*This piece was expanded into an article at Matador Network. Read it here: “On seeing past your rose-coloured view of place

I always wonder why birds stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere on earth...
Why not?

“Your essay gives an idealistic view of modern day Martinique and its people.” I furrowed my brows at my Caribbean history professor’s suggestion that Fanon, Cesaire, and modern scholars of Martinique had given me a rose-coloured view of the French overseas department. She sensed my aggravation, “You’ll understand when you go there.”

A little annoyed, I nodded my head but said nothing. I felt like she had told me my education had failed me. Isn’t the point of going to university and studying to make us idealists, dreamers? Well, yes and no. We are encouraged to think critically, to innovate, and to see the world as it could be. However, this must come from a place of fundamental understanding, not ignorance. I had no business writing essays about a place I had never been to and didn’t truly understand. In hindsight, I imagined Martinique to be less like the Caribbean and more like the south of France. I dreamed it was a place where everyone wore reading glasses, carried books, and congregated in libraries and cafes to discuss in Creole the colonial powers that be. I thought resistance was the norm, the everyday action of the population.

Within a few days arriving last year, I realized this wasn’t the case. On appearance alone I was in the Caribbean first, France second.  (When it comes to bureaucracy, however, that’s whole different story!)

Lesson learned: Don’t try to ­associate a completely unknown place with somewhere you know before having actually been there. You’ll either think you’re right and miss out on something special about the place or you’ll find out you’re wrong, be taken aback and miss out on something special about the place.
After seven months, I superficially know this island. I know where to get a good grillade, I know where some nice hikes are, and I know who to talk to in Le Marin if you want your CAF (housing assistance) paperwork done. But I don’t knowMartinique. Last week I started feeling like coming back here was a mistake. I hadn’t set up a life in a way that coming back was a superior option to going somewhere else. I knew I liked it, but I wasn’t in love with it. I didn’t have friends, I didn’t have any projects I was working on, and I had pretty normal activities. I spent a lot of time with people who weren’t staying here doing things I could do elsewhere almost as easily.

 

Lesson learned: Throw yourself in. Get over the discomfort and talk to people, try new things, and show an interest in the lifestyle here outside of beaches and bars. The worst that will happen is someone will think you’re strange and well…nothing interesting happens to people who aren’t even just the slightest bit strange.The most learned expats are the ones who arrive in a country, give the social courtesy of introducing themselves, and are never heard from again. They “go native” to put it simply.

These aren’t things you know or can expect to do your first time living abroad. After the first time around I am able to understand that what I wrote in that essay was inaccurate but I don’t feel as though I could arrive at giving it the perspicacious analysis it deserves. Nevermind that I had other options for teaching abroad, the fact of the matter is that I chose to come here again. In the end it’s up to me to decide to have a good time and make the most out of this experience. It’s in my power to learn something about this place…

Madinina, here I come...
Madinina, here I come…

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