Wednesday, October 25, 2006

This is not the Batcave...

I just had to pick up a bat with my bare hands and help him out of my room through an open window. I discovered him hanging from my mosquito net when I looked up from reading and then he decided he needed to crawl all over my room. There is also one who is flying against my door and thudding against it repeatedly as I write this.

Not okay.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Teacher, Teacher!

This week was my first real week of being in the classroom and lesson planning. I got my schedule from LP Bateliere and it’s not ideal. But I suppose I can’t really complain. I wanted to have all my hours on Friday so I could have Wednesday and Monday off, but they’ve instead given me one hour of class on Wednesday and then 5 hours of class on Friday. I’m going to see if that works or not, but I’m thinking I may not really have a choice. I narrowly escaped having Saturday classes, and for that I’m eternally grateful. I have two classes I really like at Bateliere. The students are interested and engaged for the most part and they want to participate. This is very encouraging for a first time teacher. With the boys, I’m not sure how much of it is just being nice so they can ask me for my telephone number at the end of class (one boy has now done this at the end of each class I have had with him).

I have a new found respect for every teacher I have ever encountered in my life. It takes so much energy and so much planning to have a good lesson that will keep these kids’ attention for an hour and that will open up concepts to them. I struggle to get my mind around how challenging and valuable this profession is. I found myself ready to smack kids upside the head when they were texting their friends in class or when they decide it’s more fun to ignore me and talk rather loudly and obtrusively to their neighbors. I always interrupt their conversations by asking a question to the ringleader and making them speak in English. They are very embarrassed of the sound of their own voice speaking the language.

I had these two worksheets ready for the classes today that actually worked pretty well. They got us through the entire class and were good springboards for discussion. They got the kids to try and form questions and responses. I had each person go around the room and try and speak. I wish I had a tape recorder so that you all could hear how Martiniquais teenagers speak English. It makes me wonder how I sounded to my high school French teacher when I launched into my poorly formed phrases with incorrect grammer and agreement. She had a lot of patience.

I also find myself speaking very strange English to them because I know how they form it in their heads and it’s easier if I use cognates that they might recognize instead of the words I normally use. My brain is constantly going back and forth between French and English and my vocabulary and word choices are somewhat amusing to me but it’s hard to constantly try and switch between the two and speak to kids who have little to no listening comprehension skills. Also, now when I speak English to anyone I feel like I’m speaking slowly and annunciating every syllable because that’s how I have to speak it to the students. They all call me “Missus Karla” or “Teacher” or “Madame”. I keep telling them just to call me Karla, but I think there’s something that feels awkward about that to them, but it’s just as awkward to be called Madame when I’m still a “Mademoiselle”.

This weekend was just another blip on the radar. I spent my time reading and finalizing plans for the trip to Guadeloupe a few other assistants and I are taking next week. I’m pretty excited about it. There’s lots of hiking, I’m hoping to do some scuba diving, and we’re staying right by the beach. It’ll be a nice change of pace and we’re probably renting a car so I’ll have mobility for a change. It will also be nice to actually hang out with people. This weekend was an exercise is solitude, but I will admit, it was somewhat self-imposed. I probably should have asked to be taken somewhere by Marie-Ange or Sylvie, but I think I’m struggling with pride on that issue. I feel like I’m 13 again. Anyway, it’s time to swallow the pride because another weekend like this last one will surely drive me up the wall. Fortunately, this week I only have two days of class. Wednesday after I finish at Bateliere I will be officially on vacation. It’s nice to have something to look forward to. I have Halloween activities planned for both days: discussions, crossword puzzles, and ghost story readings… I’m hoping it all goes well. I tested out the ghost story reading at Bateliere on Friday, reading part of the original “Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. Unfortunately, the English was a little too elevated and archaic so it wasn’t the best choice, but they still followed me because we took a break after each sentence and translated it. They had a lot of fun thinking that was actually someone at one point in America with the name Ichabod.

Speaking of names, I’ve come across some pretty strange ones here. Last Wednesday all the assistants got together for a meeting with our supervisor to talk about how things were going, and we all went to lunch afterwards. Some of them were telling me they had kids named “Jetaime” which means “I love you” but normally it’s written like this: Je t’aime. Another child was named “Prune”. That means plum. (Why not orange? Banana? Pineapple? Apricot?) Also, my absolute favorite was two parents who were inspired to name their child after something they once saw written on the side of an impressive boat. And therefore, their child was christened “Usnavy” pronounced like this: “oos-nah-vee”. U S Navy. That’s what was written on the side of the boat. I nearly died laughing. Sorry little Usnavy, I just couldn’t help myself.

I spent Monday in Fort-de-France. I got a library card for the Bibliothéque Schoelcher, did a little shopping (cleaned up in that area actually, thanks to the sales) and then came back to the apartment completely exhausted. I did get to meet up with some people in town and hang out though, so it was nice to have a little social interaction after the Weekend of Solitude.

I am beginning to feel more at home here, which is coming with knowing the roads and venturing into town and accomplishing things but I still feel separated from society. It was different when I was in France before. I felt like I could do things if I wanted to and I didn’t feel like I had to go home early or take whatever rides I could because I knew I could get around and I felt like the town was easily navigable. Here, I can barely find maps of the places I want to go and I have to depend on others for directions. I’m at the mercy of the haphazard hours of the bus system. That’s probably what bothers me the most. I spoke with my bus driver today for a while when I was the only person on the bus to go to Dillon, and even he admitted that he is rarely on time. He was really nice, but hearing that from the bus driver himself was not reassuring. I guess I just feel like I’ve lost my independence. I really like alone time, but I like to be able to CHOOSE to be alone, not have it imposed on me. That’s what I’m feeling the most here. Thankfully, I have Sylvie, and Marie-Ange who I get to talk to, and it’s good practice for my French also.

