Saturday, December 22, 2012

Situational Somethings

Hey guys!  I've officially gotten my next "so, when are you gonna blog again?" message from my mother, so that means I must be taking too long in between posts! :P Just kidding ma.  It has been over a month since I wrote (oops) so I thought in this particular post I'd cover more ground by tellin' you guys about my life here via some of the situations (some frequent, some unique, some I hope to never see again dear lord please goodness) I've encountered over the past month rather than an actual journal.  So here ya go, starting with my fave:

- The Twilight Massacre.  :P I love me some Twilight, and on Reunion, I am apparently among friends.  And I'm putting that lightly.  At our showing for Twilight, which took place at the traditionally un-busy hour of 1:50 on a Saturday, the theater was PACKED.  And by packed, I mean that there was a mile-long line stretching down the length of the entire theater and people were bunching together at the front like their lives actually depended on getting a middle seat for this showing.  It was the fourth day this movie was out.  I would have understand at the midnight showing, cause you've got all of the die-hards and crazy people, but goodness gracious.  Utter chaos.  I legitimately saw an elderly man shove a small child out of the way to get into the theater first.  Lesson learned: don't mess with the Reunionnais and their sparkly vampires.

- The Forays Into 'Savagery'.   I have two examples of this!  One was a few weeks ago, when my landlady informed me that we would be eating dinner with only our hands that night.  "It gives it a different taste," she told me.  Alright, cool.  So I spent the night eating cari with my hands and licking all of the sauce off of my fingers and having an all-around fabulous time trying not to slobber all over myself.  It's cool, you have to scoop the food up into your hand and sort of use your thumb as a lever to shove all of the food in your mouth.  It's how my landlady used to have dinner as a kid!

Obviously I succeeded with flying (okay, maybe more like plummeting) colors.

Then, two weekends ago, I went to the 'Savage South' with one of my teachers at school, Patricia, and her husband, Frederic, and it was an absolute adventure.  Culinary-wise, I tried an outrageous array of new food, starting with the much-more-delicious-than-expected fish cheeks that I had for dinner on Friday.  Yup, fish cheeks.  They were actually really really tasty!  Then, on Saturday, we drove through the south and had palmiste, which is the central part of a palm tree.  You can make it into a salad or have it au gratin - so of course, we did both!  I followed it up with a delicious homemade coconut ice cream with goyavier syrup.  YUM.  So... if anyone's interested in what fish cheeks look like...

... they look like this.  Kinda like normal fish!

Then, we went walking on the OLD LAVA FLOWS (yes yes, the volcano finally makes an appearance in my blog! Sort of. A little bit.) which included seeing the famous church in the south called "Notre Dame des Laves" (Our Lady of Lava), which is famous because back in the 70s, there was an eruption where the lava flowed all the way down to the doors of the church and then MIRACULOUSLY STOPPED.  And everybody wigged out.  The lava stayed there, of course, (because you know, people are so motivated to move scalding hot lava) so now the entrance to the church looks like this: 
As in, covered up to the windows in 30-year-old igneous rock.  So cool!

The rest of the afternoon was fabulous.  Among other things, we enjoyed the company of the famous Crazy Lady that inhabits a beautiful overlook called Cap Mechant.  She's a religious nut that follows you around asking if you're Catholic, and she is evidently there every day, all day, rain or shine.  On this particular day, I had the pleasure of watching her run around in a striped sweater and pink crocs while she yelled about how we were possessed by the devil!  Fun times.  She's so well known, actually, that she is listed as a 'warning' in guidebooks for people that are looking to go to Cap Mechant.  Not sure I've ever been so amused and so afraid at the same time.

To round out our day, we went and searched for the lava tunnels that run underground!  They're super cool, but super dangerous, since they're not very stable, so we only crawled around in the openings, but they stretch for MILES!

So, what I'm trying to say is... I've totally become savage.  Wouldn't have it any other way.

- That Time I Finally Saw A Waterfall.

My camera sucks and turns all of my pictures sideways, so enjoy this one with a nice little tilt of the head :P

The one thing I love about Reunion (yeah right, I LOVE EVERYTHING HERE :D) is that it still hits me incredibly hard when I see things like this:

Seriously, how can it not?!

This was part of a lovely hiking morning with Eileen and Frederic, where we saw three waterfalls, gorgeous flowers, and then took a drive to see a Malbar temple, which looks like this :) There are Hindu temples like this scattered pretty frequently throughout the island:

So pretty!

- Bus Problems.  This is probably too much information, but I'm trying so very hard to learn about bus etiquette, and there's still one thing I haven't figured out how to combat.  I have two words for you: butt. sweat.  I KNOW, it's disgusting, but I'm trying to figure out what the Reunionnais put in their Wheaties in the morning to keep them from sweating all over themselves on the bus.  Because I'll tell you what happens to me: I ride the bus for 30 minutes, and it is hot.  So when I go to get off the bus, I know I'll be sweaty.  And nine times out of 10, there will be a giant butt mark where I was once sitting.  I have thought of many ways to avoid this, one being that I sort of slide off of the chair, trying to wipe some of the sweat onto my shorts, then high-tail it outta there.  
Sometimes I try to wait until the very last second to jump out of my seat and run. At least then, there will be sweat, but hopefully I will be out of the bus doors so fast that nobody will know it was me! Yeah, I know, I'm not fooling anyone but myself.  The other super obvious option is to stand, but sweat makes you tired, man!

On the other hand, people on the buses are really awesome.  I've found about 40 people to start conversations on the bus with, from 10-year-old boys that really want to talk about mangoes to 40-something year old women that offer to guy groceries for me.

I've said it a thousand times, and I'll say it again.  The people here are incredible.  I love their openness and kindness so much.  It simply blows me away.

Alright, in addition to this post, I'll be throwing up a post sometime this week about my weekend, because it's been absolutely incredible.  Stay tuned for Reunionnais dance fighting, my first scuba diving experience and a nice hike through Saint Denis in my next post :)  THEN, it's off to Madagascar!!!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

It Only Takes One

Okay, here's your one token anecdote for the week.  I made it a separate blog post because you should really read it.  This really hit me hard this morning and I really wanna share this story with you.  It's a little toot-my-own-horn-esque, but someday, if someone stumbles upon this blog that's worried about traveling to a new place, I want them to see it.  

