Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas in Paradise

It’s the middle of December, and Christmas is approaching.  But I haven’t been able to get into the Christmas spirit this year while being in the Caribbean.  How can it feel like Christmas with no snow, no Christmas tree, and no peppermint mochas?? 

Decorations in Martinique are…interesting, to say the least.  I find them to be quite tacky, like things you would find in a Dollar Store in the States.  Martinican Christmas decorations are bright and colorful, just like their clothes.  To me, it just doesn’t look like Christmas.

Buildings are often covered in hanging lights like this

Decorations in the supermarket

All the garland you could ever want

Decorated palm tree

Decorations in one of the shopping centers

Santa in front of the supermarket

Christmas threw up all over this tree

Every once in a while you’ll find a “winter scene” with fake pine trees and snow.  It shows how much commercialism has spread through the Caribbean because you know that most Martinicans have never even seen snow before.  To them, December doesn’t mean snow; it means sunshine and tourists!

Winter Wonderland in the movie theater

Even Christmas songs are extremely different than what I’ve grown up with.  All throughout November and December, Martinicans have what’s called a Chanté-Noël.  It’s basically their form of a Christmas party with Christmas songs.  But these are not your typical Christmas carols, like Silent Night or Jingle Bells.  The lyrics are mostly religious, but the songs are all set to an upbeat salsa or reggae beat.  So bizarre to hear!

Book with les cantiques

Live band at the Chanté-Noël
A Chanté-Noël can be public or private, free or paid-entry, food and drink included or not.  Each one varies, but the one I went to was in an open space in an area of Fort-de-France called Terres Saintville.  It had a live band and an area where everyone was dancing.  It was very crowded and lively, but Christmas-y?  Not so much.

It has been very interesting to experience the Christmas season in the Caribbean.  It’s a kind of culture shock I haven’t felt before.  From the sunny weather to the lack of traditional American decorations, I just haven’t been able to get that “Christmas feeling.”  When Bing Crosby sang, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” he definitely wasn’t in Martinique…

Initially, I had wanted to spend Christmas in Martinique.  I hadn’t been planning on going home at all during my seven months here because I wanted to really push myself to be away from home for an extended period of time.  But after Thanksgiving, I started to cave in.  I missed my family and didn’t want to spend a 3rd Christmas away from home.  Most of all, I wanted to see my nieces.  It’s crazy how much those two little girls mean to me!

So about two weeks ago, I told my parents I wanted to come home.  We bought a ticket, and I am currently sitting in Chicago O’Hare, sipping on a gingerbread latte.  Funny how drinking this has given me more of a Christmas feeling than anything did in Martinique!  

Saturday, December 3, 2011

America, I Miss You, I Miss You Not

Right now, I'm sitting outside enjoying a cup of coffee, reflecting on life.  I've been in Martinique for just over 2 months.  I think it's starting to hit me that I actually live here.  I can't believe how fortunate I am to have this opportunity to live in a foreign country for 7 months, let alone on a Caribbean island.  But as always, life here has its ups and downs.  There are certain things that I miss about home.  Of course, I miss my family and friends, but that goes without saying...

I Miss:
  • Dryers.  Dryers don't really exist in Martinique.  I actually really enjoy hanging my clothes outside to dry, but I miss being able to throw things in a dryer when I need to.  Most of all, I miss the feeling of warm towels fresh out of the dryer.  
  • 24/7 grocery stores.  Well, 24/7 anything really.  Everything in Martinique closes so early, and I do miss the convenience of stores being open at all hours in the United States. 
  • Microbrews.  Although beer isn't always my drink of choice, I miss the beers from back home.  The options are very limited in Martinique, and although Lorraine isn't horrible, I often find myself craving beers from home.  Especially from Short's. 
  • Cardigans and scarves.  Superficial, I know.  But anyone that knows me knows how obsessed I am with cardigans and scarves.  I miss layering.

I Don't Miss:
  • Snow.  I don't mind cooler weather, but winters in Michigan are just too cold and too long.  I like snow for a couple weeks around Christmas, and that's about it.
  • Cheese selection (or lack thereof).  I love French cheeses.  They are much too expensive in the States, and just not as good...
  • Living with my parents.  Sorry Mom and Dad, but I love my freedom.  
  • American drivers.  Although Martinican drivers are insane, I've grown accustomed to them.  I'm beginning to love the windy roads and the way Martinicans drive with such focused recklessness.  Americans should really take notes.

Although I miss certain conveniences from home, there are so many things that I love about Martinique.  Most of all, I love that I am able to be here on my own, living my life exactly how I want to be living it.
Me with my noodle at Madiana Plage

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Life is great.  Every day I keep discovering more that I love about Martinique.  Not everything is perfect, but my life on this island is pretty amazing.  Sometimes I find myself in disbelief that I am actually here and that I'm not just dreaming...

I discovered a beach right by my house that I am absolutely in love with.  It's actually a private beach for hotel guests, but who's to know that I'm not a tourist?  They imported white sand and actually constructed the beach just for the hotel.  It has some pretty good snorkeling too, when the weather is right.  Plus, there is a bar/restaurant just by the water.

La Batelière

Corona, only 4 euros
Last week, I had a medical appointment with OFII, the office of immigration to receive my carte de séjour (which makes me a temporary French citizen).  It was just a brief exam, but then I had to get x-rays and tested for TB.  In the waiting room, there were posters everywhere about leprosy.  The workers even had t-shirts that said "la lutte contre la lèpre" (the fight against leprosy).  I'm not sure if that means it's prevalent here, but just so you know, lepers are people too and shouldn't have to live in isolation!   

Poster advocating la lutte contre la lèpre
Thursday was Thanksgiving, but since they don't celebrate it here, we didn't get any time off of school. Thursday night was spent at la Batelière getting drunk with random Irish men, but Friday evening, one of the assistants had a huge Thanksgiving dinner at her house.  We had turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, mac and cheese (random), and salad.  It was delicious, and about 30 people showed up (a blend of Americans, Canadians, Brits, Spanish, and French).  Wonderful.

Place settings, before we added an extra table
After the dinner, I went out dancing at one of the only clubs in Martinique.  It ended up being a lot of fun, but extremely expensive.  It was 10 euros to get in, and I've heard that even a beer is 8 euros.  Insane!  But Saturday morning, I woke up to this over my neighbor's house:

This morning I had to go back to the OFII office (again) to pick up my results.  Afterwards, my friend Agatha and I decided to check out what was playing at the theater (the only movie theater on the island is about 2 minutes from my house).  We stopped by the grocery store to pick up some necessities (rhum) and snuck a water bottle filled with rum, Sprite, and grenadine into the theater.  We saw The Artist, which is a silent movie in black and white.  It was amazing, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone.  You can watch the trailer here.

Tomorrow should be filled with good food, drinks, and friends.  After work, I'm going to a Bal des Pompiers (Firefighters' Ball) and then to a BBQ with some chefs that work in the military.  Amazing.

Now, go check out my new favorite dance song they play in clubs: