Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Revo Blog. Part 23

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'?
The Revo Blog. Part 4 - Feb-March 1982 (continued)
The Revo Blog. Part 5 - April 1982 - June 1983. London
The Revo Blog. Part 6 - June-Sept 1983. Sickness and signs
The Revo Blog. Part 7 - relationships
The Revo Blog. Part 7a - Faye's film
The Revo Blog. Part 8 - Sept - Oct 1983. Rumours
The Revo Blog. Part 9 - Oct 1983. The Last Days of the Revo
The Revo Blog. Part 10 - 19th October 1983. Coup
The Revo Blog. Part 11 - 20th October 1983. Curfew. Day 1
The Revo Blog. Part 12 - early morning 21st October 1983. Breaking curfew
The Revo Blog. Part 13 - curfew continues
The Revo Blog. Part 14 - 24th October 1983. 'Back to normal' day
The Revo Blog. Part 15 - 25th October 1983. Invasion - the first 2 hours
The Revo Blog. Part 15a - Faye's journey continues
The Revo Blog. Part 16 - 25th October 1983. War - the next 4 hours
The Revo Blog. Part 16a - photos
The Revo Blog. Part 17 - 25th October 1983 - midday onwards
The Revo Blog. Part 18 - 26th-27th October 1983 - the war continues
The Revo Blog. Part 19 - 28th-30th October 1983 - more war
The Revo Blog. Part 20 - 31st October - 2nd November 1983 - defining 'normal'
The Revo Blog. Part 21 - 3rd-6th November 1983 - life goes on
The Revo Blog. Part 22 - November continues - there can be no end

Friday 25th November - time to party

The curfew has been lifted! For the first time in well over a month, we're free to move round at any time of day and night. And to mark the occasion, we've heard that Love Boat will be open tonight.

Love Boat is an open air disco between St Georges and Grand Anse with a jetty that juts out into the marina. Friday night parties there used to be the highlight of the week, but it's been a very long time since the last one. Nothing's going to stop us being there tonight.

Late in the evening at the usual time, C, W and I set off, walking up the hill. Before long a jeep stops with three US soldiers on board. They tell us they had only intended to go as far as St Paul's, but say it's not safe for us to be out after dark. They insist on taking us all the way to Love Boat and we're not about to object.

We can't decide whether they're being over-cautious, and maybe they don't know what's 'out there' any more than we do. On the other hand, it's possible they've been told to keep people's anxiety cranked up to the max. But they seem friendly enough and we're glad of the lift.

The instant we arrive at Love Boat it's clear this party is going to be like no other we've attended before. For starters, the place is crawling with GIs, mingling with the Grenadians at the bar and on the dance floor. Some appear to be off-duty but most are in uniform and fully armed with automatic machine guns slung over their shoulders.

What's really freaky though is that many of them appear to be completely off their heads. It looks like they're tripping. I don't know what they're on, but I've never seen anyone in Grenada behaving in this way, so I presume they've brought whatever it is with them. Several are on the dance floor, but you can't call their movements 'dancing'. They weave in and out, staggering and losing balance, crashing into the local people attempting to enjoy a 'normal' night out at Love Boat. One is watching his hand move in front of his eyes with intense concentration as if it has a life if its own, independent of his control.

W and C have moved off somewhere while I stand and watch, appalled. You don't have to be a genius to see the potential for disaster in so many heavily armed men, drugged up to the eyeballs, in among the civilian population at a party with loud music and flashing lights. It will only take one to freak out and fire his gun ...

Gulping, my head swimming with the awful possibilities, I realise I won't be enjoying Love Boat tonight in my usual way, eyes closed, immersing myself in the rhythms and the cool vibes. Instead, I head over to the edge of the party and sit on the railing, my back to the marina and my feet up on the bench, attempting to observe from a distance.

I'm only there for a few short minutes when I'm approached by a GI. He's in uniform, with his gun held loosely over his shoulder. He's also one of the ones who's off his face. Stationing himself directly in front of me, he effectively blocks off my exit, leans forward and leers into my face from a distance of about four inches. I draw back but behind me is open air dropping into the sea below. With no choice, I look into his eyes, the pupils massive, the whites bloodshot.

Then he begins to speak while rolling his eyes and licking his lips suggestively. His words seem to be stumbling out at slow speed, slurred in a Southern drawl, so that he sounds like a Stepford Wife. I can feel his breath on my face, warm and cloying. I look round, but can see no escape. I'm trapped.

After a while, a look of mild surprise comes over his face, as though he's just thought of something really crucial.

'Oh,' he exclaims. 'How rude of me. Ah've been talkin' to yo' all this tahme an' ah haven't even tol' you mah name. It's Lydon.'