I'm not sure if I made this clear, but before I came to Reunion, I was really scared.  The most scared I've ever been in my life, actually.  I had no idea what the island would be like, what my daily life would be, what the deal was with culture and change and waaah just everything.  In France, the night before I flew here, I called my parents up on Skype.
I told them that I was too scared, and that I was thinking about not going.  The unknown was just too much for me to handle.  And my mother proceeded to tell me a story about when she used to teach in a school in Florida that had a lot of kids from housing projects.
In particular, my mom remembered one little girl.  She didn't have a lot, and her home life wasn't great, but she came to school every day.  She worked hard and my mom could see her learning over the course of the year.  She could see how diligent and wonderful she was, despite everything.  And even though my mom had some hard times dealing with discipline and teaching and what not, this one little girl, and others like her, made all of it worth it.

"If you don't go to Reunion," she said, "There might be one little girl that needs you.  One little girl whose life you might change.  And if you don't go, how can you help her?"

That's what convinced me.  I would do it for this girl, or boy, that I hadn't met, whose life I had the potential to make better.  No matter what happened, or how scary it was, the idea of abandoning someone - a kid, especially - that I could be helping... it strengthened my resolve like nothing else.

A couple of weeks ago, I started tutoring a 6th grader named Chloe.  She is so precious; all smiles and so smart, but she absolutely hated English.  She had gotten a bad start in English in school (they start English in 6th grade here, so she's just learning the basics), and one of my teachers mentioned to her mother that I might be able to tutor her.

We started off just playing games and going over words, making jokes and just having a wonderful time.  We speak French a lot, but I tell her a lot how French is similar to English, and try to show her that silly old English really isn't all that bad.

Yesterday, I was talking to a teacher and she said, "I just want you to know I talked to Chloe's mom.   She said she can really see how much Chloe is starting to like English.  You're making it exciting for her, and she's starting to see how English can actually be fun.  You've really changed her mind."

No, Chloe doesn't live in a terrible situation.  She actually lives in a really nice apartment.  It's not exactly like what happened to my mom.  But who knows, maybe one day Chloe will use English to do something really amazing.  If I'd never come here, maybe she'd still hate English.  It's small, and maybe it's insignificant, but not to me.  I've found my one little girl that needed me.

That makes everything that's happening here, for better or for worse, worth it.

Two weeks of cars, clubs, and mangoes

Whoops, I need to update!  It's been awhile.  As such, this blog is long.  I'll try to give ya the Reader's Digest version, but no promises!

Since I last wrote, I've done the following things:

 - Celebrated Halloween with a bunch of assistants, which included my first foray into Reunion nightlife!  Clubs in St. Pierre are pretty nice.  In St. Denis, my town, not so much. More on that in a second. But between the bobbing for apples and other fun Halloween festivities, I spent an evening amongst NASA employees, cardboard sharks and an 18th-century reincarnated zombie male prostitute.

... We assistants are nothing if not creative.

-  Helped out with a mock election at school!  Lycee Bellepierre Barack'd the vote on election day; Obama ended up getting 370ish votes and Romney got 20.   All of the kids (and the teachers!) threw on their American ensembles and spent the morning playing various country songs and square dancing around the room.  I also discovered that my kids love the song Black Betty, which got stuck in my head nonstop for the three days that followed.

My 'seconde' class, reppin' the USA

Me and Patricia, one of my teachers, overseeing the voting adventure

I wonder sometimes if Americans realize how much the rest of the world follows what we do.  Even on this tiny island, the American election was an absolutely huge deal.  We have the potential to do a lot of good in the world.  Anyway, other stuff:

- Returned to Boucan Canot (that scary shark beach) and had a wonderful evening of cocktails and sunsets with a few other assistants.  It was the first sunset I've ever seen over the ocean. :) (Yay for living on the east coast for your entire life...)

 Wonderful cocktail time with Cara, Bruce, Rachael and Susannah - all of whom are from England except Cara, who's Irish :)

- Been offered marijuana a grand total of 14 times.  I exaggerate not.  The kids love to try to get me to smoke weed with them, for some reason, particularly the group of boys that ran away from me a couple of weeks ago.  One of them even taught me his secret weed handshake.  In involves a rather violent head buttIf he weren't so good at English, I would be worried about what this combination of cranium bashing and mary jane is doing to his brain cells.  This problem, of course, became about 400 times worse after they discovered that Washington and Colorado just legalized it.  "Just pretend you're at home, Bridget!"  they say.  I won't break, children!  I won't give in!!!

- Went clubbing in St. Denis.  Never again.  Never, ever ever again.  As fun as it was to run through my first official Reunion downpour (the streets turn into rivers, wish I'd had a raft to float home on), rescue my friends that were attempting to climb onto the roof of the club, and numerous other things that arose throughout the evening, I can pretty successfully say that nightlife in St. Denis is not my favorite pastime.  On the bright side, I did enjoy a very delicious drink that glowed in the dark.  Not sure that my radioactive alcohol made up for the rest of the stuff, though.

 Quick, to the boats!!! (St. Denis under SO MUCH RAIN)

- Started planning our winter trip.  I'll just be, you know, 4X4ING THROUGH MADAGASCAR OR SOMETHING (!!!!!!!!!) no big deal.  I might also be canoeing through sugar cane fields, playing with lemurs, and going to beautiful waterfalls and stuff.  Not really all that excited about it (OMGOMGOMGOMGlemurs) but it should be okay. :P We will not, however, be going to this restaurant that I found on The Lonely Planet, because I have minimal desire to eat pidgeon or stare at fornicating pandas while I eat.  Hopefully this is not indicative of usual Madagascar cuisine :P

- Helped my landlady pick mangoes off the tree in our front yard.  Apparently people have been stealing said mangoes during the night, which is putting everyone on edge :P  Even more awesome is the way that they do this: after night falls, using a makeshift contraption that is composed of three broom handles taped together with a hanger on top, the mango thieves ninja their way down the hill and proceed to pick the mangoes off of the tree.  Sorta like fishing.  Except upside down and with a lot more espionage.

- Test drove a car.  Car ran perfectly.  Bought said car.  Bought insurance.  Drove said car to Saint Marie to celebrate having a new car.  Car locks stop working.  Car starts to lurch after five minutes of driving.  Barely make it to Saint Marie alive.  Car clutch stops working.  Car brakes stop working.  Bruce comes from Saint Andre to pick us up.  Car gets left in Saint Marie mall parking lot because we hope it dies a sad and lonely death.  Or if we're really lucky, someone will steal it.  Ask for advice; professor says she'll call for us.  Talks to sellers.  Sellers won't give us money back.  Tow truck comes.  Car's now sitting dead on my street, quietly mocking me.  Still hoping fervently that someone will steal it.

