Saturday, July 5, 2008

Brrr... it's chilly in St Lucia (in the highly air conditioned internet cafe - ha fooled you!)

The beaches here are beautiful – postcard style golden white sand, blue skies, turquoise crystal clear water, and of course palm trees all over the place. However, the view is often spoilt by sunburnt chavs and fat Americans. I thought I’d be glad to hear English spoken again but it’s actually quite irritating to hear the inane chatter of fools. I had to endure a middle-aged Cockney woman and her daughter performing the whole of a Little Britain sketch in the supermarket yesterday. Ugh.

This island is clearly a much poorer place than Martinique. Whereas Martinique is officially a part of France (an overseas department – or an extra floating county if you like) St Lucia is an independent nation within the Commonwealth. And so many more Lucian locals make their living out of ripping off, hassling or generally intimidating tourists here than their Martiniquan counterparts. Example – as we came out of a restaurant the other night a man hurried over to our rented car and gave it a quick few wipes with a dirty rag before demanding ‘at least five dollars’ for his unwanted, and frankly pointless efforts. Another, more scary incident was when a man shoved his hands through the car window, eying the car keys, to demand money for having given us some quite unnecessary directions through a three street town.

So apart from the pretty beaches St Lucia’s not a particularly pleasant place to be. I feel guilty for having enough money to have come here, but not enough money to hand out five dollars to anyone who asks. I feel guilty that I live in a country where the cheapest food you can get is at McDonalds, rather than one where McDonalds costs twice as much as everything else, and I feel scared to go out at night because of the high level of robberies and bag snatchings and the generally hostile vibe that I’m feeling. We had lunch in a scruffy canteen the other day (we’re avoiding the shiny plastic tourist areas as much as possible) and paid the equivalent of four pounds for three large and tasty meals. But whenever we go to somewhere like that I feel as if all the eyes that are on us (and there are many) are thinking “Why don’t you go back to your big hotel with the massive gates and security guards? What are you doing in our bit?” ...maybe I’m just being paranoid but I’m certainly not feeling as welcome here as I did in Martinique.

Having said all that we’ve managed to have some fun here too. We went to the volcano and covered ourselves with hot sulphurous mud and then showered it off in a hot waterfall, we went to the cinema last night which was like stepping back in time to the 50’s what with the decor and the people cheering and applauding the film, we’ve had lots of delicious food and we’re staying in a huge posh house. So I shouldn’t really be moaning. Can’t wait to get home though!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

And now... the end is near...

As I found out on my way here, exceeding baggage allowance can be quite costly. But never fear - I’ve got a marvellous device for weighing luggage. It’s a scale with a hook from which you suspend your bag. And it’s great!

...unless of course the bag slips off the hook and you punch yourself in the mouth with the scale, puncturing your lower lip and chipping your teeth and causing your mouth to swell up to three times its normal size...

So yeah, I’ve now got a big hole in my lip, a slightly sicky, faint feeling and annoying crunchy bits of blood-flavoured teeth in my mouth. I’ve got so much to do today – the taekwondo grading is at 5pm and before then I need to have packed, cleaned the fridge, cleaned the loo, cleaned the windows, cleaned ...well, everything. But now I feel sick and incapacitated and have been forced to sit down and have a rest. DAMN YOU WEAK AND FEEBLE BODY!

Oh well, I suppose it gives me the opportunity to catch you up on my last few days...

First things first I must tell you about the cutest stray kitten ever in the whole world! On our way into the cinema the other day we saw a tiny miaow bag squeaking around under the cars in the car park. We were a bit worried about it but thought its mum would be around somewhere and that we should probably just leave it alone. But then on our way out a couple of hours later it was still there, and had soggy paws and was sneezing and was just too cute to leave alone any longer. I picked it up and took it to the car park security man who basically told me I should take it home or leave it to die. DIE??! The tiny cute kitten? Noooooooo! So I started frantically texting round everyone I know who’s staying here or who lives here asking, begging them to adopt a squeaky friend. I finally got a response from Nelta, whose granny was looking for a kitten. So we took it home for the night, fed it and played with it, and then reluctantly gave it away the next morning.

I had my official ‘last day at school’ yesterday, although the last few days have all had a very ‘end of term’ feeling, what with the concerts and performances, the Abolition d’Esclavage exhibition, the cake tasting session and the distinct lack of children in school. (They don’t have attendance officers here and it seems some kids and parents start their summer holidays whenever they feel like it.)

Last week on my way into a class, one of the kids was waiting outside the door for me with a blindfold. He guided me into the room where I was greeted by questions from the other kids, like - What are your hobbies? Where do you live? What’s your favourite colour? And so on. And then they made me taste and smell fruits and spices and guess what they were. And I got presents! That was a lovely surprise.

And yesterday I got another surprise in Mr Thimon’s class. I’d spent the last few weeks working really hard with these kids on a song they performed at the concert – the Jungle Boogie Woogie. They did an amazing job with a lot of complicated vocabulary, and they had costumes and masks and danced and played drums. It was great! Anyway I had developed quite a soft spot for this class, and so when I arrived for my last lesson and saw there were only two kids there I must admit I felt a tiny bit sad. But just as the three of us were settling down to play Bingo, about fifteen others burst through the door shouting; “Surprise!”

