Tuesday, December 14, 2004

In the Loupe, Chapter 11

Well, my friends, it's been a while. Or not really, but after the obsessive minute-by-minute updates of old, it feels like I haven't written in ages. It doesn't help that when I do make it to the computer, struck by inspiration, hotmail's server is too busy and it's a no-go. Oh, that hotmail. Not so hot anymore.

At the grocery store yesterday I became Guadeloupan; would you like to hear the story? Okay:

You bag your things yourself, only the bags are all clumped together, unseparated, often with twisty-ties and other such bag-separating obstacles. This makes the check-out process even longer and more painful, considering that there are maybe three counters open for six hundred shoppers.

So if you're me, you feel guilty and time-consuming as the customers waiting in line watch you fumble through your groceries, tearing bags apart with your teeth, sweating and apologizing, stuffing thing in with no concern for weight or possible leakage (bleach with pineapple? no problem!), knowing full well that one bag is not strong enough to hold guava juice, a melon, four cans of peas and a mop head, but too stressed out to face the intimidating new set of bunched plastic and so pretending that everything's just as you intended. Obviously the bag's going to break before you leave the parking lot and you'll have to stuff groceries into your purse and maybe into your waistband if it's snug enough - obviously.

But yesterday - oh ho! yesterday - I followed the example of the Gwada lady in front of me who stood absolutely unconcerned as she filled up, no more than three items per bag, seemingly in slow motion. She wouldn't even pay until she was completely finished, and then it was a cheque (very common here) so she stood waiting the three minutes it takes to clear - three minutes which could have been used to fill grocery bags. I didn't go to her extreme, of course, but I definitely refused to feel rushed. I remained calm, bagged my kiwis and my toilet paper with grace and poise, and I left that store feeling like a million damn dollars. (One of my bags still broke and my tomato sauce shattered and splattered all over the street, but not because of rushing. This time it was pure and simple bad karma.)

School's going well, too - some of the kids are a hassle, but some of them are so amazing and look up at me with such shining eyes that my heart nearly bursts with love for them. And here, the plus side to having zero child protection programs in place is that we can touch the kids with no worry about lawsuits. They're touchy-huggy anyway, so I'm glad I can let them be, instead of keeping them nervously at arm's length and insisting on high fives. I'm going to look into smuggling: how many of these kids can I get back into Canada with me? Do I have to declare them? Pay taxes?

But wait - you must be dying to know how things are going with the new apartment; I know I would be. Well, things are fantastic. It was sketchy at first because there were dead bugs everywhere, scattered on floor and furniture underneath the fluorescent lights they zapped themselves on. There were dirty dishes in the sink and dead, squashed centipedes on the floor... oh holy shit, said I to myself, I have made a terrible mistake.

But I washed the entire apartment's worth of floors - on hands and knees, let it be known - and washed the futon cover, the kitchen and the bathroom; I got rid of the ugly resident ceramics, hung my own art and burned incense for three days. Now that it's not filthy, it's spacious and airy, on the ground floor, surrounded by a gorgeous garden and with an exciting electric gate. I was wrong about the epic climb: steep but not so long, so really much easier than at the other place.

There are some hazards but I'm getting them under control. First is this huge tree that hangs over the driveway to my door with "fruit à pain" in it, this stinky potato family fruit or vegetable - no one seems to know what it's really for - that looks like a huge guava. Lovely tree. It's the season, though, so several times a day a large, smelly fruit comes crashing down onto the driveway and bursts, spreading its stinky smell around my front entrance. I come and go at supersonic speed, as I'm afraid that I (or someone coming to visit - do I get sued, or the landlords?) will be taken out by one of these bad boys: death by bread fruit.

More than this potential safety hazard was the very real and very infuriating mosquito problem: I didn't think I could put a mosquito net in because it's a cement-ish ceiling, so I figured I'd just get used to it. For those of you scoffing at my being a wimp, stop it. Do not understimate the mosquito: not only am I COVERED in hideous red bumps - which the kids find really impressive - but I caught a cold from not sleeping for several days. Well, probably from cold river water or something, but the dead exhaustion was the clincher. You really can't ignore them or get used to them, but the buzzing can make you lose your mind.

Luckily there are a couple of guys from Dominica who were doing painting and stuff around the house - two basketball players; they're huge! - so as well as setting up my bathroom mirror and sawing the door so that it would close and passersby couldn't watch me pee, AND as well as speaking English with me all week, they jimmied up a system to attach my mosquito net and now, once again, I can sleep at night. Can I get a whoa, Dominica!

The final hazard is the neighbourhood I've moved into: while I am pleased to walk to and from school, I am a bit freaked out that half a dozen of my students are my neighbours. It was enough seeing them at the grocery store, the beach, the river... now at home, shaking out a rug on the front step and wearing nothing but a skimpy housedress and a smile, I hear "ello Kafreen!" as my nine-year-old students hang over the gate to chat with me. At my home. Where I live. My two-doors-down neighbour is one my all-time favourites, though, grade five Cedric, and I think we're going to be great friends. Just me and Cedric, Cedric and me. *sigh*

I was sad to say good-bye to the frogs that live in Cinette's kitchen - especially the sugar jar frog (on, not in, the jar), with whom I had formed a special bond - and am even sadder to realize that the frogs chez Kathryn are not so successful. I'll see what I think is a fluff or a cluster of two or three raisins (though I don't eat raisins, so I don't know why I always think that) and go to pick it up, and it's a wee little frog trying to hop along. They're a different breed and can't survive inside, so after living through their adventures with them - couch to door, door to closet - it's pretty devastating to find their itty-bitty corpses the next morning, usually frozen in mid-hop, their last moment of glory. So now I'm their freedom fighter and spend all my time picking them up and tossing my little raisin clusters outside where they can be all they were meant to be.

While grieving the sad fate of my new little friends, however, I am quite pleased with my resident lizards. My favourite is a vivid green little fellow with brown spots on his throat, who hangs out all the time. I named him Charlie because he reminds me of Bob's bad-ass chameleon and I'm not very creative with names. (Except for the little brown guy with a mohawk and who likes mashed bananas, whom I named -- wait for it -- "Hawk-eye." You tell me that isn't the best thing I've ever come up with. Mo-HAWK? MASHed? Say no more, mon a-mor.)

This Charlie (the second) LOVES me, staying for hours at a time, including at night when "lizards don't come inside," according to Mr. Know-it-all Franck. Looks like Franck don't know Charlie, is what it looks like. Charlie just sits on the wall with his head tilted jauntily to the side (which I interpret as "hey man - what's going on?") and watches me. You're thinking he's in it for the mosquitoes, but they're mostly in the bedroom; nothing in the living room but me, Charlie and our sweet vibe. I wanted to measure him and was going to hold the ruler far away and generally guess, but Charlie let me put the ruler right beside him. He just looked at me (hey man - what's going on?) and I measured him (14 cm including tail) and we smiled at each other knowingly. I feel he really GETS me, you know?

He didn't even abandon me when I put on the Riverdance cd - oh yes, I brought Riverdance - and played my favourite game, where I pretend I'm at a percussion audition and blow everyone away by instinctively understanding the complicated rhythms. There are a good four or five audition-fantasy-worthy songs, and Charlie stood by me through them all. I think he didn't realize I was just pretending not to know the music and he was really impressed. I haven't told him, but if he sees me do it again I guess the jig will be up.

