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.


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