And they sat me in a chair in the middle of the room and lined up around me, singing a song about having a safe journey home, and that they would miss me. And then some of them played traditional drums and others danced the Bèlè while they sang something in créole. I had to really work hard not to cry! It was so touching. And then they gave me some gifts – a créole recipe book, a class photo which I’d forgotten I was in, some jewellery and lots of cards and kisses.

I also managed to drop a sufficient number of hints about how a school uniform tee shirt would be a great souvenir for a teacher to dig one out for me. He looked a bit embarrassed as he explained the only one he could find was age 10, but I ran into the loo immediately and changed into it to prove that it was the perfect size for me. And it was!

And so we’re leaving on Monday. Jessica’s mum is picking us up at 5am to take us to the port. We’ll be in St Lucia for ten days and then back in the UK on July 11th. I’m feeling strangely sad... I think it might be very odd to go back to a grey northern climate after all these brilliant colours, sounds and smells.

So please will someone make sure the sun’s switched on for when we get back?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Madinina, tu me manqueras...

The internet's being a bit unpredictable again so I'll type this fast and slap it online ASAP.

I'm just putting the finishing touches to a pair of shorts I'm making out of lovely yellow Madras cloth. I've never made any clothes before so frankly they're a bit crap. But they took hours to make so I'm determined to love them whether they're avant garde or a pile of poo. What do you think?

I'm beginning to get bored with the number of times a day I think; 'I can't believe I'm leaving in x days' now ...but I can't believe I'm leaving in fifteen days! I'm very happy to be coming home - I can see everyone I've missed so much over the last year, go for a curry and fish and chips, drink coffee served in a larger-than-mouse-sized cup, sleep with the windows open without fear of attack by fiendish mosquitos and crispy shelled cockroaches. But in the last few weeks I've been thinking more and more about what I'm leaving behind that I take for granted here now - the beautiful beaches, the tropical plants and forests, the sun ...oh the sun! I hope I don't get S.A.D. when I get home.

Lisette's gone away for a few days, having promised to buy my car off me when she gets back. The internet's terrible at the moment and with her away I can't see it getting fixed any time soon - so don't expect many updates. But if you don't hear from me don't worry too much. I'll be home soon!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

La souris est morte, vive la souris

Many hours were spent last week cleaning mouse corps off the bottom of the kitchen drawer underneath which it had started to putrefy. And once the bleach had settled and the kitchen was spotless I foolishly thought it was over wasn’t.

Now angry, bitter and vengeful teeth are once again chewing their way through in an attempt to find the trail of the ancestors. Lisette says the man can’t come this week because it’s Mothers’ Day (All week??) but that he’ll be back soon to brick up the gap. But honestly, if they can get through glass and steel I can’t see how brick will stop these mighty beasts. I think the man needs to build me a fallout shelter and then put the house inside it. And then we might be safe.

Nelta invited us to a karaoke evening last night which was good fun. Everyone had to take a number out of an envelope when they arrived, and these numbers were then pulled out of a hat so no one could get out of singing. The theme for the evening, printed on the t-shirts of the hosts was ‘O.P.P.C’ (‘On ne peut pas critiquer’ – i.e. ‘We’re all rubbish so let’s not make fun of each other.’) And I was glad to find out that the standard of karaoke in Martinique is almost identical to that of the UK. The only difference really is that people don’t drink so much here so the words are more comprehensible, even when they’re not in English. I was quite nervous before I had to go up but I got some cheers and whistles after my ‘Killing me Softly’. However I was totally upstaged by J’s impressive rendition of ‘I’m a Barbie Girl’ which went down a storm, especially the parts where he inserted his favourite (and only) creole phrase, ‘Ba mwe sa’ (‘Give me that’), eg. ‘Come on Barbie, ba mwe sa, oh oh oh oh...’

J’s taking advantage of the hot weather here and has turned the kitchen into a brewery for ginger beer and mead. I only hope they taste better than last year’s attempt which had a lovely lemony yeast vomit flavour – he forgot the sugar. Other recent projects include a solar powered oven (the first attempt didn’t work but we’re still trying) and living off the land. It must be the fruity season now because there’s a mango tree on Dead Cat Alley shedding fruit left right and centre, the prunes de Cythère have gone yellow and are starting to drop off, and we were introduced (thanks Nick) to a delicious plum-like fruit the other day too. I don’t know what it was called but the ripest, brightest red ones tasted a little bit like bubble gum, and the slightly less ripe ones had an interesting tartness which was most refreshing.

We also bought a telescopic fishing rod and have been out a couple of times trying to catch dinner. So far J has caught an enormous (at least 2 inches long) shiny anonymous fish and I have caught some seaweed. Not bad for beginners but I think we need a bit more practice.

