As I continue this journey of self-discovery I’ve become particularly interested in my Creole heritage. The fact that my mother is St. Lucian never really mattered to me as much until I went to Paris, France and Montreal, Quebec in my early twenties and realized although I couldn’t speak French fluently I could understand a lot of it because of my upbringing in a French Creole household. The more I visited Paris, the more French I was able to decipher and add to my knowledge of the language. While traveling solo in a French speaking country I’ve always been able to communicate by knowing various words and phrases. The two, French and Creole, are more different than similar, but I’ve gotten by plenty of times in French conversations because of knowing Creole.
Fast-forward to my trip to Haiti two summers ago and my ability to speak Creole came in handy, as I was able to navigate conversations in Creole with Haitians who spoke Haitian Creole. Though each French Caribbean Island has its own dialect, they all use similar words and phrases. Haiti was the second French Caribbean Island I visited and the first as an adult. I haven’t been to St. Lucia since my childhood years, but can remember so much of it and still use my childhood experiences growing up in a Creole household when traveling to other Creole speaking islands.
When Norwegian Airlines had the audacity to have cheap flights from NYC to Guadeloupe I had to take advantage and booked immediately. The trip was my way of purposely saying I no longer need to go to France to learn more French. I can go to islands and African countries that have a strong French colonial influence and learn more French while still learning about Caribbean and African history and culture. In particular to the French Caribbean, it would help with rediscovering my Creole heritage.
I arrived in Guadeloupe after a 4.5-hour flight from NYC and a very comfortable flight it was thanks to Norwegian Airlines. If there’s one critique of Norwegian worth mentioning is that those cheap tickets are dope, but they’ll make up for it with baggage fees by offering you food and drinks at a reasonable price aboard the flight. Counter this by packing light (team carry-on) and getting a few snacks before your flight. You can’t knock the hustle and for $230.00 round trip I couldn’t be mad at them for trying.
Guadeloupe is a French state or province and not a territory. Like Martinique, they are able to vote in the presidential elections for France and carry the French flag and have representation in French government. The most interesting thing about Guadeloupe for me is not that they’re a French state or use the euro as currency. It’s that there is such a large Afro-Caribbean presence still thriving and many people still feel a connection to those roots. Honestly speaking, I thought being tied to France, in my mind, made it more of a snowbird’s paradise for French people in love with the idea of island life. But I met so many Guadeloupeans born and raised in their native land. Many had lived abroad in France; gone to school, or worked other places for a time, but returned home. As one taxi driver put it: “A true sense of peace for me is being in Guadeloupe.” He added, “Struggling in Guadeloupe is not like struggling in France.” I took what he was saying in as I too feel this way now that I live in St. Croix again. He continued, “You do not have the land or the rivers and sea. The local food is cheap and plentiful and you can grow it yourself,” he explained. So in his simple life as a taxi driver he spends more time with family and in his garden. The island has a strong agricultural base with sugarcane and bananas growing on opposite ends of Guadeloupe. The island is shaped like a butterfly with two separate land masses connecting to form a unique shape.
While staying at the Karibea Beach Resort in Le Gosier, a locality close to the airport and some of the best beaches on the island. My friend Kenyatta and I had a chance to experience the nearby shopping area of Point-a-Pitre and experience one of the best beaches and tourist shopping spots called La Datcha. When you travel to places where the euro is used, you think you’ll need a good bit of money to afford the trip, but Guadeloupe has so much local cuisine for an affordable price that it worked out really well for Kenyatta and I.
To really appreciate the island you have to drive from the densely populated cities to the sprawling rural pastures and little towns on the outskirts. It’s worth mentioning that renting a car is strongly suggested, as the roads are easy to navigate, but its only cost effective if your drive manual and not automatic. You can also plan your excursions through your hotel, but that will be a little more expensive unless you have a large group. If you have a little more time and patience you can take public transportation and use the bus system to get around. We used the bus on one of our day excursions to Point-a-Pitre and spent only £1.50 each way.
The biggest highlight for me while in Guadeloupe was visiting the Memorial Acte Museum. This museum focuses on slavery and history from the transatlantic slave trade in the Antilles and the Americas. The museum also focuses on French Caribbean culture in a montage of rooms uniquely curated to give an in depth look at different themes that evolved from colonialism and slavery in the Americas and the French West Indian Colonies.
I followed this visit up by visiting the old municipal jail for slaves that is now a gem of aged walls made from volcanic stones in the 18th century and with trees and roots that have outgrown the building and run throughout the corridors of the foundation.
To say the least, Guadeloupe isn’t what I expected and I am here as a believer in the perseverance of the African experience globally. It was apparent in the food and culture and though intertwined with French customs it didn’t take away from the authenticity of Guadeloupeans and what they take pride in.
Guadeloupe is definitely a place I’d like to revisit.