Eclipse!

On the first of September 2016, La Reunion became one of the few places on Earth where you could witness the annular solar eclipse! An annular eclipse is when the moon is far enough away from the Earth during a solar eclipse, that the outer edge of the sun can still be seen.

The first of September was a Thursday so I was at work at the upper school in St Joseph, I had a group of second-year students to look after during the event. I briefed them on the dangers of looking at the sun, and handed out their glasses. They were really excited all afternoon; jumping around, asking questions. Some were even worried about becoming blind if their glasses became damaged!

The annular eclipse was to pass over central Africa, out over the Indian Ocean and pass over La Reunion early in the afternoon. I reminded the students how lucky they were to be provided with glasses, as it was doubtful that every child in the African continent would be protected against the harmful effects of looking directly at the eclipse.

Back in Saint Joseph, the weather was not great, the sky became overcast late in the morning and it looked like it would not change. All the students gathered outside and looked up at the grey sky. There were groans of disappointment, but we were all still hopeful that the sky clear, even for a second. Twenty minutes passed and the clouds started to disperse just a little. Everyone looked up, hoping that the hole in the clouds would pass between the eclipse and us. And it did! Cheers of joy erupted on the playground! It was like the home team scored the winning goal in the 90th minute!

Every thirty minutes or so another hole would appear in the clouds and the same shouts would sweep over the school! Now this was an interesting way to experience the eclipse!

In total we must have seen it for about a minute all afternoon. I called my wife and James later who were in Saint Paul and Saint Denis respectively, and they told me that there wasn’t a cloud in the sky for them! Ah, well. Maybe next time I’ll have better weather. I think I’ll be about two-hundred…

Vocabulary

few – peu
to witness – témoigner
far away – loin
outer edge – bord extérieur
upper school – lycée

to look after – prendre soin
to hand out – distribuer
to jump – sauter
blind – aveugle
to be provided – bénéficier

harmful – nocif
overcast – couvert
to gather – rassembler
to groan – gémir
hopeful – optimiste

hole – trou
to sweep over – engloutir

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Beginner’s Luck

Often when asked the question “what’s your favourite sport”, I really want to answer “snorkelling”. But I have been corrected many times, snorkelling apparently does not constitute as a sport. I would be lying if I said that I liked swimming, I’m not really in love with swimming, and public pools gross me out. I just like seeing fish, and sometimes when I swim really fast it feels like exercise. After all, part of the definition of sport is: an activity involving physical exertion and skill. So, breathing through a snorkel without fogging up the mask demonstrates skill, and following fish around the lagoon completes the physical exertion part, so there we have it; my favourite sport!

With that being said, since coming to Reunion I practice my favourite sport as much as possible (since I didn’t have many chances to practice in my hometown Toronto) and I would like to think that I know the lagoon, especially in St Leu, like the back of my hand. I have seen octopus, moray eels, boxfish, lionfish, even squid!! I thought I had seen everything there was to see without venturing beyond the coral barrier.

However, my in-laws came on vacation last November and within a week of being here my father-in-law came back from snorkelling in Trou D’Eau and announced that he had just been swimming with a huge ray! I was green with envy, why haven’t I gone swimming in the lagoon with a ray? I jumped in the water right away and went searching for the ray.  But as luck may have it, I came back disappointed; the ray was nowhere to be seen.

A few days later my sister-in-law went snorkelling in St. Leu, while I stayed on the beach.  What a mistake, she came back excited telling us how she had just spent fifteen minutes or more swimming with a turtle! I have swum with turtles before, but not in the lagoon in St. Leu. I was jealous for the second time that week.

So, I started wondering why I had never seen these big magnificent creatures in the lagoon and visitors who have only been snorkelling a few times were finding them with ease? I came to the conclusion that either it can all be chalked up to beginners luck, or my in-laws were pulling my leg. They did happen to forget their underwater camera both times.  Ever since then, I have kept my eyes peeled, looking for turtles or rays, or maybe I’ll just have to settle for a visit to Kélonia or the Aquarium in St Gilles.