It’s been incredibly hot here the last few days. Students and teachers alike were sweating all throughout class in our classrooms with no AC and no fans. I came home and took a nap and when I woke up I was covered in sweat even though I had the fan right on me. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to the heat. But I will find relief on Sunday at least, when we can all take an evening dip in the Caribbean Sea in Guadeloupe. It’s good to have something to look forward to.

Hope you all are doing well. Hopefully I’ll have lots of fun things to tell when I get back from vacation.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Wish List

Dear friends and family,

I have way too much time on my hands and am in desperate need of recycled books and movies for entertainment. I will most likely be unable to bring whatever is sent back, so think of it as a donation to me, and future English language assistants in Martinique who are bored when they don't have a car to get anywhere or are out of gas money. I am about to break into the Margaret Atwood and Janet Evanovich novels left here by those behind me, but I don't think they look very good. Anyway, if you all have any good books you would like to pass on to me, I would love it. Even if you just e-mail me a list of good books you have read, I would love to try some new ones, see what people are reading these days.

Address to send them to:

Karla Petty
Chez Madame Ponremy
Petit Berry
97212 St. Joseph

Thanks a bunch!

Watching the Rains Come

It has been kind of a tough week. Start with some good: I got into somewhat of a rhythm at LP Dillon. I had my second classes with my Tuesday kids and we got a little further. We talked about clothing and fashion and differences between Martinique and France and America. Plus, the classes I had at Bateliere on Friday were very nice, engaged and non-threatening, i.e. the opposite of the first class I had there. They asked good questions and seemed interested in what I was saying. I will be at Bateliere on Friday mornings. Possibly all day on Friday if the other section of teachers ever gets their act together and tells me when they need me. I might end up with a three-day weekend.

I guess the hardest things have been getting around, and getting my head around the job I’m doing here. This week I started having to come up with my first lesson plans, my first ideas for creating conversation and keeping the attention of students and imposing my first classroom rules both for myself and for the students. I didn’t know I would have to come up with these before the classes however, which made it a much more difficult task. I have been left on my own in about 80% of the classes without prior warning and it’s been okay. Nothing out of control, but I still feel a bit overwhelmed. I feel somewhat left out to dry by the teachers I am working with. They want me to do conversations, and have topics to discuss and help them with their speaking as much as possible. I was supposed to get a week of time to observe the classes, but that was thrown out the window on the first day. And now, in my second week of ASSISTING (mind you, that is the title of my job, assistant) I am given half of the class to take full charge of. So I am telling these teachers that I am not okay with being left alone when I have zero experience teaching in a classroom setting and zero ideas except from the ones I’m borrowing from online ESL resources.

Again, the contributing factor to all this seems to be the island style of thinking. “It’s okay, planning is not really something we do, you’ll be fine little ducky, go and swim, you’ll see”. (They actually do call people “little duck” as an affectionate term). I am a planner, I like advance notice, I like to know what’s coming at me and when. It doesn’t really occur to anyone to tell me important things like what we’re learning in class or what kinds of topics would complement their lesson plans well. They just wave their hand in the air and say “do what you want, it’s up to you”. Great. It was that way when we were in Sainte Luce with all the assistants suffering through those ridiculous ill-conceived evenings of “culture” when no one told us anything about what was going on and expected us to somehow guess when to show up and when to serve dinner, etc. Very important and necessary details are overlooked and often never received I find. Same thing with transportation too. You’d think they’d have good maps, or timetables of when the busses are supposed to come. No such luck. I’m pretty sure they don’t bother with the timetables because no one would ever stick to them anyway. And maps of Martinique are not detailed at all, in fact, they only have the main roads on them. So you really have to know your way around if you want to not get lost trying to get to someone’s house. Half the streets don’t even have names, you have to know them by sight. It’s going to take a lot of trial and error and asking a lot of people. So in sum, Karla = Type A and Martinique = Type B and Martinique is not going to change for Karla so Karla must adapt to Martinique. This realization has been a large factor in the toughness of this week. Realizing how I have some serious lessons to learn about patience, and being active and very intentional about getting important information and details from people. In America, they just do that. People give you details and important information. Things are planned and time limits are set and you are given things to expect. Not so in Martinique, not even close. I also have to learn to be confident in my speaking abilities. I can get my point across and the less I think about how my words in French are all Americanized and how I messed up that verb tense and how I put the pronoun in the wrong place, the less I will stop getting so hung up on perfection and just deal with things as they come along.

I have also had some serious ups this week. I found a great place to run. Downer immediately follows: I have to drive to get there. I figured out how to get the bus to Dillon and have mastered the route as well as discovered that there is a Carrefour (big fantastic grocery store) right by the stop, much to my delight. Now I can combine Tuesdays and Thursdays trips to school with trips to the grocery store. I was invited to eat lunch at an acquaintance’s house and it turned into 6 hours of hanging out with their family, and watching the entire cycle of precipitation happen in the sky from a beautiful, very large hill on which their house is perched. I watched the sunny skies start to become crowded with clouds that kept growing and growing until finally they blocked out the sun and then I saw a grey curtain fall over parts of the island and start to move it’s way slowly towards the hill and then I felt the beautiful tropical rain, and then the rain stopped and the sun came out and started the whole process over again. It was so cool to see how the pockets of weather affected one part and not another, and how I could see a patch of sunlight as well as a curtain of rain. That was a serious up. Another was listening to the exotic birds sing in the rainforest that surrounds this lovely home perched atop the hill, and watching hummingbirds flit from tree to tree. Another was feeling the fresh breeze come off the hill and blow a little bit of rain mist on my skin to cool me off. Another is using a machete to chop down wild sugar cane and crunch it while sucking out the sweet juice. Another is walking down a road empty-handed, and coming back with an armload of guava, avocado, breadfruit, orange and grapefruit, picked not 50 feet from the house.