I nod in distracted acknowledgment but don't give him my own name. He carries on rambling as before for a few minutes, then the same look comes over his face.

'Oh,' he slurs again. 'How rude of me. Ah've been talkin' to yo' all this tahme an' ah haven't even tol' you mah name. It's Lydon.'

This is too freaky. Too surreal. I feel like I'm stuck in some kind of time warp. If I don't get away, I'll be condemned to spend eternity listening to this guy repeat himself over and over, his breath hot in my face, his eyes glazed and shallow. I have to get away. Mumbling an apology, I tell him I have seen some friends I need to check and climbing down from my perch, I push past him.

But where to go now? There's no sign of C and W and the dance floor is still occupied by contorted and staggering men in uniform, cavorting among the locals attempting to party Grenadian-style. Aware of the pressing need to get away from Lydon, I make my way to the jetty.

This turns out to be a mistake. The jetty is usually my favorite place to chill out. It's where people go to be surrounded by the lapping seas and sweet air, to relax and rap and smoke. Not tonight though. The soldiers are there too, but these ones are clearly on duty and appear to be sober. Their rifles are not slung over their shoulders, but are in their hands, at the ready. They circle round the local people, staring and hostile.

Undeterred, people carry on smoking and chilling. It's a party. This is what they always do at a party. The soldiers seem to feel this behavior is a challenge to their authority. Why aren't these people intimidated? Abruptly, their own behavior changes to rise to the assumed challenge. They begin to search people, confiscating their weed and even snatching spliffs from people's fingers.

Needless to say, people begin to complain and this polarises things even further. The soldiers become angry. One of them points his gun into the air and cocks it. The Grenadians still refuse to be intimidated and argue with the soldiers.

'You came to save us,' they say. 'Well, you've done that now, so you can go away again. This isn't your country, it's ours. You can't tell us what to do here.'

I'm really scared now. Any minute, this is going to kick off and there's going to be bloodshed. Maybe even slaughter. I look at the soldiers wheeling round the dance floor, off their faces and armed to the teeth, and then look again at the scene unfolding on the jetty.

As if things aren't bad enough, another threat is thrown into the mix.

Out at sea, there's a warship. As I stand on the jetty, wondering which of the groups of soldiers at Love Boat provides the biggest threat, searchlights from the warship begin to sweep across the party. I'm convinced now that there's going to be carnage. Can't see how it can be avoided. I plan my escape route. When the firing starts, I will jump down from the jetty into the sea and cling on underneath.

We came out tonight for fun. A chance to relax and socialise. To attempt to establish a shred of normality. Not one single element of this night is turning out to be fun.

With a surge of relief, I spot C and W and head straight for them. Their fears are the same as mine and we agree to head back home. Out in the car park, the prostitutes are plying a busy trade in the shadows at the side.

We're approached by three soldiers, who offer us a lift, telling us the roads aren't safe for us to be out late at night. Remembering the friendly GIs who gave us a lift earlier, we think this will be the best option. We just want to get home as quickly as possible and begin to walk behind them to their waiting jeep.

W has been walking a little ahead of us, closer to the soldiers. With no warning, he wheels round and grabs me and C, pulling us away.

'It's OK,' he says. 'We've changed our minds. We'll walk after all.'

The soldiers look furious, but C and I are just confused. As we move away, W tells us he overheard the soldiers muttering to each other.

'A ride for a f*ck,' one of them said. 'Get him to ride in the front. The women in the back.'

It's clear we've had a narrow escape and we're very shaken. Trouble is, we still have to get home and now we have no trouble believing it's not safe for us to be out, though the danger doesn't come from the source the Americans might suggest.

We begin to walk and we haven't got far when a car draws up beside us. The driver is a local businessman and W recognises him.

'Come into the light,' the man shouts at us. 'Let me see your faces. What are you doing out on the road? Are you mad? Don't you know it's not safe?'

Miserable and shaky, we tell him that since curfew has been lifted and Love Boat is open, it never occurred to us not to go. Still paranoid and twitchy, the man shakes his head in frustration at our naivete.

'I can't let you walk,' he says. 'I have to give you a ride. But I don't want no innocent jail ...'

Even though he's going into town, he insists on going out of his way to drive us home. Feeling guilty at our apparent stupidity in going out, we accept gratefully, W getting into the passenger seat and C and I climbing into the back.

Nearly home now, but the night is still not over. As we come down the hill into Tempe, there are two jeeps at the crossroads by the Coke factory. In the beams from our headlights, we can see the machine gun mounted on one, pointing towards us. The soldiers leap into the road, flagging down the car and waving their guns.

'Stay in the car! Stay in the car!' they shout, running over to us.

Confused and panicky, W opens his door and starts to get out. C and I shriek at him to stay put and pull him back in. The soldiers surround us, all of them shouting at once. Our heads whip round trying to work out what they are telling us do.

