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,
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.