Before I go, I need to apologize that I probably got you all on a cell-phone instant message mailing list, as I bought into the scam. Neat! I thought, I can send quick hello messages to my friends abroad! But now they go into my mailbox and send it to everyone, or something like that. So ignore it, just hit delete, pretend it never happened. Sorry.

Happy holidays folkies,


Tuesday, November 30, 2004

In the Loupe, Chapter 10

Hello, hello.

On my way to the internet place I thought I had a bajillion things to talk about, but now all I can remember is that there's this one crazy street in the middle of town, a connecting street between two one-way streets, that is suddenly traffic-on-the-left. You're walking along, hurrying to school and distracted by the cookie jar song running incessantly through your head, and you suddenly step in front of a moving car because you forgot you were momentarily in England and looked the wrong way. What the hell is going on? I guess they want easier left-hand turns from the one-ways, but let's not lose our heads here. It's like this one round-about where priority is suddenly to the people coming in, rather than heading out. So if you don't know and you've been driving successfully around town for hours, you suddenly get t-boned because you didn't know to stop. You know? It's crazy.

Meanwhile, I'm moving tonight to my very own apartment. I'm really excited. Packing last night was hard, though, because I suddenly could imagine very clearly how I'll feel in July when it's time to pack up for good - I have to stop acting out my fantasies, because I was pretty devastated. I should tell you that I decided not to spend the 18 euros to get the post office to forward all my mail, so I'm counting on you to stop sending to Cité la Diotte, because I don't want to have to spend a lot of time hanging out with Cinette (koo-koo!) while I collect my mail. The new place is walking distance to two of my schools and the supermarket, and downtown if I'm feeling hearty. And there's a futon for any visitors, and it's even further up a hill than the last place, so I'm going to get fit for real this time around. For real, guys.

Onward and upward! See you later, Stinktown!

My favourite activity these days is hanging out at the river. There's hardly anyone there, and the clean, cool water - it's amazing. I'm getting used to hopping up the rocks while I look for a sunny spot, so I like to think of myself as some kind of jungle baby. But then I met these friends of Karine's who were over for dinner: first came Kristel, a cute and little woman who seemed sporty enough but nothing excessive. Then came Fabrice, about 5'6" and four feet in width - built a bit like Spongebob Squarepants without the sponge. Or the squarepants. He's huge, so huge, and his number one hobby is "combat libre," which I guess is freestyle fighting. Wrestling, boxing, that kind of thing, but there are no rules - THERE ARE NO RULES!! You can grab where you want, hit, kick, bite, pull hair - chances are you can pull out a machete and nobody complains. You go in this ring and the whistle blows, then you tear the other guy to shreds. Like "Fight Club" without the interesting story line.
And you know what he did for three years? Commando. Not commando like no underwear, but rather secret mission for the army, crawling through the jungle with a knife between your teeth and killing people. I don't think he actually killed anyone but you know what? He could. He's trained to. He showed us all some wicked good self-defense moves, and now Guadeloupe is at my mercy. The pinky finger under the nose - sounds dorky, works like a charm. A killing charm.

I was with Karine and the kids in the forest, walking along the rapids - here's where I connect back to the jungle baby paragraph I started, in case you were losing track - when we bumped into Kristel and Fabrice again, dripping wet and covered in scrapes. Do you want to know why? I'll tell you. It's because they were canyoning, which is this: you drop one car off at the bottom of the river, as in the sea, and you drive the other car to the top of the mountain. You put on running shoes and knee pads and you leave your sense of self-preservation behind, and you start down the rapids. On foot. You jump into water holes when you have to, you slide down on your bum when you have to, you do whatever it takes to get down to the car. Are these people crazy? And they had asked me if I wanted to join them. Before describing really what it was, their first question was if I had good insurance coverage - that was my cue that canyoning and I weren't meant to be. Hopping along rocks and trailing my feet in the water: that's plenty enough adventure for me.

Let it be known, however, that even my wussy river existence impresses some people. I was heading to the beach and took the short-cut that goes over the river, except the bridge gave out during the rainy season and the earthquakes made it worse. So people along the road tell me the bridge is out and I say that's okay, I'll just cross through the river. I'm halfway to the other side when my foot slips a tiny bit and I hear a crowd of gasps. Looking up, I realize that the roadside people have followed me to see what will happen, the guys fixing the bridge have stopped working to watch and the children playing on the other side have put their bikes aside to see if I drown. Worst-case scenario, I slip and my dress gets wet. Really, worst-case - what are they all worked up about? But I get to the other side and climb up and the crowd breaks into applause! For me! Kathryn! Jungle baby!

Other than hopping, dancer-like, along the rocks, and of course the full-body massage from sitting in the rapids, my favourite thing is putting my hand in the water to block the flow and watching the Moses-and-the-red-sea effect it makes. It's like I'm Moses, and that's pretty cool.

On the school front, we're doing conversations and greetings, and I taught the kids things like "what's up" and "hey - what's going on?" as well as the more standard (read: boring) "hello" and "hi." So I love watching their dialogues, as they butcher their way through these expressions, putting in attitude arms and head nods and so on. (I told them they had to up-nod - like heading a soccer ball - when they say "hey," and they thought I was really cool. If they only knew what it's actually supposed to look like...) And with "what's up" came the beer campaign "wazzzzzzap" that's in a song they all know, so then it was like I was answering their dreams. Not only does she speak English, but she can explain where our weird slang comes from too!

Kathryn: 1. Guadeloupe: 0.

I guess that's it. The strike's still going, and now we're out of fish because the earthquakes freaked them out and they all left. Fishermen are coming home with nothing, and I don't understand exactly where the fish went. Will they come back? Does this happen a lot? How far can they go? So we're down to bananas and avocadoes, and the three bags of cous-cous I very smartly bought when I found out what was going down. I'm nothing if not prudent.

Think of me tonight, sleeping in my apartment without anyone prying into my room, without anyone chanting yoga mantras ouside my door and, most importantly, without the tv blasting Psychic Friends' Network and the French Sally Jesse Raphael for hours. I am so psyched.


Tuesday, November 23, 2004

In the Loupe, Chapter 9

I'm not sure if I should even write about my delightful week-end in St. Martin, since I just read Clara's latest sub-continental adventure e-mail and I feel like exactly the kind of cushy Tourist who irritated the legitimate travelers on her mountain hike. But don't forget that last week-end I was climbing mountains with a heavy backpack while pale and sweaty tourists were bused directly up to the fort, and I didn't complain once - I even did arm curls with the water bottle to maximize my exercising potential - so I think I've earned a few days in paradise.

If you've been wondering where you should go on your next vacation, you need wonder no longer: St. Martin. My Fairy Godmother, cleverly disguised as a regular godmother, invited me to spend the week-end with her on this small and beautiful island, in her gorgeous house with a gorgeous view, near gorgeous beaches with gorgeous food to eat in-between. (Can food be gorgeous? I thought I was onto something.) I think I may have gained about eighteen pounds, not only because we ate like newlyweds at the all-night China Buffet King in Vegas, but because I wasn't sweating profusely at all times.

In the Caribbean and not sweating? How is this possible?

