Hot and Bewildered in Bim!

Happy to be on my annual sojourn to the land of my birth, a journey that usually coincides with the music driven, and alcohol fueled Crop Over Festival. This year, I scheduled my visit around the celebration of Barbados 50th Anniversary of Independence being held during the month of November, ending on the 30th, and I will extend my stay to enjoy a Bajan Xmas with family and friends, a spectacle so remarkable to believe which I have not experienced in over 40 years. But I am not holding my breath, with the influence of American pop culture, some true Barbadian traditions have slowly been disappearing.

Barbados has undergone some tremendous changes: both positive and negative. The impact of the global financial meltdown still resonates throughout all sectors of the economy. The lack of a diverse economy and the inevitable switch from agricultural base revenue to tourist industry dependency, has led to stagnant growth and an unpredictable economy. Despite the harsh reality of perceivable economic chaos, there are now more cars and vehicular traffic traveling daily on an infrastructure that seems incapable to accommodate the heavy traffic. But debt laden citizens are not necessarily a measure of economic prosperity.

Maybe, due to climate change, Barbados seem to be hotter than ever. The heat is overwhelming, and the humidity is suffocating that even after a torrential downpour the temperature remains the same; whether walking in the rain or to avoid it by taking shelter, you would still be drenched in sweat either way. Complaints about the terrible heat are not only expressed by returning nationals and tourists but from Barbadians who accustomed to the intense hot climate all their lives.

One change that is long overdue is to eliminate the long wait for service, more often at a government institution, but also at private business enterprises. It is just as equally frustrating for visitors, who accustomed to a quick computerized environment, and residents alike, who waste hours standing in line to conduct simple business transactions. This is my second year of spending a couple of hours to get a Visitor’s Registration Certificate from the licensing authority of the Ministry of Transport and Works, which allows a person to drive locally on a current Driver’s License of another country. The customer service representatives basically issue a hand-written document although there is access to a computer and a printer. In the age of modern technology, this process of a ‘pen and paper’ transaction is obsolete and time-consuming.

My experience at a prominent banking establishment was similar. Luckily, I was not trying to get service, but the bank’s customer service people seem to relish the horde of unhappy people moving at a snail’s pace in their direction, knowing that only they can decide the outcome of their very unpleasant time waiting in line. Ironically, the waiters-on-line were captivated by a rapt discussion between a Christian and an obviously well-informed Atheist about waiting for Judgement Day. I am sure they were not going to wait that long. But how long does it take to cash a check, make a deposit or check a balance account? As a former teller in my youth, it doesn’t take that long and in my day, I had to verify the signature of the drawer of the check. Trying to get some foreign exchange service is another story.

Understanding the Barbados telephone communicative system operations would make Sir Alexander tinkle in his grave. Until recently LIME, (used to be Cable and Wireless Communications, is an acronym for ‘Landline, Internet, Mobile, Entertainment’), had a monopoly on the phone carrier service, but as of May 2016, the brand name changed to FLOW. Digicel is now FLOW’s largest mobile competitor but lacks enough fixed line voice and data ability to compete adequately. Navigating through the pricing plan and fees is beyond my comprehension. But get used to the phrase ‘Top Up’ which means to replenish the funds on a prepaid phone before it runs out. Calling landline to landline is free; mobile to mobile with the same provider (FLOW or Digicel) is free, but when calling a FLOW landline from with a Digicel cellular # or vice versa, however, that is when due diligence is required to decide which prefix (as in 42, 23, or 82, etc.) is related to a landline or cellular, and which belongs to FLOW or Digicel, without this knowledge, the charges could be exorbitantly pricey. Using WhatsApp would solve these calling problems.

Change is always good, but changes to improve customer service experience is a win, win situation.

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