My head and my heart are tired of fighting to reconcile themselves with this place. There are things that appeal to both, and then to one but not the other, and there are things that appeal to neither. This process of going through it and trying to make sense of it and figuring out what to do is very tiring. It’s a good thing I don’t ever go out because of the transportation issues or I would be a complete mess. The car situation will hopefully be solved this week. The ownership papers are apparently on their way. Huzzah! Now it will be a matter of learning how to navigate the island. More adventures to come.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Grand Tour of Martinique for Beginners

So on Friday, Sarah Caitlin and I went to Sainte-Anne. It’s referred to as the most beautiful beach in Martinique. It’s on the very southern tip of the island and true to it’s description in the guide books, has soft, powdery white sand and turquoise waters with calm waves lapping at the shore. We left early in the morning and got there in about an hour. I hadn’t gone running that morning because I thought I might be able to go at the beach. Boy, was that a good decision.

Before we got to the beach I had seen that there was a good system of foot trails all around the southern tip connecting several beaches over about 20 miles. It wasn’t all continuous but the beach where we were going, there was a good 5k trail from our beach to the next one up that went across what is known in Martinique as “Les Sables de Petrification” or the petrified sand. It was described to me as a lunar landscape. I was kind of excited to see it and even if I couldn’t run it, I decided I would at least walk around it and have a look.

So we were dropped off at the beach and watched with sad eyes as the only reliable form of transportation on Martinique, personally owner and operated motor vehicle, drove away from us. But we didn’t let the thought of getting home get to us until later. I surveyed the situation, we found a spot and set up camp, then I took off running. I found a map of the trail I had looked up online posted by the road to the beach so I took a look at it to get my bearings and from then on it was almost total bliss aside from a blistering hot sun.

I ran down a paved road that lead to a couple of beaches and a campground, then after that it turned into a dirt road, then it turned into a gravel path that was restricted to pedestrians only. It was from this point that the run started to get really good. Aside from fun puddles to jump and a couple of beaches to run across, I got to the point where the landscape changed from sand and marsh to petrified sand. I crossed a footbridge, hopped some big stones and entered another world. If it had been silent I would have believed I was on the moon. The ground was various colors of red, gray, beige and black. It was cracked and very dry and there was little to no vegetation at all. I could hear the ocean to my right but all I could see to my left was reddish craggy formations and strange hilly mounds with sparse green patches. I posted a picture from the website and it gives a good bird's eye view of what the landscape looks like. But it makes everything look very small since it was taken at a high altitude so the clifs that you see are about 30 feet out of the water at least. and the stretch of land is about 1.5 miles long, to give the viewer some perspective. The trail was marked by little yellow “=” on rocks. Sometimes they were hard to find and I strayed from the path a little but nothing too extreme. The run was hard because the terrain was very rocky and very hilly. I found myself struggling for footing in some places. But after a few miles of baking in the hot sun I made it to the next beach down “Anse de Trebaud”. I reached out, touched the sign, and then I took a deep sigh and took in my surroundings: turquoise ocean crashing on huge rocks to my left (now that I had turned around and was going back) and this crazy dry desert-like picture on my right. I love how creation can be so diverse and accommodate so many different kinds of life in just a short space. I’m finding out more about that as I explore Martinique. It’s so varied as far as terrain and layout and elevation.

I started back and was just happy to be alive and able to run through such an awesome trail in such a strange place. I wish I had brought my camera, but I plan to go back and hike it and take more time.

I got back to “Grande Anse des Salines” which is the main beach in Sainte Anne, and contemplating running straight into the water, shoes and all. I was so hot and just felt completely broiled from the sun. I managed to control myself until I had gotten into my swimsuit and then plunged into the very refreshing, beautifully clear water. I could have stayed in it forever if it wasn’t so salty. Caitlin had brought some snorkeling masks so we did that a little but mostly I just hung out in the water. It was something like 95 degrees and really humid so laying out on the beach for longer than 5 minute made you feel like you should be adding spices to yourself and turning slowly on a spit. I retired to the shade in-between splashes in the ocean and read a crappy novel that a former assistant had left behind. I didn’t stay too long because every time someone would drive by they would hiss. I hate it that the men here hiss. I hated it before in France and I hate it still. Why hiss? Why is that a good way to get a woman’s attention? Are you going to spit poisonous venom at me too? I suppose that could be true in a figurative way.

Anyway, aside from the hissing, a very pleasant beach spot because you have your choice of shady and quiet palm trees, soft white sand (caution: VERY HOT! Able to burn bottoms of feet, wear shoes always…) and beautiful water. Then, a short walk down from there, we discovered a fresh fruit juice stand. They have all these different kinds of local, fresh fruit laid out and they’ll make you a huge fruit salad or any kind of juice you want. You can mix and match and play around with different combinations. I just went with grapefruit juice because it was right in front of my and looked delectable. Caitlin got Pineapple-coconut juice and Sarah got grapefruit also. They picked a fruit from their stand, cut it up, put it in a blender with some water and maybe a little cane sugar and presto! Instant deliciousness and refreshment! I hadn’t even gotten past my second sip and I was already thinking what kind of fun combinations I could make up on my next visit to the stand.

