Thursday, November 23, 2006

Spoke Too Soon

Yesterday after returning from the Prefecture (french DMV, just as badas the US) after an unsuccessful attempt at registering the car, I found that the house had been broken into and that my computer, computer bag, iPod and case and headphones, camera had all been stolen. They tried to take the TV but they either didn't have time or decided it was too heavy. I'm pretty sure that when I got back and pulled into the house they were still there and had to hide and that's why they left the TV. So life in Martinique is set back quite a few steps. Everytime I move forward here, something else comes along. I'm tired of it. I had locked the house up tight and made sure that everything was closed because Marie-Ange had warned me about other robberies in the area.

They got me. Add another B to the list: buses, bats, bees, burglars.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Mop and Go

I had a very successful day in Martinique in terms of speaking French, and with one particular class.

Before I start off; I have to apologize to Clint. I might have accidentally made one of my students have a crush on you and then taught them the song that goes "(your name here) and (object of your desire's name here) sitting in a tree; k-i-s-s-i-n-g; first comes love; then comes marriage; then comes baby in the baby carriage" and I might have used your name and a student's name. But don't worry; I warned her that she shouldn't get her hopes up. The students ate it up. These kids who I can barely get to speak in class, much less be interested, loved the song as it was a way to embarrass one of their own in another language. One got the feeling that the girl, Yasmina, ate it up as well though. She's an attention lover.

That class, (it was the first time I'd had the class ever because the class who I normally have left for their internship for 6 weeks) rolled with laughter at my accent and they also seemed to enjoy the fact that I asked them questions about créole and zouk music. There's this one song I've heard on the radio a couple of times called (seriously not kidding, this is the title and the song is even more ridiculous)"". Especially when the artist, Saël, says it in his créole accent, oh it's so funny. So they laughed because I thought the song was dumb. Then they wanted me to translate Rhianna's song "Unfaithful" for them. They know all the words by heart and they know what some of them mean; but when I was explaining what the song was about; they listened with intense attention. It was fun to have a class that laughed so much and that expressed a desire to see me again, "Madame, vous revenez la semaine prochaine??" "Madame, vous restez avec nous?" Oui mes chers, je reste avec vous.

There have been times when I wasn't sure I could say that last sentance and mean it. All the new Martiniquais people ask me right off the bat, "Do you like Martinique?" and I always say, "yes, but I need a car badly". And then they agree with me and say “oh yes it's a big problem here” and we talk about the traffic.

The students in the class seemed particularly interested in my love life. The girls told me that they wanted to take me out and show me the Martiniquais men. The one boy in the class asked me if I thought Martiniquais men are handsome. Ummmm, how do you answer that question diplomatically?, I thought. I don't want to indirectly tell this kid that he is handsome so that I don't give him any ideas, (I've been told the guys take an inch and stretch it a mile here) but I also don't want to insult his people. I told him I have met some really wonderful Martiniquais men. Truth. He persisted.
"yez, we arruh niiiceuh, but arrruh we bootifool??"
"Sure, there are handsome men in Martinique."
You can't tell someone you could never respect men who hiss at you in the street, make kissing noises as they drive by like 5 year olds, or try and talk to you while you're in the lane next to them on the road.

It's because of that that I wasn't really surprised when I found that a lot of the girls students in my classes have children already. They are 17 and 18, mind you. No husbands, just children. In the car on the way to the apartment last night Sylvie was commenting on the gentleman who tried to pick us up in the car next to us. She said that they really are like children, they stay in the apartment below their mom's house until they are 30, have no sense of fidelity or monogamy, pick up women even when the woman they already picked up is standing directly next to him... It's embarrasing. How can they have no shame?

In all of my classes on Thursday and Friday I had an activity prepared which compared the past to the present. It was mainly so they would get the idea of past and present tense verbs, but at the end when I opened up the activity to life in general, the thing they said had changed the most was violence, especially towards women. And in both classes, they agreed that men are much more aggressive in Martinique than they ever were. One of the girls started talking about the girls she knows of 10 and 11 who are already sexually active! The other girls in the class agreed with her and confirmed her reports. No wonder girls are having babies at 17.

