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SEA Currents Blog

SEA Currents: Corwith Cramer

March 01, 2015

Experiencing St. Martin

Kathie Brill, Connecticut College

Colonization to Conservation in the Caribbean

Class under the silk cotton tree with Ruby Bute in the center and Frank on the far left

Noon Position
Marigot Harbor

Description of Location
Marigot, St. Martin: The Capital city of the French side of St. Martin, small city full of color and small businesses

Ship Heading
065 degrees

Ship Speed

Taffrail Log
648.2nm - hove back while at anchor. 

Weather/Wind/ Sail Plan
Clear, Windy, starboard anchor out two and a half shots, anchor ball/light set. 

Sargassum Observed

Souls on Board

Hello from St. Martin!!
It's hard to believe that we left San Juan only a week and a half ago. Time is never to spare on board the Cramer, and the amount that we've done in the past 10 days far surpasses the norms of life on our home campuses. We've been here in St. Martin for the past 3 days, and it has been truly wonderful. Today, I was discussing with one of my shipmates the positive change in energy amongst our group. I think that we finally feel connected by the magic of the physical and emotional adversities faced at sea. On top of that, exploring the island has made us fully recognize the fulfillment of the experience we signed up for, and the hard work it took to arrive here. We woke up bright at early at 0615 and enjoyed a delicious breakfast of eggs, baguettes and croissants with all the fixn's in spirit of our port location, Marigot.

Marigot, the capital of the French side of St. Martin is a beautiful city filled with colorful buildings and a busy commercial scene. If anything, the city is quite modest in its appearance, but it makes it more accessible and enjoyable to be there and explore. Upon arriving on shore we met our tour guide for the day named Frank Webster. SEA has worked with Frank before on field trips to the island, and for obvious reasons decided to hire him again. Frank is a native to the island, and has a legacy of 4 generations, therefore holding almost 80 years of knowledge and stories about St. Martin.

He is very straightforward and honest when answering questions, and gave us an unfiltered description of the island community, using both his own experiences as well as the stories and experiences of his fellow island residents. He was also able to powerfully describe the change that the island has undergone socially and economically, in response to questions regarding our personal research projects.

As we drove through the small winding roads of the northern part of the island, the streets and mountains were littered with beautiful houses exhibiting colonial style architecture; the balconies and decorative trim deriving from the French combined with the bright colors brought by the influence of Creole culture. While each house held similar characteristics, no two were alike. The narrow roads led us through green mountains rising against the vibrantly blue sky on either side, with steep dirt roads branching off up into the vegetation and sandy rocky slopes lined with small precariously placed wooden homes. Iguanas sat casually in the trees and shrubs, and small red and orange flowers were sprinkled into the mix. Although many of the homes and buildings appeared to be run down, I wanted nothing else but to walk down the road and wander through the small yet enticing communities.

We then arrived at the house of a nationally renowned artist named Ruby Bute. Her house sits along Friar's Bay, and is bright marigold in color with a white trim. Her yard was full of trees and a square gazebo with a tiled mosaic floor and steps.  Upon entering her studio, we all seemed to be overwhelmed by the extravagance of her art. It is all brightly colored, and the scenes she depicted are common scenes of local interactions bringing life and vitality to the everyday scenery and social landscape of St. Martin. When we asked her what her greatest inspiration was, she quickly replied that it was the market. To her, it is not just women sitting and selling, but it is a "livelihood" full of "beauty and independence." She felt particularly drawn to the role of the woman as the bread winner of the household.

I think the highlight of the day for most of us was the discussion with Ruby that followed. She is a wise older woman, and we listened as she allowed conversation about our research topics to melt into colorful stories about her childhood, and the social dynamics that exist on the island of St. Martin between the people as well as their interactions with the environment. The most compelling topic was that of family. Ruby and Frank could not emphasize enough the importance of family, and the respect that one must have for their elders in order to learn and lead a successful life. They laughed until Ruby had tears in the corner of her eyes as they reminisced on the lectures they were given, and the expressions used by their parents which enforced discipline and household rules. Listening to her experiences as a child on the island provided a lot of perspective on the lives that most of us live at home. At least for me, the message resonated strongly.

She also made a powerful point about the culture surrounding disaster on the island. She harked back to hurricane Luis (1995) and how, at the same time that they were grieving over the devastation and loss, they came together and cooked and laughed and enjoyed each other's company despite the fact that the roofs had been blown off of their houses. I think this is truly inspirational. We live in a world where conversation often competes over "who has it worse," whether it be within our own personal communities, or in discussions about the nations who face natural disasters, war, poverty, hunger, etc. In reality we should envy the mentality of the people of St. Martin; a mentality they seem to have mastered over generations of hardship.

Even in the smallest parts of our lives, we should apply the lessons that the people of the island offer, especially to all of us at sea, of embracing the challenges we confront with smiling faces and live presently and value what we still have instead of letting our minds carry us to what was lost or what might have been. Let us live like the people of St. Martin who are able to overlook their boundaries instead of succumbing to them. As Ruby explained in her example: to all the people up north complaining about shoveling the abundance of snow in their driveways, it is March now, and soon all of the snow will melt.

After being stirred and moved by the message of humility and keeping perspective, we got a tour of her beautiful yard and heard the stories about her famous cotton silk tree, her tree of life, various medicinal plants and the rope swing that hung from a low branch in the shady corner of the yard. I feel particularly honored to have been let into her home and to have heard her wonderful stories, and experienced her provocative artwork. As we sat in the sun on her porch, and talked, and truly experienced one another it became abundantly clear to me why I chose this program.

The rest of the day was spent driving through other sections of the island experiencing another French town, as well as Philipsburg, the capital of the Dutch side. Most of us were not as enchanted with its heavy emphasis on catering to the tourist culture and economy. We ended the day climbing to the top of Fort Louis and watching the sunset over Marigot, then sitting at dinner along the waterfront. Well that's all for now, I'm sorry this was so long but it was a busy day.

And it the spirit of Ruby's advice I would like to give a shout-out to my wonderful parents for letting me change my mind at the last minute, and figuring out a way to make this adventure possible for me, and thank them for just being them. I love you guys.

Au' revoir

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#1. Posted by Susan on March 04, 2015

The visit to Saint Martin sounds so interesting and beautiful. Thanks for sharing. We love you and hope you and everyone else on your trip continue to learn and enjoy. Love you lots, Mom and Dad



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