The first time Kiffy Greaves felt major shame she was a pre-teen.
“Shame and I met when I was 11 years old,” she said.
At the time, the shame of passing for a “Junior Sec” seemed unbearable, but she would be gripped by a deeper, untold, seemingly paralysing shame years later. It would change her perception of the mental realities in which people live, cause her to re-evaluate the meaning of true friendship and her relationship with money, and even inspire a memoir.
A communications and PR specialist, Greaves makes her debut as an author with her recently released 200-page book If Shame Came in Flavors: At Debt’s Door. With a foreword by close Barbadian friend and soca superstar Alison Hinds, the book is Greaves’ reflection on how Caribbean people are socialised to feel shame from a young age, the impact of this on mental health and rebounding despite the unpredictability of life.
The world of the 28-eight-year-old protagonist and university student Kiffy is almost capsized when her name is published in a newspaper by her creditors seeking her whereabouts. She can either choose to crumble in the face of cultural criticism and shame or redeem herself.
Employing various local fruits like soursop, tonka bean, and pineapple, Greaves conveys what varying types and levels of shame “taste” like.
“More than anything, I wanted to bring to the fore the issues of cultural shame and how it can affect a person’s perspective on their place in the world, their worthiness, and their ability to seek help in their time of need,” Greaves said.
“We have people who will literally die of shame rather than ask for help.”
If Shame Came In Flavors by Kiffy Greaves.
COURTESY KITTY GREAVES
More than the joy of having her first work published, Greaves said that she was happy people could connect with her memoir which was released on Amazon on August 4 and was picked up by retail bookselling giant Barnes and Noble. People who share similar stories of shame in areas of finances, relationships, or even body image have been reaching out to her and Greaves said she hoped her message of resilience and perseverance would encourage many more while changing the minds of those who usually sit in judgment of others.
She penned the work over a decade ago as a possible means to support herself after being arrested for an issue about a vehicle she had sold to a roommate–another incident that brought shame in her life. She also was motivated by the suicide of Amy, a single mother of three, whose name had been published alongside hers in the newspaper advertisement. But it was only in 2019, while actively seeking a publisher in the US at the Acclaimed Writers’ Digest Conference in New York a premier resource forum for writers, that Korean American author and journalist Min Jin Lee, who herself had been inspired by V S Naipaul’s A House for Mr Biswas, discovered that she was from T&T and encouraged her to push through her goal of becoming an author.
Greaves sought out publishing company Daria Publishing based in New York and run by Reea Rodney which facilitated the self-published book.
Outlining the plot of her book, Greaves recounted her journey starting as a child who was skipped from Standard 3 to 5 with the expectation that she would pass her SEA exam for Bishop Anstey, Port-of-Spain. The shame of scoring only enough marks to earn her a place at a Junior Sec and that everyone was going to know her results cut deep for a young Greaves who had hopes of becoming a doctor or lawyer.
Her reprieve came a year later when she sat an entrance exam and ended up attending St Francois Girls’ College. She gravitated towards business subjects, but her mother’s knack for journalism, more so, the public relations aspect, rubbed off on her.
But shame again visited the Belmont native when she did not qualify for Form 6 and by age 18, she entered the world of work.
She did an LCCI diploma in Marketing, Advertising and PR, and while an employee of TSTT and a part-time communications student at the UWI in 2007, Greaves became “bored” with her routine. Convicted by the TD Jakes book Reposition Yourself one day, she decided to quit her job the next, to feel alive again.
Protest from friends and scepticism from her father failed to make her rethink her decision. She simply reassured them that she would take up studies full-time and continue to manage her life.
Although five or six years older than her UWI peers, the more Greaves immersed herself in her university environment, the more she felt as if for the first time in her life, she fit in with people who were studying just like her, and dealing with similar life issues.
To top things off, her fellow students saw her as “the rich girl” because she had a car and drove to and from the campus.
“For the first time, I was in a happy place. I felt as if I was where I belonged.”
As she was about to enter her second year of university, her new-found sense of comfort came to a screeching halt one day when she realised her name had been published in the newspaper by her creditors for underpayments on her house and car.
To Greaves, she was in the midst of a monumental crisis. She imagined what her friends, professors, parents, grandmother, and even former co-workers would think. Embarrassing her family was the ultimate humiliation. Paralysed by fear and shame, she stopped attending classes and spent five weeks curled up on her bed.
“I got to a place where I thought that probably if I just lay there without eating for two weeks, I could leave this life,” Greaves recalled.
A phone call from a classmate named Francisca jolted her out of her depression.
“She said: ‘hi, I saw your name in the paper. Are you OK?’ And I didn’t know how to take that question because we were not close.”
Francisca encouraged Greaves to lift her head up and press on, offering her notes from the classes she had missed, and they became friends.
Carnival time drew close and this meant Greaves would be up and about the festivities with her dear friend Alison Hinds. Convinced that her embarrassing situation would negatively impact Hinds’ image and even her bookings for performances, Greaves declined Hinds’ usual invitations to go out and lime.
“That is where I was in my thought process. That’s how shame works, your shame becomes other people’s shame too,” Greaves said.
Hinds was not having it, however.
“She was like: ‘Get up!’ And she had a real heart-to-heart with me about her being a woman in the entertainment industry who has had to face shame from the media and critics etc.
“She said debt doesn’t define you. You just have to recalibrate and do some things differently,” Greaves recalled.
On her return to university classes, Greaves had a surprising reception as none of her classmates had heard about her name being published in the newspaper by creditors. Even when she told them about her “shameful” situation, it did not affect how they treated her. They saw her as being human, prone to mistakes, and as someone who needed friends and hugged her.
“The defining moment” stayed with a shocked Greaves who said this group who had stood by her in her “darkest hour”, remained her closest friends even until today.
“They showed me what friendship was when I had nothing,” she said, adding that she learnt the value of having a circle, a tribe, and being honest within it.
When she had her now-nine-year-old son Jeremiah years later, Francisca became his godmother.
Greaves who completed her bachelor’s in Communications despite her struggles also holds a master’s in Mass Communications and Public Relations from the University of Leicester.
She said in writing her memoir, she had also drawn on another source of inspiration that had come one day when former president of South Africa, the late great Nelson Mandela visited Trinidad in 2004. Standing on Frederick Street to catch a glimpse of the renowned Nobel Peace Prize winner, she was taken aback when his vehicle stopped right in front of her, and he looked her directly in her eyes and uttered: “Be somebody.”
“I never forgot that,” she said.
To check out If Shame Came in Flavors in paperback and Kindle, visit the Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites, Paper Based Book Shop, St Ann’s, or pre-order via Greaves’ landing page https://bit.ly/KiffyGreaves.
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