, and although I had informed my contacts of this, some of them clearly didn’t want to take the chance and have not opened a single thing that I’ve sent since then.

I’ve grown quite fond of my smart phone, but now I’m inundated with messages from people I don’t know – although they act as If they know me. They start the “conversation” off with a “Hello dear”, which is probably designed to catch me off-guard, or to get me to respond with an “Excuse me, but how do I know you again?”

I once got a message from someone who introduced himself as the person who I met on the bus – except that I haven’t used that mode of transportation in years. I quickly put a block on that number because it was clear that the person who had been travelling on the bus didn’t want to talk to him. Unfortunately I was stuck with delivering the message she seemed unwilling (at the time) to send. 

Given these experiences, and with the thought of infiltration in the forefront of my mind I’m always wary of communication I receive from any number that I don’t recognize. Not long after the bus rider attempted to hook up with me, I got a series of texts from another unfamiliar number. Certain that it was an attempt to hijack my phone along with the racy photos that I’ve got stored up in the cloud, I was about to shut it down completely when the fourth and final message came in with a single word. “Sorry”. 

Maybe Google isn’t the only one who’s paranoid.



The Least We Can Do

I wrote last week about how different things were when I was going to school and how advancements in technology have made things like learning infinitely easier. But that’s not the only thing that’s been made simpler.

Technology has made it easier to see and not be seen looking, and to know things that we might not otherwise be aware of. But one overlooked advantage is that it allows us to give encouragement to others without having to go out of our way to do it.

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I call it “armchair support”. Or maybe somebody else did because I know that I’m not the only one who notices how easy it is for some people to just press a button and be done with it. Lots of people post pictures of themselves or upload photos of a beautiful sunset which is fine because nothing else is really required beyond the obligatory “like”.

But I think we’ve forgotten that there are actually times when we need to get out of the chair we’re sitting in and actually show our faces. Antigua’s population has increased over the years but the island’s size has remained pretty much the same. But no man is an island, and we can actually support causes as far away as Nigeria, hashtagging our way onboard the train bound for wherever the cause is going.

Years ago, we used to pound the pavement. I remember once being involved in the gathering of signatures for a petition about a particular issue. Not only did it mean stopping every third person who passed by, it meant actual engagement with the person – because I had to tell her exactly why I was walking around the supermarket with a clipboard instead of a shopping basket.

Looking for this kind of support also meant that I had to gauge whether the person approaching me (or the person I was going to approach) was likely to be receptive to my cause. Sometimes I didn’t bother. Sometimes it helped if I knew the person, but I could still see the wheels in her head turning as she considered the implications of putting her signature on that piece of paper I was holding.

I received two Facebook invitations the other day to “like” two different pages that were related to  different efforts, and I marveled at how easy it was to accept without thinking much about it. I was familiar with the subject of the first one (although I wasn’t too clear on what liking the page was really supposed to do), but not knowing what I could possibly be required to do for the other one, I decided to pass on the second.

These days you can click on a cause, do the research in order to verify the information and satisfy yourself that your virtual signature is going exactly where you want it to go in cyberspace – and then forget about it. You’ve done your part. The more popular (and successful) petitions can make you feel that you made a difference, and that you were part of bringing about change.

That’s why it’s important not to reduce important issues to a hashtag, because as demonstrated by #bringbackourgirls, thousands of people posting pictures of themselves holding up signs or wearing the phrases on their T-shirts – while bringing awareness to the issue didn’t help to bring the girls back home.

So I hope that the humanitarian crisis in the Dominican Republic (where thousands of people born there of Haitian parents are being threatened with deportation), will attract more than a hashtag, because although we may think that it’s the least we can do – especially when the majority seem to be ignoring it – it’s not going to be nearly enough.

Extreme Behaviour

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Someone told me a story about walking down a street in an unfamiliar area (in a foreign country) and becoming worried when she thought that she was being followed. So just to be sure, she decided to cross the street – and the suspected trailer crossed over as well.

She quickened her steps, and glancing surreptitiously behind her, she noticed that her new shadow did the same and was actually closing the distance between them. There weren’t a lot of people around and she feared being pounced on at any minute, so she decided to do what anyone who felt threatened would do.

