In life, we must count our blessings. Take me, for example: Wednesday, I am woken at 5:30 a.m. by the fact that I'm so hot I can barely breathe, and as I tear my way desperately out of the mosquito net and into the shower, I think "I will never be hotter than this." I walk out through the muggy haze and toward the main road, as I have to go to Point-à-Pitre (Guadeloupe's big city which is on the side of the island called Grande-Terre) to exchange books with the Irish from last month.
I'm lucky and find a hitch-hike before the bus comes, but then I have to hold half a dead tuna on my lap for most of the ride, bought along the side of the road and the size of an adult pig, which sounds like a funny experience but in fact is not.
We get to P-à-P, and here's where I thank my lucky stars: I step out of the fish truck and almost pass out, it's so hot. No air, zero. It's so hot (how hot is it?!!) that the big block of ice on a vendor's "snow-ball" wagon (shaved ice packed in with syrup on top) has completely melted. It's so hot that I see someone's sandal left in the middle of the road, MELTED INTO THE PAVEMENT. (Possibly an old accident due to newly-laid tar, but these roads aren’t looking very new; I think it’s the heat.)
Gasping for air as we have a cold drink and exchange books, I realize that all the times I was bloated and red-faced and dreaming of winter, the poor bastards on Grande-Terre, where there are no mountains and few trees, had it worse. And the six of them who were in P-à-P – holy God that could have been me! I would have lasted two weeks!
My ride home was the first time I’d seen a movie played on a bus, and luckily for me it was a bad-guys-in-Tokyo shoot-up, starring (and written by, which accounts for the stellar script) Steven Seagal. There was a bad guy with a Johnny Depp vibe and a sexy cowboy hat, but then he killed the girl and I felt torn about my admiration. I don’t like girl-killers, and that’s a fact. (An example of Steven’s excellent turn as a wordsmith: the girl has been slashed by Johnny Depp’s Japanese sabre and is slumped against her car, alone in the night, dying in the misty rain. Her last words: “I love you, Trevis.”)
What I loved most about the movie – and let me tell you, it was hard to choose – was ol’ Trevis’s ankle-length black leather jacket. This is a ridiculous clothing choice to begin with, even more so around the streets of Tokyo, and wouldn’t you know there’s a cherry blossom scene. There’s the girl, wearing a pink kimono and looking very lovely, there are the cherry blossoms, floating softly down onto the bridge, and there’s our Steven, sitting on a bench beside his soft pink lady, wearing his ponytail and his stupid shiny jacket like The Matrix gone awry.
And now, I don’t know much about martial arts – there was a morning tai chi club in the mall where I worked, and that’s about it – but I know you aren’t supposed to wear a long, heavy leather jacket buttoned right up to your neck while you’re chopping and kicking in a warehouse. All the locals are wearing silk pyjamas or comfy t-shirts; take a hint, Seagal - lose the leather.
But the one that had me laughing out loud – which, in turn, had my neighbour shifting uneasily in his seat – was the love scene. First she’s doing a traditional kimono dance for him as he, jacket-clad, sits and watches her from the bed. Then she’s letting her kimono fall seductively to the floor and he’s reaching out to touch her arm, still sitting, still wearing the jacket. And then he’s laying her down on the bed, she’s naked as the day she was born, and he’s leaning in to seal the deal – only HE’S STILL WEARING THE LEATHER JACKET! During the sex scene! Steven. Please. It’s embarrassing.
Although the Japanese dialogue was neither dubbed nor subtitled – they obviously realized that most Steven Seagal fans in Guadeloupe are fluent in Japanese – filling in possible lines was never too tricky, based on the ones that Trevis himself provided. “This is for Saku,” [stabs him in the stomach,] “this is for my partner,” [stabs him in the chest] “and this is for America!” [brings the sword down on his head.] Type thing. Spending a hot and bumpy bus ride with gunshot and screechy car sounds blasting through the overhead speakers? In retrospect, the dead fish on my lap wasn’t so bad.
I find it funny that just this past Saturday I was thinking of Steven Seagal – something that doesn’t happen often – as I was at a pub concert and saw a tall man with a widow’s peak and ponytail, wearing a black linen pyjama-type ensemble and hitting relentlessly on a foxy young woman who wasn’t having it. What a sleazy Steven Seagal type, I thought to myself, which may have been unfair; I know nothing about Steven Seagal and he could be absolutely delightful. (Though after the leather jacket fiasco, I doubt it.) A funny coincidence nonetheless, and as things happen in threes, so they tell me, I’m waiting for my final S.S. encounter. Perhaps the man himself will stumble into my life – hopefully with enough time for me to get to my scissors and chop off that godawful ponytail once and for all. A-men.