Yes, yes, it's been an interesting week with the car situation.  We've been (very) stressed, but at the same time, we've been blown away at how kind and wonderful people have been.  After we broke down, a lady that worked at the restaurant we'd eaten at offered us a ride home in the parking lot; Isabelle, one of my professors, called the sellers for us and got us a free tow truck to boot; her daughter Marine used McDonald's wifi to look up any and all French laws regarding car sales for 30 minutes and then they both had us over for pizza, wine and loads of laughs last night.

People here absolutely blow me away.  Their kindness and openness is a crutch a very much lean on when I start to freak out about things.  I'm so grateful for the people I've met here.  And it hasn't even been two months yet!

Monday, October 29, 2012

"Ti Pa Ti Pa..."

Another week on the island, and things continue to come together!  Although I'm still getting settled into a routine, I have taken note of one routine that's started to form:

- Wake up
- Drink coffee
- Put on my SPF 100 to go outside
- Get mocked incessantly for putting on SPF 100
- Burn anyway
- Use aloe like the sweet, sweet drug that it is
- Repeat

Irish heritage.  It's a great time.

Aaaanyway, I'll jump right ahead and explain the title of this post, which is my favorite Creole phrase ever.   It's been awhile since I've done a linguistics adventure in my blog, so here ya go.  "Ti pa Ti pa" is derived from the French "petites pattes, petites pattes," which means, "little paws, little paws."  It's basically a way of saying "little by little... things fall into place."  But you have to imagine a cute little puppy trying to walk paw after paw to get the full effect of this phrase :P

Actually, you should probably imagine this exact puppy.  My friend Cara found this lil stud as a newborn in her yard and we spent all weekend playing with him.  Currently experiencing really painful puppy withdrawal.  Just look at his lil ears waaaaah

Can't lie to you though, this week's been a kicker.  Probably my hardest one yet.  Here's a recap:

On the plus side, my first day of teaching was absolutely incredible.  My kids were engaged, hilarious, and perfect.  I spent the day being asked about whether Mitt Romney was a member of the Illuminati, getting grilled on the American electoral college (538 votes guys, I'll never forget again!) and passing around my $1 bill, which the kids decided to sniff to see if it smelled like America (they assured me that it did not, and were hugely disappointed).  It was a fantastic - albeit very election-themed - time and I wish I could remember more of the specifics to share.

In terms of my classes, every single class is unique in its own right.  I have quite a spectrum, with plenty of differences in language ability and motivation from class to class.  In one class, I had a kid ask me if I was taught evolution or creationism in school.  Anyone else remember being that astute at age 16?  Pretty sure I was more worried about makeup and boys than religious influence in the public school system.  Questions like that kinda make me want to cry happy, happy tears of joy for humanity, actually.

Seeing the kids out of class is even better; I get plenty of waves and smug expressions followed by a thickly accented, "Hello, how are you!" in the hallways, and one of my girls even yelled "I love you Bridget!" from down the hall this morning.  We'll see what happens when I have to start giving them grades, but for now, it's really awesome.

My favorite moment BY FAR had to have been today, though, when I ended up spending 20 minutes discussing the negative effects of marijuana with a group of boys in my class. ("Legalize it, don't criticize it, Madame!" I was subsequently reprimanded... :P) After school, I was sauntering down to my bus stop.  I happened to stumble upon the same group of boys standing in a circle next to the stop, who happened to be smoking something that I can assume pretty safely wasn't a cigarette... mostly because as soon as they saw me, their faces suddenly bore these identical horrified expressions and they took off running down the street.

Tomorrow's gonna be fun.

Anyway, Monday night after my oh-so-wonderful day, I got violently, violently ill.  Like, run-to-the-bathroom-and-retch-to-the-heavens-every-30-minutes ill.  After this continued for 7-8 hours, my landlady appeared at the doorway to my porcelain hideout and told me we were going to the doctor.  So at 3:00 a.m. we journeyed down to the clinic, where the doctor did the following: assured me that I didn't have appendicitis, took my blood pressure and gave me anti-nausea pills (which I then threw up immediately after leaving the office), then told me I owed him 700 euros.  Excellent.  Because I didn't have French Social Security, my landlady offered to pay for me and have me pay her back.  I was sick and poor and wanted to die.

I was bedridden until Thursday.  But apparently, thankfully, being sick also makes me terrible at French.  Because when I thought the doctor had said 700 euros, he had really said 67.  Derp.  So, at least I'm no longer as poor as I thought.  Thursday morning, however, was another beautiful adventure... after missing two buses and arriving in a breathless frenzy at my visa appointment (the one REALLY IMPORTANT appointment you can't miss here) I stood at the door of the Immigration Office with a giant CLOSED sign staring down at me.  Cool, bureaucrats.  You gave me an appointment on a day that you're closed.  So instead of finally having my visa approved and happily frolicking legally down the streets of Saint Denis, I spent all day lying in my bed, hating the world, trying my hand at really emotional poetry (you have no idea how much I wish I were kidding), wondering why the French don't want me to stay on Reunion.

And of course, ti pa ti pa.  Friday I went back to the office, explained my situation, and everything went off without a hitch.

As I'm writing this post, I'm realizing that this week really wasn't bad at all.  Because between those horrible and stressful moments, I also:

- Swam in the incredibly clear and perfect water of Bassin Bleu this weekend, which is straight up the bluest water I've ever seen (pictures coming when I steal them from Bruce)

- Went to an ab fab restaurant called "Oncle Sam" (yeah, I died too) where they serve about a million types of Samoussas, a Reunionnais delicacy, in addition to hamburgers and fries

- Bought a tuna sandwich for an elderly Mauritian woman named Beronique at the bus stop, who told me that she liked my kind heart and blue eyes, and who gave me four very enthusisastic and loving bisous after I'd known her for 20 minutes

- Taught my kids the phrase 'elephant in the room,' which resulted in a couple of elephant impersonations and a lot of accusing people of sleeping with other people's relatives (an excellent example how one poorly chosen hypothetical can turn against you, I guess)

- Continued to learn random creole phrases

- Laughed.  My God, I laughed so much this week.