Well, my good people, it turns out that excessive heat and humidity, partnered with excessive mosquitoes and mold, are a purely Guadeloupan phenomenon. It's all the lush vegetation, it's all the mountains. Now, I love driving through the jungle and breathing in fruit trees everywhere I walk, but it sure was a nice break to have sun and a breeze and sit comfortably enjoying the palm trees and turquoise water. I shouldn't talk it up too much because then everybody will go and it won't be so small and lovely anymore - but it sure was hard to come back here, living among mere mortals in the sticky heat. Once you've gone posh...

As it happens, it was a whirlwind week-end: not only did Kay and Pascal's friends have a baby (the night before she went into labour, biggest belly ever hanging over her tiny dancer frame, Yordanka had us over for dinner - she started in on the gaspaccio at 9:00 that morning - and was in and out of her chair a lot more gracefully than I, not nine months pregnant, have ever been), but there were earthquakes in Guadeloupe. Earthquakes! I take off for one week-end and the whole country falls apart!

The most damage was actually in Basse-Terre, which happens to be where I live, so I couldn't go home Sunday night as planned because the roads were blocked from the airport - flooding and trees and so forth. We changed my flight for Monday morning, and after a lot of detours and a long, long ride, I made it back to Saint-Claude. There was no school yesterday or today, as they're making sure the damaged schools won't collapse, and the quakes haven't stopped yet. There were some more after I got home yesterday and again last night - it's very unsettling. And I'm not the nervous type, so I just feel unsettled and then get on with it, but some people are really freaked out, really scared to go in their houses... it's a bad scene.

In another fun coincidence, Les Saintes, the islands which Franck and I visited last week-end, were hit the hardest and are a total mess now. So how's that for somebody-up-there-loves-me? I go the week-end before the islands are devastated by earth quakes, and I miss the ones at home because I'm sitting on a beach enjoying the palm trees and the cool breeze. I mean, really now.

So for any of you who heard about the quakes and were worried about me, I'm fine. For those of you who weren't worried, this friendship is over.

I'm out of time and out of stories. Off to the beach. Suckers.


Friday, November 19, 2004

In the Loupe, Chapter 8

Hey there,

Things at school are much easier after the holidays, as my tightening the reins (having been too nice in the first place) and the kids having some breathing time have made a much calmer and more focused classroom situation. For the most part. My favourite thing: we do the weather every day, and it's either hot and sunny or hot and rainy, by definition - easy for vocabulary, if nothing else. So it blows me away when, the temperature having dropped from 32° to 29°c or there being a slight breeze, they refuse my claims of hot and sunny - we're all sweating here - and insist it's cold. Warm? I ask - no, cold. Cool? No, Cold. It's 29°c and we're bloody freezing.

The song that's had the greatest runaway success is "Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar." I'm sure you all know it - those who don't, you haven't lived. What's interesting is that these Guadeloupans, who have grown up among ka drumming and roca dancing and a permanent Carnaval existence (either doing Carnaval or preparing for it; the wind carries their rehearsals up the mountain to Saint-Claude, so I speak from experience) and who, by age eight, can drum out beats that would leave your average non-Caribbean drummer scratching his or her head, can't keep a basic four-beat to this song. I expected percussive wizardry, but tapping along on the desk isn't even a go. Who knew.

What they lack in rhythm, though, they more than make up for in theatrics: every "who, me?" (or rather, "yew, me?" since they just can't make the "h" happen) is cried with such indignation. "Yes, you!" shouts the rest of the class in unbridled glee. The tension mounts as the taunting continues, until the accuser finally stands up, wild and sweating with the fervor of the cookie jar song, points at a trembling classmate and yells "LUCY stole ze kooky from ze kooky jah!" And the saga continues. It's very exciting - you don't know what you're missing.

A little less pleasant is the political scene here. There's a lot of mounting racial tension as we see more and more strike action against the government, a bunch of white men in Paris making decisions for Guadeloupe. There are things to be said for both sides, and I'm obviously just finding out about things so I'm in no position to make an analysis, but there are stressful possibilities. Things got especially tense throughout the in-jail hunger strike of Michel Madassamy, freedom fighter and martyr and Gwada hero, and the country was divided into for and against. Then with the stuff going on in Ivory Coast... it's an interesting time to be here, and my position as a white person but not a Métro (Métropolitain = French person) (well, white French person) is kind of ambiguous.

Interestingly, while trying to reject France and its influence on the island, Guadeloupe often out-Frenches the French. We've seen the chaos of admistrative red tape, we've seen the farce of the post office - well let's talk about strikes. France, I see your bus strikes, airport strikes, mail strikes and, yes, hairdresser strikes (apparently they cut hair for free and scattered it along the Champs Elysées in protest) and I raise you banana workers (since March), construction workers (the beautiful new bus station, set to open in April, sits unfinished and waiting), people - I'm not sure what their strike is - blocking roads and bridges, water treatment workers, and, most importantly, the workers of the Point-à-Pitre port. Keeping in mind that this is an island and 90% of supplies come in by boat, about 80% of things supposedly aren't getting in. There's the tiny Basse-Terre port and there are planes, and I've heard theorized that the port isn't as blocked as they say - scare tactics as political leverage - but as far as the grocery stores I've been in, it's pretty apocalyptic. Pasta, meat, rice, fruit, water, hot chocolate, cheese, toothpaste, kleenex... gone. Lots of canned peas, though, and I love French canned peas, and lots of hair accessories. My hair's long enough now to make my neck hot but too short for easy tie-up, so I appreciate a good hairclip find.

You can't go hungry because there's all the fish and fruit from the island - there are bananas for cooking here that are the best thing I've ever tasted (hm, says Kathryn, why aren't I losing any weight? All I eat is starch and fat - what's the problem?) - but I think that a steady guava-and-avocado diet could mess up your system. But nobody complains because they're also on strike so they can't call the kettle black. If your car's busted, the part you need isn't coming in anytime soon. If the pool filter is busted, the pool shuts down and your kid doesn't learn how to swim - you'd think they'd have extra on hand because these port strikes happen every one or two years, but you'd be wrong.

You know who isn't on strike? Mosquitoes. No unions, no sense of injustice. And thank God, because the last thing I want is to stop seeing swarms of mosquitoes around my head. Thank. God.

Franck and I went to Les Saintes last week-end, the cluster of mini-islands a few km from (and dependent on) Guadeloupe. About 30 minutes on the boat, to give you an idea of distance. It was freakishly hot and that made our power-hiking difficult, but what a lovely place. Very picturesque - though touristy, and no one likes a bunch of tourists - especially not this tourist - with gorgeous beaches and countless beautiful postcard views from the mountains we climbed. (Mountains, plural - you read right. I'm amazing.) The people are descended from Britons and have gorgeous eyes. Franck said that before we went and I figured he was talking out of his ass, or at least generalizing in a big way, but they actually do have beautiful eyes, all over the island. Mostly white, though (the people, not the eyes; they're sea blue) and not very open to black people; Franck was the lone representative other than the Gwada soccer team who went over with us on the boat (they beat Les Saintes 8-2; take that, Whitey.) He tried to give the French tourists a legitimately Caribbean experience, speaking Creole and spontaneously drumming, but we decided that when it's just one guy, it's not cultural so much as creepy.

