Band Cochons

I must admit, Reunion Island is a lot cleaner today than when I first arrived in 2000. I remember walking through the streets of Saint-Denis, when sometimes the pavements were covered with dustbin bags and scuttlingcockroaches. I remember the litter along the Barachois. I even remember taking a wrong turn in Mafate and coming across the refuse tip in La Nouvelle…

Today it is different. I think people are more aware of the importance of keeping the island tidy, and the local councils are doing their best to keep the place clean. But not everyone is helping. How many smokers still stubtheir cigarettes out in the sand? How many people throw chocolate wrappers on the ground? How many people decide just to leave their old washing-machines by the side of the road?

I had a bizarre experience not so long ago in the town centre of Saint-Paul. I was sitting in a traffic jam, and the road was blocked. Looking at the car in front of me, I watched as the woman inside threw an empty plastic Coca-Cola bottle out of the window into the street.

I opened my door, picked up the bottle, walked to the woman and said (ever so politely!):

‘Excuse me, you seem to have dropped something. Here you are.’

Her response was rather curious. ‘It’s not mine’, she said.

‘Ok’, I replied, ‘just for your information, my car is right behind you and I saw you do it.’

‘I don’t care,’ she said. ‘It’s not mine.’

I kept my cool and said ‘I’ve got an idea – either you can look after it until you find a bin, or if you want, I can do that myself. What do you think?’

‘I don’t care,’ she repeated. ‘Do what you want.’ I kept the bottle.

Now this could be an extreme case, but her use of the words ‘I don’t care’or rather in French ‘je m’en fous’ is pretty unfortunate, and it will be difficult to keep the island clean with this kind of mentality. But there is hope! Have you heard of Band Cochon? It’s a website which charts rubbish, litter or fly-tipping around the place, helping to promote a cleaner Reunion Island. If you see rubbish somewhere you can upload your photo to the website.

Another idea would be simply to ask the radio presenters on RFO, Festival and Freedom to simply finish each programme with the words: ‘Thanks for listening, good bye, and keep your island tidy.’

But not in English of course…

Vocabulary

cleaner – plus propre
pavement – trottoir
dustbin bags – sacs poubelles
scuttling – courir vite
cockroach – cafard

litter – déchets
refuse tip – décharge
aware – conscient
tidy – proper, range
to stub out – écraser (cigarette)

wrapper – emballage
washing-machine – machine à laver
traffic jam – embouteillage
to throw – jeter
empty – vide

to drop – faire tomber
to keep your cool – garder son calme
to look after – s’occuper de
bin  – poubelle
pretty – assez

rubbish – ordures
fly-tipping – dépôt sauvage

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Halloween

Halloween was always my favorite holiday. It probably has something to do with the thespian in me…dressing up in costume, pretending to be someone else, living out a fantasy…I quickly learned that Halloween in the States is much different from Halloween in Reunion.

To start with, pretty much ALL Americans get into the Halloween spirit, and it starts in the beginning of October. Halloween goes hand in hand with thefall. In Michigan, we would always go to cider mills and eat fresh donuts and drink warm apple cider in the forest. In Texas, we’d have pumpkincarving contests on the patio at the local bar. Haunted houses were on every corner. EVERYONE decorated their homes in spider webs, tombs, and other spooky things. And then, the weekend of Halloween, we’d always have an amazing costume party. Scary movies would scream in the background. Everyone dressed up—kids, adults, dogs, cats, and we’d drink way too much vodka punch out of a smoking cauldron.

The American version of Halloween may be incredibly commercialized, but it’s fun that way! You can dress up as anything you want—Spiderman, a princess, President Obama…it doesn’t HAVE to be scary. In France and especially in Reunion, it seems that many people are afraid of Halloween. Here, they have kept the real origins of Halloween and so it’s equated to horror, the dead, the scary.

I learned this when I threw my first Halloween party in La Possession, our group costumes included 3 devils, one witch, and the rest of the guys wore ugly masks that came off the moment they opened their first beers. We couldn’t find any pumpkins to carve, so someone tried the same thing with a watermelon and a coconut. We didn’t have any creatively themed desserts, but I did spend a little too much time making spooky appetisers. There were no kids to take trick-or-treating…but I did have a little trick up MY sleeve….

