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,