ATLANTIC AND CARIBBEAN CULTURE

This excerpt is from a piece I wrote in Martinique, a French Department in the Caribbean. I had never been to a place like this in the Caribbean before—a place which is still part of a foreign country, like Puerto Rico or the British or U.S. Virgin Islands. I will post more about political differences later, but it was here I really began thinking about the differences between oceans and the types of people they attract and define.

Caribbean Coast (Ocho Rios, Jamaica)
Caribbean Coast (Ocho Rios, Jamaica)

Atlantic Coast (Woody Point, Newfoundland)
Atlantic Coast (Woody Point, Newfoundland)

I’m waking to bird songs, like I do in Guyana, and man, though I’ll admit nothing has anything on Guyana’s birds, it’s like a different kind of song.  You see, this here’s the Caribbean, and no matter what people say about Guyana, I just figured out Guyana’s not really the Caribbean. The difference might have lots to do with water. I’m two hundred metres from a turquoise bay, and the sand sparkles white and silver for two feet and is clear before it turns cloudy a bit out from shore. And the whole world here is constructed around it. Sure, there’s restaurants and cafés and tourists all around, that kind of fake glitz I’ve spent years avoiding, but that’s not what I mean, not what I’m talking about. I mean people and houses wear that ocean. People from here. There’s an awareness in the air that the heat can be escaped, that all it takes is a plunk and dive and boom! The oppression of the tropics is gone for one brief instant and you jump out and dry off and keep walking and living. Not so in Guyana. The South Atlantic churns brown, and the possibility is something between grey and puce, not that the water’s dirty, just that it’s that same body of water (mixed with silt from mighty rivers) that rocks the shores of Newfoundland. Wild water and wild coasts. And it’s like that ocean is more a contemplation than escape. People don’t jump in and linger. Atlantic people look on, marvel at the roughness and act like the ocean’s there for some kind of backdrop that reminds them how to survive. It tells them they’re lucky enough to simply be. Don’t ask for more, it says. Be grateful. Thankful. Just remember you breathe. That’s enough.

You see, there are Atlantic people, I’ve determined, and there are Caribbean people. And I guess there are Pacific and Indian Ocean people, too, but I can only make sense of the Atlantic and the Caribbean right now, or think I can anyway since this light descended from Martinique and here I am again in a totally different world though it’s still part of the same bloody history. But Newfoundland and Guyana have more in common, I swear, than Guyana and Barbados (the Caribbean side, that is) or Guyana and Martinique or Guyana and any of the islands in the lesser or greater Antilles. Atlantic people are as stubborn and rough as the Atlantic Ocean and its shores. They seek retreats like desperate coves where lighthouses should stand, want to be alone and spaced out like distances in Atlantic worlds. They see some kind of promise in surviving harsh weather and conditions, as if that reflects on them, builds character. And maybe it does.