We ate lunch at a little truck that is parked along the beach road. A lady brings her grill, some ingredients, some drinks and some bread, puts up a menu and charges a hefty price for a delicious but somewhat meager lunch. I have become a big fan of the “assiette accras crudités”. Accras are these little fried balls of vegetables and shrimp or crab meat that are like beignets. They are very spicy and have a great texture to them. Crudites in Martinique consist of grated carrots, cucumber, avocado (which is sweeter here for some reason) tomatoes and maybe some green beans. I enjoyed my lunch very much, especially since we were literally RIGHT on the ocean. (Ben, remember that place on the Red Sea in the desert? Like that… but not as awesome because it lacked the 7 layer fruit juice drink and unlimited buffet trips.)

So we had a good lunch and we were ready to head out for the day. It was around 2:30 so we caught a taxi into Sainte Anne to await another Taxi to take us to FDF. It didn’t come for an hour. Finally he came and half-way to FDF he told us to get off and had his taxi-driver friend who was already going there with his van full of people to take us the rest of the way. So then we get to FDF and we have to find the bus back to St. Joseph. We see it pass us by and we try to flag it down but we miss it, so we go and try and find the stop. After a lot of misdirection and hoards of sketchy characters, we found the bus stop and a million other people waiting for it. The next one came a half-hour later and we got on, standing room only for the windy roads and hills, then got into two traffic jams, then came to a dead stop for 45 minutes because of an accident…we think. By the time we got to our stop, it had taken us 4.5 hours to make what would have been a 1 hour trip in the car. We spent as much time trying to get home as we did at the beach. I was pretty cranky after that and went to bed at some ridiculous hour like 9 or something.

Saturday morning we went into FDF after waiting an hour for a bus to come and pick us up at our stop (me and Sarah, the girl I live with until tomorrow morning when she leaves….sad…) We shopped around a little and I became very concrete in my decision to hate FDF. It’s dirty and disorganized and there are too many people and not enough open space. After that we went back and just kind of hung around until we went grocery shopping at the big market in Lamentin which apparently everyone else in Martinique had decided to do that night as well. So after fighting people for a hand-basket we intrepidly guided ourselves through the aisles overflowing with people and got what we needed.

That was the end of my night. I went to bed before 10 again I’m pretty sure. I just have no desire to leave the house because it’s so hard to get anywhere. Sunday we went to mass with Marie-Ange and it was long. Almost 2 hours. The sermon was on marriage and fidelity and sticking together and being wise about expectations. I understood most of it but my attention faded in and out because the pews were to slabs of wood at VERY unfortunate angles for my bum and my back. And so I was writing around most of the time trying to get comfortable. And we sang a lot. We sang every song in our little service guide 3 times at least. They do love their singing. It was interesting to see the African/Antilles cultural influence on the Catholic church. They took a little liberty with the liturgical dialogue and some of the prayers were a little different from what I understood but it was more or less the same.

Right when we got back from mass, we headed out on our “Tour du Nord” of Martinique. We did the entire northern half of the island in one day. 7 hours on winding roads and going up and down and up and down and I don’t need to be in a car again for a LONG time. But I found that I prefer the northern landscape to the south. The beaches are black sand for the most part. There is the Caribbean side and the Atlantic side. The Atlantic side is rougher but has better views. The northern half reminded me of what Dominica would be like if it had a decent road system, even though Martinique’s is severely lacking, at least the roads are drive-able and don’t have huge pot holes in them every 10 feet. We went to see Saint Pierre and all the northern coastal fishing villages. Fresh tuna was being chopped up on roadside stands and you could see the boats in the water were catching more. Talk about eliminating the middle-man. We saw Mt. Pélee sort of, it was covered in clouds because the weather today was very fickle and it rained off and on all day. I have included a picture of what it looks like without clouds. We went to the museum and saw how the entire city of Saint Pierre was destroyed in about 5 minutes because of this huge explosion of gas from the mountain. They said they guessed the ambient temperature of that cloud that incinerated the entire city instantaneously was between 800 and 1000 degrees centigrade. That’s a big number. They have pictures of what some of the bodies they found looked like… not pretty. Anyway, we saw the old ruins of the buried city and some restored buildings and it was nice. We drove to some beautiful beach towns looking for a place to eat and some old plantations with beautiful gardens and colorful trees. The picture is of a place called "Habitation Leyritz" in Basse Pointe. It's an old sugar plantation that has been turned into a hotel and meeting place.

Aside from almost getting carsick several times because of the roads, it was a very enjoyable day. The north attracts less tourists but still has a lot of beautiful things to offer. We didn’t make it to Anse Couleuvre which Marie-Ange says is her favorite place on the island but I hope to once I get some reliable transportation. There are a lot of things I want to do. Take a kayak trip through mangroves and rivers, scuba dive where all the wrecked ships are, surf in the north, hike that trail in the south. I’m excited about all there is to do, but I’ll be more excited about it once I know that I have all my paperwork in.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Middle School and the Importance of BET

So on Monday the lady who is my supervisor at one of my schools and who has taken me under her wing, Marie-Claude Grangenois, offered to take me around and help me run errands and get stuff I needed. It was when she picked me up in the morning that I really felt like I was 12 again, and I was waiting for my mom to drive me somewhere so I could do something. I’ve gotten so used to being out on my own and doing things on my schedule, not being able to do that here because I don’t have transportation is quite enervating.