What I liked was how everyone walks around barefoot. There are very few cars because everyone has scooters, and they scooter barefoot. There are also iguanas everywhere, really gorgeous ones - often looking like giant versions of Charlie the cameleon; Bob, I salute you - and Franck bought bananas to lure them. Which made the tourists really happy because or else the little guys are pretty shy. So he turned out to be a Caribbean hit after all.

I also ate the best crêpe of my life, a life not lacking in crêpe-eating. I don't know how she does her batter, but it was so good I almost cried. Moved close to tears by dough and nutella? Now that's some good crêping. (She said it was good because it's made with love, but I think it was the cinnamon. Love or cinnamon: definitely one of the two.)

So there you go. Becoming increasingly aware of my skin colour and its implications, enjoying the rain and the rain-some-more. And I think I found an apartment, so things are on the up and up.


Wednesday, November 3, 2004

In the Loupe, Chapter 7

The last update got cut off, but I don't remember what else I had written so I guess it wasn't that important. I had definitely forgotten the most exciting event of the week, which was that I found religion, again! I'm so lucky to keep meeting people who want to share their religion - if there's one thing I hate, it's keeping your religion to yourself. Why, when you can turn around and impose it on others?

The thing is, it's this guy who did me a huge favour, as he works in a music store where I went to buy a case for my guitar. And his order is coming in a few weeks but he had an old case lying around that a student had left, so he gave it to me. Which means that I don't have to buy one, which means that he lost business, which means that it was really nice of him and I had to stand there and look interested as he told me all about becoming a Master of Ascension and the holy light within him and the way it's changed his life, and how to meditate to find your space with God and no one can tell you what to believe or how to go about it, but here's a beginner guide and accompanying workbook for only 36 euros...

Masters of Ascension? What the hell is going on?

(An aside: the Spanish and island-music version of "On Broadway" is on the radio right now and is possibly the best thing I've ever heard - all this time, I was missing the key to musical happiness).

There's a guy doing some electrical work for Cinette who keeps coming around when she's not home to ask me out and tell me all the amazing things he could do for my life - tempting as it is, I've managed to politely decline for three weeks running. So yesterday I was hanging out with Cinette's grandson (took him to the beach and to lunch, then we played superheroes and he said I had to be Captain Canada and snow on my enemies) and this Géraud of my heart comes around. And it's the same story, this and that: destiny, love, soul mates, and he's always wanted a white girlfriend. (He sure knows how to sweet talk a girl! Golly, I've always wanted to be loved for my skin!) And forget about Franck, he's probably married and he doesn't appreciate my beauty... and then suddenly it's about God. And he's so upset to find out I'm a heathen -- not upset enough to drop me on the spot, mind you, only just enough to begin serious attempts at conversion. Even offered to give me a Bible. So I was thinking of inviting him and those missionary guys over for coffee and letting them get all ecstatic together while I drink pineapple juice and paint my toenails. (The ladies here all have beautifully painted toenails and I'm getting inspired).

Also, I had my first yoga experience and can now officially say that it isn't my thing - though I was bullied into it and it looks as though it won't be the last time. Cinette is an instructor and said I should come out sometime, so I said something like "we'll see," a non-committal sentence if I ever heard one. And I keep having other plans and not going, until on Monday she said "you said you would come and you haven't yet. Are you coming tonight or Thursday?" Ka-POW. So I had to go. Isn't yoga - personal enlightenment, meditation - something that should come from you? As a guilt trip and social obligation it loses a bit of its kick, no?

It's a private class among friends, so it's on this woman's terrace, cool and breezy up the mountain with a view of the city below... sounds ideal. Too bad about the bloodthirsty mosquitoes feasting on my sorry flesh. Cinette thinks I have a ways to go in finding peace and stillness, as all my moments of calm were interrupted by frantic slapping and scratching and general hostility. What are you going to do.

I have a wandering mind to begin with, and then Cinette put on some music that was something spiritual - her approach is pretty God-centred, which is an extra bonus for me - and it reminded me of the theme of the Neverending Story. Needless to say, hard to focus my breathing with Bastian, Atreyu and the beautiful Childlike Empress running through my head - oh how I love that beautiful Childlike Empress. Much easier (and more rewarding) to act out the "Bastian! Call my name!" scene in my head and try to bring tears to my eyes for effect. (In case you're wondering, I did, and it was effective. Oh, it was effective.)

I think I'm also too cynical for yoga; I can handle the stretching and body-calming ideas, but as soon as you start talking about uniting land and sea by touching your forehead to your knee or breathing in positive energy through your right nostril and negative through your left, I have to get out of there. You've been a great audience, good night. So I have a snarky running commentary going through my head, plus the mosquito hell and the not-quite-peaceful sounds of a zouk party down the hill... SERENITY NOW!!!

The tricky thing is that no one really showed up except the lady whose house it was at, and she and Cinette were upset at everybody's lack of committment - bloody Caribbean rhythm, said these two Caribbean ladies - and thank goodness I was there. Goddammit! Now they're counting on me to complete the energy triangle this week - I said one class: ONE CLASS!! Maybe I'll wear so much Off!Skintastic that my stink will mess up their vibe and they'll ask me not to come back. One can only hope.

Otherwise a slow week because we're on Toussaint holiday (All Saints) (the religious thing, not the teen pop group from 2001) and it's the time for people to go home to their families and hang out at the cemetery, cleaning and painting relatives' graves to prepare for the big Toussaint candle celebration. I helped Franck fix up his great-grandmother's tomb (and by "helped", I mean of course that I sat in the shade, drinking Nestea and feeling bad about Franck having to sweat in the burning sun) but the candle ceremony didn't happen for the most part because it was windy and rainy and ... wait for it ... COLD! I couldn't believe it! I haven't even been comfortable since getting here; you're sweating by the time you get from the shower to your towel hanging on the wall. And all of a sudden this freak cold, to the point of my wearing pyjama pants, socks, a t-shirt and a sweatshirt. It was unbelievable. I slept so well - then I woke up sweating in the 7:30 heat - a short-lived but much appreciated chilly adventure.

I really am starting to believe in spooky things, because why would the night of the living dead be the only cold night of the year? With howling winds - howling that sounded suspiciously like the living dead, for your big fat information - and cats and toads running around nervously... I was freaked out. I'm still a little freaked out. Religious awakening number, what now, four? Five? It's only a matter of time, my friends. Only a matter of time.

A quick clarification, since a lot of people have misunderstood the chain of events and think I'm crazy: Franck is not the possessive, car-renting, jellyfish-bite-negating, future-wife-introducing psycho from the beach - that was Gilbert. I'm not so stupid as to keep seeing the guy, though I'm touched to think that many of you thought otherwise. That's what I like to hear.

Happy Hallowe'en -- and I haven't heard about the elections yet but let's just pray.
(Pray! What's happening to me? Only a matter of time...)


Friday, October 22, 2004

In the Loupe, Chapter 6

The best part of our official welcome to Guadeloupe - other than the fact that they told us about it the day before and so we spent a sunny Saturday on the bus only to be told at length that we were right, there's no curriculum - was the fact that it was three weeks to a month after most of us got here, having stumbled our way through bank accounts, red tape, creating a curriculum... Welcome to Guadeloupe, they said: you will discover that the island is a butterfly-shaped archipelago consisting of two parts... Really? They do bananas here? And sugar? Really? There's Créole? And different races? IT'S AN ISLAND???!!! Get out. Get. Out.

