Monday, January 3, 2005

In the Loupe, Chapter 12

Hey everyone - I hope you had warm, fuzzy holidays and that you're full of chocolate and cookies and all that stuff. I, myself, having become essentially candy-free over my time under the Gwada sun, have fallen off the wagon since the arrival of Christmas packages including peanut butter chocolate cups, homemade cookies, jelly beans and my own personal temptation hell, Twizzlers. I can't resist those strips of plastic goodness, try as I might.

While the kids wore singing Santa hats for two weeks before Christmas (don't worry; it wasn't EXTREMELY irritating or anything), there wasn't much in the way of school-wide concert activity. The one exception was at my third school, where I was asked to prepare something with each of my classes for the big party on Friday, where every class would perform.

And prepare I did.

We sweated, we swore, we hacked our way through "Silent Night" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" until Santa rolled over in his grave (I assume he's dead by now; his heart can't have held out this long) and we had something more of less presentable for the school. "Do you have something ready for the concert?" the principal kept asking me. "Let's all wear red for the concert," suggested the kids. Ooh, the concert, the big concert. Well, it turned out the concert was: Us. No one else did anything. This zany (and I do mean zany) three-man troupe of children's performers did a Christmas play, then the kids ran around for forty-five minutes, and only when I asked the principal "so.... are we singing or something?" did they round up the kids and plunk them down in the courtyard, where we sang our stupid carols and I went home. For this I went to school on my afternoon off.

The play was fun because:

a) it was in Creole and I understood most of it, so I felt like a million damn dollars. (My dad thinks it's because there were a lot of actions to go with the words, but I know it's because of my heretofore unrecognized linguistic genius);

b) it was about a pig being raised for Christmas, when its throat is slit (in fine Gwada tradition) so that its roasted self can be the centerpiece of the Christmas feast - which led to all my students crowding around me after the show to tell me, in gruesome detail, their families' particular methods for killing their own pet pig in honour of the Baby Jesus;

c) with ka drums and whistles, the troupe performed a rousing medley of carols, including a rhythmic party version of "Silent Night" which made me look like a big wuss, what with my kids singing the same song, solemnly and peacefully, to quiet guitar accompaniment.

There's nothing peaceful or solemn about Christmas here: you dance, you sing, the parties blast on through the night, you visit from house to house and eat giant pigs. When I was in Lyon and spent the holidays with my family in Le Mans, it was enough like my regular Christmases that the differences made me homesick. Here, though, beaching and eating, tropical carols playing in town where tinsel hangs on palm trees, it is so definitely unlike Christmas in Southern Ontario that it feels as though I've skipped the whole thing.

A few days into the holidays my father came for a visit. There were no cars left in Basse-Terre for me to rent, so he had to wait a few hours and then take a bus - except there was no bus. I still don't know why, and the locals waiting at the bus stop also had no idea, except that the retired taxi driver who drove Papa to Basse-Terre said it was because it was the first official Sunday of the holidays. Not actually a holiday, of course, but the first Sunday since the last day of school, or the last Sunday before Christmas, or some other "what the hell?" explanation. When he finally got to Basse-Terre, he discovered that I'd gone shopping too late and the stores were closed, so all I had to offer was my standard fare of cous cous and canned peas with water. Welcome to Guadeloupe, Papou!

Other than that, it was a touristy week, as my dad enjoys a full schedule and we saw every beautiful sight on the island. It kind of makes you wonder what I've been doing this whole time... The only bad day was Day Four, when we finally attempted La Soufrière, Basse-Terre's sulphurous volcano. You're supposed to go early, so we'd been leaving the house in the wee hours of the morning for three days, finding it cloudy and unwelcoming but "taking advantage" of being up by heading out on whatever Plan B adventure was available. (I tend to take advantage of being up early by crawling back into bed, which probably explains why I hadn't seen any sights.)

So on this sunny December 24th, a Friday that will go down in my personal history as "Never Again," we found the Grand Lady Soufrière to be clear and inviting, and up we went. Since the earthquakes, though, in which huge strips of mud and rocks tumbled down the mountain, the road up is blocked and you have to climb to the mountain-bottom parking lot on foot. I wasn't into it, the safety bells clanging furiously in my head, but off we went up the winding road, climbing over enormous piles of road-blocking debris. This brought out the nagging and knitted-browed inner Kathryn, a Kathryn who says things like "this isn't a good idea, you guys" and "I always hoped to die peacefully in my sleep, not suffocating under a landslide"; a very unpleasant Kathryn.