She was very sweet. She took me to a bank so I could open an account. We went and bought some things I needed for the house, and I got some clothes for teaching because the straps on my tanks tops were apparently not thick enough sometimes. She invited me over to her house for lunch and she had prepared Fricassee de Lambi, which is conch fricassee, and white yams which are like potatoes, and fresh avocados. All of it was delicious. Monday afternoon she brought me back and Sarah and I kind of just hung around because we finally got internet that night. SCORE.

Tuesday I went to LP Dillon, one of my school for the first time. I didn’t know it then, but I was actually going into class and going to meet the students. I sat in on two classes and all the students introduced themselves to me and I spoke to them. They asked me lots of questions about Virginia and I told them what a fabulous state it is. They asked me what I like to do, where I like to go, but when I responded to them (very slowly at the teacher’s request) I don’t think they understood a lot of what I said. So I’m trying to figure out ways I can form simpler sentences or help them understand. That’s my work this year, to make the kids understand me and to help me to understand them when they speak. To my surprise, when they introduced themselves, ALL of them said they like to dance. All of them go out and dance on the weekends. I can understand that from their cultural roots and the pounding rhythms of zouk music, but it was surprising to me that there was not onc exception to this rule, even among the guys.

All of the kids I have are between 15 and 19 years old. Some of them are a little older because they had to repeat a year or two. I am in what they call Lycee Professionels. It’s basically vocational high school or a technical school. The students I have are kind of rough. I wouldn’t compare myself to Michele Phieffer in Dangerous Minds, or anything, but they are difficult and really seem to not care at all. There are pregnant girls in the hallways and there are threats of fights after school and weapons being brought it, I’m told. But the students in the classes I had at Dillon seemed very interested and alert. They asked me a lot of questions and tried to speak in English but they were happy I could understand them in French. I was kind of thrown into the spotlight in the classes and Marie-Claude helped me a lot. I think it went well. We’ll see how it goes at my other school, LP Bateliere.

Today me, the other girl who lives in my apartment Sarah, and our good friend who lives near us Caitlin all went to Fort-de-France today to hang around and shop a little, see some sites. Right now there are big sales in all the stores. Sarah and Caitlin are also assistants but they are in primary schools. Sarah actually just found out that she has to leave because she has a thyroid problem that is exacerbated and some tests that they ran before she left came back a few days ago and were negative enough for her doctors to want her to return to investigate. I am not quite sure what I will do with this big apartment all to myself. Potential visitors, I will soon have two extra rooms. I will miss her. It’s nice to have someone to cook with and share the difficulties of getting around and going places with. It’s been hard for her to make the decision, and I can imagine as much. What a blow to get here and go through training and then find out you have to go. I will miss her. This apartment is too big and too far from things for just one person.

We did have a fun day in FDF though. We went to the Bibliotheque Schoelcher which is a very famous landmark here. It’s an old building with old books and interesting mosaic structure. I was not super impressed but now I’ve seen it. We walked around in shops for hours. Shops ranging from expensive, gorgeous clothes to super cheap, trashy clothes. I found the Martinique equivalent of Wings (for those who know those crappy beach stores in OBX and North Carolina). It even has the t-shirts where you pick the shirt and the design and they make it for you. It was hard not to buy things today. I saw some pretty things but they were too expensive. I’m not getting paid for two months and I have a LOT of expenses right now. So I really have to watch it. It’s nice to know that there are things out there. We went into a bunch of fabric stores and looked at the beautiful madras plaid that is sold everywhere. I love it and have all these creative thoughts when I see it, making dresses and skirts and placemats and curtains. Unfortunately I don’t have a sewing machine or I might actually attempt something.

For lunch we went to the central market where they sell all kinds of Martiniquais spices and fruits and vegetables. They sell fresh vanilla and all these great spices in sachets and the market itself smells great, but the best part is at the back. On the other side of the market from where we entered were these little tin shacks where people had set up their restaurants or juice stands. So we went back and chose a stall where they had some good menu choices and they offered us a juice, salad, entrée, and dessert for 14 euros. Not bad. I chose Paella Créole which had an octopus and a conch fricassee on either side, saffron rice, and two prawns which didn’t have a very good texture so I didn’t eat much of those. There was coconut chicken and Columbo chicken (a local spice) and grilled mouru, which is cod. We all really enjoyed our meals. I had juice of Prune de Cythère which was not really sweet at all but absolutely refreshing. They made it right in front of us. They also had a coconut flan, a local specialty, and every restaurant serves it. I don’t really even like coconut anything but this is good.

