Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Revo Blog. Part 4


The Grenada Revolution Online

Previous posts in this series
The time has come - how I came to the decision to blog the Revo
The Revo Blog. Part 1 - background to Grenada
The Revo Blog. Part 2 - background to me
The Revo Blog. Part 3 - Feb-March 1982 (1 of 2)
The Revo Blog. Part 3a - why 'Revo'?

February-March 1982 (continued)

Halfway through our stay and we're learning.

Limes are the most versatile of fruits. You can use them to make juice of course, but you can also use them to clean fish, as a disinfectant to scrub down work surfaces, in a marinade ... If you step on a sea urchin, half a lime rubbed on the sole of your foot will dissolve the spines.

The brown fibrous coconuts we've seen in funfairs are just the inner nut. Slice the top off a young green waternut and pop in a straw to drink the fragrant water. Then split the nut open and use the sliced off piece as a spoon to scoop out the jelly.

You don't drink the liquid inside a mature coconut. Instead, once you've ripped off the outer skin, slam the nut on the floor to break it. Drain off the liquid and and, using a sharp knife, gouge out the flesh. Grate it on a lethal home made grater made from a sheet of metal with holes stabbed into it and bent onto a wooden frame. (The skin on the ends of your fingers will eventually harden once the cuts have healed over.) Soak the grated coconut in water and squeeze it through a strainer. It's this liquid which you use to cook with.

Callaloo may look like spinach but don't even think of tasting a raw piece. It'll take off the roof of your mouth.

Saltfish should be soaked. boiled and rinsed several times before adding it to soup or rice and peas.

Bananas are known as figs. Some, like plantain and bluggoe, have to be cooked but there are many different edible varieties too, each with their own unique taste.

We see cocoa being dried and visit a spice co-operative. Nutmeg, mace, cinnamon and cloves, along with bananas and cocoa, form the most important sources of Grenada's income. But the biggest source of all is tourism.

And here's something else we soon learn. Toursim is a two-edged sword.

Cruiseships have just started including Grenada again as a stopping off point on Caribbean cruises. The tourists come ashore for just a few hours. They descend on St Georges, sometimes dressed in skimpy beachware that is considered disrespectful by the modest Grenadians. Some are rude and arrogant.

The money they bring is vital, but their behaviour can sometimes cause resentment. It's a delicate balance. The Revo has discouraged the old practice of children swimming out to the ships moored far out in deep water to dive for coins thrown from the deck. The self-respect and dignity engendered by the Revo means that these days few young men will agree to shin up a palm tree to pose for a photo for a couple of dollars.

Then there are the longer term tourists. There is an ugly scene going on that is common in parts of the world where people are desperately poor. Unemployment is still rife and many people have the same desire to see other places and cultures that brought us to Grenada, except their desire is driven by poverty.

Many young men in particular see their only means of survival as hooking up with a woman tourist, who will pay for food, drink and so on during the stay. For some, these relationships can ultimately provide the only likely way off the island.

As for the women tourists, many come with absolute awareness of the power this gives them and some - not all, but plenty - are more than prepared to abuse this power. In fact, we are shocked to realise that many seem to come to the Caribbean for this specific purpose. Time and time again, we come across women behaving in ways that we consider exploitative and ignorant. We are determined to demonstrate our difference from these women in everything we say and do.

These are just some of the things we learn during that first month in Grenada. And through it all, underpinning everything, is the Revo.

We visit a woodwork co-operative on the other side of the island. We go to a ceremony to hand over new fishing boats - a gift from Cuba. We see a small military parade and thrill to know that those good-natured men, proudly carrying their guns and cheered by the bystanders, are not to be feared. Everywhere we're met with the same warm welcome, shy dignity and quiet pride. It is clear we are among a people who feel they are in control of their own destiny.

And all this in the face of growing opposition from a paranoid US to the north, under the old cowboy himself, Reagan. And you know what? They're right to be scared. It's not that anyone really believes that tiny Grenada, even if they aligned with Nicaragua, Cuba and El Salvador, is going to topple the US beast militarily.

No. It's the ideology that scares them. They're worried that their own people will look at Grenada and see proof that a better and fairer system really can work. A system based on peace, love, justice, equality - not just a hippy Utopian dream, but in Grenada, a living reality.

