Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Revo Blog. Part 6

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

June-September 1983

No stopovers this time. We change planes at Barbados and then it's straight onto Grenada, to our new home in Tempe. J is staying for two months. H and I have open tickets. As far as we're concerned, we haven't come for a holiday. This is life we're living.

Geographically, Tempe is in a shallow bowl. Behind the house is a steep hill leading up to the Governor General's residence on the top and then down into St Georges on the other side. On the opposite side of the house is another hill leading up to the Lord Chief Justice's home. From my bedroom window, you can see yet another hill, with three forts, the prison and the mental hospital (known locally as 'the crazy house') lined up along its spine. Of the two other roads branching off from the strategic Tempe crossroads, one heads towards Queen's Park and the coast road and the other leads to Mt Parnassus and the interior of the island.

Our new home is a 'wall' (concrete) house down a small track with just five other 'yards'. On the ground floor lives A, a single man who tends the land and watches over the property. We have the first floor: a balcony, two bedrooms, a living room, separate toilet, shower and kitchen. Luxury indeed. The house is surrounded by trees, with a vast mango tree looming over the back. Beyond the grove at the back of the house is a stream and behind that, more trees and then the road.

Things should have been perfect. It's soon clear, however, that we have made an unfortunate error of judgment. In our enthusiasm to spread the word about the Grenadian revolution, we've encouraged everyone we know to come and stay with us. In our heads, we see this as giving people a unique opportunity to experience the Revo firsthand, as well as being good for the island economy. We'd failed to predict the kind of problems it might cause.

For the first four months we're there, we have a constant stream of visitors, lying on pieces of foam in every corner of the house. Although many of them are people we love dearly, they are there for a holiday, while we have a very different agenda. We'd visualised our guests being independent and just using the house as a base from which to explore. The reality is that we feel people have expectations from us as hosts and tour guides. The sheer numbers of people passing through means that at times it feels like we're living in a 20th century version of the Big Brother house. It was a tricky situation and in retrospect, I don't think we handled it well.

We're so preoccupied with these group dynamics, it proves difficult to pursue our own objectives. H and I do go along to the library in St Georges and meet with the head librarian to talk about the mobile library proposal. She's gratifyingly positive and says our next move should be to register ourselves and our proposal with the Ministry for National Mobilisation.

Our visit to the Ministry is one of the high points of those early months in terms of advancing our plans to contribute to the Revo. We have an informal chat about the library, talking about our plans to obtain funding and showing publishers' lists, and we also share our intentions to take photos in a semi-official capacity. We're given a form to complete - a sort of CV giving our personal background.

As we fill it in on the spot, we laugh at the contrast to any similar form we might encounter back home. There, we would take care to make no mention of our political activities. Here, the reverse is true. Delighted at the liberation of telling the whole truth on an official form, we list every one of our involvements, giving info that the authorities back in England would no doubt rub their hands with glee over. We hold back nothing. Checking the form, the comrade nods in approval. He tells us that the next stage should be to arrange a meeting with Maurice to discuss our plans in detail.

Imagine that. We hope to set up a relatively small-scale project and are told after just two meetings that our next step should be to meet up with the Prime Minister! And that's what it was like ... This process is as good an illustration as any of the unique nature of the Grenadian Revo and the pivotal role that Maurice played.

You see, Maurice not only embodied the Revo, he was the living, breathing personification of it. In the evenings, he could still be found sitting in roadside bars, drinking, playing dominoes, chatting and listening. Always listening. He never put himself apart from the ordinary people, let alone above them.

Universally perceived as open, humble, trustworthy - his skills had been recognised by his comrades in the Party. He had buckets filled with the sort of charisma none of the others possessed. While things were going well, his comrades were happy to exploit Maurice's ability to inspire trust and confidence. Only later, was this twisted to show evidence of his so called 'one-manism' and petit bourgeois tendencies of self-promotion. But that was later and I'm not there yet ...

Before things started to unravel, the people had all the evidence they needed to prove Maurice trusted them as much as they trusted him. When they said they wanted a mixed economy, that's what they got. When they said they'd like to move towards elections, if only to silence their critics, Maurice agreed.