So we didn’t do much after FDF. We went to Caitlyn’s house to hang out a bit then back to our house to eat dinner and I went to bed early because I was so tired. I had been under attack from bees all the night before and that morning. That probably deserves some explanation… So there’s a beehive right outside the door to my balcony. The balcony is very small and floorboards are loose so I don’t use it, but also I don’t use it because there is a bee hive. So the landlady thought she would get rid of the bees for me, but the product she put on there made them crazy and they decided to come into my room. So the night she “fixed the problem” I had about 30 bees in my room. They were swarming and all over my lights and flying around, and then after a little while, they would die. So my floor was covered with dead or dying bees. They didn’t sting me fortunately, but they were everywhere. So that night I hid under my mosquito net and went to bed. The next morning it was a little better, after I removed the bee graveyard from my floor. But when I got back from running they were everywhere again. So I just kind of got dressed really fast then we left for FDF. That night there was a bee guy who came who seemed to fix the problem, but I have to keep my windows closed for 3 days so it’s very hot in my room right now. The guy who took out the bees was very strange. He was interested in my landlady but he was talking to all of us. We were all sitting around, and he came in after he had finished and started talking. Marie-Ange, my landlady, was holding the check in front of him for about 20 minutes, but he didn’t get the hint. He went on and on about how he is a Baptist preacher, but he was a clown (like in the circus with the silly car and shoes clown) before that, and he was also a horticulturist and he taught school for a while too. So we were all very perplexed at how this clown-preacher-teacher-horticultural expert managed to get rid of the bees, but he did. And he also said that if Marie-Ange married him, he’d give her a better price next time. HAHA. It was great to hear her talk about him after he left. Hilarious.

So I finally visited my other school today. I went into town with Marie-Ange because she works near it and she also took me into the school as well. I hadn’t heard anything from these people so my other tutor Marie-Claude (yes, every woman is Marie-something because Martinique is predominantly Catholic and very religious) told me just to go over there today instead of going to Dillon. So I went. And I met my partner there, Odile Sylvanie. She is very nice but very disorganized. It seems the entire school is really. I’m glad people have their stuff in order at Dillon or I think I’d be in real trouble when it comes to getting paid and getting a carte de séjour. But I went in and met her, met the principal, and visited a class. The principal is really nice. He is the president of Martinique’s soccer league and I told him I wanted to see some games while I was here. He said he would give me a ticket and I could watch in a nice box and that there are some inter-Caribbean matches coming up that will be very good in November. I think he was impressed that I liked soccer.

In contrast, the class I visited and helped with was completely out of control. Another English teacher I met in the lounge just before I went into the class told me that all the kids watch BET. So that’s where they get their ideas of America. I’m so glad he warned me about that because otherwise I would have gotten much more frustrated in class. Like in the classes I had gone to two days before, I was made the center of attention and introduced with instructions to talk about myself and respond to the students’ questions. I did this, but after they asked my name and how old I was, the questions consisted of ONLY rap-related material. One guy asked me if I like Martinique, but the rest asked about LA and guns and gang-wars and Chingy and 50 Cent and T.I. and Fat Joe and all these rappers who I know of only by name. Suddenly me, the whitest of white girls became the only link to America and black culture in America. I became the BET aficionado because I come from the place where this music is created. It’s insane how many questions they asked and the ideas they have of the Bronx and LA and all these places that are mentioned in the rap songs but are just such a small slice of America. So I guess I’ll have to find a way to use that portal because it seems that is all they are interested in. It was a difficult morning. I don’t like the school that much, it’s very far from me, and they are not organized. They need help though because they have to pass an oral exam at the end of the year for their degree and hardly any of them can get out a question without asking a word, much understand what I say, even though I’m trying to annunciate and speak very slowly.

So, even though I’m in a beautiful place, it’s interested to see the underbelly and the reality of life here. I’m starting to see what a challenging year this will be now that I know where I am and who I’m with. I will need all the help I can get so any teachers with ingenious ideas of things that have worked in the past, feel free to pass anything along.

Hope you all are doing well and enjoying Autumn. I miss the chill in the air and the smell, and the crunching of leaves under my feet. Talk you all soon!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Sunday in the Country

Saturday afternoon we all got back to the place where we had been staying, packed up our things and were all picked up and taken to our lodgings. I am glad to be back in the apartment. We went on our first grocery story trip and had a good time trying to pick out things we love to eat in France and find some American favorites. We found a good balance between pain au chocolat and breakfast cereal, passion fruit juice and fresh avocados. The fruit here is amazing and the choice of juices at the store is almost overwhelming. It’s fantastic though. So is the fruit.

Sunday was a very relaxed day. I went on my first run in St. Joseph which was sunny and quiet at the beginning and halfway through turned into torrential downpour. The rain here is unpredictable and at times, very heavy. It’s refreshing though. I didn’t mind running in it except my shoes were very heavy at the end. The rest of the day we spent organizing and chatting with Marie-Ange and the lady who’s staying with her temporarily, Sylvie. They are hilarious and I had such a nice day sort of talking with them and having people drop by to say hello and talking with everyone for hours. Nothing gets done on time here, and I think that will bother me, but it’s something I’ve realized I’ll have to add to the growing list of things to adapt to. I just can’t be too rigid in anything or I’m bound to be frustrated. Sylvie is from mainland France and I asked her if that was something that bothered her, and she said yes, at the beginning, but you’ll be able to see how it’s good and bad in some ways.

All in all, I’m looking forward to these months in Martinique. We get our first long break in a few weeks, at the end of October, and I’m hoping to be able to spend it somewhere fun. We don’t get paid until the end of November so I’ll have to get pretty creative. Imagine two months of work without a salary. Stupid bureaucracy. But I think these first weeks will be important for me to adapt and figure out how things go here. Plus I have a ton of paperwork and forms to wade through. I should be getting a car soon, so that will make things a little easier. It’s a VW Golf, which makes me SO happy. I couldn’t believe I found it, but I’m pretty sure it’s the one I’m getting. After that it’s just a matter of getting used to the horrendous traffic on the island and finding my way around.

I know this is very long, but if you made it this far, thanks for reading. Perhaps it was too detailed but such are the opening moments of a new experience. You want to savor every last morsel of it, good or bad.