We finally made it to the top - by which I mean the bottom - and started up the actual volcano. Now, I know I'm not the only person who gets into "a mood" and can't shake it, but I think I get exceptionally crabby. I was never into the Soufrière thing in the first place, so I felt hard-done-by and sullen and mostly sulked my way through the initial - and very steep - climb. I knew I was being a jerk and souring my dad's dream activity, but it was bigger than I, my friends, and I was powerless to fight it. In the words of somebody important, "every party has a pooper, and this party's pooper is you." And Franck's "you can do it" encouragement only made things worse, as I became increasingly bitter about everyone around me. "Ooh, look at me, I'm a French tourist! I have spiffy hiking shoes and a handy backpack! Ooh!" All rosy-cheeked and enthusiastic - give me a break! Get offa my cloud!

So I spent half the climb telling myself to snap out of it and stop acting like a child, and the other half trying to find philosophical reasons for not being mountain-bound so that I wouldn't have to face the reality, that I'm lazy and out of shape and volcano-climbing's a bitch. I toyed with theories of being grounded, or being a water sign and so sticking by the sea - though Scorpio isn't a water sign, is it? Dammit! Foiled again! - but I was fooling myself and I knew it.

After hours of climbing (actually 45 minutes, but isn't it Einstein who said that time is relative?) we made it to the "col," for which I don't have an English word. Kind of a plateau between mountain peaks, and from there we could go up fo the crater. Unfortunately - really, I was devastated - the fog had come rolling back in and we couldn't climb up, both because it's not safe and because we wouldn't see anything, so what's the point. We waited a minute or two but it was clear that my morning's fog dance had worked and it wasn't going to clear: back down we went, me suddenly chipper and tossing jokes around, chatting with the tourists on their way up (who were huffing and puffing much more than I ever did - it's not just me! it's a damn hard climb!), basically being an asshole. I think Papa hated me.

I'm considering getting a t-shirt made with "Soufrière '04" on it so I can full-out live the lie; something to look into.

From the volcano, of course, we continued onto another hike, an hour or so in the forest to take us to a waterfall, but it was raining so we sat in a cave and ate our sandwiches before heading back the way we came. Scraping my legs and face as I climbed through the forest, I was tired of trying to control my breathing so they wouldn't hear me gasping for air. I decided to swallow my pride (it went down easy; there wasn't much left) and march along, breathing as loudly as I needed to. I soon realized, however, that my twig-snapping and mud-splotching footsteps were louder than my breathing, so I started stomping and kicking rocks around as I went to really do the deed. As far as what I heard on my end, I sounded like a fit and fabulous wild adventurer who shows no mercy to the forest at her feet. I don't knw if that's how the others interpreted it, but I guess I don't really care.

Otherwise, Christmas in Guadeloupe went fine. My dad seemed to get along with Franck, so worlds collided with less KABOOM than I had feared.

We saw gorgeous things that I couldn't have seen without a car. One highlight was the scandalously-named "Madame Coco's Hole," which turns out to be a sort of inner-cliff cave where the waves tumble in, wild and impressive. (I'm sure many a frat-boy tourist left disappointed that Madame Coco was actually a rock face.)

A near-highlight was the magnificent Chute du Carbet number two, as the others are off-limits since the quakes. But this one, gorgeous and rain-forest tropical, can really only be seen from a suspended bridge, and they didn't bother telling us that said bridge was blocked. So we stood on tiptoes in the rain and imagine how the waterfall looked - kind of a bust.

A definite lowlight was the journey to a very pretty waterfall and basin, accessible only through a mud forest. Actually like skating, as we slid our way down like a group of otters. Actually, it was super fun - I just wanted to say "lowlight". But then I flashed my bum to the group of mud-climbers behind us! Oh no! As in, hands in the mud and butt in the air flashed - a low moment. FORTUNATELY, I redeemed myself within seconds by saving my father's life.

Yes, you read right, I saved his life.

I planted my feet and pulled him up a muddy hill before he plunged to his certain death, trench-style mud-drowning. I single-handedly saved him from being buried alive. Or at least from putting his knees down in the mud, and that's still something.

We got to play a lot of my favourite game, "guess when I last swept the floor?" The answer is always "three hours ago," even though the pile of dirt makes it seem like weeks - the game gets really old, really quickly. I can't wait to have another guest so I can play again.

The year ended with a splash (of champagne, actually) as we stepped back into the posh existence of St. Martin. Thoroughly spoiled and having soaked in the luxury of luxury, it was a rude awakening to step through Gwada customs and find out that our flight's luggage didn't come (plane was overloaded) and I'd have to wait five hours at the airport until my suitcase came in on another flight, then hitchhike home in the dark. (Don't worry, I lived to tell the tale.) Is this normal? Does this shit happen at home? Didn't they realize the tickets they sold included luggage? What the hell?


Happy New Year and all the best,


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