Wednesday, January 11, 2017

1979 (2) - Revolution in Grenada!

Ed and Sam, sitting in the cockpit

To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

Newsletter, March 13, 1979

The day started out ordinarily enough for us - we were still in our bunks, and Ed was listening to the radio using his earplug.  He turned to tell me that there was a revolution going on in Grenada.  It took him a while to convince me he wasn't making a joke.  I was soon listening to the radio along with Ed. 

The local radio station, formerly Radio Grenada, was renamed Radio Free Grenada.  The revolution had started about 4:00 a.m. with the takeover of the radio station, the closing of the airport, and the capture of the former government's ministers (in their beds, according to the radio).  The PRG (People's Revolutionary Government) identified themselves as being moderate left.  Maurice Bishop led them.  (Three years later, Mr. Bishop would be assassinated during another revolution, which would subsequently lead to President Reagan initiating an invasion of Grenada by the U.S. Marines.)  The new government started broadcasting, and actually conducted much of the revolution by radio.  We heard commands given and orders issued, like:  Proceed to such-and-such police station and take over control. 

The radio frequently assured foreign residents and visitors that we, and our property, were safe, and that we were welcome to stay.  Army orders alternated with revolutionary music.  The most popular song on the radio that day was "Revolution" by the Beatles.  In the afternoon some of the captured ministers broadcast messages to the people saying that the new government was in control, and that remaining police stations should surrender.  The main resistance was at the fort on the hill overlooking St. George’s, and at police headquarters.  By the second day both had been taken.

While we discussed the possibility of "making a run for it" if things got too dangerous, with our deck work unfinished, we weren't really in the position to go much of anywhere.  We felt little fear during the revolution, as it seemed to be well run and well planned.  We took the government at their word when they assured us of our safety.  From what we heard, it was a bloodless coup.  As the previous regime had reportedly been very dictatorial, the revolution was met with an air of excitement and expectation.  The new government declared a national holiday and no one came to work, including the two men who were helping Ed lay our new teak deck.

During that day, and for several days after, we heard sporadic gunfire.  The day after the revolution, we got up to the sound of gunfire and (cautiously) went out on deck.  The man who owned the welding firm, which had done work on our steel hull, had his home/shop just down the road from GYS, and within view of the marina.  The building was surrounded by troops who were firing in the air and calling for him to come out.  When he did, he was taken away.  Rumor had it that he had killed a young man a couple years before, but had never been brought to trial.  It was assumed that the new government had a few old debts to settle.

I took a water taxi to town two days after the revolution and all was quiet that day.  When I went into St. George’s a couple days later, soldiers with guns were all over the wharf in town.  They were searching some yachts.  Some men tried to call over my water taxi, but the driver chose to ignore them.  One of the soldiers started to fire his rifle over our heads.  There was another passenger in the boat, a local businessman.  He and I pleaded with our driver to pull over to the wharf, and he finally did.  Then our driver started yelling at the troops that he didn't care if they were old government or new government, he wasn't going to pay them any mind.  He was an old codger, and it was a wonder he didn't get us shot. 

The soldiers were angry by then, and focused on me, the only white face in the boat.  One soldier took my tote bag to search it, pulling out my credit cards and passport.  It made me pretty nervous to see my passport in that man's hands.  Then he held up my credit cards and asked what they were for.  Not wanting to indicate their true value, I told him they were used for buying gasoline in the States.  I was questioned as to where I was from, where I lived, and where I was going (to the library as it happened).  I was rather shaken up, but everything was returned to me, and I went on into town. 

It turned out the whole search exercise was unauthorized.  The government put a stop to it, even returning a sizeable sum of money that had been stolen from one of the sailboats.  The culprit in that particular case was made to kneel and apologize to the owner of the money, before he was carted off to jail.  We had been informed (via the radio) that we could report problems by calling the radio station.  I didn't call, but the next time I was in a water taxi with my favorite driver, he told me he’d seen what had happened to me, and had reported the incident to the station.

The dust settled, and day-to-day life returned pretty much back to normal.  We lived under an 8:00 p.m. curfew for the rest of our time in Grenada.  Overnight anchorages on the island were limited to two, the harbor at St. George and Prickly Bay on the southern shore.  Grenada Yacht Services was patrolled twenty-four hours a day by members of the PRA.  All boats entering and leaving Grenada were searched. 

St. George's Waterfront

March 14, 1979 – The day after the Revolution

I want you to know we are safe and sound.  Phone lines have been reopened.  I tried to call, but lines will be busy for a long time.  The People’s Revolutionary Government has reopened the airport.  Once all the panicked tourists have left the island, mail will start flying again. 