Basically, It's becoming increasingly clear to me that I'm falling in love with this place... ti pa ti pa. :)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Good ole American consumerism, Thanksgiving dinners... and a smile.

Wanna hear something unreal?

Tomorrow, I will have been on this island for one month.

WHAT.  No.  Surely I just left Georgia last week.  Really?

I mostly find this amusing because I feel as though I've done very little work.  (Which, to be fair, I only officially 'worked' for one of the four weeks I've been here... life is so hard.)  It also makes me realize that I only have 6 MONTHS LEFT.  While that seems like forever, I know how fast one month went.  The next six might go even faster.  It helps me remember that there's so much I need to get done.  I have a cool little to-do list that I might post later that has things from "go skydiving" to "eat a lychee" and everything in between.

Before I do all of those things, though, I'll recap the past week!

Last weekend, Eileen (fellow American) and I hopped on a bus to St Pierre, where we spent the day layin' on the beach, eating some incredibly fabulous pasta and partying it up with other assistants.  Some of the assistants in St Pierre bought an apartment unfurnished, so it was really awesome seeing how they'd furnished their apartment with odds and ends.. my favorite, by far, being the tire that they found on the side of the road that they thought would make a fantastic chair.  It's a bit bouncy, but it certainly gets the job done.

We had our first night out in St Pierre, where I learned that you should probably invest slightly more than 3,50 euro on alcohol unless you're cool with drinking something with a taste akin to cough syrup (and I'm not talking about the good cough syrup like Robitussin, I'm talkin' like that horrible stuff you have to take to clear mucus out of your throat that burns all the way down.  Absolutely vile.) and also that a party immediately becomes 400 times classier if you bring bread and cheese.  Roquefort has never tasted so good.

After the girls generously offered to let the northern crowd crash at their house, I awoke with an unexplainable hankering for chicken tenders.  It was actually painful.  We talked to the gas station to pick up a pain au chocolat for breakfast, but it just didn't satisfy.  We started walking up the hill, looking for something else.... when we saw it.

How much are those chicken nuggets?  Six dollars, you say? 
Yup, I'm down with that.

I thought, when I came here, that surely Reunion was obscure enough to avoid the long-reaching tendrils of America's favorite fast food chain.  Nope.  Not at all.  And while Rachael and I gorged ourselves on our respective quarter pounder and McNuggets with fries on the side, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little grateful.

Saint Pierre was an awesome time, and the rest of the week in Saint Denis has been nothing short of lovely.  The beginning of the week passed without much incident, aside from our discovery of a cute little tea shop near Jardin de l'Etat, where they served somewhere close to 100 types of tea, coffee, and hot cocoa.  We spent our time drinking tasty tea, making plans for the year and swinging on the awesome swing-chair in the 'Indian Room' of the coffee shop.

In addition to swinging, I spent a lot of time getting sassed.  Just a typical day in the Reunionnais neighborhood.

Then, on Wednesday, Kayla and Jesse, American and Canadian assistants, hosted an early (for Americans)/late (for Canadians) Thanksgiving dinner for everyone!... with a twist. Since they couldn't find turkey, they cooked chicken.  They couldn't find cranberry sauce, so they stuck cranberries in the stuffing instead.  Their creativity was AWESOME, and the food was nothing short of incredible.  It was especially fun introducing Thanksgiving to the Brits, who have no such thing, and who spent all night asking questions about the food, the traditions, and the pilgrims.

The whole Thanksgiving gang :)

The drama leading into the weekend has been the Grand Raid!  For those of you that are following me closely enough, the Grand Raid is the race, also known as the "Diagonale des Fous" that that kid told me I should participate in a couple of weeks ago.  It took place this weekend, and it ended in Saint Denis, so as people ran up and down mountains for over 300 km and subsequently collapsed in exhaustion onto the ground at the finish line, people all over town crowded the finish line to half-congratulate, half gape-in-awe at the 5,000 "Crazies" that ran the race this year.  Obviously, we had to be among them:

People/paparazzi freaking out over the runners

The finish line! We were lazy, so we only saw the tail end of the runners, honestly :P

This weekend, we also took a short trip to Boucan Canot, which is one of Reunion's beaches that is INFAMOUS for shark attacks.  All day long, a man rode around on a jetski, looking for sharks while people swam in the water.  Lucy, Alice and I decided that putting our feet in was enough. :P

No need to tempt fate, guys!

We also indulged in some incredible gelato, which pretty much sealed the deal on our day.

Okay, now I have one little anecdote for you guys from this week, and it's a little scary.  This frequently happened in my France blogs, so I'm warning you now that the blog's about to take a rather serious turn.  So be prepared.  It's a scary story, but it has a happy ending.

I've always hated taking the bus home at night, alone, and last night wasn't really any exception.  It makes me jumpy, but I throw in my headphones and try to forget about it.  Last night, though, as I'm sitting on the bus, jamming out, a really, really incredibly creepy man hopped on the bus.  After he got on, he looked right at me, grinned and muttered "Mademoiselle," in the creepiest fashion imaginable.  After leaving me alone for about .5 seconds, he sidles over to me and starts saying things like "Are you gonna call me up tonight?" and "You're not in France anymore, sweetheart," and a bunch of other things that one generally doesn't want to hear when they're riding on the bus at nighttime.  Lemme be clear, though, it's not like I was on the bus at midnight.  It was 7:00.

So, as I'm pulling my pen out of my purse (the better to gauge out people's eyes with, my dear) and simultaneously berating myself for not taking a self defense class before I left, I start looking around the bus, giving people imploring looks.  The entire bus is full of kids.  And mothers of kids. And I know they're all listening, but what can they do?  My big, tough, muscle-y Reunionnais knight in shining armor is nowhere to be found, and this man keeps on yammering on and on about me calling him.  My mind's going a thousand miles a minute, and as I'm nearing my stop, I'm debating whether to get off or not.  I take my chance, jump out of the bus, ready to scream and run, and the doors slam shut behind me, leaving Creepy McCall-Me-Maybe on the bus.  I let out the biggest breath I've ever held.