I was planning on secretly setting up my friend Julie, (who was part of my original host family when I first arrived in Reunion,) with Richard’s friend Christian. Julie came to the party in a pink wig and cat-eye contact lenses, and still it was still love at first sight! The two of them hit it off and interestingly enough, they just got married a few months ago.

So I guess it goes to show you…you never know what you might encounter on Halloween night!

Vocabulary

To dress up – se déguiser
The States – les Etats Unis
The fall – l’automne
Cider mill – cidrerie
Pumpkin – citrouille

To carve – sculpter
Spider web – toile d’araignée
Spooky – qui donne la chair de poule
To scream – crier
Cauldron – chaudron

To throw a party – organiser une fête
Devil – diable
Witch – sorcière
To come off – enlever
Watermelon – pastèque

Trick-or-treat – bonbons ou un sort
A trick up my sleeve – un tour dans mon sac
Wig – perruque
To set up – jouer les entremetteurs
To encounter – rencontre

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Signing in Creole

I was recently introduced into the wonderful world of Sign Language. But not just any sign language, Reunionese Creole sign language! Well, 40% of it anyway.

I originally signed up for the sign language course because I thought it might be interesting, as a language teacher, to see how a completely different language is taught. I was keen to pick up on some new teaching techniques and thought it might also be fun to be able to have a basic conversation in sign language.

What I hadn’t realized was that learning to sign could go way beyond just learning a new language. From the very first lesson, our teacher Emmanuelle, who is deaf, made us understand that going into a sign language classroom meant going into a world of silence. A world where speaking instead of signing is inappropriate because it would cast her aside. So off with the chatting and the side jokes, and into a world where in order to communicate we must look into each other’s eyes and be mindful of all our gestures.

I was amazed to learn that sign language isn’t one universal language, although there is an international sign language called International Sign, which is mainly used at international meetings. There are in fact over three hundred different sign languages around the world, as well as regional dialects! The sign language I’m learning is actually 60% LSF – Langue des Signes Française, or French Sign Language, and 40% Reunionese Creole. I feel silly now to have thought there could be only one sign language, especially as I studied sociolinguistics and did research into language varieties.

I’ve also learned to what extent language and culture and intrinsically linked. I speak Portuguese, English and French, and have always known that understanding a culture is an important part of learning a foreign language. But learning sign language takes this to a whole different level. I think this is because we get so used to our native languages or to our second languages that we forget to question the origins of the words and expressions we use, and we fail to notice the link between these words and expressions and our cultures. Learning to sign makes us ask those questions and notice those links because that knowledge comes in really handy when trying to remember the signs.  For example, the sign for ‘Ste Rose’ is lava flowing around a building.

Doing this sign language course has therefore been more than just a way to pick up new teaching techniques. It’s really been an eye-opener, and a very humbling introduction into the silent world of Reunionese culture!

Vocabulary

To be keen – être désireux
To pick up on – apprendre
Beyond – au-delà
Deaf – sourds
To cast someone aside – mettre qqn de côté

Off with – arrêter
Side jokes – plaisanterie
To be mindful – être attentif
To feel silly – sentir idiot
Linked – lié

To fail – échouer
To notice – remarquer
To flow – s’écouler
Therefore – donc
An eye-opener – une revelation

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Bug Off!

Often, when people find out I’m a foreigner, the first thing they ask is « so, do you like Reunion? » My usual response is « I love Reunion! It’s a shameabout the mosquitoes, though ».

I don’t know anyone that loves these tiny insects, but my experience with them has been pretty terrible. When I first arrived on the island, any time I got bitten by a mosquito I’d develop a red lump the size of a marble where the bite was. Multiply this by the dozens of bites I’d receive each day and it wasn’t pretty. This reaction lasted for my entire first year in Reunion.

Today, my body has adapted to mosquito bites but nevertheless I’m always searching for techniques to repel them. Here are the results of a mosquito repellent road-test I did recently just for fun.