The chairman of I'm-not-sure-what-but-he-talked-for-over-an-hour was pretty hostile, sure that we were going to get swept up in gangs and do him shame. He was warning us, finger-shaking and all, about this one guy last year who overdosed on something or other and trashed his room and apartment building, then streaked naked through town and ended up in a strait jacket being sent home to the States. Now, and I mean really now, how likely is it that this could ever happen again? Some guy loses his mind, so now we're all going to freak out and destroy Guadeloupe? He wants us to take advantage of local customs and get out and do lots of stuff, but don't wear short skirts or fall in with pot-smoking islanders who will be our undoing. Meet people, but please be careful not to meet people.

He's also one of these people who has to know something about everything, so when he did roll call he had to comment on every single person, and I'm not exaggerating. They'd stand there uncomfortably while he rambled on about his feelings toward their hometown: "ah, Boston - does anyone know the name of a famous Boston university?" - as if half the crowd isn't American; as if we've all been living under a rock - "ah yes, Arizona - lovely Savannah." "Actually, I think Savannah is in Georgia" says the guy from Arizona. "No, no, it's definitely in Arizona" says Captain Geography from Guadeloupe. He was very excited to meet the lone Canadian and told us all about moose. Don't worry, they're peaceful creatures.

The good thing was making contacts for eventual week-end visits, as everyone's pretty isolated and desperate for English-speaking company. The bad thing was that of all the assistants, many fun and exciting, the girl living closest to me and with whom I spent two and a half hours on the bus (starting at 6:10 in the morning, when I'm up for very little to begin with) is the most irritating person you've ever met. Other than the chairman, but he doesn't live near me so it doesn't matter. And she's Spanish, so I couldn't even finally speak English. She talks in circles about nothing - nothing! - and your eyes glaze over, and then she asks you a question and you have to snap back into reality and figure out where the conversation has led to. What are you talking about? WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? Then you feel really rude - not that she notices, she just keeps on truckin'. You know, one of those people.

On the other hand, meeting other assistants sometimes made me realize how lucky I am; some are living on this little paradise beach island, Marie Galante, that you go to for a peaceful week-end of sun and sand. But you go there because there are things happening in your life and you want a break. Living there... not so much. As well as no hot water and being made to teach extra classes - at a different level - as rent, they have nothing to do, ever. They spend ferry money every single week-end and come to Guadeloupe, clawing their way into a restaurant or someone's living room or even just to sit at the bus depot, because at least there are people. So they want us to go spend week-ends there as much as possible, which is awesome for me, and hopefully they'll have more people to hang out with in Guadeloupe now and things will be easier.

Meanwhile, amazing things keep happening here. Moderately amazing was the fish I ordered at a marina restaurant, having not realized that the entire fish would be placed before me, eyes, tails and everything included. The thing was huge. Disgustingly amazing was a piece of flagrant injustice in one of my classes. It happens to be the loudest, most frustrating group of kids I've ever met, but it was still unfair. The principal - who's a pretty uptight and nervous-making lady - showed up with an older kid (my class was grade three) and asked if anyone knew who had stolen his cards. No? Does anyone have cards? So Gary says yes, he has his Yu-gi-oh cards with him, the collection he started in grade one. Principal takes them from him, ignoring the cries of the classroom members who have seen him playing with them for years. If she finds the kid's cards, she'll give them back. But is the kid who stole them really going to stand up and say "yes, they're in my backpack this very moment"? Obviously she won't find them, and obviously Gary's cards are his, not stolen.

I don't have any proof myself but I did talk to her about it, because the whole class was really traumatized and angry - she told me that I didn't understand how things worked here and I shouldn't get involved. And there you have it. No, I don't understand stealing some kid's cards without any proof - could you maybe call a parent? or ask the first kid to say which cards should be in the pile and then check against it? - or smacking rulers down on desks or slapping kids' hands as if it were a one-room schoolhouse in 1892. Definitely don't understand.

So now I'm the caped crusader for the class and they all hang out with me at recess and tell me their woes. Gary said that if he gets the cards back he'll give me one as a thank you for trying to help - the last thing I want, pretty much ever, is a Yu-gi-oh card, but I guess it's the gesture?

Definitely less cool at another school: there's a two-and-a-half-hour lunch break and all the teachers go home, so I guess it's rare for them to use the washrooms. Not even rare, it just doesn't happen - so me coming out of the washrooms is an amazing concept for the kids to figure out. They're usually co-ed (with the urinals right at the entrance so everyone can see the peeing boys from the hallway - designed by practical jokers rather than architects) but one school just isn't. Not marked anywhere, though, you're just supposed to know; needless to say, I created quite a scandal by using the boys' side. A teacher who wasn't even there has since made a joke about it, so I guess it's the talk of the town. That Canadian girl - not so cool anymore. Oh, how the mighty must fall.


Friday, October 15, 2004

In the Loupe, Chapter 5


Cinette and I have taken to hanging out all the time -- we're a couple of happening ladies. A funny outing was to a documentary screening, part of the multimedia library's exposition on the Indians who came to Guadeloupe 150 years ago. Cinette's a librarian and was helping them with it, and I thought it would be a good movie - oh, how wrong I was! Crazy movie, crazy, all fuzzy and 1968 - despite being from 2002 - with terrible historical re-enactments of courtroom dramas and such.

The exciting thing was that every single man had a moustache, no exceptions. Also exciting was that one of the actors was at the screening - a celebrity sighting! - to lead a stab-myself-in-the-eye boring post-screening discussion. But most exciting of all: he had hideous glasses in the movie, but really hideous, and now he has nice ones. I think he saw the film and said "what in HELL am I thinking?", booted it to LensCrafters and now looks quite handsome, something like Omar Sharif. It's nice to see when someone figures something out.

We also went together to a season-opening gala at the arts centre (called the Artchipel, for those Frenchies among you who enjoy a little pun) and the best part was Cinette's gorgeous sari, blue and green and silky, plus a fresh-picked rose in her hair. Needless to say, everyone whispered and pointed as we came in, some people even reaching out to touch the material. She was the belle of the ball (and I was her entourage - dammit!)

The concert itself... a bit bizarre-o. The tenor had a lovely voice, even nailing Nessun Dorma, but winked and pointed at the audience like he was Tom Jones. Not that I don't love a little Tom Jones in my life from time to time, but really now. A tenor. And the soprano was gorgeous and had fantastic stage presence and emotion, but a voice so shrill and flat it could burst entire glass buildings. Bay Street: gone. I didn't know what to do, part wincing and part hating myself for being a hideous snob. But then she would take that bad opera voice, see, and stick in on jazz, on Gershwin - what was she thinking?! The pianist was awesome, way too cool for the scene and clearly a jazz guy, between his flat-fingered playing and his on-stage sunglasses, and I wish him better gigs in the future.

I liked that the singers gave each other high fives on the way on and off stage. I also liked how, as the Phantom of the Opera, the tenor just stood there, smiling at the audience and saying "seeng, my angel; seeng, my angel of music" as if he were saying "yeah, I like red beans." The sad part was that after they sang "Tonight," I had a very sudden and very desperate urge to go to a large-scale musical, preferrably West Side Story. It didn't pan out.

