October 28, 2014 Off

France … Doesn’t Hear Our Voice

By in Business

After a clamorous, if informative, stay in downtown Fort de France, I settled into the Bakoua with a sigh of relief, enjoyed a superb performance by the Ballets Martiniquais, who have perfected the old island dances (page 142), and set out to explore the south.
For this purpose I got hold of my friend Michel Louis-Jean, who was born in a south¬ern village and has relatives all over the region. His cheery Creole broke what little ice we encountered, after which conversation flowed like wine—or rather rum, which often flowed with it. For the most part we collected people, not scenes or centers:

• A small farmer (two acres), near Ducos, who lived on government allowances, odd jobs, and his own produce: “You can’t sup¬port yourself by growing things,” he said. “The work’s too hard. Insects are waiting to eat what you produce. The soil is heavy and tired and must be fertilized. So to make a little profit, you have to charge more than the price of the vegetables shipped in from France, where land is flat and machines do the work. Of course, ours are much better. But we are miserably poor.”

• A mayor who is also the school superin¬tendent at St. Esprit, eating a dismal-looking fish in a small apartment in an ugly building. He is serious, courteous, cultured. A bust of Lenin rests on his cluttered bureau.
“We’ve tried for the past 28 years to be a department, and it hasn’t worked. We are not like metropolitan France. We must remain in the family of France, but with the status of one of your states. No prefect, but a lawmak¬ing body of our own.
“Paris will not like this idea, but it can learn to accept it. France is generous to us, but she doesn’t hear our voice.”
• A girl in a market at Ste. Luce—an old schoolmate of Michel’s: “Bonjour, Chantal. Remember me, Michel? How are you?” “Je me dibrouille, I manage.” “Any children?” “Only four.” “Are you married yet?” “No.”

• A muscular woman, packing bananas by the roadside at Quartier Fond Masson: “I make three tons a year of bananas, and no profit.” She pares her nails disconsolately with a curved banana knife. “How can I make a profit? I take what price is offered. Etpuis voila!—and that’s it.”

“Would you fare better if we were an in¬dependent country?” asks Michel innocently. “Don’t say that,” she screams. “No! No! Do you want us to starve?” She throws down the knife and swipes her palms across each other, perishing the thought.