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Trouble in Paradise? Travelling Through Protests in Martinique, St Lucia and London

I’ve been travelling a lot this summer.  I’ve been magnificently blessed.  I’ve also travelled with my eyes open, and something unusual has caught my attention:  Quite separately from my natural antenna keenly tuned to signs of social upheaval, it seems that every place I’ve visited has been in the throes of a political drama.

Seriously!

I’m not expert in international political analysis, but I swear every stop involved someone explaining that something wasn’t working normally as a result of protests.

Before you write me off as some leftwing fantasist seeing the revolution everywhere I go, here’s what I mean:

1) Martinique:  Petrol Strike.

Firstly there was the question of whether I could leave for my adventures in the first place.  A week before my anticipated departure, there were talks of yet another petrol strike.  Two days later it was confirmed and began.

As usual in Martinique, the petrol stations were blockaded and the island came to a swift, choked standstill.  In a petrol strike, business meetings are postponed, schools lack teachers and pupils or close, services – including health and police – effectively shut down because key personnel can’t get to work. The state doesn’t appear to have reserves in these eventualities/make provisions for ‘key’ staff.  Riots don’t break out because the would-be opportunists/discontented are also conserving whatever petrol they have left.  Thus it was that all movement in the country halted days – hours really – before I hoped to begin the adventure of a lifetime.  ‘Off island,’

C’est pas possible! I fumed.

No one knows how long it will last.  Although the petrol strikes in the last year have always lasted five days or fewer, everyone remembers how it was a ‘mere’ petrol strike that started the historic 40 day national strike/protest of 2009.  The discontent which fuelled that moment remains widespread – particularly the social complaints – so I’ve often heard Martinicans say they expect another such outbreak, with some rather apocalyptic predictions of a violence which will be markedly different from the last period of protest.

On the Friday before I was due to leave, the worst happened.  My ride to the airport phoned me to say she’d run out of petrol; if Coralie couldn’t get some the following day, I’d need to try and find somebody who still had petrol, and who loved me enough to use the little remaining petrol they had on me.  She might be able to take me the 10 mins to the port with what little petrol they had left, but not the 30 min drive to the airport.  Boats and planes had the fuel to get me off Martinique to St Lucia, where a flight would take me to London and my summer adventure would begin.  But could I get to the port or airport to board? Continue reading

Dream to Reality : A Black Brit Plans An African Roadtrip

The trip I’ve planned traversing the African continent should contain just enough adventure to be considered an appropriate remedy to an extraordinarily long summer break. I’m not complaining, you understand, I just want it to be clear that I’m not skiving off normal life.  On the contrary, I’m trying to live it to the fullest!  In case you’re still undecided on what to do this summer and in need of some inspiration, here’s how I prepared my summer adventure.

What I hope to do:

It’s always best I find to start the adventure with a daydream.  What do you think would be a single awesome thing to be able to say at the end?  Before my epic adventure is complete I’ll have dipped my toes from North to South Africa and from East to West.  I’ll have gotten a little acquainted with some incredible capital cities, taken in awesome landscapes to set my heart a flutter, and then at peace all over again.  I’ll have sampled unimaginable amounts of scrumptious African cuisine, decimated (okay dented, I still have to eat when I get home) my savings in AfroChic, and caught up with some beautiful people I have the honour to call friends.  I’ll also get to see the hometowns they recalled so vividly and lovingly when we were young people in the UK together.

Why Africa?

thingfallapart

Warning: this book will make your life better

Caramel

An awesome film about sisterhood, Beirut and a beauty shop…I’ve been desperate to visit Lebanon ever since.

Where in the world excites your imagination and why?  Is there someplace that you’ve always wanted to go for a really random reason?  Or because of a book you read once?  A scene in a film?  Act on that impulse! Continue reading

A Black Brit Goes to Haiti

You may recall that a couple of months ago I was bursting with excitement about going to Haiti.  If you were following closely, you may have noticed that I wrote very little about that trip.  If not, well, now you know.  The truth is, as holidays go, it was an extremely intense, thought-provoking experience.  I couldn’t write in part because I didn’t know what to say.  There was so much to say! But I also had A LOT of questions.  Last night I saw a film, The Agronomist, which provided a lot of answers.

A Film For You

indexThe film highlighted the quest of Haitians to secure participative democracy in the twentieth century.  The documentary examines the life’s work of Jean Dominique, a journalist, broadcaster and Haitian activist over four decades and exiled twice.  Fearless, hope-filled, passionate and patriotic, under him Radio Haiti was the first station to broadcast in Kréyol, the first language of 90% of Haitians.