On the mutt front, Ariana, Cinette's mom's dog, was lost, but now she's found. Not unlike Amazing Grace. (If she had been blind, now she'd see.) And so she's staying at Cinette's place. And, more importantly, she's the ugliest little thing you've ever seen - super friendly, but you don't want her touching you. After a good shampoo and haircut she still stinks and is eternally dirty; just as a pinetree never loses its needles, so Ariana never loses her filth. Thumbs up for perseverence, I guess.

Walking her around the neighbourhood is kind of embarrassing, as well as stressful, as all the local horse-size dogs rattle their chains and foam against the gate, filthy little dog flesh on their mind. I'm sorry to say it, but I wish them the best of luck.

Just for your big fat information, I finally saw the actual temperature and it's 36°c, over 40 with the humidity and with the sun. It's really brutal, and it will pass, and I wasn't exaggerating.

Mom's worried that I always sound boy-crazy, so I thought I should tell you that I'm not, I just joke. And if ever I was before, I'm certainly not after my dip into the Gwada dating scene: since all anyone does is hit on
you and ask for your number, I decided that a) I must really be hot stuff, and b) I should just go for it, see if I'm right to be suspicious.

Without going too much into detail, let it be known that treatment of women has a ways to go here. I'll take "I'm not a piece of fucking property, stop showing me off to all your friends" for 500, Alex. Even going to a soccer game, my favourite, was stressful and humiliating. The good news is that I found religion, as we all imagined would happen one day: just as I thought, standing in the sea with this nutbar, "oh my God - what am I doing here? Am I a total idiot?", a bolt of pain shot up my left leg, hip and arm. Stung by a jellyfish - hoo-ah! The burning welts kept me awake all night from the pain, but at least they zapped some sense into me: I realized that I didn't owe the guy anything, I didn't have to be nice, I didn't have to stay around so as no to hurt his feelings. I took the car (that's right, he had rented me a car, without asking me, so I could stay the week-end on our first date - nothing intense or creepy about that) (or about being introduced as his FUTURE WIFE!!!) and got the hell out of there, stopping at a fire station to make sure I wasn't dying and then pacing the night out through the pain. See? God came through. In the form of a viciously painful sea creature, but whatever.

Better than religion, I found Franck, who was waiting for the bus with me after I dropped off the rental: lives just up the street and is a good friend of Cinette's son. So far he's hooked me up with a guitar and a mattress - I can now sleep without futon boards digging into my back and hip through my towel-thin mattress - and has shown me the beautiful mountain-source hot water basins in the jungle-y wilderness. See? I learned >my lesson AND came out ahead: thank you God. Thank you India. Thank you providence.

And yes, thank you disillusionment.


Friday, October 8, 2004

In the Loupe, Chapter 4

So I had my first taste of Guadeloupan red tape. They told me I needed to get a "carte de séjour" (work permit) to replace my temporary one. Who are They, you ask? I have no idea. But that's what They said. Now, I have a French passport, which makes this not only unnecessary, but, according to the French consulate in Toronto, illegal. You can't have a work permit and a passport. I say this to Them but They're not sure - a little nervous, I should just get it checked out.

So I take the morning off work and Karine and I go to the préfecture - some kind of government building dealing with passports and such, and I don't know what the word is in English but have a sneaking suspicion it sounds just like préfecture and I'm betraying my worldy ignorance - making sure to get there before 8:00 to get a ticket, because after that it's busy - there will probably be a good 35 people in line.

Get out of the car at 7:15, wander around looking for a sign or some indication that we're in the right place, and there's nothing until we turn a corner and there are no fewer than 300 people sitting outside a building in the sun, mostly frustrated Haitians, and the building is closed. Are they in a line? No. Does anyone know what's going on? No. What will happen when the doors open at 8:00? There is a limited number of tickets and then they shut down, so we imagine there will be a mad rush for the door and we (by which I mean "I", as Karine takes one look and says I'm going in alone!) will get crushed to a desperate, hot death. So we leave.

Back at the inspection office everyone is agreeing that, indeed, a passport negates any need or even right to have a work permit, this is ridiculous... but if They said it, then it's better to make sure. Don't worry, says someone, I have a friend at the préfecture. A confusing telephone call ensues and I have committed Wednesday, my day off, to meeting some lady at some building and talking about my passport.

Wednesday: climb the hill to the préfecture - ah yes, those hills - and wait in the meeting place until 12:00, our meeting time, until 12:10, 12:20... what is going on? Wander around the building but the info desk is closed from noon to 2:00. Stand there kind of like an idiot and finally decide to leave, and some nice lady asks me what I'm doing there and takes me to find this Dominique. We find her, and she has absolutely no recollection - it was less than 24 hours earlier! - of our phone call the day before, plus I don't know the name of her friend and it's all very confusing...

We finally get upstairs to the lady who's in charge of foreigners. I present my problem: I have a French passport, so I don't need a carte de séjour. She agrees, Dominique agrees, I should be good to go. But first she has to explain to me that I don't need a carte de séjour. I know, I say. I kind of figured that. So is there anything I have to do? Any paper I have to fill out and send to someone? Photocopy my passport? Good idea, she says, and photocopies my passport. Because, really, I don't need a carte de séjour and a passport, she explains again - in case I missed it the first three times, or in case I'd forgotten since I suggested it myself. Then she shows me my name on a list of foreigners who have yet to apply for their carte de séjour - can I be taken off this list? I ask. Oh, no, that's impossible. Why is it impossible? It just is. But it's not like you need a carte de séjour....

Thirty minutes later, exhausted from trying to keep up with this absurd conversation, I am finally on my way out the door. I have learned nothing that I didn't know going in, I still don't know who They are or how to settle my business with Them - Karine said that you need a carte de séjour in case you get stopped and asked for papers by the police. And I can just show them my passport. And apparently that's all there is to it.

Good times in Guadeloupe!

But it doesn't matter, first of all because in perspective, with those hundreds of stranded and poor Haitians, I've got good luck coming out of my ass. And second, because school is awesome. The kids are amazing, minus that one class, eager and fun and bright and they can even sing. AND they think I'm a rockstar. I told you about the kids running up and excited? Nothing next to my first day at Circonvallation, my favourite school with the best two teachers. I arrived at the end of the lunch break and they knew who I was from our initial introduction day, so a few kids came up and said "hello! my name is...!", really cute. Then all of a sudden the other kids came to see what was going on, and then EVERY SINGLE KID on the playground, which was about seven classrooms' worth, were standing in a mob around me, yelling their names and anything they know in English, trying to touch my hands. And with my heavy bags and all the pushing, I actually was pushed down to the ground! I was there on my knees, laughing and laughing, surrounded by kids in English class hysterics, until the principal broke it up. I saw them again on Thursday and they were excited but I think the mobbing is over. But let me tell you, it marked me. English class is their favourite time of day, and I am walking into a very good situation. They'll do anything I ask them: sing any song, play any game, repeat anything; they're so excited, all the time.

Let's hope it lasts...


Monday, October 4, 2004

In the Loupe, Chapter 3

Hello all,

Maybe I should be spacing these things out a little better, but it's raining again (ah yes, they told me, it's the rainy season) and I'm enjoying the dry shelter of the cyber cafe. So are my missionary friends, who are back and in serious computer action -- don't they have anything better to do? Isn't there Jesus love to spread around? I mean, really now.