Meanwhile, my move out of my apartment and into the shoebox Franck calls home is going okay. We’re on day four and haven’t killed each other yet, though we’ve each found helpful little suggestions for the other, such as my not getting so worked up over little things, or his not doing little things like leaving wet towels on the floor to get even moldier than this tropicana humidity has already made them.
The biggest moving problem was the cats, whom I brought to Franck’s house pending placement in a permanent home. I must have touched my eye with a fur/spittle-covered finger at one point, because while they were clawing and scratching and fighting their way out of the box on my lap, my right eye swelled up to an impressive size, turned bright red and painful and had a kind of film over it. (The vivid red apparently brought out the green in my eye, turning it into what Franck called “electric green” – kind of like Christmas in Ugly Town.)
The cats didn’t sprint out of the box as we feared and have adjusted quickly, romping around, exploring and bullying Hervé’s dogs. The dogs in question were crunching on something last night during a power outage (they happen a lot) (really – a LOT) and I couldn’t find Chisel anywhere. My flashlight wasn’t strong enough to show me what the mangy dogs were eating and I was convinced that I was listening to our little Chisel being eaten. I was about to start the official grieving process with Sprocket when Chisel popped out from a bush and attacked his favourite of Franck’s shoes; apparently I’m the one who’s having trouble adjusting. The cats are fine.
I made the mistake of getting myself involved in one of my school’s end-of-the-year parties, as two classes wanted to sing an English song for the event. This meant hoofing it up to school on my afternoon off and spending three hours in the sun and in the complete mayhem of an outdoor school concert. It began with the principal, a particularly uptight woman, giving a bizarre farewell address, as she is changing schools. She used her speech to tell the parents that their kids were the worst-behaved of any school in Basse-Terre, which is not necessarily standard party speech behaviour. Interestingly, she then did nothing throughout the next three hours to encourage any kind of discipline, but let the kids run around yelling, the parents talk and laugh in the audience and the teachers stand and smoke along the stage while no one could hear a word from the children who were performing. (Except for one little girl who got impatient with the one-kid-holds-the-mic set-up. She grabbed it away from the girl who was singing heartily into it, and everybody heard her say “you can’t sing” as the mic was passed to someone else.)
You could also very clearly hear the music that some hooched-out ten-year-olds danced to as part of a Culture in the Schools initiative in Guadeloupe. “Do Me Like a Rockstar” was the song of choice, so I’m assuming – I’m hoping – that the dance instructors didn’t understand the lyrics when they decided that this was the best way to present the girls to their parents. It was a shame that nobody could hear my sweet little grade two-three split sing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” as they had worked it to perfection and sang like angels. Grade three’s “Mellow Yellow” (with extra colour lyrics from my Terrific Tots days) was less of a success, as the kids were distracted by the glamour of being onstage and hardly sang at all. But then, I spent the whole song struggling to play the guitar and at the same time keep my wrap-around skirt from blowing open – apparently to no avail, from the comments I heard afterward – so I wasn’t so tuned into our performance either.
More sexy dances, kids doing rambling skits that got carried away by the wind, a head-smashing incident that resulted in broken glasses and wild hoots of laughter from the parents, some Creole storytelling and a lot of screeching feedback from that infamous microphone – and finally, mercy me, it was over and my school year had come to a close.
So as I count down my final two weeks here, a countdown towards good ol’ Canada with its functioning shower, laundry, no mosquito nets and Baskin Robbins – take me home, country roads – I seem to be staging my final revolution. I’ve told the school inspector about the principal who spanked a kid so hard that he broke a big yellow ruler over his bum and about the other principal who back-handed a kid and left a big slit in his cheek. (The kids don’t want to tell their parents because it’s admitting they were in trouble for something.)
I’ve also become so fed up with the hissing and the disgusting comments from men, everywhere, all the time, all year, that on Tuesday I snapped. Some guy walking towards me said “salut, ma poupée,” – hello, my doll – and though it’s the tamest of all the things I’ve heard, I turned around and yelled, actually screamed, “I’M NOT YOUR DOLL, ASSHOLE!” I have a feeling I was more of a freak show than a shining example of women’s independence, as I had my feet planted and my hands in fists at my sides like a cartoon of someone getting really angry – I must have looked like a total nutter. What can you do – I feel better for it, and I think it was a good precedent. Look out, men, I’m on the rampage and I take no prisoners.