It's come back around, the rainy season (if a little earlier than usual), which means that I have been here for more than half a year, which in turn means that it is probably time to go home. Time to bid farewell to my sandy bed, the night time terrors of my cockroach ridden kitchen and those awkward moments when you get caught between a ‘bise’, a hand-shake and a hug. Time to shrug for the last time at the incomprehensible bureaucracy being thrown at me all the way from Metropolitan France. A part of me is glad to leave in this season, it recalls all too vividly the extreme discomfort of just being alive in the first few months here. It reminds me of the tired, sweaty and confused faces at our first ‘stage’ as language assistants, trying to piece together this bizarre and sudden transition from recognisable, comfortable Western European (or American) life to this beautiful unknown entity that was to become our lives for the next seven months...
I don’t want this article to become too reflective and sentimental so I’ll focus on what one should prepare oneself for having chosen to spend their Year Abroad on the island of Martinique.
The guadalopeans actually call martinicans ‘les français’ and as you can imagine, this strong French identity comes as somewhat of a shock upon arrival on a Caribbean island. The street signs are of the Metropolitan format, crepes and chantilly cream are all the rage and you will have more than a few occasions to experience that classic disgruntled French charm. Oh and baguettes. Mountains and mountains of baguettes trotting out of boulangeries on the backs of tiny creole women.
It sounds ridiculously obvious but the sun is devious. It is extraordinarily strong round these parts and if you’re prone to burning, don’t be proud - paste on the factor 50. Dehydration is also a big issue, be far more cautious of your water intake than you might normally be, especially during periods of ‘fête’.
OH GOOD GOD THE RAIN. NB. The rain does not by any means mean a relief from the heat. Post-rain is mosquito prime-time - they love standing water. The rain can leave you somewhat stranded: roads close, it’s advised not to go out or in the sea and all the fun outdoorsy stuff disappears in a whirl of grey and precipitation. Go to the cinema and watch some god awful Gerard Butler movie, it may just (ironically) save your sanity.
If I have one word of advice for your stay in Martinique it is to travel. I have packed 7 islands into my 7 months here and yes I’m broke, yes I’m a bit tired, yes I’ve had to brutally confront my fear of flying and chronic seasickness, but I didn’t hesitate for a second, and I wouldn’t if I had the chance again. Go to the places no one else will go, climb the volcano no one else will climb, dive the depths no one else will dive. Getting around the island - Public transport in Martinique is not the most reliable or consistent. If you can ‘drive stick’, buy a car and sell it when you leave. Alternatively find a boyfriend with a car.
The Men (for girls)
If you happen to be a young white girl you are, by default, the cream of the crop. My journey with this went from slightly intimidating - annoying - a bit flattering - infuriating - a bit more flattering - barely noticed. You will get hissed at in the street you will get called ‘blanche neige’ regardless of your blonde hair and general lack of resemblance of the character, but eventually you will not notice it anymore. Don’t overreact to it and don’t stop to speak to every man who tries to chat you up - you’ll never get anywhere on the island, or in the Caribbean for that matter. It may be a little uncomfortable at first, but in my father’s 60s-public-school-enforced words - It’s character building. And if you should engage in romantic relations with a martinican man, I would advise that you take his promises of eternal bliss with a pitchfork of coarse sea salt. As I have been reliably informed and born unfortunate witness to : ‘La fidélité n’est pas un mot en Martinique.’ (Fidelity is not a word in Martinique)
The Girls (for boys)
They will most certainly be interested in your presence.
The ‘Bad Boys’
By the end of your stay here it’ll be hard to take this lot seriously. No matter how souped up their crappy little twingos, how loudly they rev their wee mopeds, how exaggerate their swagger, these boys are relatively harmless (as long as you’re not engaged in some shady dealings with them god forbid) and somewhat amusing. On a serious note, there are many culturally ingrained social problems in the Caribbean, and these boys and their young baby mamas are one of the many products of these. You may be shocked that Michele in Terminale (Upper Sixth) already has two children and horrified that little Emelie in CE2 (year 4) is suspected to be suffering abuse at the hands of her parents, but the important thing to take from these experiences is that our plush Western European lives are not lived by everyone - we enjoy basic values and standards of living that are still noticeably missing in parts of the world. These problems are not to be ignored, they are to be seen, heard and learnt from.
And so as the rains beat down once again on my roof, and the restless possum that lives in it shuffles around grumpily (possums are not cute, google them, they are horrifying) I pack my bags and make ready to depart. Martinique is beyond beautiful, I remember thinking I had arrived in paradise on my first day here and over time I have developed a love-hate relationship with this island - I have lived its dramatic physical and psychological extremes for seven odd months. It is undeniably hard to tear myself away from the golden sands, sensual rainforests and glorious seas of the Caribbean, but the time has come, and against all odds I am palpably excited to not be sweaty, sandy and itchy (mosquitos - nothing untoward) and to drink fresh milk and be able to afford meat and wrap up in a big duvet on a cold hangover morning and use functioning public transport and have my British sense of humour understood and and and....