The bus pulls up at the light and is still sitting there.  I'm leaning against the wall, heart poundingThen, one woman from inside the bus taps on the window gently, getting my attention.  I look up at her, and after a moment, she and her son both smiled at me.  It's weird, but I felt like I knew exactly what they were saying.  "Don't worry, we're not all like him.  We're sorry, and you're gonna be okay."  And I smiled back at themThe relief was instantaneousAll it took was one second, one look, and this woman and boy who I'd never met were comforting me.  As the bus pulled away, I felt like I'd experienced something very simple and profound about human nature.  I've never felt so much compassion conveyed in one look like that.  You know that really hokey quote about a how a smile can make someone's day?  Never again will I scoff.  So, although the whole experience was nothing short of terrifying... that final moment was absolutely unforgettable.  Really, really beautiful stuff.

At the same time, I may not take the bus at night for awhile.  (Read: ever again.)  I want to reiterate this, though.  This one, ridiculous instance doesn't make Reunion a terrible place.  Not at all.  I love it here.  The same thing could have happened in a metro in Paris.  Or a bus in Boston.  I'm not saying that it didn't suck, but I don't want people to think that this place is horribly "savage" or "out of control," because it's not.  It's just not.  Next time I write, I'm gonna make a list of common misconceptions about Reunion, because I swear if I get one more comment like "are you gonna get rabies?" or "do you have running water?" I'm going to explode.

ANYWAY, back to happy stuff.  My first *real* week of teaching is this week.  I'm jazzed beyond belief.  So ready to hop into a routine.  Until next time, guys :)

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Universal Appeal of the Cha-Cha Slide

Whoop, can't believe it's been an entire week since my last post.  This week's "vacation" mentality is certainly taking hold, even if we've been working even harder this week than in the previous two weeks I've been on this crazy island.  But I'm getting ahead of myself!  As promised, a lil recap of what happened this weekend in Cilaos!

On Saturday, we took the car jaune all the way through the gorgeous winding valleys of Cilaos. After taking five buses to get there, time tends to add up, especially if the buses are full (and it seems like they ALWAYS are), so our trip took about 7 hours total after one missed bus and an impromptu lunch in a "snack bar" on the side of the road in St. Louis.  And yes, if you were wondering, literally 400,000 towns start with 'Saint' here.  Okay, not literally.  But there are tons.

Actually, I have a little anecdote about that.  On Thursday (we're time-traveling for the moment, sorry) a few assistants had dinner with my friend Bruce's teacher, and she told us a story about a specific saint that exists on Reunion.  Apparently sometime in the 12th century, the Romans sent over a statue of a saint via expedite, but nobody on Reunion could figure out which saint it was.  So eventually, because nobody could figure out the name, they eventually named the statue "Saint Expedite."  So here, if you've pretty much hit rock bottom and have no options left, you pray to "Saint Expedite"... basically as a complete and last resort.  There's a legitimate statue of Saint Expedite somewhere on the island.  The rest of that night was pretty hilarious as well; we all drank a little too much wine and learned about the dangers of switching letters around in sentences.  All in all, an excellent time. :)

Back to Cilaos.  Shortly after arriving, I was feeling fairly confident and fit and such, so fellow American Eileen and I decided to tackle a 4 1/2 hour hike to La Chapelle ("The Chapel", en francais) a gorgeous cave with strips of various types of rock jutting out from the sides.  Such a beautiful sight!

So unfortunately I had to grab this off of Google; I was really smart and awesome and left my memory card in my laptop, so there is a lil glimpse of what we saw :)

In my opinion, though, one of the coolest parts of the hike was when we were searching for the trail.  We walked down the street and there were these two little boys who started singing to us in French a little melody that went something like, "You're looking for the Chapelle trail!" but in French and way cuter.  And when we said, "Yeah, we are!" They yelled "BON COURAGE!" at us all the way down the hill.  They wore little hats and were precious.  It was straight out of some cute little coming-of-age French movie where young hiker gals embark on the adventure of a lifetime.

Upon our return (just after nightfall - we could not have timed it any more perfectly) all 15 or so assistants that were staying in the gite with us (it's a cool communal mountain house) sat down to dinner and then had an impromptu campfire/singalong where we all sat around the fire and sang together.  It reminded me so much of camp, and it was fabulous.

That night I got a hardcore reminder of what it's like to sleep in a room with 20 other people (spoiler alert, it involves multiple bed changes, warthogs [yes, you read that right], and random expletives being yelled into the dark) and I don't think I've laughed so hard since I've been here.  An absolutely incredible weekend.

Now, this week has been unique.  Since Monday, I've been working at a high school in St. Andre, which is about 20 minutes from me by car but about 1 1/2 hours by bus.  Myself and a bunch of other assistants are helping with an English language "stage," where high schoolers come over their vacation - oh yeah, we're on "break" for the next two weeks... oh France - and learn English with us.  The commute is long, but there's plenty of stuff happening to keep me entertained.

I really love the people and the atmosphere here.  Although the commute is long, it's peppered with little bursts of interesting people and sights, and I find myself falling into something of a vision-routine as I take the buses each morning.  Some staples from my morning commute:

- First, there's the man who always jumps on the bus at my third stop, wearing a plain suit jacket with a pair of outrageously colored pants and carrying a leopard print cane, who makes sure that he hurriedly shakes the hand of every single person he knows on the bus before getting off at the next stop, about 30 seconds later.
- On my next bus, we pass a small house protected by a large grey wall, on which the proprietor has scribbled furiously in paint "stop peeing on my wall" with large white letters.
- At my final stop, I've come to expect the angry lady in the bonnet who spends the entire time at the bus stop talking to herself and yelling at passersby if they walk too close to her.  Seems to me that about 5 steps away is the closest anyone's been able to get, so I generally take a seat on a bench about 10 steps away to avoid any collateral damage.

I'm never not entertained in the morning.

This has always been my favorite part about living abroad.  I love the small things that you pick up on and notice throughout your daily routine that make a place feel like home.  There's a vivaciousness and almost a sass that the Reunionnais possess that I never saw in France.

The classroom this week has been no exception.  Though I expected to have 12 kids in my class, I ended up with four.  For the first couple of days, we did smaller group games and it was a pretty good time.  I definitely think things improved, though, when we teamed up with Krissie, another American gal who was teaching two rooms down.  Together, we helped our kids impersonate celebrities, learn the human body, figure out the difference between milkshakes and smoothies, and learned a ton ourselves, from the 'Maloya' dance to what Reunionnais fruits go best in jam.  Today, some of our kids surprised us with cari poulet and samoussas, two hardcore Reunionnais dishes, and one girl even brought us presents!  In return, we taught 'em the Cha-Cha slide and danced around outside yelling "Reverse, reverse!" after class was over.  I subsequently concluded that no one on earth is immune to the lure of the Cha-Cha slide.