I started teaching today and it was very exciting. Not so exciting the 20-minute uphill climb to school - I'm going to dish out the extra 40 cents for a second bus, since being sweaty and gross first thing in the morning isn't so much my bag - but definitely a party once in the classrooms. Man, are these kids ever happy about taking English! I saw that on Friday when I went around to meet the teachers and kids in my three schools, and as they saw Karine and me walking towards the classroom, they all started yelling "eenglish! hello eenglish! hello mees! I speak eenglish!" and I was like the Rolling Stones. No, I WAS the Rolling Stones. If these are the greetings you get in daily life here, I really see no reason to leave.

The first lesson was all about English around the world and Canada, and all four classes (I start with the other four tomorrow) sat either in rapt silence, or oohing and aahing as I showed them pictures of Canada. Eventually they applauded, and Niagara Falls and the CN Tower got standing ovations. So did Hallowe'en (so those of you who were at Dave's house for last year's Hallowe'en, you also are the Rolling Stones) and everybody, across the board, loved totem poles and traditional Six Nations dancing and teepees. You know what else they loved? Snow as seen from my front door. That killed them.

And their accents! You could just eat them up! So I think it will be good. I spent the week-end inventing a curriculum and drawing lots of flash cards of colours and food and clothes - not so much in the way of teaching materials or suggestions here. Except for this crazy cd that Karine gave me, nursery rhymes and songs and whatever - it's so bad! I don't know how to tell her: please don't sing these terrible songs with the kids; they will hate English forever. And I think the singer is Irish but her accent is all weird, and she has this really slow kid with her who repeats the songs in mangled English afterwards - why? how does this help anyone? - and really bad rhythms and tunes. It's really bad. Especially when she attempts an American accent during the short shorts blues and her voice goes all low and weird. Why couldn't they get an English-speaking kid? They couldn't shell out an extra ten bucks?

On the less successful teaching front, I "helped" neighbour Manon with her math-in-English. It's a Euro-Caribbean program, kind of a French immersion idea, and her mom thought that I could help because of the English - turns out there are four words in English and the rest is grade ten graphing. Grade ten was the year when Mr. Bissylas thought that enhanced meant doing grade twelve trigonometry, and he mostly hung out with math-smart Corey and Trevor. And I don't know what I did get to that year, but I sure as hell never touched graphing, which I remember from looking in panicky rage at the exam, having not even realized it was a unit. (I told him he had screwed me over and he said "what grade do you think you've earned?" and gave me the 85 I claimed. The guy was a champion.)

So English tutoring ended up being me saying "right, right, I see what you're doing there; you are on the right track; gotcha; keep up the good work" as Manon explained grade ten graphing to me in French, and then we looked at pictures of Carnaval on the internet and then I stayed for dinner and they drove me home. I'm the best teacher ever.

It's still raining really hard but I don't have anything else to say... it rains at least twice a day in every region, so I've been caught and soaked through many times.

Oh! It's not mosquitoes eating me alive, or at least not only mosquitoes. Ants! Little tiny buggers that you actually can't see unless they're moving around on a solid-coloured surface, and even then it's not so obvious. And they're in everything, and there's nothing you can do, and you might as well stop complaining about it, is the basic deal. So I will be hideous all year and I need to just accept that.

Exciting creature story: it's hot at night and I sleep with the doors open for a cross breeze. Once a cat came in and I shooed it out, but when I tried to sleep with the doors closed I almost died. I actually almost died. So Saturday morning I wake up and I hear a swishing in the room. I don't have my glasses and the mosquito net makes it fuzzy, but as it leaves, I realize it's an iguana! About half the length of my body, this big fat iguana hanging out in my bedroom. Hopefully eating some of the damn ants. How cool is that? There are a bajillion tiny little lizards (kept thinking mice were streaking across the porch, but now I realize they're lizards) and sometimes they jump on your arm and sit for a bit before taking off again. It's all very exciting.

Okay, that's it. I guess I'll just get rainy; one of the missionaries saw my English computer screen and I can tell he's eyeing me with salvation on his mind. Time for me to leave.


Thursday, September 30, 2004

In the Loupe, Chapter 2

I'm feeling a bit out of the loupe. Quite frankly.

I took the bus to an internet cafe and got there just after they close for lunch, from noon to 2:30. Too hot to go back to the road and bus home, too hot to do anything but buy a drink and sit for two and a half hours, trying to read but mostly making polite conversation with a drunk guy whose cousin owns the bakery, until they were finally open at 2:50: oh, sorry, the internet isn't hooked up yet.

I guess I should have read the sign -- no, wait a second, there WASN'T a sign. There were definitely lots of window-paintings saying "Internet Here! Do your e-mail! Chat rooms too!", but no sign about it not actually existing yet. Nothing saying "don't bother waiting almost three hours in the midday heat, it's a waste of time and sweat." Hey there, Guade-what-the-hell-is-going-on? What is this, France? So here I am in the high school zone internet cafe, where a group of 14-year-olds boys has invited me to go dancing with them tomorrow night. Frankly, I'm considering it. What's a little statutory for some good music and social connection? Really?

So here's what I don't understand: though everyone walks around saying "sweet Jesus, it's HOT out!", they wear clothes that are meant for autumn in Canada. They've got the dark, heavy jeans with sports jerseys -- polyester! long-sleeved! -- or corduroy pants with button-up dress shirts, and it's four hundred degrees out. Jeans and polyester? At 12:30 in the peak of the hellish sun? What are these people thinking?

I myself have become seriously disenchanted with said sun, as a beach adventure yesterday left me with the worst sunburn of my life. (Or so I remember; present pain always trumps past.) It was a long bus ride there and back, a whole nice activity, and I didn't realize I was burning to a crisp; sunscreen washes off and with the breeze and the coolness of the water, you forget that time's a-tickin'. And you don't see it or feel it at first, but I started to get a hint when people driving by me would slow down, turn and look at me, often shaking their heads. At first I thought I was just hot stuff -- these people can't take their eyes off me! -- but then it got suspicious. For even I -- and this might be hard for some of you to wrap your heads around -- am not so foxy that every car has to stop and look. Not every car. I thought that maybe they were looking at me with sympathy, but I realize now the head shake was more "fucking tourist" than "poor young thing".

Someone gave me a cream to put on the burn -- I don't know if it worked, but I've decided that it did and the pain would be even worse without it. It will fade, though, into a tan -- so I went about it the wrong way but I might not be so pale anymore. Somebody called me "Snow White" the other day and I wasn't into it.

Meanwhile, walking up to the bus or the bakery is miserable and very steep, and in the sun and the humidity -- the first day I almost passed out. And then the second day I went up again, even though I could have gotten a ride with Karine, so I was one proud hill-climber. And just as I'm coming down, slightly sweaty and legs a-tingling, some bastard comes JOGGING up the hill, hardly even breaking a sweat, all smug, rosy-cheeked and healthy -- are you kidding me with this? Who does this guy think he is?

As for the cows, the ones staked around the country? A herd on my street got loose and wandered along, blocking all the cars and causing general chaos, mooing up a storm and aggressively loitering until finally deciding it was time to turn into the yard. (Cinette calls it folkloric.) I, walking behind them, was suddenly and absurdly very scared -- can I pass them? will the bull charge? -- and had to walk behind the herd, at 2km an hour, for 20 minutes. Sometimes they'd stop altogether -- that's enough for now, thanks -- and I'd be all pretending to look for my keys or something, hanging around behind them... lame, lame, lame.