First, I borrowed a mosquito net from a friend, thinking I would get a good night’s sleep without being bitten. The next morning, I had several red spots on my legs. It’s surprisingly tricky to keep the net completely closed…especially if you get up during the night and forget to put it back in place.

Plan B was a natural mosquito repellent. I’m very sensitive to chemicals, so using a conventional product wasn’t an option. I chose the best-selling(and most expensive) organic insect repellent I could find at the pharmacy and sprayed it on liberally. That evening, we ate dinner outside and I didn’t notice any mosquitoes on me. But for the price, I’d need to pay the equivalent of a movie ticket each week just to keep myself bite-free. I also tried a homemade version of the spray, using geranium, eucalyptus and lemongrass oils mixed together with alcohol and water. It was just as good as the pharmacy version, and far less expensive.

Method number 3: garlic. An article online advised me that crushing a clove of garlic and rubbing it on my skin would repel mosquitoes effectively. So, for my experiment I did exactly that. I rubbed the clove on my wrists, ankles, neck and behind my knees, all places that mosquitoes generally love. This was by far the most effective method I’d tried so far. But my family and friends weren’t impressed. When leaning in for a kiss, my husband asked me if I’d been making pesto.

Next, I tried citronella candles. As I said, I can’t use conventional products filled with chemicals, so using mosquito spirals wasn’t possible. Instead, I lit a couple of citronella candles in my living room. It smelt great, but in the evening there were still plenty of mosquitoes flying around.

Finally, a mosquito trap. Another idea I found on the internet, the mosquito trap is made out of an old water bottle, inside which you put a mixture of sugar, water and yeast. After making my trap, I left it for two weeks on the balcony. There wasn’t a single mosquito inside.

So, to sum up my experiment, the natural mosquito repellent and garlic method were the most effective. But the garlic is definitely not for anyone with a social life. I guess I’ll be sticking to the repellent spray, either shop-bought or homemade.

Vocabulary

A foreigner – un étranger
A shame – dommage
A marble – bille
A road-test – un essai
To borrow – emprunter

A Net – un filet
Tricky – difficile
Lemongrass – citronnelle
A clove of garlic – une gousse d’ail
Yeast – levure

To sum up – pour résumer

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An Assistant Returns

After having completed one year as an assistant in paradise, I knew my time couldn’t be over.

It was a warm day in June as I made final preparations to leave Reunion, for what I thought was a long time. Even as I checked in for my flight, I had the offer to extend my stay as it was overbooked! I had mentally prepared myself to leave Reunion for at least 2 years and as I took off from St Denis I said my final farewell and mi aime à ou to Reunion.

I had spent the last 9 months living the dream in paradise. I was an assistant teaching in two colleges, one in St Pierre and the other in Entre-Deux. It was the first time I had ever taught and although, at first, it was extremely hard, I learnt a lot during the year and it was the best year of my life, so far! I had so much fun teaching the students about my culture, traditions and my way of life back in the UK, even if sometimes they thought things were disgusting, a big fried breakfast for instance!

So as I returned to the UK and planned to spend the summer in China, I couldn’t help but think everyday about Reunion and the wonderful people I met. During my travels in China, a lot of people asked what I did and I couldn’t help but talk and talk about Reunion and how they must visit. (Even though nobody had ever heard of it!) I dreamt every night of the beautiful beaches and the clear blue skies; although China was hot it was totally different from Island life.

Upon my return to the UK, I received an email telling me that there may be a position to be an assistant again next year, as my successor had dropped out.  I waited anxiously for a few days, trying not to build my hopes up. 3 days later I received confirmation that I was accepted again as an assistant and that I would be able to return to the two schools I had worked at.

This was the best news I had received all summer. I never thought it would have been possible to return to Reunion and work again so soon after I left.

Now as I make my final preparations to return to paradise for another year, counting down the days until I board that flight back to Reunion, I am eager to start working with my colleagues and with the students to again have one unforgettable experience in paradise.

Who knows if I will ever be able to leave…

Vocabulary

to check in – enregistrer
to have fun – s’amuser
way of life – mode de vie
fried breakfast – petit-déjeuner frit
to drop out – abandonner

to build your hopes up – faire des plans sur la comète
to board a flight – embarquer
eager – pressé

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