Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Lil Stay in France and My First Two Days on Reunion!!

Oh my gosh, guys.  Seriously.  I love this place.  Omg.  Just like, what.  So awesome.  Waaafjfdjksf.

Well hold on crazy, I'll just slow down for a sec, shall I?  Allow me to return to coherence for a moment and catch you up on my voyage thus far.

Long post is long.  You've been warned!   Alright, here we go.

I headed out on Wednesday (holy crap, was it only Wednesday?) to spend a few days with my wonderful, beautiful, perfect host family that I missed SO MUCH in dear old Angers.  The flight was pretty amusing; I got stuck between a very attractive Frenchman with a very bad head cold and an elderly French lady whose friends that she was traveling with thought it would be funny to wake her up every half an hour.  I actually found all of this very funny, which meant that I didn't get any sleep either, but eh, that's what my life has been for these past few days.

After deplaning, the nice customs officer joked with me about charging me 5 euro for my passport stamp (I'm sure the French Residency Bureau wouldn't appreciate your sass, Frenchman!  But I certainly did, hehehe)

After spending most of the flight in a homesick/worried/rather terrified state puncuated by sneezes and elderly French women, we touched down in dear old 'Paree'.  Walking into the terminal, I spied a stand selling pain au chocolat and my face split into this awesomely creepy sleep-deprived grin because everything was just so FAMILIAR and FRENCH and LOVELY.  I'm pretty sure a few French people saw this, and as such I got that look that one receives so often from the French population when you do silly things in their presence.  Anyone that's ever been in the presence of any French person ever, you know what I mean.

Finally, I rode the 20-minutes-late TGV train into the arms of my French mamie, and after going on a very long vaccine-related adventure (if you wanna know, just ask), I was once again eating quiche au chevre with my host family from a year and a half ago.  It was so amazing being back, even if I was a little loopy.  The next night, I went out to Matt Murphy's bar with the incredible Kate and Marla, where we compared stories about how terrified we all were to be going to a place that we had never been.  It was great to know that there are always people in your boat, and we annoyed the bartender by ordering only non-alcoholic drinks and catching up on life!

The next day, a huge group of us went out on the town to shop, so me, Amanda and Sarah (Madame's current American host daughters) along with their friend Caitlyn (sorry if I butchered that spelling waah) headed out to meet Kate and Marla, and ended up running into basically everyone from Allegheny that was staying in Angers.  We shopped and talked and laughed and had some fantastic times, the most memorable of which, in my opinion, was spying on adorable French children and puppies in the middle of Place du Ralliement whilst chowing down on a delicious box of macarons.

Marla and me in Place du Ralliement! (Photo credit: Kate)

And of course, Kate and I had to rep some international KAT luv. 
(Photo credit: the one and only Kate Chambers-of-Secrets)

Then, THE FETE! :) It was Christelle's 48th birthday, so we had a big dinner party, which, of course, was composed of 4,500 courses (give or take a few hundred).  We had a lovely raclette-filled evening (one of my FAVORITE staples at the Besnardeau house, where you melt cheese on small plates and pour the fondue over meat, potatoes and tomatoes and subsquently die of happiness) that ended with some awesome chocolate cake.

The next morning, I said a very (very) tearful goodbye to my host fam (note to self: stay longer in France next time, silly goose) and boarded the train, and then the flight, to my home for the next seven months.

Okay, back to freakout time.  Omggggggg.  I won't lie, I was so nervous getting off of the plane that I literally gagged.  I had so many questions flying through my head.  Will my host family like me?  Will I find a place to live?  Will there be time to see the volcano?  Is it gonna erupt?  What if I forgot a vaccine and can't visit Africa?  When did I shower last? (It was that morning, by the way, just so you guys don't think I'm stinky and weird.)  I was so apprehensive, and after waiting for what seemed like an eternity for my baggage, I walked outside to a large sign that read BRIDGET in the hands of my smiling host dad, Alain.  And as soon as he opened his mouth and started speaking English with a British accent, I knew we were gonna be best friends.  We took my stuff to his car (he drives a Ford, by the way) and from that moment on, it was go-go-go. 