It's certainly not the first time I've been surrounded by men pointing guns directly at me during these past weeks. There was the time when I broke curfew with a knife in my bag and was stopped by the PRA. And many times since the invasion we've been stopped, questioned and sometimes searched while out and about.

But this is the time I feel the most frightened, without a doubt. The hideous scenes back at Love Boat fresh in our minds, the narrow escape earlier, the darkness, the shouting, the confusion - all add together to make this feel the most volatile and terrifying situation we have yet experienced.

The soldiers direct all their questions at the driver, demanding his name, to see his driving license or passport, checking his number plate. He stammers his responses and I try to interject, telling them he was only there at all because he had been kind enough to offer us a lift. They yell at me to shut up and continue to interrogate him while keeping us all huddled and trembling in the car.

After a while, they allow W, C and I to get out. They barely glance at us and ask us no questions at all, still focusing exclusively on our poor benefactor. We're summarily dismissed but we're consumed with guilt that the driver had been able to predict how dangerous it was to be out on the dark streets, yet in spite of his misgivings he had put our needs before his own and was now paying the price, while we were being allowed to walk away.

Again we attempt to explain the driver would never have been there if it wasn't for his kindness to us, but they shout at us and wave their guns again, warning of the consequences of not leaving immediately.

What choice did we have? I never did find out what happened to the driver or why they were particularly interested in him. I hope he made it through all right and didn't live to regret his selfless gesture.

And so later that night I lie in bed and think back over what has happened on this first 24 hours without a curfew. I've learned a very hard lesson today. No matter how hard things have been, never assume the worst is behind you.

AND SO I'VE REACHED THE END OF THE REVO BLOG, SIX MONTHS AFTER I EMBARKED ON THIS EPIC JOURNEY INTO THE PAST. I CHOSE TO FINISH WITH THE DAY RECOUNTED ABOVE AS IT SEEMS TO EXEMPLIFY LIFE UNDER OCCUPATION.

AND THOUGH IT'S TRUE THAT THERE WAS WORSE TO COME IN SOME WAYS, I DON'T WANT TO FINISH ON SUCH A DOWN NOTE.

BECAUSE IT'S ALSO TRUE THAT I WILL ALWAYS BE SUPREMELY GRATEFUL FOR THE INTENSE AND MAGICAL HIGHS I EXPERIENCED IN THOSE EARLY DAYS OF THE REVO. THE HOPE, THE OPTIMISM, THE POTENTIAL, ALL THOSE WONDERFUL POSSIBILITIES ...

I WAS PRIVILEGED TO HAVE WITNESSED THAT AND IN MY OWN TINY WAY, TO HAVE BEEN A MINUTE PART OF SOMETHING SO VERY SPECIAL.

BUT OF COURSE, IF I HADN'T BEEN TO GRENADA IN 1982, I WOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN CAUGHT UP IN THE DEVASTATING LOSS OF THE REVO THE FOLLOWING YEAR.

THESE EXPERIENCES CHANGED ME COMPLETELY. HOW COULD THEY NOT? THE SEEMINGLY BOTTOMLESS GRIEF WAS INTENSIFIED BY THE KNOWLEDGE THAT THE REVO HAD IMPLODED, DESTROYED FROM WITHIN, DAYS BEFORE THE AMERICANS SWOOPED IN, ENGAGED IN OPERATION URGENT FURY, AS THEY CALLED IT.

I HOPE THE CONTEXT IN WHICH SO MANY GRENADIANS INITIALLY WELCOMED THE INVADERS AS A PREFERABLE ALTERNATIVE TO CIVIL WAR IS CLEAR. AT THE POINT AT WHICH I HAVE ENDED THE REVO BLOG, IT WAS BECOMING APPARENT TO ALL THAT NOW THAT THE US HAD CONTROL, THEY WERE NOT GOING TO RELINQUISH IT.

THIS HERALDED A NEW STAGE IN GRENADA'S HISTORY. THE INSIDIOUS PROPAGANDA TOOK MANY FORMS. RUMOURS WERE STARTED AND SPREAD LIKE FOREST FIRES ACROSS THE ISLAND. NO ONE EVER KNEW THEIR SOURCE. SOME WERE SO LUDICROUS THEY COULD BE LAUGHED OFF. OTHERS SEEMED MORE PLAUSIBLE. THE MOST PERSISTENT ONES INVOLVED THE POSSIBLITY OF CUBA INVADING AND LAUNCHING A WAR WITH THE UNITED STATES ON GRENADIAN SOIL.

THE OVERALL EFFECT WAS TO KEEP PEOPLE INSECURE AND OFF BALANCE, SO YOU NEVER KNEW WHAT WAS TRUE AND WHAT WAS A FICTION DESIGNED TO CREATE FEAR AND PARANOIA.

