Echoes 3: First days on the Other Side, February 2004

By Jeanne Kay

Jeanne  KayFort de France,

There is smoke coming from the city; it rises over the forest of masts that floats in the bay of Fort de France. I was surprised when I saw them: “What? So many people sail?” French, Italian, Ukrainian boats… all anchored a few feet from each other; sailors crossing the bay all day long in their dinghies, to the shore and back with children and bags of groceries, all in a roar of Yamaha engines. So much agitation after weeks of solitude!

I want to go to shore, right away. But my dad has about 87 hours of sleep to catch up, so I have to stare patiently at the inflamed city from the deck while he takes a long nap inside. I don’t mind too much: after 32 days of Atlantic crossing, just watching Hibiscus trees that line the street and tiny people walking at a distance is highly entertaining. In a few hours, I’ll touch land; let Gina smell the exotic pees of Caribbean dogs on the sidewalk; get passport stamps from the immigration office. I’ll be fascinated by the faces of people passing by, want to hug every person I meet, and (“That feels so weird!”) zigzag around, confused about walking on solid ground again.

Anse Mitan, Martinique

If I remember well, staying in the city was too much of a shock right after the crossing, so the next day we sailed to the bay right across Fort de France, and anchored in Anse Mitan. Masts everywhere again, most of them sailors who stopped here on their trip around the world, to work on shore, send their kids to school for a while, before continuing the journey in 6 months, 3 years…some of them never leave again! It’s a touristy place; most sailors rent their boats as charters or offer their expertise at local shipchandlers. (A shipchandler is a shop full of boating supplies, usually very weird stuff: lots of tubes, ropes, screws, light bulbs in all shapes and sizes, funny-smelling paint, most of which no normal person, including me, could ever guess what they’re for. My dad (and most boat people), love to spend hours there. For me it’s absolute hell).

We tie the dinghy to the pontoon, walk around. Anse Mitan gives us our first glimpse of exoticism, with purple Boungainivilliers bushes and Hibiscus along the way, Ginathe- dog dancing in circles on the beach, and mangoes lying, exploded, on the ground. I go to a grocery store for the first time and marvel at fresh food. Each impression is stronger; we’re struck by the red of tomato grapes, the smell of fish, the Creole voices echoing through the market. It is like a renaissance, a fresh start; I’m like a child, endlessly fascinated by my surroundings. I put my fresh fruit and vegetables in a big multicolored Antillean basket, and we walk back home, Gina panting at our heals. Before reaching the dinghy, we stop at a phone booth, call family in France. Hey, it’s us! We’re alive! It’s been so long! You can’t imagine what’s happened to us! We’re so glad to hear you! But, what for us seemed like a heart-throbbing year-long odyssey is actually nothing on modern-life time. “You’re already there? Nothing new here, still winter. Yes, yes, everyone’s all right. It’s only been two months, you know.”

Two months? Are you sure?

As the dinghy takes us back to Echoes, amazed by the density of my new life, I wonder where the wind will blow from tomorrow.

Next Term (?): Bequia the Rasta Island, marriage proposals in the marketplace, and clandestine dog smuggling at dusk.