Day 1!!!

I arrived at 8 am without too much jetlag, which is good because we didn't stop for a second for the entire day.  It was exactly what I needed.  No time to stress, no time to overthink things.  Just go!  We went immediately to check out a potential apartment for me to live in (literally hadn't been there 5 minutes and stuff was getting done, so awesome).  On the way home, we took a little drive through town and bought me a cell phone (productivity, I'm tellin ya) and he showed me some of the center of town.  We passed by the boulangeries, the creole houses, the chinese restaurants, the mosque, the church, the market.... need I go on?  It's like, cultural melting pot personified.

I also learned my first creole phrase, "getali" [get-ah-lee] when we turned the corner onto one road.  There are little gazebo-type things on street corners, and on Reunion, you can always see the road above you because it's so hilly.  So once upon a time, the men who did work on these gazebos often got distracted by the pretty women walking by and stopped working, according to my host dad.  The women, in return, would look at each other and sigh, "getali."  Hence, these little gazebos are named "getalis," which, in creole, means, "look at him," because all that you ever do from them is nosily look at the people above and beneath you. :P (Also, for you French aficionados, this is kind of the way creole works: this phrase is derived partially from "regarde à lui," which is 'look at him' in French.  Perfect example of how if you are a native French speaker, you can grasp some of the creole, but if you're not a native French speaker, there is absolutely no way you would EVER know. 'Cause to lil old me, that sounds nothing like 'regarde à lui' whatsoever!)

Aaanyway, we dropped my stuff at home and got settled in.  We had a lunch of mixed veggies, a fish and shrimp dish with some amazing sauce, along with golden creole rice (which I was warned that I would eat a LOT of on Reunion... hello Chinese influence) followed by bread and cheese (hmmm I wonder whose influence this might be) with papaya juice to drink. :)  We ate with the sun shining down and benefitted from an absolutely gorgeous view.

There aren't even words!!!!

Then, I hung out with Christiane, my temporary host mom, who told me that she really wants to learn English, so we're gonna speak English as much as possible when we're together!  My host parents are so cool, they're world travelers that have lived and visited what seems like absolutely everywhere.  Apart from Reunion, they've lived in Malaysia, Morocco, England, and I'm sure many other places, and it seems like every time I bring up a country my host dad is saying "well when I was there..." SO. AWESOME.  Gonna aspire to be like them.  They have three daughters who are all grown.  They're all fluent English speakers and they all currently live in Australia.

Geez, this entry is long.  Moving along!  Spent the afternoon researching more apartments and then took a little walk around the neighborhood.  Then, I got home and my host fam was like, "wanna take another walk?"  So we headed down to what's called "Le Volcan" (the volcano), which is not a volcano (sad) but in fact a park, complete with a super cute playground, running paths, and giant slides that go down a huge hill (only kids 12 and under can use them, trust me, I asked.... twice. :P) And we walked up the Volcan to get an absolutely beautiful view of Saint Denis from close to the coast.

Behold my ville!

In Saint Denis, it rains a lot, so it is evidently very rare to have the grass under my feet be as brown as it is.  Alain says that once the rains come in late October, everything will be so green and lush that I won't even able to believe it.  Can't wait!!

Night comes early on Reunion - the sun goes down at about 6:30 every night, without much variation in the seasons - so we headed back up to the house and I caught a photo of the town as the sun waned on the horizon.

We had a delicious dinner: a sort of homemade 'pizza' with fresh veggies, cheese and spices, bread and cheese, and pineapple for dessert!  We had a really great dinner conversation about what the kids will be like at my high school.  They're supposed to be super nice and awesome, which is baller.  We also discussed, though, that Alain talks with a British accent and I've got an American one, which is pretty darn impossible to understand if you've been learning only British English your entire life.  Is this a potential problem, or is it an excuse for me to talk in a British accent for an entire year?  ... Defffffinitely the latter!!!

The Reunionnais go to bed early, so my fam was off to sleep by 9:00.  I chilled in bed for awhile until finally, after this immensely long and crazy day, I crashed.