It really surprised me how big the gap was between students' English.  There was one girl in particular who was incredibly strong, and others who were much, much weaker.  But at the same time, as the week went on, I watched all of the students, particularly my three original ones (one abandoned ship after Day 2) gain confidence and recall words that we'd gone over with relative ease.  It amazed me.  And if that was in the course of one week (albeit for three hours a day), my hopes are high for helping kids learn over the next 6 1/2 months.

The week's been incredible from an assistants' perspective, too!  After the "stage" each day, we've headed over to Susannah's place (a lovely British assistant) where we all simply laid by the pool and talked about our days.  I really really love the assistants here, (and they pick on me for saying it all the time - but I love them, I really do!)  and it's gonna be awesome to spend a year with everyone.

Next update: my upcoming weekend in Saint Pierre - hopefully with more sleep and less crazy than the weekend in Cilaos.  Bring on my first foray into the south of the island.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Enigmatic 'Gravity Week'

I've dubbed this week 'Gravity Week' because it's become increasingly clear to me that this week, things are falling.  Some things are falling into place, which is awesome.  Some things are falling out of style, as they say, and it's super inconvenient.  And some things... some things are literally falling on my head.  ... All will be explained shortly :P

Oh also, before I start, my sweet lizard friend has migrated to the kitchen.  Unfortunately, our colocation was short-lived.  I will miss him dearly.

Anyway, here we go.  On Monday I headed down to our orientation "stage," where all 58 foreign language assistants finally had the chance to meet!  Out of the 58 of us, here's the breakdown:

31 English Assts (17 Brits, 11 Americans, 2 Australians, and 1 Canadian)
12 Spanish (who I believe are all from Spain)
11 German (this has an interesting breakdown, there's at least one Lithuanian and a couple Austrians, but I'm not sure how many there are of each)
4 Chinese (... from China.)

It was pretty awesome to have met everyone, even though the day dragged on a bit; dealing with paperwork and such is rough when you have to listen to rapid French over a PA system that works about 50% of the time.  Ah well, c'est la vie.

The next day was the first day at my high school, the fantastic Lycee Bellepierre, where I will be spending all of my time as a teaching assistant.  I'm actually incredibly lucky to have only one school; most assistants, especially the non-English assistants, are spread out between 2-3 schools throughout the week, which is fine, except that I feel like you might get to know people a little bit less in-depth.  We shall see.

The first day was eye-opening.  Among other things, I learned that the word in French for paperclip is "trombone" (not sure how I didn't learn this during the 4 months that I was forced to hand in hordes of paperwork in metropolitan France, but eh), that you can ALWAYS find someone who wants to talk about America (met one of the teachers who spent 10 minutes educating me on the vivacity of Atlanta's gay community, I never knew!) and, most importantly: throughout the world, all high schoolers are the same.  They joke, they play, even the most mature ones have so much to learn.  They're inherently curious.  Even the ones who pretend not to care still looked up and stared when the crazy American walked into the classroom.

I had such an awesome day.  The students asked questions, and I asked them questions in return.  They're already messing with me.  One guy said that I should totally do the "Diagonal des Fous" (which translates loosely to "Diagonal for the Crazies") a hike where you head diagonally across the island as fast as you possibly can.  It's supposed to take about 5 days.  The record holder did it in 21 hours, or something like that.  He told me that everyone does it, and that I should totally give it a shot, as the girl behind him shook her head at me, wide-eyed.  Touche, little Reunionnais boy.  Maybe I will try it, just for you.

It was so much fun hearing them practice their English; it was much stronger than I thought it would be, and it's gonna be awesome to work on it with them.  Then, I got what was pretty much the best compliment in the universe; one of the kids asked if I spoke French and the teacher answered for me, she said, "Yes, and the other teachers told me she speaks French so well that they can't even hear an accent."  WINNER.  I'm not sure that I believe it (my landlady told me today that my French was 'comprehensible' ... not quite as high of praise, to say the least) but it was sweet nonetheless.

 Speaking of my landlady, I love my house.  Especially my two little babies, these guys:
Meet Dooky and Tequila (arguably the best two names for dogs I've ever heard) who are just the sweetest lil things, even though they bark at me when I get home because they've already forgotten who I am.

The house is fun, and clean, and school is way cool, yo.  I've gotten some of my paperwork taken care of!  In general, things are falling into place.

Now.  Let me just make this impeccably, perfectly clear.  I heard, once upon a time, that traveler's checks were a safe, effective way to transport money.  That they were not only a good way, but the BEST way, to ensure that you won't lose money.  So, it is with a heavy heart that I must inform you...

FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, PLEASE DO NOT BRING TRAVELER'S CHECKS WITH YOU TO REUNION.  Go back, save yourself!!!  You will be so much happier that you saved yourself this headache.  Wanna know the list of people that won't accept traveler's checks?

- Store owners, because "just because." (Ah yes, it's all so much clearer now)
- Banks, because they've vaguely "had some problems with them."
- Your landlady, because the bank won't accept it. (This is legit)
- And my favorite, the exchange bureau because "the further away the traveler's checks come from, the higher the percentage we take from your check."  And then when you say, "and even if I pay the percentage?" and they say, "Nah, we don't take 'em." What?

Why doesn't anyone want my money?  It's money.  You like money.  You make your living off of money.  Completely incomprehensible.  My only consolation is that if my traveler's checks do somehow get stolen, at least I know that said thief has nowhere to spend them.  At least I spent the day being able to joke around with my landlady, who said that we had to laugh about it until we can't take it anymore and we just start sobbing.  After we left the exchange bureau, she looked at me and said, "Hey, wanna cry now?"  It was great having her there.  Anyway, traveler's checks = no longer cool.

Now, for my three literal encounters with gravity that have happened over the past 2 days.
1) Yesterday, a group of assistants went out to lunch!  I ordered a kebab, thinking that it would be, y'know, a kebab, a stick with meat on it.  Not so.  A kebab on Reunion looks a little more like this: 

Except 40 times larger 

and is full of delicious meat.  However, whilst chowing down on my kebab, I start to feel something raining down upon me from above!  But what could this be, the sun is shining, the grass is green!  I don't understand.