Apparently I start school tomorrow, but I still don't know what schools or what age. Though they would appreciate a prepared first lesson -- oh, okay! no problem! -- so I guess we'll do a lot of "Hello, what's your name?" and then... well, let's see... we'll try "Hello, what's your name?" for a bit. Yes, that should work.

You know when sweat mixes with sunscreen and it becomes that gross bubbly white deal?
Yeah, it's pretty gross.

Oh, one more thing: probably a drag if you have an actual schedule to follow, but since I don't, I love the buses. Any number of sizes and styles -- from greyhound to moving van with two seats -- and you stand anywhere on the road and raise an arm, and the bus picks you up. You pay by distance, though if they call you a mermaid (green eyes are considered both lucky and mermaid-esque, so I get it a lot) they don't charge. On the other hand, sometimes they see that your skin is bright red and covered in cream, a definite Gwada rookie, and they overcharge you. And there's nothing you can do because it's all subjective. I figure the number of times my charm gets me a free ride against the times they screw me over, I'm averaging a fair price for my bus rides.

Here's the best part: most of the buses, while old and crappy, have wicked sound systems and play very exciting island music; combined with the beautiful scenery and chatty bus drivers, it's like a party every time you get on the bus. The longer the ride, the better.

But sometimes they don't leave on time - by which I mean "they never leave on time" - though it seems like they will; they pull out, everything's going great, and then they pull over and wait for more people to come, or for their buddy to run in and drop something off at home, or to talk to a pretty girl on the roadside... I don't know how anyone gets anywhere.

As for speed, they more than make up for the insanity of car drivers by driving in second gear, always. Sometimes it's really time for third, but they persevere; a slow, easy ride with good music and screaming gears - now that's paradise. And even if there's lots of empty space on the bus, people sit right next to you, maybe you hold their baby or - only if you're lucky, mind you - their basket with three dead chickens from the market... it's all very communal. Except for today where I'm oily and stink of coconut sunscreen, Off! Skintastic and sunburn cream, and nobody jumped at the chance to share a seat.

Okay! Did you make it through? Rock on.


Wednesday, September 1, 2004

In the Loupe, Chapter 1

In the Loupe: vol. I

Salut les amis!!

I'm getting better with this French keyboard, so I'm ready to tackle a group letter. Also, it's four hundred degrees outside and I'm living up the cyber cafe air conditioning.

Let me tell you something: this is the most beautiful place on earth. There's nothing to be done. For those of you who don't know, I'm here as a English teacher for nine months and I'm doing the group letters as per requested, but if you're not into it, I'll take you off the list. No hard feelings, no clogged inbox, done and done.

A few things for you to know: Guadeloupe = Gwa-duh-loop and it's a French island in the Caribbean, near Grenada and Dominican Republic and that group. It's a whole lot bigger than I thought, though I have a habit of talking out of my ass, as when I imagined that I would walk to the beach from any house on the island and would know everybody within a week. There's lots of people and they live far apart, and there you have it.
Listen, if you want to say Guadeloupay, that's just fine. Kind of exciting, and I, for one, love excitement. Just stop calling it Guatemala.

Karine is the lady in charge of the English department of this region, so she picked me up at the airport and has treated me like family. It so happens that her kids are the cutest two people I've ever met, and they think I'm the funniest thing on the planet. Something about the face I make when I get sea water in my throat: always a favourite.

So Karine found me a place to stay, three houses down from her, in a room and bathroom flat in the house of Cinette (see-net), a sassy older lady with lots of funny habits and a sometimes friendly way. I'm torn because I would love to stay, and there are many advantages to living in a furnished house with laundry, ironing board, fridge and so on, not to mention Karine's family right nearby -- and Cinette has a piano! and it's in tune! -- but the buses don't run after 6:00 p.m. or on week-ends, and I need to take the bus to get anywhere near town, the beach or, presumably, school. (I start teaching on Friday, so I find out my schools on Thursday -- opa!) So I'm looking closer to town as well, and as I'm paying by the week, if anything comes up then I can relocate. On the other hand, Cinette's son is super cute and he visits often... am I that shallow, to give up convenience to see a cute boy from time to time? Well, we'll have to see. Very probably yes.

Though, you want cute boys? Come to Guadeloupe! Shit man, they're everywhere. Beautiful people. Men, women, children, old, young, no matter: frankly, it's a bit irritating. I'd better get tanned and fit in a hurry, because everyone here is out of a calendar and I'm feeling it.

Anyway, that's the background. Fun details:

-Speed limit, shpeed limit! Stay the hell out of the roads.

-If you have to go anywhere, you'll have to go uphill. Unless you stay in the water. And it's steep, and it's bloody hot out -- the deal is that no one cares about sweat, and sweat is what you do. I walked up to the bakery yesterday and my legs were shaking on the way down! Karine says hers get sore sometimes too, but I think she's just being nice; she jogs in the neighbourhood. And everyone says hello as you pass and sometimes they like to stop and talk, so I'm standing there, gasping for breath, hot, shaky, trying to sound interested about this year's banana crop... it's so exciting.

-I'm the bottom half of the island (which is shaped like a butterfly), Basse-Terre, and it's the volcanic half (black sand beaches) and the banana half, so very lush and banana-filled. White sand and sugar plantations on Grande-Terre, the top half.

-This is my all-time favourite: you can own a cow or a goat and not have any land yourself, so you drive it around and tie it up on random grassy patches. So everywhere you drive, you see cows and goats by the side of the road, in the middle of a round-about, above the beach.... lots of animal action.

I don't know what else; everything is new and different and it's hard to describe. The water is amazing and people set up drumming circles on the beach, so you have singing and drumming in the background as you tackle the waves. Every corner I turn is more beautiful than the last, every beach more stunningly situated and every house lovelier. And everybody keeps complaining about the crazy heat, which is fantastic because it means it isn't just me; it's exceptionally hot these days.

On the other hand, damn Beyonce is playing on the radio right now -- can we never escape?

I heard these two guys speaking English beside me and was just about to say something, but then -- uh-oh! -- little name tags and something about Jesus Christ... goddamn missionaries, even in Guadeloupe. They're wearing their stupid black pants and long-sleeved shirts, though, even though it's close to 40 degrees out, so that's what they get.

One other problem: my accent is good enough that I sound French, if not from a region people know. But my actual French has some -- yes, we'll say "some" -- holes in it, especially with local accents and words, so people think I'm simple. She speaks French, clearly, but she doesn't know what a ___ is? Moron.
So I'm all about mentioning right away that I'm new here in hopes that they'll ask where from; I feel weird about throwing Canada in unprovoked. But then they're convinced that I'm from Quebec, so it doesn't help -- is it time to pretend to be American? Have the tables turned?

I hope I'm not rubbing it in your faces that I'm in paradise and you're not -- that's really too bad for you guys. A crying shame. Wooooooooooo Guadeloupe!

All right, that's it. I'm going to venture back into the heat to find some goggles and a laundry bag -- you have to forget something at home -- and I hope you're all well and happy. Let me tell you, though: Karine and her family, while not pale, are not brown, either. So maybe I won't be that tanned when I get home, after all. What a bust. You won't believe I was here!

Puff Daddy just came on the radio - that's my cue: à la prochaine!