She went crazy. She stopped suddenly, wheeled around and began talking – to herself – so that anyone who was passing could clearly hear her. She also threw in some curse words for good measure because that’s just what you do. It was an inspired response to a possible threat because the probable attacker passed her and kept going, since “crazy” was apparently not what he wanted to deal with that day.

Now I’m not a person who loosely throws around the word “crazy” – just like some people will tell you I don’t like to use the word “ugly” without just cause. But I wondered whether it had all been in her head – and that the person hadn’t really been following her. Whatever the case, I never thought that I’d have a reason or opportunity to see whether it would work for me.

But that day did come. There’s a bit of a back story here. A former employee had complained that he was having trouble with a certain individual who he crossed paths with every day as he waited to gain entry to our workplace. The problem apparently developed when the person sought his support for a particular action and didn’t receive it.

After that, he remained aggrieved and whenever he saw him, he would speak at the top of his lungs, fabricating issues about my employee as he went along. Everyone who witnessed the almost daily display agreed that there was something not quite right with this guy, even as he busied himself with sweeping and his various chores.

Push eventually came to shove and I was forced to speak to the person who kept him gainfully employed. I learnt that his employer considered him to be bi-polar and was trying to keep him occupied and out of trouble. I said that I wasn’t so sure that it was working because my employee seemed on the verge of calling out the cavalry.

He promised to speak to him and I hoped that would have been the end of it. Not long after – probably a couple of days later, I was walking with my daughter in the parking lot of his workplace. I saw him, but continued to move quickly. He stopped what he was doing and rushed over to me. I continued walking. He kept pace with me. Seeing that I really wasn’t paying him any attention, he said quickly that he wanted to talk to me about a person that I had working for me.

I quickly wheeled around, opened my eyes wide (for effect) and told him (in no uncertain terms) that I was walking with my daughter and I had no interest at all in what he had to say. I also told him (in as gruff a tone as I could muster), that he needed to step… away. My reaction seemed to catch him off guard.

Maybe that’s why I hadn’t needed to include any curse words in my tirade, and since I was with my daughter I thought better of using the talking-to-myself tactic, since that would likely have encouraged all sorts of questions – from her. Besides, it was clear that I’d already gotten my point across when he slunk away.

I suppose I wasn’t really acting “crazy”, but some situations call for stepping outside yourself for a quick minute. I’m pleased to report however, that after this encounter, my employee never had the problem again.

Do you think it was what I said – or how I said it?


“Journeying Mercies”

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A post by one of my favourite female bloggers reminded me that I was never very good at praying out loud. Unless it was by rote. I could say The Lord’s Prayer with the best of them, but coming up with one of my own was usually quite challenging.

I admire people who can pray at the drop of a hat. Like a soloist improvising on the original tune, some people can be counted on to build several different tomes on your basic prayer. When I was younger I realized that all seasoned “prayer warriors” began their supplications with thanks for the “bountiful blessings” and concluded by asking for “journeying mercies” at the end.

Because we all had to leave at some point.

I used to be a member of a religious singing quintet, and we had no problem at all divvying up the non-singing duties based on our other skills. So someone would volunteer to do the public relations, another would act as the treasurer while someone else did the secretarial duties. Luckily there was someone in the group who had a natural talent for prayer and the rest of us eagerly gave her that portfolio.

When she left the group we were rudderless for a while, but just as we did for speaking before each performance we decided that everybody should have a “turn” at leading the group in after-practice prayers.

And the struggle was real.

It’s said that if you want to improve a skill you look at what others are doing and practice doing it. I say there’s no shame in realizing that there are some things that you won’t ever be good at.

Like the prominent local musician who, before knowing his way around a keyboard, was a member of a youth group to which my sister-in-law belonged. She remembers when it was his turn to say a prayer in his own words and they all bowed their heads in anticipation.

It wasn’t long before the giggles erupted as he stalled early in the prayer – unable to get beyond “Our Father”, which he repeated several times. And then since nothing else was forthcoming he continued “…which art in heaven” and, well you know the rest. But like I said, he found something else that he was better at.

Years later, I’m still passing off the prayers to those who can do it better than I can. At family dinners there’s always the one or two (well really one person) who is always called upon to say the grace.

Because I really, really hate eating cold food.