In the classes I had on Friday the same topic came up. It was the girls who brought up the fact that there is more violence towards women, but only the men commented on it. They say it's all the girls’ faults for wearing short skirts and tight tops. Admittedly, this is true. I know it's hot in Martinique but some of the stuff the women wear here, just during the day or around, is outrageous. But the men say it's because of how they dress that women are violated more, or that men are more aggressive. I tried to get the girls to say something, anything about what this guy had just said but the girls remained silent.
Me: “So, guys, does it make you angry when women wear the sexy clothes?”
Girls (piping up after a long silence): “Bof! Ça m’etonnerais, madame.” Ha! I would be really surprised if that were the case.
Boys: No, we like when the women wear the sexy clothes. We like it a lot.
Me: When you approach a girl wearing sexy clothes and she doesn’t talk to you or ignores you or pushes you away, do you get mad?
Boys (in unison): YES!
Me: Do you approach women who don’t wear sexy clothes?
Boys: Not really.
Me: So if women want to attract men they have to wear sexy clothes but if they aren’t necessarily attracted to the every guy that hits on them, then the guy who is rejected gets angry at the girl, and possibly violent towards her. Doesn’t that put the girls in a difficult situation?
Everyone: (silence)
Me: Do you know what a double standard is?
Everyone: Quoi?
Me: (sigh)
It’s not my place to go off on the role of women in society in the middle of class. Plus, if I said it in English, which I’m supposed to speak in all the time, no one would understand and if I said it in French, the kids would be bored and tune me out because they don’t really care to have discussions like that. All I did was express that that was very surprising to me that that was the case in Martinique and said it was very different in American and elsewhere.

Sarah, my former roommate, told me about some of her travels in Africa and how she was appalled by the treatment of women and children there. I see it here too; I see the strange intersection that Martinique is of European, African and Caribbean cultures. It takes some good things from all of those, but bad things as well, and one of the worst things is this machismo that always seem to govern the comportment of men here. The way they walk and talk and act and think; it exudes a diluted sense of self-confidence. It’s not true across the board. There are exceptions to this, but for the most part, that is what I have encountered. I have met some incredibly kind, not self-seeking, not leering men who are a pleasure to interact with. I see very old gentleman, old sailors who used to race their yoles on the water in their straw hats and clad totally in white linen on their way to the wharf and as I pass they tip their hat to me and say “bwonjou” which is Créole for “bonjour”. These men bring joy to my heart and hope to my soul. It helps me balance out the appearance of posters on the street say “Don’t be like your Dad, don’t beat your wife and kids”. Apparently the problem is that rampant that they needed a national ad campaign. People have told me that while walking down the street they have seen it happening right there on a balcony of an apartment building.

Anyway, the discussions from my classes left me ruminating on how the roles for women and men in Martinique is so different. Not all women are completely submissive to their husbands and not all women who are single have babies at 17. And like I said, not all the men are creepy. But Marie-Ange was telling me how when she first got divorced it was really hard for her living alone because anytime she tried to do something, plumbing, electricity, gardening, people would try and take advantage of her and her vulnerability at that point in time. She told me she finally got wise to it and started standing up for herself and being much more demanding. It’s obviously hard for single women here and there are lot of things enculturated in the people that are so different from America that I have trouble understanding.

Later on that night I went to what I thought was a going away party for Sylvie, but it actually turned into manual labor because she still had tons of stuff to finish at her apartment. Sylvie’s apartment is this long-running bad joke for Marie-Ange and I. Sylvie came to stay with Marie-Ange at the end of August, just after she bought the place and right when she started the renovations. She estimated it would take about a week to remove a small barrier, retile the kitchen floor and the bathroom and paint a few walls. Almost three months later, she was scrambling to finish everything that she had planned on doing before she left for France. A lot of it is due to the fact that the electrician, the tile guy, and pretty much everyone else who did any work on her apartment besides her friends was completely incapable and did more harm than good. Also, it was really hard to get them to show up. And these were supposed to be paid “professionals”. I couldn’t believe the crap they pulled or some of the work they tried to pass off on her. It was absolutely insulting that it took so long for them to come and then when they did finally show up the quality of their work was astonishingly poor. Sylvie came home with stories about the ridiculousness every night.

So to help, I was painting furniture, cleaning and vacuuming, Marie-Ange was toting stuff out to the dumpsters and carting furniture away, Sylvie was touching up doors and tiling, and trying to get stuff for her classes arranged. We worked up until the LAST minute, and I mean it was the LAST minute. We were the last people in line for her flight to Paris and she barely made the final boarding call.

