Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Leaving home (international travel)

Linda and I sometimes wonder what will happen to our house when we’re gone. Our son will inherit it, and his children after him if he leaves a proper Will. We both come from unsentimental families, where homes are concerned, so we don’t expect our Cayman one to become any kind of ancestral shrine.

Our respective childhood homes were long ago sold to strangers. So were our parents’ childhood homes – except my father’s, which his brother inherited and still lives in; his children live 10,000 miles away; they won’t want it. Our respective ancestors never had any ancestral homes worth venerating; the families shifted around within the British Isles until they emigrated. There is a lot of restlessness in our blood and in our son’s and grandchildren’s. In Norway, the girls’ father lives in a rented forest-cottage (and owns a second, bought for refurbishment and sale), and their mother lives in another.

Ross once bought a strip of hillside in Guatemala (total area 6000 sq ft), with a big tree in the middle and a fabulous view of Lake Atitlan. He and some of the local Mayans built a basic shack in the tree, and his little family lived there for a time. But last time I checked, Guatemala had no central land-registry, so how much validity could his document of title have? Anyway, a tree-house hardly qualifies as an ancestral home. Linda and I once bought a town-lot in the New Hebrides in the South Pacific, before it went independent as Vanuatu. The new government promptly stole all foreign-owned land that hadn’t been built on. Ah well, that’s what a lot of newly independent countries do.

Most young Caymanians can’t comprehend the absence of mental attachment to a home or to a settled community. They don’t realise what their commitment to their island-home costs them, in terms of opportunities. Actually, it’s a very recent cultural development. Caymanians of the same generations as my father and his father (born in the 1910s and the 1880s, respectively) were as adventurous as other British peoples scattered around the world. Unfortunately, the adventurous Caymanian spirit seems to have exhausted itself, since. And, yes, I do mean “unfortunately”.

There is much virtue in experimenting with new homes, and passing up a life of safety. Two of my Grandpa Barlow’s brothers died in their twenties while adventuring far from home. I don’t mean that dying in one’s twenties is something to aim for; I’m reasonably sure they didn’t aim for it. But one was killed by aborigines, panning for gold in the wild north of Queensland; the other died of malaria, working on a farm in Madagascar – and those were adventurous things. Plenty of Caymanians must have died of yellow fever in Panama in their twenties while digging the canal, and others in unrecorded hurricanes fishing off Cuba and Nicaragua. Not everybody’s luck is good luck.

Young Caymanian men who are trapped today under glass ceilings, or are unemployed, would get more sympathy if they brought some proof of initiative to the interview room, instead of relying on their birthright entitlement to a safe job in a safe place with a safe pension fifty years from now. I have long urged that every Caymanian school-leaver be given $1000 and a backpack and a 12-months ticket round the world. It’s a great idea.

There ought to be zero unemployment among young Caymanians – and there could be, if they were half the men their seafaring forebears were. And they would honour those forebears a whole lot more by emulating their spirit of adventure, than by staying home waiting for jobs to fall into their laps. If our MLAs had the welfare of our Islands at heart, they would tell our unemployed youth the same thing: get off your assets and go to where the jobs are.