I have an address now, so write me and send me things and keep in touch at:
Karla Petty
Chez Madame Ponremy
97212 St. Joseph

I also have a cell phone number: 06 96 73 01 78. It takes a few tries to figure out how to dial it but the country code for Martinique is 596, so I think you dial 011 + 596 + 696 730178. Something like that. Calling cards aren’t that expensive, though calling a mobile phone is more expensive than calling a landline, which I will have fairly soon. I’ll be sure to post that number as well when it’s activated.

Talk to you all very soon!

One Wild Ride Deserves Another

So I’ve finally arrived on the Island of Martinique. It’s beautiful. Made even more so by the fact that when I arrived, after slight confusion and delays, I was informed that I already had a place to stay. I was taken there directly from the airport and shown a lovely room with lots of windows that overlook St. Joseph, which is a small town in the center of the island. It is very hot and there is no air conditioning, but that is highly acceptable.

It took me a long time to get here, literally and figuratively. I started off from Fairfax at 6am. After I said goodbye to my mom, my dad and I drove to Dulles, where I was dropped off and started the long process to get through security and to my gate. The flight from Dulles to San Juan was uneventful and felt very long. I was hungry and very tired. When I got to San Juan, I went to Subway and had lunch, checked in for my flight to Dominica, and then sat around reading my guide book.

I flew Caribbean Sun airlines from San Juan and we were delayed a little bit because there were two Dominican women who had a problem of some sort with their ticket and they were up in arms about it. At one point there were 5 airline personnel trying to appease them at once, everyone on a different phone. They were very commanding presences. They were allowed on the flight in the end and off we went. I spent the whole flight looking out the window at the color of the water. Every time I looked away and then turned back, I thought it would be different, but it wasn’t. It was always the same unbelievable blue, only changing to fade into green then turquoise then crystal clear when it hit the sand. I saw tons of islands, some of them very developed, some of them tiny and with only one or two noticeable structures.

When landing in Dominica at Melville Hall airport, the plane goes between two very large mounds. The landing strip is very short and runs right up to the sea. I was greeted by the entire staff of the airport, all five of them. Two of them went from helping the bags in to being customs officers. I filled out my arrival cards and got through without problems, walked outside and was greeted by the taxi driver sent by the hotel owner to pick me up. His name was Ray, and Ray was Rasta. He had dreads down to the ground and reggae blaring from his car stereo. We picked up one other passenger who was to be dropped off in the center of town and started off from Melville Hall. The actual distance on the road is only 26 miles, but it took over an hour to get to the capital city of Roseau because the roads are about one lane wide, but all roads are two-ways. This compounded with the fact that we had some very steep climbs and descents while driving through the very mountainous, lush green country. There are 365 rivers in Dominica, one for every day of the year, said Rasta Ray. We passed many of them and they were all beautiful, shallow, and I found out later, have extremely pure, fresh water that flows in them. I am glad for the opportunity to see the better part of the island, but the ride was absolutely insane. FLYING around blind curves, hoping no one was coming in the other direction. Whizzing past oncoming cars, coming within nanometers of them. Fortunately, the cars in Dominica are British so passengers on the left, drivers on the right. And you drive on the left with a left-side gear shift.

So the ride made me want to throw up sometimes, scream others, and smile as well. I did none of either of the first two, but lots of the third. We passed teeny tiny little villages and shacks where people can survive off the river, a fire and picking local fruit. I saw lots of people walking along the road barefoot with machetes. It seemed a very impoverished and desolate place. It is not developed at all until you get just outside of Roseau. So it’s true that it’s the nature island, but I got an overall sad feeling from the drive. While it is beautiful and wild, it seems that Dominica is not well managed or well organized. The inhabitants certainly don’t care. Their philosophy, true to what I had heard, is to just roll with whatever life gives you. They never get stressed out they just take everything in stride. So after the crazy ride through the mountains, I made it to Roseau, and bought some food in town, which I’m very glad I decided NOT to stay in. I chose a little guesthouse called the Hummingbird Inn, which is perched atop an incredibly steep hill between Roseau and Canefield. It’s right on the ocean, but there are hardly any beaches to speak of in Dominica. There are rocks and where there are beaches with sand, the sand is very abrasive and feels like it’s taking your skin off.

I was happy with my choice to stay on Dominica because of the hotel I stayed in. The Hummingbird Inn was so close to everything, completely secluded and charming, and the owner was generous and open. She and the other guest at the hotel were my entertainment and very good company for the evening and the next morning. We all ate dinner together and breakfast the next morning on a shady patio surrounded by tropical fruits and iguanas and red-throated hummingbirds feeding at hibiscus plants. It was a lovely night and morning. It took about two minutes to get to Canefield airport, the other Dominican airport which serves only local destinations. There I found that there was a departure tax and a tax for having too much baggage which I did not have enough East Caribbean dollars for, so I had to literally run to a bank and get change. It took forever because I guess the teller wasn’t so good with changing money yet, so I made it back to the airport about 10 minutes before my flight was about to leave. I was so relieved to get back in time, but we didn’t end up leaving for another half-hour after that. Not for any particular reason, but because we just did… It’s de islands, mon.

So myself and 10 other passengers piled into a teeny little Cessna 280 and took flight. 25 minutes of flying over beautiful blue ocean later, we landed in Martinique’s Fort-de-France airport. It took me forever to get through customs because the customs guards were asking me all these questions about where I was teaching and why I was there and why did I want to come to Martinique. They were very interested in my purpose. So it was nice to chat with them. I couldn’t believe how friendly they were. And though it took longer than I wanted to get through customs, it was a welcome distraction. I got my bags, which were the only ones left on the conveyor belt, and walked through the empty hallways to the doors leading to the terminal expecting to see someone who would be looking for me. No such luck.