So even though her going away party was a pretense for getting us to help her finish all this crap she had to do, it was still interesting. I find that I am able to understand a lot more of what is said in French at a normal rate of speaking. I can understand TV and sometimes radio news programs. It’s encouraging. But what was funny about Sylvie’s last night in town was that she is a huge fan of puns, Jeux de mot, and so Marie-Ange, me and Sylvie and one other guy from métropole (mainland France) were there and they were just laughing and having a great time and I could follow it for once. I understood what they were saying. I didn’t get all of the wordplay, but I did get a good amount, and if I ever looked confused, they explained it to me and then I usually got whatever the joke was. It was really fun and we all laughed a lot. I enjoyed myself, even if I had been lured there under false pretenses. Because she needed to get rid of it, Sylvie opened some delicious red wine to go along with delivery pizza. I enjoyed the mixing of the two opposite ends of the spectrum. The wine was better than the pizza.

So we took Sylvie to the airport and dropped her off the next night. I had looked at a car that morning and I looked at another that night. Between the options presented to me on Friday, I’m pretty sure I’ve found what I’m looking for. So I’m just excited that now I’ve got a shot at freedom and I might be able to be mobile as early as next week. I woke up in the morning, went for a run, and when I got back I threw myself into cleaning the apartment from top to bottom. Sylvie is storing a lot of stuff here while she’s gone and the vacuum is broken, but I did a lot despite those two things. It felt great when I was done to have a space that is now all mine, and to have it be clean and ready for me, and hopefully my car whenever that happens. It felt like a fresh start, complete with the fresh scent of the cleaner that lingered all day.

I am going to try and get my Carte de Séjour tomorrow. It makes me a temporary French citizen and gives me health insurance and all that. Every time I have to go through one of the French bureaucracy’s mazes I get nervous and hope I have all my papers in order. Half of the things I’m supposed to have for tomorrow are not with me because they haven’t been sent to me yet, or the results aren’t back. Everything reeks of poor planning and it seems like it’s always the assistants who suffer. They’ll give us those awful raised eyebrows and say “you don’t have your social security card?” No ma’am they haven’t sent them yet. Then they give you the short but very pretentious laugh that seems to say, “Well, clearly you’re very disorganized and never do things right. Why are you wasting my time?” I’m kind of fed up with that.

It was a quiet weekend but I feel like I’ve conquered a lot. I feel like I can take Martinique on better now that I have the hope of mobility. I’m looking forward to the few weeks I have left before my visit home. Hopefully I’ll be able to see and do a lot.

Until next time.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

I went running in the rain today.

It’s been raining here for two straight days. At time it’s been light, at times a deluge, but always raining. I didn’t go running yesterday. Today I didn’t go until later in the day to see if I could find a crack in the weather about an hour long. Then I got wrapped up in some things, and missed my window. The clouds were heavy and dark in the west. I couldn’t see into the valley because the wall of rain was already that thick and close. I started to feel the need to defy something. I needed to defy the weather. I needed to defy Martinique and it’s tendency to defeat me in things I try to do.

The clouds got thicker. I could feel the wind start to pick up. I put on my shoes. Droplets started falling, I walked out the door. I breathed in the water and air and started running down the road.

Every step I took it seemed like the rain started coming down more and after a few minutes it was pouring and I was soaked. I didn’t care though. I started conjuring memories of the 10-miler Mark and I ran in the
pouring down rain. I started remembering when my mother and I were in Tours, France the summer after my junior year of high school and it was in the middle of the trip and everything seemed so hard. I was missing people and feeling like I’d never be able to speak French and I felt sad. It started to rain and I just decided I needed to go out in it. So I went for a run.

Something about the rhythm of running, breathing, escaping from my room was exactly what I needed. And the fact that the rain was falling so hard and it was so a time I should not have been running, it made it ever better. I just kept going. My shoes were filled with water and I was soaked to the skin, cars and buses were splashing me and normally that would have made me mad but I didn’t care. I just needed to run. I wish I could have run forever and I wish there hadn’t been any cars on the road, but I got what I needed. I got out, I moved. I defied the weather’s attempt to stop me and to make me feel bad. I defied Martinique. Take THAT.

I was running thinking that I just needed to do something hard that wasn’t teaching. Something that’s hard that I knew I could do. Harder than what I have been doing at home and at school, trying to teach these kids with nothing to go on. Sometimes things just pile up on me and I need to get rid of it somehow. This is how I did it I guess. One of my favorite things to do is curl up with a book and watch the rain, but only if I feel I’ve conquered it by going out in it first. It felt good to get out. It felt like I was proving to myself that I can do things here. It’ll be okay.
In closing:

Oh, what'll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what'll you do now, my darling young one?
I'm a-goin' back out 'fore the rain starts a-fallin',
I'll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest,
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty,
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters,
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison,
Where the executioner's face is always well hidden,
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten,
Where black is the color, where none is the number,
And I'll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it,
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it,
Then I'll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin',
But I'll know my song well before I start singin',
And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard,
It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A New Perspective

Ah! An escape from Martinique. Couldn’t have come at a better time. I got a few assistants together to split a little cottage in southern Guadeloupe for this week off from school. I didn’t do much in the days leading up to it. Just packed and putzed around the apartment. I helped Sylvie paint her furniture in the apartment, somehow managed to get a cold in the hottest place I’ve ever lived, and read The Grapes of Wrath.

