In the name of attempting to describe some of the bonuses to living in Martinique, I will simply describe the past week and let you decide if this place is awesome, or what.
This morning, peckish but not starving, I considered my breakfast options. Once I’d decided, I jumped out of bed, wandered into my garden and with the help of an ‘tool’ carefully manoeuvred so that the guava I’d had my eye on all week, would fall towards me rather than into the bushes directly below the tree, or worse, onto the neighbours’ patio. Score! Manoeuvre completed, I then scrutinised the mango tree opposite, decided there was nothing ripe and instead went for the mango tree at the front of the house.
The mango hit the ground with a thud.
Breakfast was ready.
Having eaten, ‘sak vid pa ka tchenbé doubout’ after all (proverb: empty bag can’t stand), I skipped off to Créole class. Because this is Martinique, on my walk in, a girl who’d given me a ride before, recognised me and stopped to give me a lift without being solicited. Also because this is Martinique, I accepted the invitation of my teacher to come and meet a Caribbean filmmaker who was giving a talk at the secondary school she also teaches at, straight after the class.
People are just friendly here.
My teacher is one of the few state-qualified Créole teachers in Martinique, and one of only two official teachers of Créole as a foreign language. I am nosy and interested in the interplay between nationalities, identity and language in the Caribbean, so I quizzed her about this for the duration of the drive much to her ‘surprise’. She was under the impression that our interview for my Créole project was next week…curiosity can be impatient sometimes!
When we got there, about 30 students and a smattering of adults gathered in the lycee library to meet the filmmaker, Christophe Gros-Dubois. His first film, Las Vegas Hotel, will be released in Martinique on 25th April. It has also been selected to close a national short film festival which closes tomorrow. We watched a long trailer and then the kids asked about the film-making process and his career trajectory for about an hour.
The film looked really interesting (to me), telling the story of France’s two largest black communities, les africains and les antillais through a ‘sans papiers’ ie an illegal (African) immigrant who arrives in Paris in search of his brother who suddenly stopped sending money back to their family in Senegal, and a young Martinican police officer who leaves for Paris to fulfil her dream of becoming a commissioner.
The differences in their experiences based on their countries’ relationship with France (Senegal = former French colony, Martinique = current French…colony), and as a result their places within the French establishment, draw a picture of a contemporary France we don’t often get to see. The trailer looked promising, and not only because it had parkour, that French ghetto practice/training which looks like a stunning combination of Capoeira and running up walls and jumping through windows and across buildings. You know, like the opening chase scene in Casino Royale.
What intrigued me most, however, was the fact that dude was a second-generation filmmaker: His father, Constant Gros-DuBois, made a film back in the 70s, O Madiana. I’ve not seen it (though I found this clip on youtube) but it recounts the experience of a young Martinican couple’s experience of arriving in France in the BUMIDOM era, France’s equivalent of Windrush. It was a much more intimate picture, apparently, of the couple’s attempt to navigate their new life together, and thus a very different film, but I was instantly enamoured with the idea of seeing the two stories back to back. France then and now, through one Caribbean family’s lens.
But I digress.
After the film I successfully got a pair of shoes exchanged without any hassle at all (this is seriously noteworthy. Air Caraibes have been promising me the refund I’m entitled to for 5 months) after getting my French official residency number. Finally. It only took 18 months. I’ve had and gotten over an existential a crisis or three in that time; will I become French if I get a residency number, or Martinican? Will it make me less English? Will I still be me?…
If that wasn’t enough to sing the Lord’s praises (although I must confess to having avoided doing things at my end for about 12 months as a result of a perfectly rational fear of bureaucracy) what did I pass on my way home? Not one, not two, not three…but five maracujas (passion fruits) on the ground outside my neighbours’ house. One for a celebratory snack, four for a dessert or a homemade juice.
See what I mean about awesome?!
So today’s kinda been a good day.
And seeing how I’ve taken my time to describe it, I’ll go quickly over the rest of the week:
Tuesday night I went along to a talk on the ‘condition noire en France’ by Pap Ndiaye, France’s premier Black Studies professor. Not only was the session interesting and engaging (big up to local public intellectual Steve Gadet for that), but he was really nice too.
So interesting was his talk that I went along to another talk he was giving two days later. This time the theme was a comparison between racism in the US and France. Again, it was an interesting discussion, a great lecture and I left feeling like I’d learned something. Although I’m still waiting for the comparison between la condition noire in France in the UK; two neighbouring countries, two very similar histories, two very different concepts of ‘the nation’ and the black population’s place within it.
Other activities this week have included a women’s art fair.
That is, Martinique’s woman writers, painters, sculptors, performers, craftswomen, designers, and creative entrepreneurs were theoretically all in one building and I got to see loads of them thanks to the lovely people at the Conseil Regional.
From the woman making fabulous-fabricked bespoke umbrellas (gorgeous!), to the woman making gorgeous fabric black dolls with natural hair (and no two dolls have the same eyes), and those embroidered kids t-shirts…I was actually in heaven. There was an absolutely exquisite children’s book illustrated by a certain Patricia Issa-Donatien, but I was disappointed I didn’t see the girl whose card I lost but who designs and makes gorgeous purses and wallets with African print fabrics.
Thankfully I hadn’t had the wherewithal to bring any cash with me as I would have left infinitely poorer.
I was delighted with the quality and the range of functional creations by mostly black women.
There was also a trip to the beach to watch the sun set on the water, an evening lime underneath the stars and the discovery of the coolest bar I’ve been to yet. A smoky underground spot with funky décor playing cool tunes and some original folk playing darts in a corner. A spot aptly named the Garage hidden deep in the recesses of Fort-de-France.
My life is not always filled with such random cool stuff, but it’s been a great week.
How could I forget last week’s Friday night at the Ponton? A night singing and dancing on a random pier with a bunch of guys with guitars and saxophones and a few brave souls who sang lead. A random pier I pass all the time, but I don’t often do karaoke live on it; ‘Oooh, do you know..?’ I was hoarse for 4 days afterwards.
Yeah, it’s been a good week.
An lot soley!
(See you under another sun!)
PS I am not the only one having a love affair with Martinique…