I wandered around the terminal for a bit and ascertained that there was in fact, no one there to greet me. I bought a phone card and called the office of the people who organize the assistants and she took care of the situation within a few minutes. I was told “the lady who you are living with is coming to pick you up immediately”. So I was very surprised, naturally. I thought that finding a place to live would be the absolute hardest thing I had to do while I was here. But that had already been taken care of. As I was waiting for the lady to come, I happened upon another assistant who was waiting to be picked up as well. We have a lot of English people here with us because depending on their major they are required to spend their third year of university abroad in some sort of work environment. He’s a great guy and quite a people person, so we had a good talk in the airport, trading concerns and laughs over travel experiences.

Marie-Ange Ponremy came to pick me up. She’s a beautiful island native with jet black hair and a dark caramel skin tone. We got into her SUV and she drove me into the hills of St. Joseph where I was shown my new residence for the next 7 months. I am told I will have internet in a short while, we have a washing machine, a full kitchen, a nice living room, and two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. There are orange trees, cherry trees and Guava trees all on the property. It’s smack in the middle of the island so it should make most of the other assistants who are scattered all over somewhat accessible. We’re also not far from a lot of things which I think will become extremely important to me over the next few months: A big grocery store, a mall, main roads, etc.

I had a little while in the room to unpack things and get situated, but I had to leave again in a few hours because for the first three nights, all the assistants for Martinique, that is, everyone who’s doing the same thing as me here for this year, was to stay on the south end of the island in Sainte Luce. I was a little sad to have to leave my apartment, but the gathering was good. Such a wide variety of people from I think about 13 countries, some Spanish speaking, some Anglophone. I’ve been really happy with everyone I’ve met, my only concern is being able to get in touch and seeing them when we’re all over the island, because not all of us will have cars, and the public transportation system leaves quite a bit to be desired, I’m afraid. So I’ve been struggling with the idea of separation from all these awesome people who I’ve met.

A lot of them have taught English in other places before and a lot of people studied abroad in France and came here for sort of the same reasons that I did. They had already done mainland France, so why not give Martinique a shot. All the University students from England had the same mindset as well. So most of the people are around my age and are kind of like me so it’s great. We are all currently gathered at a little “campsite” which is really like a collection of nice bungalows with phones and a kitchen and a bathroom with shower and four little beds. There are four assistants to a bungalow and I’m with a group of awesome girls. One of them is from London and the other two are American, one from Pennsylvania and one from Colorado.

Wednesday night we had a little show put on for us by students of Martinique Tourism. They showed us traditional dances and gave us a lot of information about the island. We all went to bed fairly early and I was up at 5:30am to go for a run on a trail that leads around the entire southern point of the island. I call it the Highway 1 of running trails. It was one of those runs that makes me so excited to explore more and very sad that I won’t be living in the southern end of the island so I can run it every day. So I got to enjoy it while we were down there. Thursday we spent the entire morning sitting in the meeting room having information thrown at us and trying to fight off the boredom because a lot of it was important. I’m basically becoming a citizen of another country and there is a lot involved in that process. My first order of business is to open a bank account and the next is to obtain a French Social Security number, then to sign up for insurance, then to apply for a housing scholarship. Unbelievable. I’m just trying to take it one step at a time. After the marathon 5-hour info session, we had lunch and then we all went down to the beach. The gorgeous, turquoise, calm waves, beautiful sand, shady trees and hot sun beach. Oh my goodness it’s too good to be true. As I stepped into the warm waters for the first time, I couldn’t believe that this is my reality for right now.

Friday was the same as Thursday except a little more interesting. I finally met one of the teachers I’m going to be working with. I think she’s a great lady and I really look forward to working with her a lot. She gave us lots of good information and offered to help me run errands by taking me around. I am worried about the other school I’m working at though because it’s much further away and it’s so hard to get places. Plus I haven’t heard a peep out of the teacher who I’m paired with there. Marie-Claude, my teacher at Dillon, assured me she’s very nice. So I’ll just have to wait and see I suppose.

Friday afternoon the girls from my cabin and I went into the little town of Ste. Luce and walked around. Everything is closed between 12:30 and at least 2pm here so it’s difficult to plan your day. We arrived exactly at 12:30 as everything was closing so it we didn’t spend long there. I bought some postcards, we walked around, then headed back to our bungalows and went down to the gorgeous beach. Friday night was a fiasco. There was supposed to be a cultural exchange between us and some Martinique students but no one gave us any details and we didn’t know when to come and they hadn’t planned their presentation at all and it was awful. So that night put us all in bad moods. And the next morning we went on a forced treasure hunt through the southern part of Martinique. We went to a rum distillery (where I had the best limeade of my life) and a few other spots that are famous in the south. The best part was lunch at this restaurant that was RIGHT on the beach. I had Dorado with “sauce chien” which means literally “dog sauce” but it’s just a name for a very common local sauce that tastes like pico de gallo except better. There’s no dog in it. There was also a fried plantain mach and potatoes au gratin, and some awesome little crab beignets and avocado salad. Mixed with the atmosphere of being right on the beach, it was a very pleasant afternoon.

That sort of concludes the stay with all the other assistants and it's a very detailed history of my first days in the Caribbean. I am enjoying it here. I don't quite feel centered, but I feel like it's just gonna take time. There will be more to say later.

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