Right. On to the excit
ing part. We left on Sunday at noon on the high-speed catamaran ferry that goes to Guadeloupe via Dominica. The winds were pretty high that day and we ended up having really rough seas. The boat pitched from side to side almost constantly once we didn’t have an island to protect us. I had taken seasick pills before I got on to be extra careful. I didn’t really think that it would be a problem for me but I had heard horror stories of others. It was actually a pretty pleasant way to travel save for the constant side to side motion and not really being able to walk around. The boats are pretty swanky with plasma screen TVs and nice floors and big cushy seats. Unfortunately, the TV screens were wasted on a horrible Spanish movie dubbed in French, and then a DVD of a live zouk concert.

We were all glad to
get off the boat and to Guadeloupe where our car rental lady was waiting for us. She picked us up and took us to the car rental place to pick up our piece of metal that represents FREEDOM and EVERYTHING that is wrong about Martinique. It felt so good to be behind the wheel and in command of where I wanted to go. When we had exited the boat, one of the girls with us, Angela, had run into some German guys that she knew from a bar in Martinique. They are students at the university in Shoelcher. It turned out they didn’t have a place to stay until their friends arrived on Tuesday, and we had extra space as the last of our 4 person party was also arriving on Tuesday, so we invited them to come to St. François with us. Andy and Martin (who will henceforth be referred to as “Zie Juhmans”) happily agreed and we all piled in our car together. A few wrong turns and one phone call to the owner later, we arrived at Habitation Mahault, tucked away in a little corner on the edge of St. François about 200 meters from the sea. The owner met us with a platter of rice, tuna, corn and tomatoes, and flan au coco for dessert. It was late so he just gave us the keys and said have a good night, we would meet in the morning. We settled in, devoured the food that was set before us, and then Angela and the guys went out to get some rum and hang out on the porch but Alex (Irish girl, another assistant) and I were way too tired to stay up any longer so we went to bed. They came back around 3:30 with a 35 Euro bottle of rum and a flat tire. They told me they had been led all over the island by two guys on motorcycles who said they knew where to get rum and had gotten a flat tire from a pipe that was in the middle of the road. I was already not pleased at being woken up and then I was even MORE not pleased at the sound of the rental car being messed up, so I just went back to sleep. I was up until 5 because they didn’t go to sleep and the walls are very thin.

The next morning I got up, cranky and irritated, around 8 for the inaugural Guadeloupe run. I ran around the golf course that is near the hotel and down to the marina. About 5 miles round trip, it was nice to see a little bit of the town and start placing things on my own. Once people woke up, we went to the store and Zie Juhmans offered to cook us breakfast as a thank you for letting them crash at our little place. They provided a wide array of fruits, cheeses, meats, eggs and bread. It was a nice way to start the day. It also assuaged some of my anger from the night before. We all went over to the owner of the property’s house after we had finished because he had offered to welcome us with some Ti-Punch (a traditional Antilles drink made from rum, sugar cane syrup and lime juice). We sat around with his whole family and our clan of 5 people chatting for about an hour. They come from mainland France and moved here about a year ago for a more relaxed lifestyle. They are also a foster family for disabled children, two of which they have adopted and live with them here in Guadeloupe. Right from the first they were an amazingly kind and welcoming family.

That afternoon we headed to the beach that is right dow
n the path from our bungalow. It is beautiful and is like a little lagoon, really. The only problem is that there are a lot of seaweed beds and a lot of coral rocks on the ocean floor, so walking out and wading in the water was either slimy or rough on the feet. It was still a pretty relaxing afternoon. That night we met some of the other assistants from Martinique (Nicola and Ruth, two Irish lasses, and David Stevens, a Scottish lad) who came to Guadeloupe this week also. The place we went to was really nice and the drinks were beautifully presented, delicious and strong. They ought to be at 10 bucks a pop. We had a great time there hanging out and catching up. The other assistants had come from Ste. Anne by bus and were stranded because we ended up staying until the bar closed so I had to drive them back while the St. François crew waited for me to come back and get them. They ended up making friends with the owner and getting all their drinks for free and, by the time I got back, were all taking pictures together. Zie Juhmans managed to wrangle a whole pineapple from the bar and took it back with him to the bungalow.