Oh yes... our flights are booked. We're coming back via Saint Lucia. Leaving here on June 30th by boat, staying there for ten days and then flying directly to the UK arriving July 11th. Can't wait!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Not a lot to report

It’s a bank holiday (again!). I had some plaits in which I took out the other day and found I had lovely straight red lines of sunburn on my scalp which is now peeling like snake skin. I brushed my hair this morning and it was like a scene from The Singing Detective.

I’m feeling a bit poor after having just shelled out 100 euros for two new tyres and about 130 for visits to the doctor and medicine. She reckons I’ve got some kind of parasite, probably from drinking the tap water. Yay. I am officially riddled with worms as well as peeling like a freak. I had a nice time on the beach today though. I kept my head covered at all times.

There’s not much to tell this week. Not a lot going on. I’ve been watching Jerry Springer – life's a bit dull at the moment. That mouse is still trying to get in though. He obviously thinks my house is a place of huge excitement. He’s going to be disappointed unless of course he likes watching crazy American chat shows.

We drove down to Anses D'Arlet last night hoping to go to a restaurant which has a massive beach barbecue and live music. But by the time we arrived (about 8.30pm) they'd run out of food. Also the music sounded a bit like the Eurovision Song Contest on maximum volume so we just went to Trois Islets for steak frites instead. It was a long way to go just for dinner but we managed to talk Rosy and Georgie into joining us so all was not lost and a pleasant evening was had.

Not much else has happened... Oh but I did go to Mangofil with a few other assistants the other day. It's an exciting high wire adventure playground with arial slides and great heights - and support harnesses and safety clips of course. It was a good day out. I'm hoping to go back again once my bank balance has retrouven its equilibrium (and once I've decided which language I'm trying to speak - I'm seeing downhill motion in both at the moment. I hope this problem règles itself bientôt!)

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Walking on water

Yesterday we feasted. There was a cake sale at school in the morning and then J and I went to check out the “Semaine Gastronomique” at Sainte Marie. I got a free sample from a man in a chef’s outfit (an ample sample I might add) of chicken with champignons noirs and white wine, I had a snowball (crushed ice with grenadine syrup poured all over it) and we bought some accras aux légumes and aux crevettes and a bottle of cherry punch.

There’s a strange almost-islet at Sainte Marie which is connected to the mainland by a narrow, partially flooded isthmus where two set of waves break against each other when the tide is high. Yesterday people were walking across it, collecting shellfish and going for a walk on the islet, so we thought we’d join in on the fun. As we started paddling across I held up my skirt to stop it getting wet – but I soon gave up trying with that when the waves started slopping against each other with more force and I got completely soaked. I think next time I go for a walk in the sea I’ll wear a swimming costume. We also both got very sunburnt as, foolishly, we had come out without sun cream on thinking we would be wandering under a covered market all morning. It was a fun adventure though.

The university project is coming along nicely. I’ve written 5300 words (although most of that is inane foreign waffle) and I just need to write a conclusion now. I’m hoping this conclusion will be so profound as to stun the examiner into forgetting everything they read over the last 5000 words and give me an amazing mark. I’ll let you know how that plan works out...

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Mouse Attack

Les jours feriés sont des jours de fête civile ou religeuse ...and they have MILLIONS of them in Martinique. I'm sure there have been five or six since I got here, and there are three more in the next two weeks, two of which are on Thursdays. Bank Holiday Thursday! Did you ever hear of such a thing?

...Ok, I have some catching up to do. Remember my friends the mice? Well they finally chewed a hole in the perspex barrier big enough to get into the cupboard under the sink. We heard a lot of scrabbling and scuffling coming from in there the other day so Jennie and I opened the door to take a peek just in time to see a large furry flurry disappear into the darkness and then sit on the other side of the perspex, peering at us, undoubtedly coveting my snacks, and rubbing his hands together in glee at the thought of edging ever closer to his goal.

Fearing an infestation I immediately reinstated my defence system (a piece of wood and a chair) to stop mighty mouse opening the door and getting into the kitchen. I also blocked up a gap in one of the drawers with a rolled up floor mat. But the teeth of the mouse must not be underestimated. Only an hour or so later it had gnawed its way through and was running around in my kitchen trying to decide which tasty treat to go for first.

Angered by the threat to my food supplies I ran towards it, not really sure what I was going to do (food is sacred to me), but the beast eluded me once more, climbing fearlessly up the drawers and pushing the remains of the mat out of its way to run through the gap and back into the cupboard. And I’m sure I heard it laughing at me as it scuttled back through the hole.

After many wild hand gestures and much breathless conversation with Lisette, I managed to convince her to erect a more solid barrier to try and prevent further invasions. So now I have a metal plate between me and mouse world. And after thoroughly disinfecting the drawers and anything that was in them I can finally rest knowing my precious food is safe from tiny teeth...for now at least...

I'm off to the Post Office this afternoon to stand in a ridiculously long queue of sweaty people for several hours. I wish they'd just sort it out and get more workers on the desk. I think if I added up all the time I've spent queuing there since September it would make about a month. Wish me luck!