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!