Turns out, someone living in the apartment downstairs decided to throw their leftover rice from lunch out of the window.  Evidently, rice showers here are pretty common.  I can honestly tell you that I quite prefer them with water.

2) Found a lizard (a different one) on my window last night.  He was so cute and little, but I had to shut the window, and I didn't want to squish him.  So I tried to guide him out the window with a piece of paper.  This backfired quickly, as he decided instead to attempt a sprawling leap towards my face.  I jumped back and couldn't find him.  For one horrifying second, I thought he'd fallen down my shirt.  But alas, there he was on the floor.  So I picked him up and put him on the roof.  Thanks again, gravity.

3) Today at school, I was waiting at the bus stop with a bunch of high schoolers.  A couple of the guys were playing around and chasing each other with water.  Oh yes, you already know what happened.  One guy threw the entire contents of his water bottle at his friend, and his friend moved just in the nick of time!  Unfortunately I wasn't so lucky.  Eh well, it was hot outside anyway.  And the amount of "OH NO, excuse-moi!"s I got from every single person involved more than made up for it.  Good job, Reunionnais.

Of course, none of these things even come close to the gravity situation of the week chez moi. I found out last night that my poor lil sis was bowled over at school by a high schooler and potentially has a broken nose.  Feel better lil Shura!  Don't blame the high schooler, blame gravity.

Alas, welcome to gravity week.  Hopefully it has reached its conclusion.  Nevertheless, I'm getting EVER SO PUMPED for my first hardcore hike this weekend - we're headed to Cilaos, one of Reunion's three cirques!  Should be a trip.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The new apartment, the beach, and my unsolicited pet lizard

Yes, you read that right.  I have a lizard.  At least for now.  More on that in a moment!

So, I finally got hit with my "holy crap, I'm living here for 7 months" moment, which began when Christiane and I were at the grande marche downtown two days ago, looking through tons of Saint Denis artisans' creations - from lamps to paintings to tablecloths to rainsticks... so cool.  But I started getting rather emotional, and as I returned back to my host family's house to collect my stuff to move over to my new apartment, it hit me pretty hard.  It's going to be incredible, I know it.  I just hate getting all of the logistics and paperwork sorted out in the meantime. 

I'm ready to get into a routine and really settle in here.  And it's definitely gonna take some time, because I'll be observing classes next week, but then the schools have two weeks of vacation!  And I'd love to get up and travel somewhere for the next two weeks, but I'm just getting settled here, so I hope that I can make little trips with the other assistants and get into the swing of things over the break - I definitely intend to find somewhere to play volleyball again!!

Anyway, I unpacked my stuff the night before last and was pretty emotional about it, crying like a silly person as I unloaded my life onto shelves.  My landlady, Marie, came in and saw me crying and held my hands and looked at me and said, "Sometimes we have to leave people behind in order to remember that we love them."  That was pretty powerful for me.  I do miss home, and I do hope all of you back there know how much I love you.  At the same time, this year is gonna be good for me.

After unpacking, Marie took me downstairs to meet the other boarders and... oh... oh goodness.  We walk in and stumble upon two shirtless 20-somethings eating dinner.  Oh okay.  I can get used to this apartment.  I forget their names at the moment (and I will die if they ever see this blog, obviously) but let's just say I found it hard not to stare as I'm trying to carry on a conversation.  Quite a nice welcome to my new living space! ;)

The next morning, I kept getting things and order and continued to be rather emotional... but I got a text that said the British assistants were taking a spontaneous trip to the beach!!  Rather than wallow in sadness all day long, we embarked on an adventure to St. Gilles les Bains, which is an hour-long bus ride from St. Denis and is BEAUTIFUL.

Me with Susannah and Tim!  (La vie Reunionnaise is so difficult...)

This also included my first ride on the Car Jaune, which is Reunion's public transport system that encircles the entire island.  It's pretty awesome, and because there's no 'stop request' button, you have to clap twice on the bus to let the driver know that you want to get off.  I volunteered myself to do the clapping, because I thought it was awesome, but then I chickened out and gave probably the most meager clap the Car Jaune has ever seen, so thank goodness someone else was getting off at our stop.  I'll be a seasoned clapping professional before long! 

For the rest of the day, six of us just laid on the beach for hours, talking about everything, and finished off the day with our first Dodo beer, Reunion's beer celebre, named after the infamous extinct bird.  I'm not a big beer fan, but this one was SO delicious - a perfect end to a lovely day.

Then came the bus.  Or I suppose I should say... and then the bus came, but we weren't assertive enough to actually hop on it.  Evidently at rush hour, the buses are packed to the brim with people, and we had to wait for the next one.  I was stressin', but we made the best of it, and I learned that public transport can be rather finicky around here.  So I'll have to learn 1) to be patient and 2) how to go ninja-style and politely push/circumvent people to get where I need to go.

When I finally got home, we had delicious cari poulet for dinner (a Reunion staple) and I wandered into my room to head to sleep.  Then, I looked down next to my shoes and - eeeeeewwwwww - there's a lizard on my floor!  So I timidly walk back into the kitchen and say "Marie!  There's a lizard in my room!  What do I do?"

She looks at me and walks into my room, sees the lizard, and says, "Nothing!" 

I was like... what?  Do nothing?  But... it's a lizard!  In the house! and she says, "These are margouillats!   They're awesome to have in the house! They eat mosquitos and other bugs. It'll protect you."  So I have let my little margouillat stay.  I choose to think of him as my lizard guardian angel.  He actually is rather cute, and has currently taken refuge under my alarm clock (it's a nice little cozy dark space that I think he feels safe in) and I'm now accepting suggestions for what I should name him.  But if I find him in my bed... it's off to the garden, my little reptilian friend.

Today has been rather uneventful (welcome to Sunday on Reunion... not unlike Sunday in France, everything is closed) EXCEPT for when I hear Marie's voice echoing from the garden: "Hey Bridget!  Wanna help us cut some bananas off of the tree?"

Um, OF COURSE I DO!  So this morning, I helped my landlady cut bananas off of her tree.  They'll be ripe in a couple of weeks and then we'll eat them.  I totally wish I had pictures.  Such a cool new experience.