Day 2!!!  You thought this blog post was over, didn't you?  Ha!  Read on, friends :)

I woke up at 10:30 with a full-on breakfast chilling on the table for me.  (My family is SO AMAZING.)  Both host parents had left to play golf and go biking already.  (Reunion schedule = go to bed early and get up early.  Nobody wastes any time because the morning is the time to do all of the cool athletic activities... later, it gets too hot!)

Very soon after breakfast, it was time for lunch. :P This time, we headed off the have lunch in town.  We went to a small 'cantina' that offered everything from grilled octupus to udon noodles to beef bourignon.  (I sense a pattern emerging - hooray cultural melting pot!!!)  I chose to have something that I forget the name of but was essentially a chicken kebab in a delicious sauce with fresh peppers.  Yum!

Then, we went to visit another potential room: a nice house in a section of town called Montgaillard that just so happens to be between two HUGE apartment complexes.  Like, it's almost comical.  It reminds me of Stuart Little's house.

The town of Saint Denis is growing rapidly these days, and apartment complexes are shooting up everywhere.  It's really awesome that the island is seeing a lot of economic growth.  And it's not like in the US, where there are all of these houses and complexes that have been started and abandoned.  Saint Denis is most definitely a town that's moving!

Anyway, the house is really awesome, and (spoiler alert for later) it's gonna be a really great apartment for me.  The proprietaire is a very nice and maternal lady named Marielyse, who has a daughter in high school and houses three other boarders.  I'm excited to meet them!  My room is lovely, it's full of light and has a view of the ocean, even though it's a lot more entrenched in the town than my current host family's place.  Plus, I have a washing machine and internet. (Rejoice!)  Marielyse grows the following fruits in her garden: banana, guava, papaya, mango and these weird things that I forgot the name of but look like weird upside down plums.  Talk about a tour de fruits!!!  I am so pumped.

After that, we stopped by Super U (yes, Saint Denis has a Super U - French supermarket extraordinaire!!) where we bought groceries and encountered the following individuals: the most attractive Reunionnais guy I'm likely to ever see at the front of the store (tall, dark and handsome doesn't even begin to describe it), a dancing, laughing woman from Mayotte at the meat counter, a friendly man in line from Spain, and a very nice girl at the checkout counter who is one of the first people I've seen with skin as white as mine.  I'm sorry, have I explained how COOL this is yet?  We were in the supermarket for five minutes and I met people from four different countries.  Vive la Reunion!!!

By then, it was pretty late and we headed back home.  I called Marielyse to tell her that I would be honored to live with her for the next few months (!!!) and I move in on Friday!  Until then, I'll be chillin' with Alain and Christiane, who I'm very sad to leave but I know I'll see tons of throughout the year.  Dinner was croque-monsieurs, an uber-French dish that's basically a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, but the French know how to make it AWESOME.  Then, I had possibly the most interesting salad of my life, which is interesting because it was so basic: lettuce and beets mixed together and sprinkled with garlic.  It had a quite unique taste that I definitely enjoyed.  It was weird to have three ingredients you can buy in the US mixed together in a way you'd never expect.  It's not something I've ever experienced while abroad!

After dinner, we watched a French gameshow on TV and I took a look at a book that Christiane handed me called "Le Ti Pins." And I said, what's this?  And she said, "I'm pretty sure you know it."  And I looked at it for awhile and in sounding it out, realized that it was Le Petit Prince (classic French children's book) all translated into Reunion creole!!! I flipped it open and it was like trying to solve a puzzle.  The words are sort of similar, but, like I said before, they really aren't at all.  It was still a cool learning experience.  Can't wait to pick up some creole so I can understand the students when they whisper to each other in my class :P

Hokay, so.  This entry was really long, but basically, in short, I am so excited for the next seven months.  I can't believe how much I have learned in only two days, mostly thanks to the extreme openness and kindness of my host family, who are so amazing, and I hope that every other day on Reunion can be as magical.  We shall see!  Cheers to my most exciting adventure yet.

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