Tuesday, 23 February 2010

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.