Friday, November 28, 2008

The time has come ...

This is the post I never thought I'd write.
And yet ... I can't help wondering if it hasn't been inevitable all along ...
As though everything that has come before has been building up to this moment.

Bear with me. Please. This is hard.
Some of you will know that I lived part of my story in Grenada. I've mentioned it before, here, here and here, but only ever in passing.
The time has come to put some flesh on those old bones.

I first went to Grenada in 1982, 3 years after the revolution.
I attended the anniversary celebrations.
My photo albums contain pictures of a smiling Maurice Bishop, PM of Grenada, embracing Samora Machel of Mozambique.
They're both dead now. History. I was there.
I was there too for the International Women's Day celebrations and heard Angela Davis speak.
Her photo's in my album too.
That first month that I spent on this beautiful island in the company of its strong, proud, resilient people convinced me. Somehow ... in some way ... I knew that my own destiny was meshed with this beacon of hope in the Caribbean.

My return there was delayed by an unfortunate accident, but eventually I found myself back in Grenada the following year, with the intention of helping to set up a mobile library. But it didn't feel quite 'right' in the way it had before. Beset by enemies, isolated and threatened by a paranoid US under Reagan, with murmurs of internal divisions and rumours of injustices - it felt as though the shine had gone off the revo.

I had been there about 5 months when on 19th October 1983, after weeks of growing tension and unrest, a crowd led by schoolchildren triumphantly released Maurice from where he'd been held under house arrest. The details of the casualties from the resulting attack on the people by the army have never been fully revealed. You can see some of them listed here. The revo had been ripped apart from within.

The coup was followed by 4 days of curfew. On 25th October, the US invaded. (Of necessity this is the most potted of accounts. You can see full details on this site if you're interested.) I stayed for as long as I could after the invasion, in spite of intense pressure to evacuate, but a few months later, penniless and heartbroken, I no longer had a choice. I returned to the UK to my frantic parents.

With hindsight, I suppose I must have been suffering from post traumatic shock, but no one had heard of that condition back then. I just think I was grieving. Even now, 25 years later, it's hard to describe the depth and intensity of the loss.

I returned the following year, but post-revo Grenada was a very different place and I couldn't see how to fit in or become a part of it. When I finally left in 1986, that should theoretically have been the end of my relationship with the island.

It wasn't though. The experience - seeing the hope and infinite possibility of the revo and then witnessing its destruction - had changed me forever.

Fast forward a couple of decades.
I'm an author with 5 books to my name. Friends often ask me why I don't ever write about what happened in Grenada.
'I sort of do,' I reply. 'Those experiences are part of me. They're part of my identity and so they inform everything I do and everything I write. It's just not explicit.'
Deep down though, I think I knew that this was only part of the truth and that one day I would have to bring the whole experience out of the shadows of my past and into my present.
I just couldn't see how.

A few months ago, I received an email from a guy in the US who had come across this photo on my website and wanted to know if I had any others.


I asked who he was and he told me he'd been part of the first wave of US soldiers in the invasion and wanted to see if he could recognise any of his old buddies in my photos. I politely informed him the images were not available.

The contact made me twitchy and a bit paranoid. I checked round the web and was shocked to see there's a big nostalgia trip in the US about the invasion. Grenada was a nice, short, simple war. And they won. Not like these nasty, messy, complicated wars they have nowadays in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, with their hideous resonances of the ultimate unwinnable war - Vietnam. I stumbled on a propaganda 'comic' telling the story of the brave US soldiers coming to the rescue of the grateful islanders, saving them from the red peril. The invasion took place a quarter of a century ago, yet I found forums where ex and current marines swapped stories and photos of the 'good old days in Grenada' when America could fight a war and win.

History. They were there and so was I. But my memories were very different from theirs.

More time passed. Then recently I 'met' Liane Spicer via the blogosphere. Liane lives in Trinidad and blogs at Wordtryst. We exchanged emails. I told her in about 4 lines about my involvement with Grenada. She said what other friends had already pointed out:

'What a fascinating story - your memoir will really be something! It's got all the elements: tropical island, politics, coup, invasion, romance, adventure, altruism... Are you writing it? Or maybe feeding it all into a novel?'

