Tag Archives: London

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

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Loving London

English: Roundel on Goodge Street tube station...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world, a world lives in you.”

– Frederick Buechner (cited in The Shack)

I carry my friends and family everywhere. Although sometimes it seems like my laptap is my best friend and closest confidante, actually, it’s just the main way that I keep in touch with those I call my heart. My heart is the people who love me. It’s the place that nourished my spirit, birthed my dreams, and inspired my adventures. It’s the kindness and acceptance and piss-taking by people who have made my life better in ways they do and do not know. That make me feel human.

Like Sam, who I always call my brave friend. She is also the white person who makes me feel better about being the black late one all the time as she’s usually later. When we were 15 and studying Latin, we had an evening school trip to see Lysistrata at a central London theatre. We were both late, and the group waited as long as they feasibly could (or so they said), before getting on the train without us. Continue reading

Carnival in Trinidad: Possibly the Best Thing About Being Alive

A Carnival Costume in Trinidad's Carnival

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On a Saturday morning not so long ago, I had to think hard to answer a question which had come to me as if in a dream; ‘Is Carnival in Port-of-Spain possibly one of the very best things about being alive?’  The short answer is  hell yes.  Especially if you like dancing, soca music, drinking rum, liming, being around people, or more precisely around hundreds of other people who share these interests with you.  If you also believe that the best location for these activities are the streets, i.e. public rather than private spaces, Caribbean carnival my friend, is for you. Continue reading

Caribbean woman from London? Or Londoner from the Caribbean? How the identity/location shuffle made my head spin

The Early Years

I am a South London girl born and raised and proud of it. Forest Hill, Brockley, Crofton Park, Catford and Lewisham made me the woman I am today.   I had a relatively happy childhood there, and made lifelong friends in those schools and on those streets.  Growing up as young black girl there, it was fairly normal to be asked ‘where you’re from’ as my thick South London accent and use of Multicultural London English quickly gave me away as a local. I therefore grew up describing myself as ‘from Barbados and St Lucia’ and had loads of friends who were Chinese, Ghanaian, Turkish, Jamaican, Trinidadian, also Bajan or St Lucian, Dominican, Montserratians, Greek Cypriot, Sri Lankan, Indian, Pakistani, Vietnamese, from the Indian diaspora (you know, East African, South African, Trinidadian/Guyanese Indians rather than Indian Indians) when you asked, but sounded as English as I did, and were also born in the local hospital.

We were all Londoners, but we were from somewhere else too and the only time there was any tension was during the cricket (well there wasn’t any really, no one except our parents really followed cricket, although all the black kids learned to chant 375 and 501 at appropriate and inappropriate occasions).  And again, no one considered it disloyal to back whichever black team made it to the World Cup, be it the Reggae Boyz, Soca Warriors or more recently, the Black Stars. And Brazil cos they had Pele from back in the day.   It was expected.  Football was where the last vestiges of Pan-Africanism could be found when I was growing up.  This was before the 2002 World Cup, when black players en masse got picked for the English national squad; before that it was Paul Ince, Ian Wright and Sol Campbell only*.  We repped them, but not the team.  But I digress, I was from Barbados and St Lucia growing up, until A-Level Sociology.  There, a friend and I decided to embrace our full identities as Non-Practising Afro-Caribbeans and Black Marxist Feminists. I kid you not.  It was a bit of a mouthful, but we finally had a title which reflected our Caribbean roots, and London-based lives.  And then I moved to Thailand. Continue reading

All Caribbean Men Dress Up As Women: Carnival in Martinique

Notting Hill Carnival 2006 (London, UK)

Notting Hill Carnival 2006 (London, UK) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Soooo…my first experience of Carnival in Martinique takes place the same day that the French government passes a law permitting gay couples to marry and adopt children.  I have yet to see this on a news site but multiple people mentioning it plus a sermon about how God instituted marriage to be between a man and a woman the following day have convinced me that it’s true. In case you didn’t know, here’s links in French (more authentic innit), and in English.

In case you’re wondering about the connection, seeing is believing.  As I’m not planning to be in Martinique for the official two days of carnival next week, I’ve been curious to know what I will be missing.  It’s a curious twist of fate (slash me taking every piece of holiday time literally) that despite two carnival-time séjours in the French Caribbean, and being somewhat religious about participating in London’s annual Notting Hill Carnival (and the biggest festival in Europe fyi) I’ve never experienced Carnival à la Martinique, Guadeloupe or Guyane.

I wonder if, as a Londoner born and bred, it doesn’t feel like Carnival Time.  My whole life, Carnival has been at the end of August, Carnival Monday is a day off work, and regular revellers know to book the Tuesday off to recover.  All summer long you’re outdoors; in the park, having BBQs, celebrating the appearance of sunshine, good vibes are buzzing like unendangered bees, and London is the best place in the whole world to be alive from May – September pretty much.  Carnival is the official closing of summer in London.  The Thames Festival wants to be, but no one’s heard of it (sadly, it’s actually good.  I blame Boris). Continue reading

One Day In St Lucia

Toes in the sand and nose to nose with the horizon line, today I tried to contemplate how I ended up here.  When did I become Neo?  I saw The Matrix; I was not enthralled with the nebuchadnezzar.  I could have chosen the blue pill.  Heavy-heartedly maybe, but I would have done it.  That porridge three times a day would have driven me mad and I would have been no use to the revolution.  So which part of my journey through life determined that I would step off the treadmill, out of the rat race, move a gazillion miles away from my beloved London and set up home in the French Caribbean?  Clueless, I retraced my steps. Continue reading

Starting as I mean to go on: Telling my grandmother’s (50 year old) story

Suburbs of Bridgetown with Harbour in the back...

Suburbs of Bridgetown with Harbour in the background (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My sister doesn’t get my blog.  She reckons there’s a big difference between ‘my new life in the sun’ as she calls it and our granny’s graduation to the cold 55 years ago.  I beg to differ.  In the spirit of the new year, I thought I’d better get onto explaining the similarities, so this post is all about my granny’s experiences of moving when black.

After having conducted an impromptu interview with my grandmother about her experiences of moving to England in the late 1950s I confess to being wracked with doubt about the wisdom of it. I thought interspersing my thoughts and feelings with hers would be a bit more interesting than just another here’s-me-doing-cool-stuff type travel blog (though you can see a bit of that here).  And I kinda wanted it to be an homage to those who’ve done much tougher stuff before me as I take comfort in knowing that if my granny could move continents 55 years earlier without a laptop, smartphone, emails and skype, then I can definitely emigrate with so many 21st century communication modcons to keep me in touch with my loved ones.

Now, however, I’m not so sure about that idea. I’ve badgered my grandmother for years about ‘telling her story’. She has never shown the slightest bit of interest in sharing it, but every time I see her (which is not that often because I’m usually located in London and she’s lived in Barbados since I was 5), I find a way to bring it up. Continue reading