AND IT WAS INCREDIBLY EFFECTIVE. C, H AND I EVENTUALLY LEFT GRENADA IN FEBRUARY 1984. WHEN I RETURNED IN SEPTEMBER 1985, IT WAS AS THOUGH THE INVASION AS I HAD EXPERIENCED IT HAD NEVER HAPPENED. THE EVENTS WERE NOW UNIVERSALLY REFERRED TO AS 'THE INTERVENTION'.

THE HOUSE WHERE MAURICE BISHOP HAD BEEN RELEASED FROM HOUSE ARREST ON 19TH OCTOBER - THE DAY WHEN THE PEOPLE TOOK CONTROL OF THEIR REVO FOR A FEW BITTERSWEET HOURS - WAS NOW A HOME FOR ALCOHOLICS. A POTENTIAL SYMBOL OF LIBERATION AND POWER HAD BEEN CONVERTED INTO SOMETHING VAGUELY SHAMEFUL.

AND, SADDER STILL, THE REVO ITSELF HAD BECOME ASSOCIATED IN PEOPLE'S MINDS WITH THE TRAUMA OF THE FINAL DAYS AND WITH EVERYTHING THAT WENT WRONG.

FEW SEEMED TO REMEMBER THE TIME WHEN STAND UP, SWEET SWEET GRENADA, STAND UP HAD BEEN THE SONG ON SO MANY PROUD AND SMILING LIPS.

I UNDERSTAND THAT'S CHANGING NOW AT LAST, OVER QUARTER OF A CENTURY AFTER THE DISASTROUS EVENTS RELATED IN THE BLOG. I GUESS ENOUGH TIME HAS FINALLY PASSED FOR THE WOUNDS TO HEAL AND FOR PEOPLE TO FEEL ABLE TO LOOK BACK WITH NOSTALGIA.

ON 13TH MARCH 2009, THIRTY YEARS AFTER THE REVO FIRST TOOK PLACE, THERE WERE ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATIONS IN GRENADA FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE 1983.

WITHOUT HOPE, THERE CAN BE NO LIFE.

AS FOR ME, I HAVE NO PERSONAL REGRETS ABOUT MY HISTORY RUNNING PARALLEL TO THAT OF GRENADA IN THAT TIME.

IN SPITE OF EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENED, I STILL BELIEVE IT'S BETTER TO HAVE LOVED AND LOST THAN NEVER TO HAVE LOVED AT ALL.

THE END

11 comments:

Beleaguered Squirrel said...

You describe this final scene very well. I was almost there with you, yet am so glad that I was not.

I think you were and are a very strong and amazing woman for being there, for staying there, for writing about it now.

So many conflicting forces, so many angles to the story, so much confusion. It makes me sad, angry and hopeful in equal measure.

I hope you can get some resolution from all of this now, and move on with the positivity that has always shone from you.

BarbaraS said...

What a scary 'party' to be stuck at, and what lucky escapes you had on the way home. Brrr!

Good for you for making this a rounded picture of events. It's been a long slog for you. Well done.

Debi said...

'It makes me sad, angry and hopeful in equal measure.' If that's so, then I feel revisiting all this has been worthwhile.

Debi said...

'I think you were and are a very strong and amazing woman for being there, for staying there, for writing about it now.' But this I genuinely don't think is true.

That's not false modesty or anything. I just happened to get caught up in events beyond my control. I never felt I had a real choice about how I reacted or even about whether or not to revisit it now.

We all have our part to play.

SueG said...

I can't thank you enough for allowing us to relive this with you, as painful and difficult as it has been. Your journey was so frightening, so important, so true that we are all better for having learned about it through your eyes. xo

Debi said...

That's an amazing thing to say! Thank you, Sue.

granny p said...

Brave stuff Debi. And what a way to end. I can quite see why you want to leave it all there. A shame..but. I feel privileged to have read all this and to have understood a little better something I never did and never will absolutely. As with all these ambiguous situations going on everywhere, where the rights and wrongs are never clear.

Oh those American 'liberators'....guess they're the same everywhere. Yikes.

Debi said...

It's scary, Granny P, when these are the people who supposedly came to 'save' you from a worse fate. Yikes indeed.

Wordtryst - Liane Spicer said...

Thank you for making this invaluable contribution to the record, Debi. What a journey it has been! I've learnt so much over the months that I would never have known, despite being one tiny island away from all the action.

Debi said...

Making such a strong connection with you has been one of the best things to come from this journey, Liane.

hilary said...

H here of H&B--very cathartic reading this no time to read all as yet --woz ther this year for the changing of the airport name-it woz very moving --some great speeches --FORWARD EVER --Long Live the revo!!!!