This was my reply:

'You know, I never have. When you put it like that, I suppose it does seem like it has literary potential. But … I don’t know. I’ve never figured out a way of doing it that I feel comfortable with. One day, maybe. As for feeding it in – well I suppose like everything else in life it has made me into what I am, so informs everything I do, but no direct feeding yet. Or maybe ever …'


(You want more spookiness? Having just gone back to this email exchange, I notice Liane's was sent on 25th October - 25 years to the day after the invasion.)

Grenada was back on my shoulder again. It wasn't going to go away.
Then I read a couple of reviews of Pynter Bender. The book is by a Grenadian author, Jacob Ross, and is set on the island. I bought the book and as I read I was overwhelmed by his evocation of the familiar sights and sounds. Memories came flooding back.
Grenada was whispering urgently in my ear.

So it was almost no surprise when I received an email from this woman, who is making a documentary on the revo.

History. I was there. And now I'm here, though I have no idea what will happen next. This post is the beginning of the next part of my journey.

If you've made it this far, thanks for listening.

36 comments:

emmadarwin said...

Debi, we'll all be with you, as the journey starts, even if we've never experienced anything like what you knew in Grenada. But we can try to be the solid ground under your feet.

Debi said...

That's beautiful, Emma. Thank you.

SueG said...

This is fascinating, Debi. I do believe there are these things inside us, these memories and experiences, which we need to examine through out writing. Maybe that's why we write in the first place. Perhaps the time really has come now for you to do the digging necessary. It won't be easy, of course, but you will certainly have us here urging you on!

Elizabeth Baines said...

Yes, Debi, this is massive and you'll be in our thoughts as it unfolds.

wordtryst said...

Debi, you already know how fascinating I find your journey. There's a sense of inevitability about all this; your experience deserves to be recorded. I'm here too, to help and support in any way I can.

I've read about that spirit in the US, the pride over this war that was won. The full weight of the US military, thrown against some island revolutionaries and a few Cubans building an airport. Impressive.

John Baker said...

Thanks for that. Please write the story of the island as you know it. The form will come, eventually. But you have to make a beginning.
You know the routine. Sit down in front of the keyboard, half-close your eyes, and begin with the strongest image in your head. Doesn't matter what it is, doesn't matter if it's good or bad. Just stay with it, follow wherever it leads.
You've left it long enough.

BarbaraS said...

Wow, you've told this very well. Now you're really going on a journey... I can't wait to see/hear what happens.

Debi said...

Your support means the world to me. Thanks so much to all of you.

Lynne and Sarah said...

Oh Debi, just seen this. Yep, I'm definitely in line for any hand-holding etc whenever you want. This is a real act of courage but it does seem you need to do it. Love to you x

Tania Hershman said...

Debi,
writing this post is obviously a first step. It sounds as thought it was an incredibly powerful, formative time for you, and of course that never leaves you and informs so much of what you do afterwards. It's like a shadow, always there. I wish you much strength in taking the next steps, whatever they may be. Everything happens in its time, when it is supposed to, I do believe that. I am looking forward to hearing more about this part of your story.

Saaleha said...

getting started on the journey, working up the courage to, is always hardest. I wish you the best on this trip. May you find complete peace at the end of it.

Debi said...

My blogging friends are so special. Maybe I needed to have this kind of support in place first, before I could embark on this next stage.

Maybe I should say that at this point I still don't visualise writing any of this into a novel and can't imagine I ever will. But I'm hoping that my experiences can now be used in a way that could make some kind of difference ...

For now, I expect I will be blogging about it all, which of course is still writing and communicating.

Meloney Lemon said...

It'll be great. You've always wanted to do it and I agree - you have written about it through some of the characters in your stories.

You always said you would know when the time was right - now it is. I can't wait!

Debi said...

Thanks, Mel. Of course I still don't know what 'it' is ...

Jane Henry said...

Sorry Debi, only just found this post. I think you should just go with the emotion and memories and see where they take you. Weirdly had a very similar experience recently about something I never thought I'd write about - not as major as yours, but it's compelling me to write it. I was in two minds about it because it's going to take me back to a place I really don't want to go and there are other people involved, but I have decided it's something I must do. And I think this is something you must do. I'm sure at the very least you'll find it cathartic.

Debi said...

Thanks, Jane. Good luck with building something positive out of your own traumatic experiences.

