Over a wonderful dinner last night, I got to hear about the pink pig given to a true love and discuss the implications of the killing of Charlie Hebdo staff.

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One of the great pleasures of travel is that you get to move into different ways of thinking. Many languages reflect thought processes and until you grasp type, learning another language can be a great challenge.

I spent much of the day speaking and thinking in French. I needed to give a presentation to an international group of French-speaking people in Kingston. Ten nationalities were represented. The talk was simple: it covered my life and some of my work, with a focus on my time I’m west Africa.

I didn’t feel that talking too much about the nitty-gritty of economics work over 30 years, so tried to give a flavor of the activities and characters who make such work interesting. Without telling awful secrets, I could describe how one stumbled upon unauthorized government spending. The financing that was off-budget and sitting in some unknown government offshore account. The people who had the ear of political leaders, who sometimes knew a lot because they were actually hiring in a closet. Being given VIP treatment because officials and private persons have unwritten powers that they can exercise freely: there’s nothing like bring driven from someone’s home straight to the tarmac and heading straight onto a commercial jet. But, what beats driving with your elderly father through road blocks and demonstrating civilians hurling rocks and shooting guns? My Dad had the trip of his life–in his mid-70s–having just come back from climbing up and down a mountain rope ladder. I interjected more humour unintentionally because some situations were really absurd. So, the talk went well. I’ve now been encouraged to try to do a one-man show. Look out YouTube.

The evening dinner was also with French-speakers, some Haitians, some from Guinea, which is where we’d made contact, initially. Others were from Europe. We were also graced by an Indian, an American, and a Jamaican Catholic priest. Good mix.

So, to the pig. A Jamaican man hardly gets anywhere with the soft touch when enticing a woman, who’s more accustomed to “Follow me to the patty shop” kind of romantic offerings. So, when the Belgian started the story of how he met his intended at the airport, I was all ears. A long, early morning wait, and plying himself with a beer and cigarettes, led our budding Romeo to overlook chocolates and jewelry, and instead plump for a stuffed pig as a welcome gift. We all struggled to understand why he thought that a good choice. Eventually, the answer was clear: he loved The Muppets.

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Miss Piggy, however, has her beau…

Miss Piggy had his heart. I’m no psychologist, so won’t go into how that really plays out, but his symbol of love made perfect sense…to him. Needless, to say, the women at the table gave him a good roasting and had they had fire, he’d have crackling for skin today. His wife-to-be had somehow lost the pig, since. She got chocolates from her father-in-law-to-be, who knew she was right for his son, having had the lady sit on his knee. The ultimate test?

We got to hear a few other betrothal stories. Then, my wife asked about Charlie Hebdo. We should have recorded the discussion, which was heated but full of reason. Disagreements never resulted in confrontation. No one felt the need to eliminate anyone for a slight or worse. In essence, it was impossible to understand how those offended could feel that the redress for a pictorial show of disrespect was assassination. That, I said, was insanity.

We argued about how minorities lack voice within societies. Muslims in France were highlighted now, but poor English people had been stuck on the margins for centuries. That was part of the origin of one political party. We had our marginalized communities in Jamaica, where race and religion were not issues, but lack of job opportunities were. We talked about the fodder ready for reaping by those who needed bodies, or funds, or minds. We’ve seen in Jamaica recruitment by Christian groups, not Jihadi-committed Muslims.

Does freedom of expression have no limits? Should things deemed sacred be exempt from signs of disrespect. Do people have power to resist national social, cultural and political structures. Can your mores, well-accepted in your homeland be brought to another country and treated in the same way? We didn’t agree. We didn’t have to. We bumped knuckles in agreement, sometimes, we stood apart from each other, too. That’s how civilized people work out differences. The other way?

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