Just off the highway in the countryside of Martinique, a small road hides in the sugar cane fields and fruit trees. The road diverges and each road is designated by a sign and each sign is labeled: “Petite France.” The street signs, useless to anybody who actually requires them, seem symbolic of the quixotic and haphazard geography of this country.
Roads are built everywhere and anywhere with little logic or order. The road wends its way along the hillside, littered with the corpses of dead toads, and breaks off into small streets that lead to small communities of five or six houses. This quartier, this neighborhood, is a place where goats roam freely amongst the houses and where toads are frequent house guests because nobody bothers to close—let alone lock—their doors. This is where I live. In one of the many houses built into this picturesque seaside that borders the Atlantic Ocean, I began my life in Martinique. Sylvie, a middle-aged French woman whose parents came from Martinique, owns this house and lives on the top floor with her son, Correntin. Laureen and her boyfriend Jean-Marc live in the other downstairs apartment with me.
The house is two stories tall. A staircase on the outside leads from one level to the next, meaning that during the long downpours that break out at a whim can trap you on one floor. The balcony on the second floor of the house wraps itself around the house’s frame protectively. The paint on the house is cracked from the rain and the humidity, constant companions in Martinique, and the cracks make a map of the house. From the balcony, with its peeling paint and rusty railing that somehow manages to add to the charm of the house, you can see the green tops of fruit trees and just beyond, the Atlantic Ocean. The colors feel brighter here, particularly in the morning, according to Sylvie.
The garden is full of fruit trees. A breadfruit tree in the corner of the yard has huge green leaves and tall orange glowers. Sylvie tells me she had to have it trimmed six months ago and already it has grown back with a fury.
As we sit on the balcony, Sylvie points out the different trees. There is a merise tree which is not to be mistaken for a cerise tree, two mango trees, a tangerine tree, a lime tree, a pomegranate tree, an orange tree, a cotton bush—the list goes on. And this is nothing, she says, in comparison to her neighbor, who has all of the usual trees and more: a cacao tree, a cinnamon tree, a cashew tree… He collects trees because he wants to preserve them, but he doesn’t harvest the fruit.
Luckily, the neighbor just below us on the hill who enjoys blasting Martinican music on Sunday mornings—something I have not heard yet—has no such qualms. He was kind enough to leave two huge green coconuts in our yard the day after I arrived. Jean-Marc breaks open one of the coconuts with a coupla, first by carving away bits to make a small hole to drain the juice, and then by using the coupla to bang the coconut on the cement sidewalk leading up to the house, breaking it in half.
The juice is delicious and sweet—not like the coconut water I’ve had in the States. The bits of coconut that attach themselves to the shell peel off and have a light, sweet coconut taste. It’s unlike any coconut I’ve ever had—but then again I’ve never had a fresh coconut before.