Tomorrow, we have our "stage," also known as the first official meeting for all of the teaching assistants (of every language... English, German, Spanish, Chinese, etc.) and I'm pumped.  It'll be cool to meet the other assistants in my school.  Woooo!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Days Three & Four (so that I forget NOTHING about these first few days!)

Tonight at dinner, Christiane's (temp host mom) sister was here to visit, and Alain (temp host dad) said, "Yes, Bridget has been here since Monday, it's been great having her here!"

Hold up.  I've only been here since Monday?

Time passes weirdly slow and weirdly fast here, so I'm gonna recount some more of the things that I've learned and experienced over the past two days, so that I don't forget them.

No worries friends, I will stop being this diligent with my blog in about .5 seconds.  But for now, I shall continue. :)

Day 3!

Rather uneventful day.  We headed down to the bank to open up an account!  Although not as painful as I feared, the process was still rather tedious and included the following: a trip to my new landlady's house, a trip BACK up the hill of death to Alain/Christiane's house, and a subsequent trip by foot that I completed solo today (more on that later) to get all of the necessary documentation.  Yo francais, stop being so crazy about paperwork.  Using reusable bags at the supermarket doesn't make you an environmentally friendly country if you still make all of your citizens make 4,000 copies of all of their documents.  Especially if you're taking away from pretty/old/cool Reunion trees like these:

Pretty tree in the Jardin de l'Etat, more on this later :)

I'm pretty sure Reunion doesn't really take much part in the paper industry, but I've made my point :P Anyway, the bank account process is all done-zo. The rest of the day was spent chillin' at home, debating the American election and watching lots of random French/Reunionnais/British/Mayotte/Mauritian television (cultural melting pot!!!!).  The only exciting part of the night was when a group of ephemere flies ("ephemerals" in English, which are called this because after they're trapped inside for 10 minutes, they lose their wings and die, as my host father told me with rather morbid amusement) invaded the house and Alain spent 20 minutes running after them with a vacuum cleaner and laughing maniacally while I acted as the ephemere scout, helping with the roundup.  We had a night full of random compiled leftovers (plus bread and cheese, "ba oui bien sur") and essentially just relaxed, which is good because DAY 4 was simply packed to the brim with fun and games!!!

DAY 4 (also affectionately known as "the day Bridget walked for 7 hours straight")

Woke up, made my own breakfast (toast and jam, I'm a real culinary savant these days) and headed down the arduous, painful, lifetime-of-knee-problems-inducing hill of death from Alain and Christiane's apartment to the bank.  After navigating a couple of miles downhill, then uphill, then sideways, over to the Super U where I had to see that delicious Reunionnais man just one more time pick up a couple of things at the store, I met Alain for lunch and officially called my first solo sojourn into Saint Denis a success.  We went to a creperie and I had a delicious galette with ham and cheese, along with cider.  Just like being back in France again! 

While we were there, we had a really interesting convo about his first week at school on Reunion.  Long story short, one of the girls in his class basically had a fit in class.  Flailing around, eyes wide, yelling, all sorts of problems.  It wasn't a seizure, she wasn't sick, nothing was wrong with her, she just had a fit.  As Alain was telling me this, I had no idea what he meant.  He explained it to me twice more, and I still had no clue what he meant.  Like, a tantrum?  No, he said.  Was she mentally ill?  No, not that either.  I told him I still didn't understand.

He looked at me and said, "I know you think that Reunion is a lot like France.  But this is something that's tied very deeply to our African roots.  The Reunionnais are a very superstitious people.  They are an emotional people.  And they believe in things, tribal religions, rituals, that are completely impossible to explain."

So basically he meant, without actually saying it, that she was being affected by some sort of voodoo spell.  I was skeptical.  It was certainly interesting for me to hear the whole story (hint: it includes a beheaded chicken, red ribbons and the school headmaster being pushed to the floor by a small child), but it was even more interesting for me to hear Alain talk about it.  Because clearly he doesn't believe in spirits and voodoo and all of that (even though he's actually had a personal experience with it that is out-of-this-world weird, if you wanna know just ask) but he wasn't derisive or patronizing about the way the Reunionnais approach their beliefs.  He essentially said to me: 'If you ever encounter something like this, obviously don't get involved, but don't shy away or scoff either.'  Because reverence and respect for another person's beliefs is an invaluably important part of being human, and it's that respect and reverence that will help you to understand people better at their core.

My host dad is so cool.

That was a long anecdote, but I really wanted to share that story with you guys.

After lunch, I made my way up to the Jardin de l'Etat, which is a big pretty garden in the center of down that has all kinds of trees and fountains (AND CHAMELEONS!!) and other pretty creole things.

The fountain at Jardin de l'Etat!

My first chameleon!!! (of many, I am sure)

And finally, I got to meet some other English assistants!  I met up with Rachael first, who's British, and we ate some ice cream (actually, we ended up dropping most of it on ourselves 'cause it was so hot, oh well) and then Susannah, Lucy and Jesse joined us, two more Brits and a Canadian respectively, and took a tour around town!  We walked down Saint Denis' pedestrian street, and went into the market where we saw beautiful baskets, fruits and I continued my search of the best fruit in the universe, the goyavier (it's a berry that grows ONLY on Reunion, sweet and bitter and perfect) and finally walked down to the ocean.

Me and the British gals at the water!

It was so nice to be able to share stories about our arrival and our difficulties and everything else we'd encountered.  I am so excited for this year, ahhh!

Okay, one more anecdote.  Tonight, for dinner, we had this really awesome dish: some sort of bitter vegetable wrapped in ham and sprinkled with cheese in a special creme fraiche sauce.  It was in-croy-ableeee.  BUT THEN.  I bore witness to the most ingenius thing I've ever seen.  It's called "Lost Bread."  What is Lost Bread, you ask?  It's the best thing in the universe.  Christiane takes all of the bread ends and pieces that people hate eating (they're still good though, not stale or moldy) and mixes it up together with vanilla, sugar and milk and some other ingredients.  Then, she turns it into a cake. AND THEN, she serves it with a jam she made out of goyavier (if you've already forgotten, that's that awesome awesome berry I was telling you about... so awesome) and it is the most incredible thing in the entire world.  So cool, I'll now be making Lost Bread for the rest of my life.

I am gonna miss the amazing cooking in this house just as much as the amazing people.  But tomorrow's a new adventure, and at the end of the day tomorrow, I'll be all moved in to my new apartment!!!