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!
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.