I won’t lie, it was a Hotel Rwanda moment for me.  Perhaps because I had such beautiful recent memories, the flagrantly deliberate man-made suffering of one people just broke my heart.  I had never quite got my head round this Aristide chap who seemed to pop in and out of power in Haiti.  Never felt the full fear inspired by the Tonton Macoutes, never understood why the UN are still in Haiti.   Now it all makes horrifying, chilling sense.

I’m not talking heartbreak based on pity.  It’s the weeping that comes after the rage.  Made by American film-maker Jonathan Demme (Silence of The Lambs, The Crying Game, Philadelphia), I watched it as part of an event called Voir Haiti Autrement (See Haiti Differently) organised by a community organisation here called Jamais Deux Sans Trois.   You should DEFINITELY see The Agronomist.  Whether you’re slightly sceptical about the sincerity of American foreign policy and its commitment to democracy, are into inspiring social justice-themed documentaries, or just enjoy a good story, it’s for you.  If you’re in Martinique, you should definitely check out the association.  C’était une soirée géniale. Continue reading

Carnival Caribbean Stylee: Very Possibly the Best Thing About Being Alive

In Martinique, as in many parts of the Caribbean, there’s one word that’s being whispered more and more frequently right now:  Car-ni-val!!  Official and unofficial public holidays, costumes, Caribbean music, mass participation and dancing in the streets = my kind of party!  With 5 days to go til Jouvert, the anticipation is in the air and I am not immune to it.Kiddies carnival 2013

Once upon a time, when I woke up on a February Sunday morning in Port-of-Spain, it wasn’t exactly a regular Sunday.  The day before I’d been watching the children’s carnival parade, and then been to a fabulous carnival fete (party/soirée) where I ate, drank and danced merrily in the company of fellow revellers to performances by some of the biggest soca artists Trinidad and Tobago had to offer.  Blaxx was my favourite, but Destra had put on such a fantastic performance at Soca Monarch two nights previously I feel the need to give her a shout out too.  The party was Penny’s Annual Bash.  A former Miss World/Universe and a born-and-raised Trini, her fete was a classy affair, and the only place I consumed wine and champagne with my three course meal that came with the ticket. I was due to leave Penny’s a little early to head to the steel pan finals (carnival’s brilliance is because at the heart of the festivities are the competitions), but we got caught up in the good time…

The other irregular thing about this particular Sunday morning alarm, was the time.  It was 3am.  It was dark.  I was waking up in the middle of the night deliberately.  To go to a party.  Yes. I was definitely in Trinidad, for carnival. Continue reading

A woman who travels : to date or not to date?

Being the foreign chick is not as much fun as one would hope.  For every 10 guys who love your accent, there are 2 that were listening to what you were saying, and only 1 of them understood.  Suitors are far more interested in a foreign conquest than getting to know you.  Which can be tiring when you’re The Foreign Chick that everyone wants a piece of.  Piece.  As in fresh meat.

For the guys that do get to know you, as a person and not a curiosity, if you have different first languages, communication can be difficult if you’re not both bilingual.  Unless one of you doesn’t mind not being properly understood. Continue reading

Dominoes à trois, unbridled generosity, and digérer: 10 Things What I Have Learned After a Year in Martinique, Innit

A map of Martinique

A map of Martinique (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Approximately a year ago today, I left London in a hurry.  Not out of choice, that’s just the way things go sometimes.  There was an exciting new job waiting for me and a 4 week notice period in the old one.  Compared with previous international departures of months (as in 4 or 12!) of advance notice, just under four weeks was kinda fast.  There were a lot of goodbyes.  No shortage of tears.  Sometimes the result of lovely things said.  There were no regrets.  This adventure called Life had spoken quite definitively, it was time to rock and roll onto pastures new.  My longstanding undimmed passionate love affair with the Caribbean had yielded a new fruit:  emigration. Continue reading

Three Guianas in Thirteen Days: Overlanding in South America

A pirogue, my ride from Guyana to Brazil

A pirogue, my ride from Guyana to Brazil

I am a reluctant air traveller.  Between being concerned about climate change and not enjoying being treated like a criminal every time I go to the airport, I avoid it wherever possible.  Perhaps it’s my coming of age on London transport, but the way I see it, trains, boats and buses tend to depart and arrive from/in city centres, have better and/or amazing views, are cheaper and simply more convenient and relaxing modes of transport.  Obviously over long distances overland travel is much slower, but personally I subscribe to the notion that the journey is the destination; a measured pace makes for plentiful opportunities for immersion and absorption in the travel experience.  Thus it was that I departed St Lucia for a whirlwind view of the South American continent. Continue reading