A Caribbean breather over Thanksgiving celebrations

14 December 1997

This year, around 40 million Americans "balik kampong" for Thanksgiving celebrations on Nov 27. My wife and I were invited to spend the long weekend in Grenada, the Caribbean island that the American marines invaded some 14 years ago.

It was my wife's first trip to the Caribbean. Grenada was more than she expected. She found the beaches clean and the sea crystal clear, the flora and fauna are much like home but the flowers seem to bloom more profusely, and exuberantly, and everywhere.

Something to be thankful for is Thanksgiving. Thank heaven it has not become overwrought and commercialized like Christmas. Thanksgiving is an American holiday which is celebrated quietly and yet decidedly the most important feast in the American calendar.

An American friend volunteered his thoughts as to why Thanksgiving remains a quiet holiday for family gathering: "The pilgrims never did anything in excess!" Another Yankee countered "Bullshit! Here is the reason - the merchants, shopkeepers and department stores want to focus on the biggest annual moneymaker, Yuletide! The capitalist instinct and common sense."

The lesson of Thanksgiving is worth repeating in case it has been lost between the first Thanksgiving celebration between the Indians and the pilgrims and now. It may seem to some that the central focus of Thanksgiving today is food, but it is not. It is the sense of fellowship and community that is being celebrated.

The brave pioneers of this great North American continent had endured many hardships and uncertainty in the first and early years of settlement and it was only through God's helping hand, their own tenacity and more importantly the generosity of the native Indians that they were able to survive.

As we sit down for our first feast or berbuka (break fast) this Ramadan, during Christmas, Hari Raya and the Chinese New Year, we should offer our prayers to God for helping to sustain us during these trying and difficult times and to remember those unfortunate people who do not have much of their own to celebrate.

Even in St George's, our American hosts and hostesses treated Fauzah and I to a delicious Thanksgiving dinner at a wonderful seaside restaurant called Aquarium. A table heaped with scrumptuous cholesterol-laden foods, and, just imagine, everyone of my hosts and hostesses except one was either a physician or a surgeon! It is not the turkey, pumpkin pies, ketupat, muruku, Christmas pudding, the Chinese sausage (lapcheong) and duck which is the essence of any celebrations. It is gratitude. We have to be grateful for peace prosperity, good health and our families.

It is well to remember and be thankful for that no matter how bad our troubles are, what with the currency devaluation and plummeting stock market, the situation could actually be worse, and that for many, many people among our neighbours, it is.

What a welcome and therapeutic change from chilly and windy New York to an island in the sun. We did enjoy our brief pause, not really a rest, because I had meetings and talks with academicians, scholars and others. It was a kind of a businessman's holiday really. And at no cost to our government!

The 133 square mile island was the home of the Caribbean Indians until colonization in 1650 alternated between the French and British. Grenada finally became British in 1784 until independence on Feb 7, 1974. Today it has a population of slightly less than 100,000 but its political and diplomatic importance is out of proportion to its size and economy as was seen in 1983.

In the autumn of 1933, a military coup ousted the Grenada prime minister, Maurice Bishop, who was subsequently killed by a rival faction led by the deputy prime minister, Benard Coard, and General Hudson Austin. A few days after the formation of the new Marxist and pro-Cuban government, President Ronald Reagan ordered 1,500 American soldiers and 400 marines to take over the island because the new government was perceived to be a "threat to the security of the United States". He asserted that the "Soviet-Cuban militarization of Grenada is a Soviet-Cuban power projection in the region" and was unacceptable.

Grenada had to be subdued to save the lives of American medical students in Grenada. Perhaps, from being contaminated by Cuban influence!

What did Cuba do? Cuba had helped construct the Point Salines International Airport in St George's town, Grenada's picturesque capital (in the sense that it is very pretty if not entirely modern) and this was viewed by Washington as a potential military base. Though a small nation, only twice the size of Washington D.C., it became a political jewel for superpowers. Grenadian politics and government became unstable.