Vocabulary

snorkelling – palmes, masque, tuba
to gross out – dégouter
exertion – effort
fogging up – buée dans le masque
to demonstrate – démontrer

that being said – ceci dit
hometown – ville natale
like the back of my hand – comme le fond de ma poche
octopus – pieuvre
moray eels – murène

boxfish – poisson coffre
lionfish – poisson-lion
squid – calamar
father-in-law – beau père
green with envy – vert de jalousie

ease – aisance
to chalk up – engranger
pulling my leg – faire marcher qqn
to keep your eyes peeled – garder les yeux grand ouvert
to settle for – se contenter de

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Getting a Driving License: Reunion Style

In my pre-Reunion life, I was happily car-free. Buses and trains were perfectly fine for trips to work, university or visiting friends. And I would walk to the shops and markets a few times a week to get food or other necessities. I knew how to drive, and had a learner’s permit allowing me to drive as long as another person was in the car with me. But since life was so easy without a car I never found the motivation to actually sign up for the driver’s exam.

That is, until I arrived on the island in 2007 and was immediately confronted with the reality of Reunion’s public transport system. Or lack of it. Buses ran every hour, and stopped at seven pm. Half the places I wanted to go were nowhere near a bus stop, and tickets were expensive. The only fun part of taking the bus was clapping to signal the driver to stop. But that was no consolation as I spent each day stuck at home and unable to go anywhere interesting.

So I signed up to do the famous ‘code de la route’. For those who haven’t done this exam recently, here’s an example of a question, which I’ve only slightly exaggerated: “It’s three pm on a Wednesday in September. Am I allowed to park on the left side of the road if I have snow chains on the tyres of my car and my headlights are on?” The questions were crazy and at the time I couldn’t speak a sentence in French. Luckily, I’m stubborn and over several months I studied with the code book in one hand and a French English dictionary in the other. After passing the theory exam, it was time to sign up for the driving exam.

Even though I could already drive, I took extra lessons in order to adapt to driving on the other side of the road, and dealing with the mountains. Back home in Perth, the roads are all flat but here I needed to get used to extremely steep roads, hairpin curves and trying not to drive into any ditches. My first attempt at the driving exam, I failed miserably after it started raining heavily, another situation I had no experience with in Australia, and I panicked. The second time, I passed with flying colours. That was in October 2010, and today I’m proud to say I can do a pretty good parallel park and drive in torrential rain up and down mountains. What was a frustrating situation turned out to be a gift in disguise, and as a bonus I learnt to speak French because of it.

Vocabulary

car-free – sans voiture
learner’s permit – permit provisoire
to sign up – s’inscrire
lack – manque
clapping – taper les mains

slightly – légèrement
snow chains – chaines à neige
tyres – pneus
headlights – les phares
sentence – phrase

stubborn – tétue
even though – malgré
other side of the road – l’autre côté de la route
flat – plat
steep – raide

hairpin curves – virages en épingle
ditches – caniveaux
with flying colours – avec distinction
to parallel park – faire un créneau
gift in disguise – un mal pour un bien

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Komidi

I was really into going to the theatre when I was younger. In my town in England, we had our own place called the Mowlem Theatre where I would regularly watch shows and sometimes perform in them. Moving to Reunion in 2007, I found it hard to enter the theatre scene (pardon the pun). This was for two very good reasons, firstly I couldn’t understand French, and secondly because I couldn’t drive, so I would have had a hard time getting to and from the theatre. By the time I had learnt how to drive, I had totally forgotten about the wonderful experience going to the theatre could be.

While looking for family activities during the school holidays, I found out about the Komidi theatre festival. I had already missed the majority of the festival but luckily there were still three days left. I had really wanted to see a piece for adults, but we decided to see Thumbelina because it was for children, and this would be the first French show that my daughters would see. We arrived in St Joseph early to walk around the town and appreciate being in a new environment. Stopping off for some ice-cream too we really felt on holiday.

