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  • Writer's pictureHummingbird Retreat

Week 36

Wildlife wonder- Smooth-billed Ani

I have seen these large birds with shiny black feathers around the garden for a while but it is only recently that I have got my binoculars out and worked out what their proper name is for them. They have a long black tail and a very distinct beak, like a parrot's, but these birds are actually related to cuckoos. Their bodies are about 20 cm in height and I usually see them in the trees, jumping from branch to branch rather than in the air.

I often hear them before I see them because they have a loud squawky cry. They also seem to make quite a lot of noise, rustling in a nearby tree or bush and so I think it might be an iguana or a cat in there and then discover it is one or two of these birds.

Grenadian Gift – Gouyave Nutmeg Processing Station

On the West coast of Grenada is the small fishing town of Gouyave. One of the main attractions here is the Nutmeg processing station which offers a beautiful smell of nutmegs even before you enter inside. Nutmeg farmers bring their harvested nutmegs to what is locally known as ‘the pool’ where the Grenada Co-operative Nutmeg Association processes them for exporting or to be sold locally.

Grenada is known as ‘the Isle of Spice’ because this is the main export for Grenada, and in particular the export of nutmeg, which is featured on the national flag. The nutmeg has multiple uses- the lacy red outside coat of the nutmeg is called mace which is dried and used as a natural meat preservative and as spice in cooking. The yellow nutmeg fruit makes delicious jam, a jar of which can usually be found in my fridge and the hard brown outer shells are used as a fragrant covering for garden paths. However, the main part of the nutmeg is the hard, brown seed which is ground up and sold as a spice used for cooking. It is often sprinkled on rum punches, added to cakes and used to flavour various drinks and dishes. The nutmegs also produce an oil that is used in perfumes, toothpaste, cough syrups and pain-relieving sprays and oils.

The processing station was built in 1947 and the co-operative was formed five years later to stop the previous monopoly of plantation owners and to support local nutmeg farmers. Inside the station, there are long, wooden curing trays full of nutmegs that are dried for 1 – 2 months. During this drying process, the seed separates from the shell which is then broken open to get the nutmeg seed out. They are then sorted, graded and packed into large sacks, by hand. For roughly £1 you can go on a brief tour as well as visit their gift shop, where you can buy nutmeg along with other spices and local crafts.

Reflections from the Retreat

On 19th October, Grenada had a new national holiday – ‘National Heroes Day.’ It was a day of reflection and commemoration for those who have died and particularly in recognition of Grenada’s former Prime Minister, Maurice Bishop, shown in the photo below.

That date is a significant day in Grenada’s history because on 19th October 1983, Maurice Bishop, along with 3 of his cabinet and a few others, were shot by a firing squad at Fort George. The events that led up to that horrific event are too long to go into detail in this short reflection but in brief, Grenadian’s first Prime Minister, Eric Gairy, ran a secret police force known for their violent attacks, leading to civil unrest. Maurice Bishop led a revolution against Gairy’s government and gained power in 1979.

In October 1983, Maurice Bishop’s deputy minister, Bernard Coard, led a coup against him when Maurice refused to have joint leadership with him and also refused to develop closer links with Russia. This led to the house arrest of Maurice Bishop and his untimely death. Hudson Austin, another member of Maurice’s government then took over with a military council.

This was the time of Ronald Reagan’s government and the Cold War with Russia and both Coard and Austin spoke of Grenada developing closer links with Russia. Also at this time, Cuba was helping Grenada to build a larger airport which some suggested was to be used for military purposes instead of to develop tourism on the island. The militant government and recent unrest gave America a reason to invade based on their growing concerns about the communist links in Grenada, which they did on the premise that they were concerned for American students at their university on the island.

The American forces, with some Caribbean allies from other islands, invaded this small island and 45 Grenadian soldiers, 25 Cuban military engineers working on the airport, 19 American soldiers and 24 civilians were killed. After 6 days in power, the military government of Austin was replaced by a government installed by the Americans. It is hard to imagine today such violent chaos on this peaceful island and yet that brief turbulent period led to so many deaths, and in particular the death of the youthful Maurice Bishop who carried so many dreams and ambitions for young Grenadians at that time.

He was a forward-thinking, charismatic and popular leader who wanted to modernise Grenada and particularly, to find ways of supporting the underprivileged. Having lived in London to train in law, he became one of the founders of the Legal Aid Office for West Indians in London, where he worked as a volunteer. When he became Grenada's leader, he was keen to develop education by starting an adult literacy programme, providing free healthcare and secondary education and developing various scholarships. He constructed new roads and started to build the current airport that bears his name. Unemployment went down and he also started the National welfare system that has helped many people in financial need.

The National Heroes Day was marked with a church service at the National Stadium which included various tributes to Maurice from his surviving colleagues and a moving tribute from his widow. She talked about how they had both left Grenada to study in the UK, where they had met and got married. She shared honestly about the struggle she had as a young mother of two children, to care for her children with a husband who would always put his people and country first.

The priest who spoke shared the painful facts that after Maurice and others were killed, their bodies were burnt and their remains taken to the American university on the island. Despite years of requests and appeals, their remains have never been returned to the families for burial. This, along with other aspects of those events, described in various speeches showed how this recent history of Grenada has left significant scars and much unresolved guilt for the people here.

It is difficult for me to fully understand all that went on at that time and the politics that fuelled it but as I watched the service online, I was impressed with the impact that Maurice Bishop had, and still has, on people’s lives- their pride in their country and their desire to see it develop and in a way that cares for all, especially the underprivileged. A few times in the tributes, a speaker would shout Maurice Bishop’s slogan ‘Forward Ever!’ and the crowd responded ‘Backward Never!’ It was sobering to look at the faces in the crowd and think that they would have been young, idealistic followers of Maurice, and who are still grieving his loss.

It was also interesting to see people’s respect for the current Prime Minister, Dickon Mitchell, for creating this national holiday to commemorate Maurice Bishop, when previous governments have failed to do so. Dickon has such a young baby face that he doesn’t long old enough to be Prime Minister but perhaps he has the youthful energy and idealistic dreams to follow in Maurice’s footsteps.

The day was also about acknowledging our grief for all who have died, and remembering our own personal heroes. At 1pm the church bells rang across the island to mark a minute's silence and in the evening there was a ‘light tribute’ when people lit candles around the Carenage (harbour). It was too far for me to drive in the dark so it was a shame I couldn’t attend this beautiful sight and special time of remembrance. It was interesting timing as well because the week before I had talked to Karen about the bereavement service, ‘for those loved but seen no longer’ that Clive and Karen run at our Romford church. We had talked about how the simple act of lighting a candle in memory of those who have died can be such a powerful ritual. We had also discussed the possibility of offering a bereavement service or something similar one day at the Hummingbird Retreat.

I’m grateful for being able to watch the National Heroes Day service online and to learn more about this country’s recent history, directly from those who were involved. It is important for me to continue to understand the impact of these events and the legacy of people, such as Maurice Bishop, on the lives of the people whom I am getting to know on this island.

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