The next morning I got up very ea
rly because I wanted to go into town and get the popped tire replaced to stop driving around on the spare. I arrived promptly (though prompt, I’m finding has a very loose meaning in the islands) when the shop opened and inquired about the tire. They said they had to get it from Pointe-à-Pitre, the capital city, but if I came back around noon it would be there. So I drove back to the bungalow and by that time both Martin and Alex were awake and we decided to take a trip out to a viewpoint about 5 miles down the road from us. It’s called Pointe des Chateaux and it is the very southern tip, a little peninsula, of Guadeloupe. Never was a ten-minute drive so rewarding. We arrived at beautiful cove with crashing waves and water that changed color from blue to green to turquoise every few minutes. The rock formations had been pounded away by the waves for centuries and left behind a formation of three stacks leading out to one larger rock, all in front of a high cliff. At the top of the cliff was a white marble cross that is apparently lit with candles at night and must be beautiful. We stayed and splashed around, I hiked up to the top of the hill to soak it all in. Then we just sat on the rocks in the sun watching the big waves crash up on them. Martin started carving the pineapple into a makeshift jack-o-lantern because it was Halloween. The best part of that was eating the inside. Every time I get a taste of fresh local pineapple I get the sense that being here is worthwhile.

We came back to the bungalow to rouse the other two around 11. Martin conti
nued carving the pineapple and we ate breakfast and got ready for the beach. Zie Juhmans were leaving (or so we thought…) because their friends were arriving today and they were going to stay with them, and our fourth person was arriving that night. So we went into town, got the tire changed, then headed to the beach in Sainte Anne, about 20 minutes west of us. The beach is so beautiful. It’s white sand stretch pretty far bordered by crystal clear waters and little waves that almost rocked me to sleep while I was floating, and shady trees all along the sand, perfect for hammocks or reading or sleeping. We had a wonderful afternoon.

That night, we went to the port and traded two Germans for one Englishwoman, Ceri (pronounced Carrie... it's Welsh). We picked her up and took her back to St. François. We ate dinner at the bungalow and then headed out to Ste. Anne again to meet up with Nicola, Ruth and David and to go to a bar that had live music. We had a fun night sitting out in the open air bar sippin
g our delicious cocktails and listening to a guy sing his heart out to well-known zouk and reggae tunes, and the locals helped him out. We had had a nice night and the bartender gave me free ice cream at midnight because it was my birthday. Always a good way to end a night.

The next morning w
e planned a trip to Basse-Terre, which is the other main half of Guadeloupe. It is more mountainous and has lots more rainforests and undeveloped landscape. It is also home to Guadeloupe’s volcano, La Soufrière.. We all wanted to go see waterfalls, so I planned a route that lead us through the heart of the rainforests and down to the southern part of Basse-Terre to see the big waterfalls near La Soufrière. We drove about an hour from St. François to the Route de la Traversée, which splits Basse-Terre down the middle. We saw huge mahogany trees and beautiful plants, and we stopped right in the middle to see Cascade des Ecrévisses. It was a small little waterfall into a large, clear pool about 5 minutes walk back into the rainforest from the road. We all got in and walked around, there were lots of people swimming and going under the falls. We snapped some photos and then headed off to go see the main stop on the agenda, Les Chutes du Carbet.

We drove around and up a very narrow path into the mountainous rainforests of southern Basse-Terre and parked. It was a half-hour trek through the forests to get to the bottom of the falls. The air was heavy with humidity and full of animal sounds, birds and insects and a constant whirring noise, which I never quite figured out but didn’t seem unnatural. We walked through the damp but cooler air to the bottom of a gigantic 350-foot waterfall. As soon as we got there it started to rain and I just put my camera under some thick jungle growth and walked out into it, wading in some pools, breathing in the clean air. I thought it was so cool to be there at the foot of this huge waterfall and out in the rain and in a place that seems so wild and untamed. I was really enjoying the moment.