Right now, 'cathartic' feels a long way away for me. 'Extreme wobbliness' comes closer as a description.

leslie said...

When people tell me they don't know where to begin, I always say, "Begin in the middle, and work your way to both ends."
You will tell the tale!
Ready, set, GO!

Debi said...

Go, Leslie? I have to go?

granny said...

Debbie - have just caught up with this - you really should write about it. The Grenadians live all round my part of London - they're lovely people and got a raw deal. That the Yanks are boasting about it is shameful. Hard thing to do though - these documentary things so difficult to structure. Could you make a novel out of it - sometimes the most truthful way or writing stuff up, paradoxically enough. Good luck anyway and I'll wait to read it.

leslie said...

If I had said, "Ready, set, write!" would it have had the same meaning?
Go. Write. Go right. No time left.
You have left off writing the story too long...


verification word: avelyine

Debi said...

Met Faye, the filmmaker today. We spent 4 hrs - nursing 2 cups of cold coffee. 4 hrs of talking, with Faye gently prompting, occasionally checking her tape recorder. 4 intense and, yes, cathartic hours.

Quite proud of myself. I only cried once. She's putting a teaser together and then looking for funding to make the film.

Most important of all, I trust her and will do anything and everything I can to help her in whatever way she finds useful, using my memories, photos, diaries, letters, books, cuttings etc.

As for writing it - I'm going to start blogging my memories. I have 2 large edits to do so I'm going to have to find the space for this, but hope to make a start in the next few days.

Thanks, everyone. It's taken 25 yrs for this to be the right time for all this to come out, and I'm convinced that having the support of so many wonderful members of the blogging community is a large part of the reason I'm going to be able to handle sharing it at last.

Elizabeth Baines said...

Oh, Debi, what a wonderful outcome. How great that you found it cathartic and feel you can trust Faye.I so look forward to reading once you begin writing...

wordtryst said...
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wordtryst said...

Wonderful! I like how it's all unraveling, and am very much looking forward to those posts.

Minx said...

You don't need anymore signposts, Debi, it is being allowed to happen now - it was just waiting for the right time.

Jan said...

This was enthralling...totally.

Debi said...

So true, Minx.

Jan, if you think that was enthralling, just wait. The Revo Blog is coming soon ...

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

Wow, Debi, synchronicity or call it what you will, there is a journey here and you are on it and part of it. Sit with it, go with the flow, it will take you where it needs you to go. Good luck as you go forward with this, whatever unfolds it is meant to be.

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Charlo said...

I arrived back from work one afternoon to find Angela Davis with two other women, having tea on the veranda of our home in Tanteen, St Georges. She had been invited there by one of the protocol team who was staying with us, who knew that I greatly admired her. She was quietly spoken and friendly and we chatted for an hour or so. There were so many things I wanted to ask her but she was happy and relaxed and it didn't seem right to disturb her mood.

Debi said...

Welcome, Charlo. How amazing to have such an iconic visitor. I can imagine that no matter how long you spent together, there would always be things that you wished you'd asked but didn't get round to.

Your family home is/was in Tanteen? I know it well. Were you there in '83? I remember a US helicopter coming down in Tanteen playing fields.

Charlo said...

I was in London at the time of the invasion. My (ex)wife and son were staying at the Limes in Grand Anse. I saw photos of the helicopter that came down in Tanteen

Debi said...

Oh, Charlo. Being in London at the time (and esp with your family in Grand Anse, which was really hairy during the invasion) must have been the ultimate torture.

Have you read the rest of the blog posts? I'm only up to curfew so far but it's already taken several thousand words ...

Charlo said...

Hi Debi

I tried to get back on to the island but it was impossible. I did manage to get a phone call through to someone in Munich (in Grenada of course) who said he had seen them there so that calmed me down considerably.

Reading your blog this morning was like scraping open an old wound. I will have to return to it later because it was difficult reliving those times. I too look back and realise that I was in a distressed state for a long time.

In my own case I became involved with MBPM and then worked on an ethical tourism project.

Debi said...

Oh Charlo, I'm so sorry that this is so painful for you. How else could it be?

I'm also very aware that tho that time was almost unbearable for me, for Grenadians it had to be so much worse.

But I'm really glad you're here ...