Put at its most simple, Maurice wanted the Revo to move at a pace and in a direction dictated by the people. The trust the people had in him was absolute. It was also mutual.

The problems were already beginning to rise to the surface by that time, though we were perhaps less aware of them than we might have been if we hadn't been distracted by our stream of guests.

While Maurice was sitting in roadside bars talking to ordinary people, his comrades in the government were sitting in closed rooms talking to each other. While Maurice was convinced of the innate ability of ordinary people to get to the heart of the issues and come up with the best responses, his comrades felt very differently.

They were educated. They were well-versed in Marxist theory. They were the elite, the vanguard. Of course, they knew the correct direction for the Revo to take - far better than the uneducated lumpen proletariat masses.

It's sad evidence of how far removed some members of the PRG were from the reality that they should have had that impression and got it so wrong. It seems they had no idea of the true miracle of the Revo: the way ordinary people had responded and risen to the challenge of controlling their own destiny.

They certainly understimated the will of the people, but I'm getting ahead of myself again. The extent of the alienation wouldn't be clear for another few months yet.

There are indications that all is not well though, in those first few months of our second stay in Grenada. Distracted though we are, I can see the signs of changes since the previous year. Individuals selling coral and other crafts by hustling direct to tourists are being - if not outright harassed - certainly strongly discouraged. We meet fewer ordinary people involved in the network of meetings, while Party members working directly for the revolutionary cause seem drained and exhausted.

A gap seems to have opened up between the Party and the people. Or maybe between the government and the people. Or the Central Committee ... Or perhaps it is between certain members of the government ...

But one thing is becoming clear: wherever this gap is, the mass of the people are on one side as opposed to being part of a unified whole.

'Where's JH?' I ask one day, remembering a Rasta I'd met the previous year.
'He's up at the camp,' I'm told.
'Camp? What camp?'

And so I hear about this place where 'undesirable counter-revolutionary elements' are held without trial or any due process, for purposes of 're-education'. On further inquiry, I discover more about the definition of 'undesirable'. There are lots of Rastas up at the camp, I'm told, as well as anyone considered unsuitable to be around tourists. Most are not criminals as such, nor are they accused of organising political resistance. Put simply, these are people perceived as 'not fitting' with the image the revolution wishes to project.

Yes. Now I think about it, the signs the Revo had reached a crucial stage and was struggling were there by then, the fourth year of the Revo.

But it was still far from clear who was on which side of the gap that had opened up or how deep and wide it would become.

Images from Cafe Urban


Liane Spicer said...

What you say here about Maurice Bishop endorses everything I've heard and read about the man. Even when I worked in Grenada in 2004, all those years later, ordinary people still spoke of him with love, respect and regret as one of 'theirs'.

And once again [2004] the country seemed to me to be on the verge of another schism. The politics of division were being fired up and to judge from the columns and letters to the editor at the newspaper where I worked, the situation was getting tenser and more dangerous by the day. I was glad to leave. Weeks after my departure, Hurricane Ivan hit the island full on, leaving devastation in its wake. I believed then (and still) that it probably saved the island from a worse fate.

[One journalist was especially kind to me because he said I looked just like his mother's people, the Bishops. Trivial though it might seem, I felt a small thrill at this insubstantial connection (in his perception, at least) to Maurice.]

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Whereas I am coming to this from a position of total ignorance - but it's fascinating, and I'm learning a lot.

Debi said...

Liane - I understand what you mean about the hurricane though I was unaware that the political situation was hotting up at the time. And I couldn't feel better about your own perceptions fitting with what I have written. Thank you!

Zin - that helps too. Thanks.

Faye said...

I think this is one of the most revealing posts yet of an observer's delicate understanding of the Revo. Your sensitivity to the divides emerging within the PRG leadership is incredible and backed up by so many other sources. I can see the passion (once again) that you have for the Revo, but also the wise eyes with which you participated in, yet viewed it from afar. Keep em comin'!

Debi said...

Oh, Faye! I can't tell you how much that endorsement means to me.

It makes me more determined than ever to carry on, even though the hardest part is yet to come and I know it's going to be very painful.

I owe you an enormous debt of gratitude for opening the floodgates of repressed memories.