Saturday, March 24, 2012

Grèves...

Apparently, it's the season for grèves in Martinique.  The French are notorious for going on strike, and Martinicans are no different.

Last Friday was the start of a grève at the gas stations.  Here, there are workers that pump your gas for you.  Well, they're tired of their low wages and poor work conditions, so they went on strike.  I had heard rumors before it started, but I wasn't too worried; they had gone on strike once before a few months back, and it only lasted a few days.  Plus, there were still some stations that had stayed open.

Well, I underestimated the power of the grévistes.  Almost all the stations closed, and the ones that didn't quickly ran out of gas over the weekend.  By Monday, my tank was nearly empty, and I couldn't find a single station with gas.  I was stranded at my house, unable to go to work (or anywhere for that matter).

Finally, on Thursday morning, Joelle texted me as her bus passed a gas station in Schoelcher where a truck was getting ready to deliver gas.  Only 4 cars were in line.  I jumped out of bed and busted my ass down to the station.  By the time I got there, only about 10-15 cars were ahead of me in line, and the pumps weren't open yet.  I waited 20 minutes before the pumps opened, and only 5 more before I was able to fill up.  It's typical to wait hours in line to get gas during a grève, so I felt incredibly lucky to be in and out within a half hour.

57 euros and a half hour later, it felt amazing to have a full tank of gas

With a full tank of gas, I was feeling pretty confident that I could make it through this grève.  Until last night.

Now there are rumors spreading of the possibility of a grève générale starting Tuesday.  Back in 2009, there was a grève générale, where almost everything on the island shut down for a month.  Schools, grocery stores, everything.  And now it's possible that it's going to happen again.

Everyone is rushing to the grocery store to stock up, just in case.

As for me, I'm going snorkeling...


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Open Your Eyes

I haven't been writing as much lately.  It's not that life here isn't interesting, but everything has just become so normal.  It's hard for me to find inspiration.

How is it that living on a Caribbean island has become so normal to me?

I have just over 2 months left here, and I think I need to give myself a good kick in the ass.  I need to step out of the box.  There are still so many things I want to do before I leave, but I also need to rediscover the beauty in my surroundings that I have begun to take for granted.

Yesterday, Joelle and I were at a beach by my house when we realized that we've become jaded.  I used to be awestruck whenever I was near the ocean or at a beach, completely taken aback by the natural beauty of the island.  Now, seeing the ocean every day is normal and has lost its novelty.

I need to open my eyes.  Not just here, but everywhere.  Always.  Wherever you are, you should take the time to appreciate the beauty around you.  My goal for this weekend is to make good use of my camera and take pictures of everything around me... things I find beautiful, touching, inspiring, even strange or quirky.

Pictures I took the first week I was here:

Drive I now do every week

View from a hill in Morne Vert

Fort-de-France

And when I return home, I'm going to do the same thing in Traverse City.  I will capture the beauty in a town I have known all my life and rediscover what I love about it.  

What I'll return to (except during summer, not fall)
Silver Lake

Thursday, March 8, 2012

No, I Won't Be Living Here Forever

I love Martinique.  I do.  But I just really have some issues with this tiny island.

For a while, I had been debating on trying to renew my contract for another year.  If I did, I would have to be placed in Martinique again (you can't switch Academies).  Then I realized... I hate my job, I couldn't handle this for another year, and the only reason that I would want to stay is because of a guy.  And that's just plain silly.

Although I appreciate the warm weather, beaches, and language in Martinique, I don't get all warm and fuzzy from living here.  I have met some incredible people and have had some amazing experiences here so far, and although I'm not quite ready to leave just yet, I know that I will be when May rolls around...

I bought my ticket home, so I'll be returning stateside on May 22.  That gives me an extra 3 weeks after my contract ends to profiter a little more.  But already, I'm noticing a change in my attitude about living here.  

Problems I have with Martinican Culture and why I don't want to live here:

  • Attitudes toward women.  Martinique is a very chauvinistic society.  Men are clearly dominant, and women are mostly seen as objects.  Not a day goes by when I don't notice it.  I can't count how many times I have been whistled at, stared at, kissed at, hit on, etc. by random strangers.  At bars, parties, walking down the road, sitting in my car... anywhere, anytime.  And by anyone.  I have had men who could be my grandfather hit on me.  Although getting hit on can be an ego-boost, it is the opposite here.  It's just extremely irritating.  Especially because I know it has nothing to do with who I am or how I look.  The men hit on me simply because I'm a woman, I'm young, and I'm white.  And because their society finds this behavior acceptable.
  • Racial lines.  Martinique has a problem with race.  I find that Martinican women tend to be cold and stand-offish.  Martinican men just want to get you into bed.  Because of this, all of the "locals" I have met here and have become friends with are almost exclusively white Metropoles.  I find that Martinicans treat people differently according to their race.  I know a man named Olivier who is Martinican.  He is white, but his family has lived here for generations.  One night, I was at a party, talking to a man from Senegal and another (black) man from Martinique.  The Senegalese man was telling me that I should talk with this Martinican man because he was the only real Martinican there.  When I said, "Well, that's not true, Olivier is here and he's Martinican!" the man completely dismissed the idea.  "No, he's not really Martinican.  This man is the only true Martinican."  So according to this society, even a white man whose family has lived here for generations is still not a true Martinican.  
  • Teaching/Parenting styles.  Although I think many American parents sometimes lack in the discipline area, Martinicans tend to be a little harsh.  Loving and affectionate are not words I would use to describe the parenting style here.  Teachers and parents alike tend to yell... A LOT... at children.  It's common in a classroom for the teacher to verbally put down students in front of them.  I have heard of parents telling teachers that they can hit their children if they want.  Yes, that's illegal, but it still happens.  Almost every day, I hear my neighbor's baby crying.  Instead of picking up the child and consoling it, I hear the mother screaming at it, as if that helps. It's hard to accept this type of cultural difference.
  • Children's attitudes.  This could be caused by the parenting and teaching styles, but I find that a lot of children here are very poorly behaved.  I understand that at middle school and high school levels, it would be common for students to have bad attitudes.  But in elementary school?  There is a huge lack of respect for the teacher.  Few students take school seriously.  When disciplined, most students will smile.  They talk nonstop, they don't listen, and they basically do whatever they want to do.  Maybe this depends on the school, but this is what I have experienced in my two schools.


I understand that every culture is different, and every culture has its negative sides (don't get me started on Americans...).  I also completely understand that everyone has their own experiences; what I have experienced and how I feel about this time in Martinique is definitely not the same as what other assistants will take away.  

This experience has been very eye-opening for me, and I am incredibly thankful for that.  Living here has taught me a lot.  Although there were times that I had wished I had done the assistantship in mainland France, now I could not be happier that I came here.  I feel like I learned more here than I ever could have in Europe... about life in Martinique and also about myself.  

I might not be quite ready to go home, but I'm ready to experience something new.  But when I leave, I sure will miss views like these...