Carri Poulet

I have to admit that Creole cuisine is not my favourite. It’s not because of the flavour, it’s because of the bones. For those of you who know me, you know that I don’t enjoy eating meat off the bone. Give me a chicken breast over a chicken drumstick any day!

So when I first arrived in Reunion I was eager to try the local food to see what it was all about. When my friend invited me to her mother’s for dinner I jumped at the chance. My first Creole dinner cooked by a Creole lady, it couldn’t get any better than that! On the menu was a traditional carri poulet. ‘Great!’ I thought.

So I arrived and I was greeted by the family and we all sat around a very large table. After trying to decipher some Creole and follow a conversation unsuccessfully, my attention turned to the huge pile of rice, which was making its way to the table. I have now learnt that this was a normal amount of rice for any meal. After that the beans and the famous carri arrived – at this point I was starving!

So I was served a generous amount and was the butt of the jokes as I politely skipped on the rougail tomate. I couldn’t wait to stuff my face but being British I made sure my elbows were off the table and I ate with my knife and fork, something, which attracted attention as the majority of the family were eating with their hands…but that’s an entirely different story.

As I neared the end of my meal and ate the last bit of chicken I was just about to put down my knife and fork and then it happened. SLURPPPPPP!

I thought somebody was choking on a bone but to my surprise no! One by one everybody started picking up their bones and sucking and slurping over them. I didn’t know whether to look horrified, smile or even laugh! Awkward doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. It didn’t take long for someone to question me as to why I wasn’t doing the same. I just didn’t know what to respond to not offend anybody or be rude! But where I am from this is a no no! It is just as bad as licking your plate! I have never sucked on a bone at the dinner table nor would I ever do it, especially when invited to somebody’s house!

This was one experience I will never forget. I can still remember the SLLUUURRRPP even now!

Vocabulary

flavour = le goût
bones = les os
to enjoy = apprécier
chicken breast = blanc de poulet
chicken drumstick = cuisse de poulet 

to be eager to = avoir hâte de
to see what it’s about = voir de quoi il s’agit
to jump at the chance = sauter sur l’occasion de faire qqch
to decipher = déchiffrer
huge = énorme 

to be starving = avoir la dalle
to be the butt of the joke = être la cible d’une blague
to skip = passer
to stuff my face = s’empiffrer
elbow = coude 

to near the end = approcher la fin
to choke = étouffer
awkward = gênant
rude = mal poli
to lick your plate = lécher son assiette

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Unruly Neighbours

You know that saying ‘Be careful what you wish for’? When you long for something that you are so sure you want, until one day you get it, and it turns out to be hell on earth? Yeah, I’m pretty familiar with it now.

I moved into a flat 6 months ago and although the flat is great, it’s well priced and spacious, I quickly noticed that mine was the only flat inhabited in the entire building. That’s one out of a possible 6. The nights grew long and lonely and before I knew it I was posting ads trying to get the word out about the apartments to rent. And it worked! The next thing I knew, I was seeing people come and visit the flats on a daily basis. At this point I was feeling pretty smug, imagining myself chatting with my soon-to-be neighbours over a bottle of wine.

Well someone should have just slapped me right there. It didn’t quite turn out that way. That’s an understatement. A few nights later at about 2am, I was swatting off mosquitos half asleep when I heard what I thought was a burglar trying to break into my flat. Terrified, I jumped out of bed and grabbed my weapon of choice, which due to little choice was my hairbrush, and crept towards the living room. Lights on, no-one was inside. But the front door handle was moving up and down and I was freaking out. I looked through the peephole and what did I see? A woman, maybe in her fifties, crazily looking around her and talking to herself, laughing and shouting all at once. I genuinely thought I was in a scene from an M. Night Shyamalan movie.

I was preparing to call the police when through the peephole I saw the door from the flat opposite open and a young woman drag her inside.