We hiked back to the car, ate our picnic lunch that we brought with us, and headed back to St. François where I dropped the girls off at the beach, and I went back to the bungalow because I wanted to lay down. When I arrived, I received a call from Monsieur Descombes, the property owner, who said he had some things for me. He and his whole family soon arrived at the bungalow’s door bearing some gorgeous tropical flowers, a coconut cream cake (both from my parents), and their own contribution of a little gift basket of Guadeloupean typical items, a small bottle of rum, a lime, a little postcard and a beautiful exotic flower. I was so overwhelmed at the fact that they had taken the time
to make me a little basket for my birthday and that the whole family came over to wish me well. I was really happy to have a family to share it with, even if it wasn’t my own. Their hospitality was WAY over and above anything I had expected.

Soon after, I went to go pick up the girls and told them the exciting news that we had CAKE! We got back to the bungalow to get ready for dinner. I got to choose where since it was my birthday and the one night we were going out to eat. I chose Café Iguane, coming highly recommended by Monsieur Descombes and his wife (a former chef in France). We went out there and had such a wonderful evening. Immediately upon walking in the door we were whisked to our table with the most proper and lofty French, no trace of Creole there, and we sat down and were presented with our menus. It was a pretty expensive restaurant but well worth the price we paid to eat there. All the furniture was mahogany and the dining room had huge open windows and terraces and only three solid walls, the fourth being a wooden lattice. The open windows were covered by shiny sheer red cloth and the tables were dressed with traditional Antilles colors, predominantly yellow, green and red. The chef’s suggestion was the Salade Langouste (langouste = langoustine = lobster without claws) which had guacamole, grapefruit and Batavia lettuce in a citrus vinaigrette. As soon as I heard it I put away my menu because I knew that’s what I wanted. Ceri got an amazing chicken dish which was spiced and cooked to perfection and served with Thai rice and grilled vegetables. We were all so happy to be in such a beautiful environment with elegant service and eating delicious food. Normally whenever we arrive anywhere in Martinique we are sweaty and order the cheapest thing on the menu and eat only half of it to save the rest for dinner. Here we had the luxury of enjoying every bite, of being waited on attentively, and just having a great night out.

After the restaurant we drove to Ste. Anne to have a drink and look at the cemeteries, which were completely covered in candles because of the holiday Toussaint (All Saint’s Day). The cemeteries here consist of white glossy tile tombs which are all above ground. Most of the ones I have seen in Martinique and Guadeloupe are near the water and they are really beautiful because they glisten and contrast against the very blue ocean. They did look beautiful at night. The drink afterwards was anti-climactic. We headed back somewhat early.

Thursday we decided would be an all-day beach day. We got up sort of late and headed out to the beach around 11. Zie Juhmans showed up a little around noon. Martin had developed a huge crush on Angela by this time, so they tagged along pretty much whenever they could, Andy playing Martin’s wingman. I decided to wander down the beach and peek at some of the touristy booths set up on the sand. I passed a little kiosque that said “Diving School” and I had planned on going diving while I was here so I decided to get some information on it. I asked the guy who ran it what possibilities there were for someone like me and showed him my card. He took my card, and five minutes later wandered back and said “you want to go right now?” so I said “okay”. 15 minutes later, I was on a little boat with all my gear headed into the waves and out into the beautiful deep blue sea. About a half hour of struggling against the waves later, we arrived at a place where these guys do a lot of diving. I jumped off the side of the boat with my flippers, put on my BC and then we submerged into the very intriguing world of undersea life. We had a really go
od dive. I saw a huge barracuda, and even bigger lobster, and some sort of a fish that was pretty large as well. I also saw a ton of these iridescent blue fish and some ones that look like rainbows. I was a little too buoyant and I had to work to stay under, but other than that it was really nice.

I came back to the beach feeling like a block of salt, but also feeling satisfied. I met the girls and Zie Juhmans and we decided to go out hardcore that night, and try a Guadeloupean discotheque. We heard there was a good one in Gosier, and we went back to the bungalow to get ready. We had a lot of fun trying to scrounge around for make-up and fun clothes and jewelry out of the meager pile of things we had brought with us. We left for the club around 10pm and got there around 10:30. Zie Juhmans showed up around 10:45 and we were all very excited at the prospect of dancing and going out. You could see how starved we all were for nightlife. Going out alone is such a novelty to me in the context of the Antilles, I was dying for the chance to go out and see what all the locals dance to and hear some zouk and trying to learn some moves. All my students ever say they do is dance on the weekends, so I assume they go to places like Le Cheyenne. I wanted to see what it was all about.