Local people are concerned the revolution could cripple the country, if it kills tourism.  Who’s going to believe it’s safe to come here?  Two cruise ships were due in today, but wouldn’t enter the harbor, and bypassed Grenada.  I was disappointed because Nancy had asked me to go with she and Jerry to see the “Love Boat” cruise ship.  We were going to have lunch, and I was going to get a tour.  That would have been nice.  On the more serious side, most of Sand Dollar’s business comes from the cruise ships.  Their business would fold without the tourists. 

Nancy found the revolution exciting.  She piled her son, and the maid, Agnes, into her jeep, and drove downtown to see the revolution.  Yes, she’s a little crazy!  Nothing happened that time, but when she was down later, she was stopped and her car searched.  The PRA were searching all the cars looking for weapons.  That led to Nancy telling me a joke she’d heard.  The joke reflects on the poor quality of the arms being used by the PRA. 

The PRA stopped a car and searched it.  When the soldiers were finished, they jumped into their jeep and started to speed away.  Then the jeep slammed on the brakes, and backed up to where a man was still standing next to his car.  One of the soldiers hopped out of the jeep and was looking for something on the ground.  When he stood up, the civilian asked him what he was doing.  The soldier held open his hand.  “De bullet,” he said, “she fall out of de gun.”

Yesterday was declared a national holiday, so no one worked.  Today things are back to normal.  I took a water taxi into town to the Food Fair.  There was the usual crowd, but no big rush on the store.

Maia left this morning, heading for the Panama Canal.  I spent last evening with them, sitting around talking.  We’ll be glad when it’s our turn to go!  Speaking of which, Tony called yesterday.  He will be free the second week in April.  I told him to make reservations for either that week or the following week, depending on what he can get.  Joyce will be coming too.  They’ll be with us for three weeks.

Word this morning was that there was a battleship in the harbor, and three more waiting outside.  It turned out to be one Coast Guard vessel from Barbados.  The new government invited the American and Canadian consuls to visit Grenada, and check on the safety of their people.  Remember how we had to see the American consul in Barbados?  They’re here in Grenada, staying at the Holiday Inn.  Anyone is free to go and see them.  Think I’ll pass!  The PRA put a curfew on the island from 8:30 p.m. to 5:30 a.m., which isn’t any hardship on us since we’re in bed for the night. 

Anyway, there’s no need for you to worry.  Ed says, if we had to, we’re well enough put together; we could sail out of here.  I filled up the water tanks yesterday, just in case.

April 2, 1979

The final sanding on the deck was done this morning.  Ed and Doug are attaching the moldings.  Sam has stripped the varnish off the cockpit coaming, and it’s going back in the cockpit before it gets varnished.  Guess we really will be ready on time.  We still plan to leave Grenada on April 14th.  That’s a Saturday.  No way we’d leave the day before!  I don’t think anything would convince me to start our world cruise on a Friday the 13th….

It’s rained the last three days, and there have been weird swells in the harbor, making the boat rock all the time.  I lost my balance down below.  If that’s happening in the marina, what will it be like when we’re at sea?

St. George's Market Place and Bus Station (Heavily Photoshopped)

Sex & the Single Tourist

It wasn't that I was single, but that I generally went into town alone; and this wasn't really about sex, but rather, sexual harassment, and the unwelcome attention I received when I went into St. Georges. I had begun to dread my shopping trips.  It wasn't uncommon to be approached in the street, and have a perfect stranger declare his undying love for me - or his desire to take me to bed. To help avoid such attentions, I dressed conservatively, and tried to keep a low profile. I started off being upset and offended, and then became angry, rather than frightened, when I realized I wasn't physically threatened.  I finally learned how to deal with the unwanted attention.

I was in the grocery store checkout line one day having my groceries totaled.  The young man in line behind me started going into great detail describing the different parts of my body. I finally turned and looked him straight in the eye and asked, "Were you speaking to me?" Grinning, he made another remark. Since visitors to the islands often have difficulty understanding the West Indian accent, I continued pretending incomprehension. "What did you say?" With less of a smile, he repeated his remark. "I'm sorry, but I still didn't quite get it." He ended up mumbling something about liking my hair, and then left the checkout line. The woman at the cash register was trying very hard not to laugh.

When I mentioned my problem to women from other boats, I found they all had similar complaints. One of the women, Jane, asked me if I’d ever been offered a playboy. She had frequently been approached with the question, "Lady, wanna buy a playboy?" And they weren't selling the magazine. Jane told me one day a young boy had come up to her, and asked the usual question. She said she had looked down at him, and queried in her best British tones, "My dear boy, whatever do you think you can do for me?" Grinning from ear to ear, the little fellow replied, "I got nice big brother." Now Jane is very well endowed, and I am anything but.  I went several months in Grenada without being offered a playboy. Then, near the end of our five-month stay, I was walking through town one day when a man leaning against a building called out to me, "Hey, lady, wanna buy a playboy?" I gave him my most withering "drop-dead-you-asshole" look, and went on my way, secretly pleased.

Note Card from Grenada

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