The rest of the night was a bit of a sleepless blur. When I left the flat the next day, I bumped into the same woman, who, seemingly oblivious to the events of the night before, introduced herself as my new neighbour. So there we go. I got what I wanted right? We don’t chat about our days or have a drink together, but every now and then I get the chance to hear her banging mistakenly on my door and I never feel alone, because she leaves rubbish in all of the communal spaces. Moral of the story? Be careful what you wish for.

Vocabulary

to long for = désirer 
pretty = assez
to move = déménager
flat = appartement
although = bien que

to notice = remarquer
to chat = bavarder
ads = annonces
smug = arrogant
to slap = gifler

understatement = minimisation
to grab = saisir
to creep = se faufiler
door handle = poignet
to freak out = flipper

peephole = judas
to bump into = croiser
oblivious = inconscient
mistakenly = par erreur
rubbish = déchets

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La Réunion Lé La !

When I went back home to visit family and friends in March, I was flooded with questions about how life was on the ‘distant and far away’ Reunion Island.  In Australia, this island is something exotic, and not everyone has heard about it.   I remember the time I told my mum that I was going to live and work in Reunion, and a look of panic came over her face – “But, aren’t there pirates in that part of the world?!?”  When I told a lady at the cash register that I was teaching English in Reunion, an island close to Africa.  She looked at me in awe = ‘we need more people like you in the world who devote their time to aid work’ …

The usual spiel I give people consists of the following observations: it’s hot, there are bugs everywhere, fruit is abundant, buses don’t run on time, people don’t run on time, the lagoon is awesome, just like the pictures you see on postcards, the people are friendly.  But the island has become something more to me, which is an idea that a text like this can’t convey.

Both periods of time that I have been in Reunion have been moments of self-discovery and creativity. Travelling anywhere away from home will evoke this type of personal growth, but why do I always end up here?  For me, there seems to be magic or a connection that I can’t see, but I certainly feel.  To express my gratitude to this incredible place, I wrote a poem, which soon turned into a song.  Here it is…

Needing a change, fly to an unknown place.
Trying to find the perfect option, a tropical island in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
Where white birds with straws for tails fly overhead,
And the locals speak in special code, it’s Creole I think they said.
Beach all around and coral lacing the sand,
A paradise of sorts with the sun on demand

Réunion Lé Là, we come together,
People from all over, with their cultures to offer.

Hiking, Canyoning, essential oils, plants growing from volcanic soil.
Those who come understand, Reunion is a lucky island.
Lychees light up the trees with scarlet, bananas grow at the drop of a hat.
Sugar cane fields line the roads, in summer we drown in mangoes.

Tour the island in a weekend, share a picnic on Sunday with family and friends.
A place where I can always see the ocean, where spirits are high and arms are open

Réunion Lé Là, we come together,
People from all over, with their cultures to offer.

Vocabulary

to be flooded = être inondé
cash register = la caisse
spiel = baratin
bugs = insects
to run on time = être à l’heure 

to convey = exprimer
self-discovery = découverte de soi
personal growth = culture personnelle
to end up = finir
straw = paille

overhead = au-dessus de nos têtes
to lace = orner
on demand = sur demande
soil = terre
lucky = chanceux 

to light up = allumer
scarlet = écarlate
at the drop of a hat = tout dans un coup
to drown = se noyer
spirit = esprit

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What a Waste!

Have you ever visited a sewage station? No, neither had I, and I wasn’t planning to either, until one day recently when I was leafing through the newspaper and saw that in honour of World Water Day it would be possible to tour one of Reunion’s wastewater treatment plants. Included in the list of possible sites was Grand Prado, which I had seen being built, and which I drive past almost every day. So my curiosity got the better of me, and I signed up.

A few days later at the meeting point we were equipped with hard hats, and divided into two groups: adults and children. Each group set off with its own guide and a tour that was adapted to the respective age group. We were told to pay close attention as there would be a quiz at the end.

During the visit we learnt all about the processes of treating wastewater: pre-treatment to rid the sewage of garbage, followed by primary treatment to remove heavy solids. Then comes secondary treatment, which changes the biology of the sewage using bacteria, and finally tertiary treatment to improve the water’s quality, after which it is classed as being of ‘bathing standard’ before being discharged into the sea. We were also shown from a distance the round white gasometers that store excess methane, which is a by-product of the treatment process.

