Summarising the first two weeks and capturing the array of emotions is difficult to put into words. This is a short article detailing my first impressions of the French Caribbean island where I am living.
Why am I in Guadeloupe? Some crazy travelling expedition to ‘find myself’ on the ‘gap yah’ I never had? Running away from the dreaded UK winter and my self-diagnosed SAD? All of which may be true to a certain degree. The first week was not easy: acclimatising to the tropical heat and humidity, adapting to Creole French, mosquito bites, strange foods. I got a lot closer to nature than I would have liked – attacked by frogs in the shower and approached by wild iguanas on the beach. I couldn’t work out if my host family enjoyed having me stay. This was met with a slight sense of isolation, a feeling of ‘what have I done and why am I here?’ So much can change in a week. How dramatic I was – I’m in paradise.
I’ll answer the question: What am I doing here? I’m an English Language Assistant at a local school in Sainte-Anne, Guadeloupe, French Antilles. Two weeks in now and I’m feeling settled, plus à l’aise, more Française. I’m filled with optimism and enthusiasm when I’m teaching and I have learnt how to control a class of excited 8-year olds.
Guadeloupe is made up of a number of smaller islands, forming part of French overseas territory. It’s well known as being the filming location for BBC’s Death in Paradise. (Thanks to the series, I have always wanted to come here!) It is shaped like a butterfly, and Sainte-Anne is situated on Grande-Terre part of the island. It is lively, colourful and touristic. There is a daily market at Plage du Bourg, featuring Creole spices, traditional clothes, authentic rums. A routine of refreshing smoothie bowls for lunch and after-work drinks in chilled beach bars have turned this adventure into a ‘working’ holiday.
It is almost impossible to explore the island without a car, due to the irregular and unreliable public transport. Basse-Terre is more ‘sauvage’ rugged, lush and mountainous. The island is stunning and green – a nature lover’s dream. Banana plantations, rainforests, sugar cane plantations. The island is a spectrum of colours. Lush greenery and multi-coloured Creole houses meet the transparent water and white sand beaches. Plage de Grande Anse à Trois-Rivieres has the softest black sand that glistens in the sunlight. The black sand is volcanic rock, from La Soufriere volcano that towers over Basse-Terre.
I’ve met some amazing people already and I know now I will have the best time, although it seemed overwhelming during the first week. My inner feminist is still coming to terms with the ‘persistent’ attitudes of local men, but I suppose it is something a light-haired white woman has to deal with. It would be wrong for me to go in to detail surrounding racist attitudes on the island, because I haven’t researched the history. On saying that, I have been told by numerous white French people that tensions do exist within society and there is no denying Guadeloupean identity was born from the age of slavery. Creole history is something I plan on deeply studying here, I will then be able to further comment from a position of knowledge.
It would be wrong to write a post giving travel advice on Creole cuisine, or a detailed history of the island, because the truth is, I haven’t taken the time yet to explore all the authenticities. One thing is for sure, as I discovered in the first few weeks of exploring: Guadeloupe offers much more than palm trees on white sand beaches.
It is a different way of life here, slow paced, relaxed, tranquil. It’s like everyone here has taken a deep breath and is in a moment of pause. There’s no sense of stress or busyness. In two weeks, I have learnt to adapt and transition, overcome language and cultural barriers. These things can’t be rushed.