The US administration tries everything to destablise and isolate the Revo and their propaganda machine pumps out their desperate attempts to portray the Revo as monstrous.

Look at who they're aligned with! Russia, Cuba, North Korea ... the US screams in panic.
Yes, Grenadians reply, but only because they're the only ones who will recognise and trade with us. You've refused our every attempt to establish links.

They hold no elections! the US gibbers in desperation.
One day we might, Grenadians reply, but right now we don't see it as a priority. Meanwhile, our system is far more democratic than yours.

There's only one newspaper! the US rants, scraping the barrel.
True, but it's not difficult to get foreign papers. That's hardly full-scale repression, Grenadians reply with a shrug.

For every accusation, there is a plausible and logical response. It's not too good to be true. It's real. And it's happening. Here. Now.

At what point do we decide we have to return, and not just for a holiday? That somehow, in some way that is appropriate, we have to contribute and be, as much as possible under the circumstances, a part of it all? Not to leech off the Revo, but to find a way to use the resources we have access to back in London to support it ...

It may have been earlier, but if not, it could have been on our last night. We hold a party in our little board house, perched on the hill overlooking the bay, and invite everyone we've met. As the evening draws to an end and we have to prepare to say goodbye to our new friends, to whom we have become so close, so fast, something phenomenal happens.

One by one, each person there stands and makes a solemn speech. They tell us how much they've valued our friendship. How they appreciate our efforts to truly overstand their island story. How they hope to see us again. We should hurry back. Or rather, forward. No one uses the word 'back' with its negative connotations. The motto of the Revo, is Forward Ever, Backward Never.

Or maybe the final decision came on our last morning. The woodwork co-operative had asked us to come in on our way to the airport. We were running late after all the farewells nearer home, but couldn't leave without saying goodbye. Jumping from the cab, we're met by one of the workers. She looks anxious when we say we can't stay long and says she's not sure if they're dry yet. Mystified, we follow her round a corner and see a row of handmade wooden trays lying on the ground, their glossy varnish drying in the sun. Each is painted with a map of Grenada.

With a smile, the woman picks up two of the trays and hands them to us. We're overwhelmed. Like I say, it's the people who have the least who are the most generous.

We board the tiny plane at Pearls, sad to leave but with eyes that have been opened and lives that have been changed. We know beyond any doubt that the story of our connection with Grenada has only just begun.

Over quarter of a century later, I still have that tray. Still use it. Though the varnish has dulled and the map has faded, it's still here. I can touch it, gaze at it, run my hands over the smooth wood.

If only the Revo had lasted as long ...

8 comments:

wordtryst said...

Fascinating. You were there, all right, body and soul. Thanks again for sharing your story.

If you haven't already seen this article, you might find it interesting:
http://www.trinidadandtobagonews.com/blog/?p=429

It recounts the principled stance of Trinidad & Tobago's then PM with regard to the US invasion of Grenada, and the price that was exacted for it.

Debi said...

Thanks for that, Liane - I hadn't seen it before.

It was heartwarming to read the glowing account of how the revolution was seen at the time. Sadly, that was no longer the case though at the point the Americans went in.

The issue is complicated since Grenadians genuinely welcomed the invasion in preference to the hideous alternative of civil war.

How such a situation could have come about is exactly what I hope these posts will put into context and justify.

BarbaraS said...

I love the way you weave together specific examples of things with the broader general conditions. You're just getting warmed up and you'se have to go. Looking forward to the next part.

lowkeyhighflyer said...

Hi Debi - just caught up with these and I can really feel your passion for the place and the ideal. Keep up the good work.
Helen x

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

I'm loving this, and so very glad you're writing it for us.

Debi said...

Babs, Helen and Zin - thank you all so much for your care and support. I hope you know how much I value it/you.

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

This is a wonderful telling of the place, the people, the colour, the trials - it's evocative and it's eye opening and it speaks of so many things that I can't do justice to in a comment.
Thank you for sharing - and yes, isn't tourism always such a damnable double edged sword.

Debi said...

Thanks, Ab Van. Praise from someone who writes so well about her own environment is especially valuable and appreciated.