I was quite young when I started my love affair with St Lucia. My first visit was with my mother on a short vacation. She wanted my two younger brothers and I to have the opportunity to brush up on our English. I remember saying to her: “St Lucia? My aunt’s island? Great!”
As a child, I’d imagined the island had been named for my aunt. My mother just smiled. Her younger sister Lucia had passed away unexpectedly when she was only eighteen.
I visited on my own in 2000, for a weekend, to take in some of St Lucia’s nightlife. I returned several more times, before leaving Martinique for France in 2002. And here I am once again, for an entirely different purpose: I decided to undertake my journalism internship in St Lucia, to learn on the job, and to continue improving my English after eighteen months in London.
St Lucia is just a 15-minute flight from Martinique, so short that you have little to time to settle comfortably in your seat after take-off. After just a few minutes in the air the pilot starts instructing passengers to get set for descent to St Lucia!
I’ve never experienced anything quite as terrifying as landing at George F.L. Charles. There is this feeling just before the tiny airstrip comes into sight that your plane is shooting straight into the sea. I couldn’t help but compare the miniscule airport to Martinique’s own Aimé Césaire.
Forty kilometers separate St Lucia and Martinique. The world’s biggest adjoining bridge, in China, measures at 42 km. Just imagine the possibilities. We’re so close, but could be so much closer. Although some may say we don’t have the same mother’s tongue there are some particularities we share, thanks to the French who had colonized both of us.
Martinique remains ultimately French. But St Lucia has kept some French souvenirs, including French names for its towns and villages. I’ve found it quite easy to communicate with St Lucians; our Creole is very similar. St Lucian Creole, spoken widely here, is a Creole French. It is a sub-variety of Antillean Creole and its syntactic, grammatical and lexical features are virtually identical to that of Martiniquan Creole. Our landscapes are also quite similar.
If a St Lucian and a Martinique native are in the same room and they don’t talk, it will be difficult to know where they are from. Apart from the obvious connections: food, music, the weather—we also look alike.
From a historical standpoint, the first occupiers of Martinique and St Lucia were the Arawaks and the Caribbean Indians who fought the French and the English to protect their land. Christopher Columbus supposedly discovered and named the islands. Or so we’ve been taught. St Lucia became an independent state of the Commonwealth of Nations associated with the United Kingdom on 22 February 1979.
Being in St Lucia this time around, I couldn’t help but notice some of the differences in the way people live here compared with those who reside in Martinique: the way we drive, our currencies, the way our respective governments manage the countries. In St Lucia, the Prime Minister has executive power, even if Queen Elizabeth is the island’s Head of State, represented locally by a Governor-General. St Lucia is more authentic than Martinique because of the fact that it is now an independent island.
In my view, St Lucian people are more welcoming, helpful and friendly than Martiniquans and they pay more attention to tourists, maybe because they know how important tourism is to their country.
I’ve noticed people are more attentive to their jobs, more helpful to customers, and I can’t help but think that could be because people know how dire unemployment can be. In Martinique, once you’ve lost your job, government assistance is available.
Residents can get assistance for up to two-and-a-half years if they lose their jobs for economic reasons; maybe as a result of a decision taken by their boss. Martinique residents will continue to be paid the same amount they earned on the job, sometimes for longer than the stipulated time. However, these benefits are not available if a person gets fired through their own fault.
In Martinique we get benefits for unemployment, health, housing and children from the government. In terms of education, it’s free until University. In the cases where you have to pay fees for university in Martinique, it is nowhere near the price for education in St Lucia. Education in Martinique is available to everyone, which helps in the development of the country. Government scholarships are easy to come by in cases where people need assistance for schooling.
Although St Lucia has achieved universal secondary education, it is still hard for residents to further their studies. St Lucians have to fight harder than Martinquans to survive, in my opinion, therefore they are stronger and more debrouya than us. They have a fighting spirit, while Martiniquans often wait on the French Government’s assistance. They are confident that the government will always be there to support them, but nowadays, people from my country are starting to realize that change is necessary. There is need to work for the benefit of a country.
In Martinique and St Lucia life is expensive. We live on islands and don’t produce enough to be autonomous, so imports take an enormous part of our economy. We have good conditions for agriculture but we don’t export enough. I am convinced that if we make more exchanges—instead of importing everything from Miami and France—all the Caribbean islands would benefit.
The most important difference between St Lucia and Martinique lies in our attitudes. St Lucians are strongly influenced by the English while Martiniquans are obviously very French. Still, we both have our own respective Caribbean cultures in which we take much pride. More exchanges between us can only bring us closer together and make both our countries stronger!
Editor’s Note: Anne-Elizabeth Artsen is a journalism intern at the STAR.