We had been listening almost exclusively to one radio station in the car called NRJ (pronounced like Energy in French). It’s a run-of-the-mill top 40 station but I think their rotation is about 15 songs. I was sick of it after about 10 minutes, but the other girls seemed to love it so I just drove and tried to block it out. Since we’re in the car kind of a lot and Angela likes having music all the time even if it’s bad, we hear ever song they play about 3 times a day. We have developed a soundtrack to the trip that plays constantl
y in all of our heads because we hear them so much they are permanently etched in our brains. I will admit that it was an excellent way to get pumped up for going out to a nightclub though. So all the way there we were rocking out in the car and making excited predictions about what songs we wanted to hear the most and daring Alex to hit on Guadeloupean men who she seems to fancy quite a lot.

We were standing outside the club and waiting for Zie Juhmans and we heard some great music being played. That made us even happier. When we were all finally there and got inside, the music changed to stuff that was not good and then when from not good to bad, and then from bad to remixes of old dance hall songs with boat horns and sirens blaring and making you deaf at random points in the song, whenever the DJ felt like inflicting more pain than he already was. I danced to about 4 songs and they were fun, but for the most part I did not enjoy the musical selection. I was so primed for dancing though, that I couldn’t help but stay on the dance floor and try and tough it out. I just closed my eyes and tried to block out everything except the rhythm. It worked pretty well for a few songs. I was surprised to see the number of guys dancing. It was almost all guys on the dance floor.

Around 3:30am we went to the bar next door to escape the music. It was just as bad there, and that was when we decided to head home. Zie Juhmans, as usual with their poor planning, or perhaps deliberate poor planning, had to come back to the bungalow with us because they couldn’t get a taxi. I was not very happy about it. But I was happy to get back to my bed and everyone was tired so no one kept me up, it was 4am anyway.

The next day, Friday, we decided to make an all-day beach day. All day was really more like a half-day because we didn’t really end up getting anywhere until around 2pm. We got to Ste. Anne, spread out, played scrabble, slept. I almost finished my book but ended up falling asleep only to be woken up with a soccer ball to the head courtesy of some young guys playing in the sand near our spot. Zie Juhmans were still with us at this point because they didn’t have transport back to where they were staying, but after we decided to leave the beach, they went back to their villa in Pointe-à-Pitre by bus. That night we hung out around the house, took naps, and then we headed to Le Moule for a party on the beach with some of the Guadeloupe assistants whom we had met on the boat ride over.

The party was actually for Guy Fawkes Day. You’ll remember the significance of this day if you saw V for Vendetta. It’s a very important English holiday and the English assistants really went all out. They did a dramatic interpretation of the Guy Fawkes story, made a huge bonfire, burned a Guy Fawkes doll, and then we all ran around the bonfire chanting:

“Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.
We see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!”

There is more to the rhyme but we stopped after chanting those lines a few times, then we burned Mr. Fawkes in effigy and had some rum to add a little Caribbean flavor. I liked seeing the holiday in practice and how different people from different parts of England experienced it. The Londoners pretty much just see it as Fireworks day, but the people from the smaller villages in England really got into it and it was much more important to them. I’ve been hanging out exclusively with UK people and my vocabulary has been influenced. I find myself saying “quite” instead of really and “boot” instead of trunk. I have really enjoyed being the minority this week.

It was good to get the chance to talk to some Guadeloupe assistants and see what their experience of the island was. I was relieved to find that some of their problems are the same as ours and it was good to get a chance to talk about it and sort of encourage one another. Invitations were exchanged to come back and we invited them over to our fair island. It made me almost proud to be on Martinique. When I was talking to them I knew that I was happy I wasn’t there, that I was in Martinique instead. Guadeloupe is less expensive, which is nice. But for some reason, with all its problems, I felt a little smug talking to the Guadeloupe people.

I was thankful to get home a little earlier that night, around midnight. I was also glad to have a break from Zie Juhmans. We decided before we went to bed that we would try the ultimate Guadeloupe beach, Plage de la Caravelle, the next day. We woke up pretty late, ate breakfast, and then headed out around mid-day to Sainte Anne. Plage de la Caravelle is the beach that Club Med Guadeloupe is built on. The locals have access through a narrow dirt road and a windy path to get there. But once you do arrive, it’s nothing but beautiful coves full of beautiful water and white sand and shady palm trees. We staked out a place under a nice palm tree and got busy beaching.