In the theatre, there were thirty of us crammed into a very small area. The stage was set already, and the curtains open. As the last of us took our seats, the house lights dimmed. A woman entered the stage and smiled at the audience. She took out a book and started to read the story. Soon into the performance, however, the story took over, and she became the characters she was narrating. Quick on-stage costume changes followed as she moved from one character to another. Going from a witch, to a mouse, to a mole and to Thumbelina herself without breaking a sweat. The stage transformed too, from a bedroom, to a lake and to a forest. All of the children in the audience were gobsmacked.

What a show! I’d never been so enthralled and entertained by a one-man performance even if it was aimed at children from the age of three. If you haven’t guessed already, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

The Komidi theatre festival takes place every year in the south of the island and I highly recommend you go. There are plays for all ages and tastes. Even if you’re not a theatre lover, your children will absolutely fall in love with the magical experience of the children’s shows. At €1 a ticket, it’ll hardly break the bank! Next year I’ll remember about this festival, and I won’t miss the chance to see as many shows as I can.

Vocabulary

own – propre
to have a hard time – avoir du mal
Thumbelina – Poucette
crammed – entassé
curtains – rideaux

to dim – tamiser
to take over – prendre le contrôle
witch – sorcière
mole – taupe
sweat – transpiration

gobsmacked – stupéfiés
enthralled – captivés
thoroughly – complètement
taste – goût
to break the bank – être coûteux

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Raising Kids in Reunion

Having grown up in South Africa, I spent most of my childhood playing outside. We would spend hours in the garden around the house, climbing trees, making mud pies and building tents.  We would ride our bikes and play with other kids in the street. Summers were spent splashing about in the pool and holidays and long weekends were enjoyed down at the beach with family and friends.

South Africa has very sunny weather like Reunion, and even though it doesn’t have a tropical climate, it certainly doesn’t have cold winters like in Europe. So you can only imagine that I find the outdoor life we get to enjoy here in Reunion great for kids.

I love our regular trips down to the beach – playing in the sand, chasing crabs, swimming and watching the multi-coloured fish in the sea.  Mother Nature offers us such a fascinating classroom without the restrictions of four brick walls. I love the freedom my family enjoys while walking barefoot outside, with the big blue sky and elegant white-tailed tropicbirds above our heads. I love sitting in the motley shade of an old, wise tree!  The year-round picnicking and walking in the forests and fresh air are also a real pleasure.

Apart from the climate and natural surroundings, I also adore the fact that Reunion has such a multi-cultural society – a group of people that generally lives respectfully and peacefully amongst each other.  I just love seeing the kids at my daughter’s crèche playing together.  Kids from African, Indian, Asian and European descent all mixed up in the same activity, playing as absolute equals.  I hope that these little beings will not learn the prejudices that are so present in the world we live in today.

A mixed race society, unfortunately, wasn’t the case for me when I attended playschool at the end of the apartheid era. So these points all make raising kids in Reunion quite delightful.

Being far away from family, however, is not always so easy.  The grandparents are not around to enjoy the growing up and everyday doings of their grandchildren… or to lend a helping hand to sometimes exhausted parents!

And as you all know, travelling can be a very pricey affair from Reunion.  We have a huge travel budget every year.  Flying to mainland France and South Africa to visit family and friends during school holidays ends up costing us an arm and a leg. So as for everything in life, there are pros and cons to all the decisions we make.  The trick is to find a happy balance for a happy family!

Vocabulary

to raise – elever
childhood – enfance
to climb – grimper
to splash – éclabousser
barefoot – pieds nus

white-tailed tropicbird – paille-en-queue
motley – hétéroclite
wise – sage
year-round – pendant toute l’année
surroundings – environnement

a being – un être
unfortunately – malheureusement
playschool – garderie
delightful – enchanteur
to grow up – grandir

exhausted – épuisé
pricey – coûteux
during – pendant
to cost an arm and a leg – coûter un bras
the pros and cons – les pours et les contres

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