The whole visit was surprisingly unsmelly; at one point two volunteers were asked to step inside one of the primary treatment rooms to see how pungent the smell could be, but that was as bad as it got. And a little old lady in our group kept asking if the tanks overflowed after heavy rain – this was obviously something she was very worried about!

We also learnt – or were reminded from our school days – about the water cycle, as well as the environmental importance of preserving the limited amount of freshwater we have on the planet. I had forgotten for example that 97% of the Earth’s water is seawater, and only 3% is freshwater.

At the end of the visit came the test. I had expected some sort of multiple-choice affair with answers to be scribbled on a piece of paper, but we were ushered into a small state-of-the-art auditorium with comfy, different-coloured seats for the two teams – in this case adults vs children. Answers were given using an electronic button system linked to each seat, and the pressure was on as the moderator could immediately see who had answered right and wrong! In the end, the kids’ team won, but we were all given freebies, and everybody present had benefited from learning, or being reminded of the importance water has in our daily lives.

Vocabulary

sewage = eaux usées
neither had I = moi non plus
to leaf through = feuilleter
wastewater treatment plant = usine de traitement des eaux usées
to drive past = passer devant en voiture

hard hat = casque de chantier
to set off = démarrer
there would be = il y aurait
to rid = se débarrasser de
garbage = déchets

whole = entier
unsmelly = inodore
pungent = âcre
tank = réservoir
to overflow = déborder

freshwater = eau douce
to scribble = gribouiller
state-of-the-art = de pointe
in the end = finalement
freebie = cadeau

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Arrival

My arrival in Reunion is hard to forget. I remember the flight so well! Sat in the airport, I was so scared! When they announced my flight, I picked up my hand luggage and slowly joined the queue; it felt like I was in a dream, my head and body felt numb. But when they called my row of seats, I leapt from my apathetic state into action, rushing to the front of the queue.

I flashed my boarding pass and headed off down the corridor, the end of which I could see the plane’s open door. And then it happened. All the fear, all the panic, all the apprehension, every negative feeling I had had over the previous 12 months vanished into oblivion, and all the worry and dread disappeared. I was so happy, so excited, nothing was going to stop me. This was my adventure and no-one was going to get in my way.

On one side of my seat was a German kid on an exchange program. It didn’t matter. In front of me were his 30 schoolmates. It didn’t matter. On the other side was his moustached German teacher. It didn’t matter. I didn’t even mind him talking to me for 11 hours. I didn’t mind it when he kept getting up every 20 minutes to tell his kids to shut up. Nothing mattered. Nothing mattered but this indescribable feeling of freedom.

About six hours later, the darkness outside began to glow faintly, and then the sun began to rise. When you’re at 30,000 feet the sunrise is pretty special – I’m glad Wolfgang next to me kept me awake with his ramblings or else I wouldn’t have seen it. 4 hours later, we landed.

From my seat on the plane, I had no view of the island as we landed, and so my first glimpse was after having picked up my guitar and suitcase and departed the terminal. What a view! The mountains in the distance hit me first, and then the sunshine, and then the heat. Stifling’s the word, I think. I gave a thought to the folks back home as I slipped on the shades they’d given me, and I hailed a cab, jumped in, and headed off to a new world.

Three hours later I was sat in my hotel near the sea front – looking right out of my balcony I could see the most amazing mountains and looking left, the Indian Ocean. It was time to explore!

Vocabulary

flight = vol
scared = effrayé
hand luggage = bagages à main
numb = engourdi
to leap = sauter 

to rush = se précipiter
worry = inquiétude
dread = effroi
it didn’t matter = c’était sans importance
schoolmates = camarades de classe 

darkness = obscurité
to glow = luire
sunrise = lever du soleil
ramblings = incohérences
glimpse = apercu

suitcase = valise
stifling = étouffant
the folks = les proches
shades = lunettes de soleil
to hail = héler

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