I finished my book, took a walk to get some fresh pineapple, looked at some b
eachy souvenirs, and just sat on my towel admiring my surroundings. I probably say this every time I write about a beach, but I still can’t get over it. My parents, the morning of my departure, read me Proverbs 28:14, which says “Blessed is the man always has awe of the Lord, but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble.” It has reminded me that even in the face of three B’s (bats, bees and buses) I need to retain a sense of awe. I live in a beautiful place. I have an amazing opportunity to help some kids who need me. I get to go to places with the most beautiful water and the most calming scenes I have been privileged enough to see in my life. Being in Guadeloupe helped me get some perspective on Martinique. It was good to remember all that on the last day.

So we had an incredibly relaxing and idyllic beach day to finish. We were invited
to a pool party by Zie Juhmans at their villa, but I was absolutely not interested in going. It was an hour away and the late nights we had been having all week had already taken their toll, AND we had an early wake-up for the boat the next morning. I told the girls that I wasn’t going to go but if they wanted to they could. After a lot of back and forth and indecisiveness, we decided we wouldn’t go. Zie Juhmans, who had spent the entire day trying to catch a bus to get to us at Plage de la Caravelle and who finally got there about a half hour before we were going to leave, were very disappointed. But it was just too much. We packed up our stuff and then headed back to the villa at about 5:30 to decide how to better spend the evening than going to a pool party really far away. We all showered, ate dinner, and at about 9pm, we had commenced playing cards when we heard a knock at the door. Who could it be? Oh… It must be obvious at this point. It was ZIE JUHMANS!

They had decided that the pool party at their villa wasn’t worth it if we w
eren’t going to be there. So despite there being no buses and no taxis, they made it to our bungalow in Saint François. They hitchhiked and bummed rides off bartenders, and even employed
(I kid you not) a stolen grocery cart to get to us. Never mind the fact they didn’t have their stuff with them for the boat the next morning, never mind they didn’t hav
e a way to get to the port the next morning because our car was full, those loveable idiots came to hang out anyway. When we saw them outside our door we all looked at each other in disbelief and burst out laughing. I have to admit that after the initial surprise wore off, I was overwhelmingly annoyed with their lack of logical thinking and knew that I would get stuck having to sort out their transportation woes the next morning. Not to mention to put up with them wanting to stay up really late and taking up all the room in our little bungalow. Everyone was just so shocked they were there, we couldn’t really stop laughing. We quickly realized that we would have to leave the bungalow because it’s just too small for all of us to hang out in. We headed into St. François to the bar we had gone to on Monday night, and said hello to Fred, the bartender who Andy and Martin are best friends with, apparently. We hung out there rehashing the trip and trying to accept the fact that we had to go home the next day.

We didn’t stay at the bar too long. I wanted to go to the beach that was right by our bungalow because the moon was full and there were hardly any clouds in the sky. It was one of the most amazing nights I can remember in terms of atmosphere. The moon was so bright you had a very clear shadow. When we went down to the beach, it was so bright out you could see the water’s color perfectly and the stars were out in force. It wasn’t hot out and there was a nice breeze as well. I was really happy because there was room to spread out and we could wade in the shallow parts of the waves. I didn’t stay too long at the beach, just long enough to appreciate how gorgeous it was there. Then I went back up to the house to get to bed. Alex and I went to bed around 1 and everyone else stayed up until about 2:30.

The next morning, as predicted, we had a huge mess trying to get the guys to the port. I had told them right off the bat that we would only be able to take them as far as Gosier because we had to drop off the rental car. So we all got our stuff packed and the guys were on the phone non-stop trying to find a ride and get their stuff (including boat tick
ets) to the port because they had left it all at their villa. I felt bad, but there was nothing I could do. They ended up making it to the port by flagging down a car on the highway leading into Point-à-Pitre. They are amazingly good at getting themselves out of scraps. Life will be less crazy without them around. Without anyone around for that matter. (Repeat to myself over and over again: car in two weeks, car in two weeks, car in two weeks…)

I am so glad I got the chance to go to Guadeloupe, so glad I got a chance to get to know the girls I went with better, so glad for the entertainment of Zie Juhmans, and so glad to have a better perspective on Martinique now. I may have preferred Guadeloupe for the week I was there but that was because I had a car to take me everywhere, no classes to teach, and beautiful beaches at every turn. I still have to wait a while to really get into life here, but I think it will come. I have only a few weeks of teaching, about 5 I think, before I go home for Christmas. It seems amazing that it’s coming up so soon but it also seems very far away. Thank you to everyone who sent me birthday wishes. I really appreciated it.

More pictures from the trip have been posted here.

And also, the islands are on Atlantic Standard time, so we are an hour later than you all now. We don't observe Daylight Savings time. Just a little bit of useful info.

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