Tuesday, 30 December 2008


Another long trip had been planned for today (for long, read half an hour in the car!) as we went to a jardin arborifique in Deshaies, Basse-Terre, with a group from our church. We set off in a convoy as apparently the place was not straightforward to find, and boy was that an understatement! There is a jardin botanique in Deshaies, but we weren't going there. Ours was an invisible place up a steep road that you had to know was there to be able to take! The words Basse-Terre always strike fear into my heart and it means hills hills and more hills, and I am never quite sure if our car is going to make it!

When we finally found the place and parked (on a hill, of course) we received a warm welcome from the owner and shown around the place, all set on a very steep hill! The view above is pretty much like the view from the land, but we were further away. A beautiful sight, as we watched the tiny white sailing boats dotted around and I taught LissaLou the word 'horizon'.

The tour was very much based on the nutritional values of the different trees and fascinating stuff indeed. It seemed that practically every tree's leaves can be made into a tisane, and pretty much all of them can be used to cure colds and flu. Really, there is no excuse for anyone here to have a cold! The basic facts to remember are that you use 3 young leaves or the equivalent to 30 grams each time, and they have to be picked before the sunset. Some examples:
- The corossol leaves can be put in a bath to calm hyper children or stressed adults.
- Coconut water is excellent for your health, especially when convalescing, and is also antiseptic when it comes straight out of the coconut.
- The liquid that comes out of the banana tree trunk can be used to heal wounds.
- The aloe vera plant is very toxic so to be used with moderation (3 drops at most). It can be used for a purge every month when mixed with water, or for eye problems.
There was so much information that I have unfortunately forgotten, for example one tree is good for migraines and another is good for regulating your periods. Oh, and for those seeking a bit of vitamin C, one kilo of cerises pays is the equivalent of 40 kilos of oranges! But be warned, caramboles (starfruit) are bad for those with kidney problems.

The owner explained that they also plant according to the moon, either three days before or three days after the full or new moon, but not on the day itself, or the plant will be thin and spindly. I chatted to her about Papy's Gwada myths and she agreed that you should certainly not let anyone else pick your fruit (during their period or not), as it can affect the fruit, due to the capricious nature of the trees! One of my favourite anecdotes was that some trees can be lazy and not bear any fruit, as they can't bear the weight! So to help them, you can hang some stones on to the branch with string and you can be sure that it will bear fruit the following year!

The land belonged to her grandparents and given the relatively small size of the trees, she has not been running it for that long, so it would be interesting to return in a few years time and see how it had changed. One tree, the jacquier, bears fruit will grow to 50 kilos, which would be interesting to see! They are too heavy for the branch so they grow on the trunk like a papaya.

We picknicked together (another lovely phrase - here they take un repas tire du sac!) and then it was time to set off. Unfortunately, the exit was so steep and angled, that three cars in a row got their front bumper wedged onto the road, of which we were the third. The first two eventually had to empty the car of passengers, and for ours all these passengers then lifted the car. Thankfully we got back on the main road with no damage to the cars, but it didn't inspire me to return there again! The rest of the group went to the beach for some more fun but we decided to return home and rest, which was apparently well-needed for us parents but not so much for the girls!

The visit today is one of various ways we have seen recently of making the most of what Guadeloupe has to offer (although ironically, none of the flora and fauna here is local, it has all been imported over the years from Polynesia!). It has also given me interest in seeing what we have to offer in our own dear land - what Blighty Myths are there?!

There is a campaign at the moment to eat more local products, with brochures showing the nutritional qualities of various fruit and veg. This has the advantage of addressing the increasing obesity problem here (diabetes is a major issue), and improving life for local producers and the economy. Although as ever, it doesn't go far enough in my opinion, as many people are not going to buy local tomatoes for €5 a kilo when there are imported tomatoes for €2 or €3. Bertie has also been approached by a lady from the church who is starting a radio station about environmental issues, with a view to him doing a summary of news items in English and LissaLou and I given English conversational lessons! If it can bring to the forefront even small steps like recycling than that will be a very good thing, and people like myself would benefit from recipes on how to cook these local delicacies.

We've Gone Fishin'

Yesterday we had a lovely day out, having been invited fishing with Bertie's brother Richard and his family. Fishing is definitely in their blood, as Papy was a keen fisherman with his own boat and would often go out for the night (after a day at work!) and bring home plenty of fish for Mamie to sell in a wheelbarrow to the neighbours. Apparently this paid for a couple of cars, the huge freezer downstairs (which has sadly just broken after many years' service) and the upstairs part of the house where we are living.

Bertie's brother Luciano inherited the boat and took us fishing on the sea during my first visit in 2000. It was a wonderful day out, I remember snorkelling on a tranquil island, catching one tiny fish, and getting burnt to smithereens by the hot sun! The boat has been in repair ever since, so no repeat of that trip...(nothing to do with us, I hasten to add!). The fishing gene has also passed on to Richard's son William, and so when Richard is back from his regular work trips to St Martin, they spend many Sundays with their rod in hand.

As the family were intending to fish around Port Louis, we decided to kill two birds with one stone (or make two shots with one throw, as they say in french!) and visit the baptist church in Port Louis. We have been before and remember it to be a very lively affair, as they have the reputation of having the most happening worship band on the island! We were not disappointed, as it included steel drums (the only time I have ever heard them here, and so lovely to listen to) and bongos. If you want to hear one of the songs we sang, have a look at youtube here. It lasted about as long too! The other nice thing about the church was that they were less bothered about kids running in and out and talking, something that is sadly lacking in our local one.

After the service we picked up some bokits from a stall on the beach at Port Louis. It was very funny to see Bertie queuing with all the beach tourists in their swimming trunks whilst he had on his full Sunday gear of black trousers, shiny black shoes (we are in the Caribbean after all!) and long-sleeved shirt! He got laughed at by his brother and SIL when we found them too! In fact, they had headed up to Anse-Bertrand and his nephew had already caught a fish. You can see the place here (it wouldn't let me put it on the blog) and the waves were just as big! They fished off these rocks whilst the girls had a fantastic time with their cousin Raisa clambering over them. I enjoyed chatting to my SIL and looking after Baby JoJo.

We then moved along the coast to where the sea came in to a sort of lagoon, which had been beautifully arranged with a grassy space and huts and benches. As ever, nobody was there but ourselves; it often seems that the outside is wasted on locals! Richard caught a few fish, including an eel, and Bertie finally caught one to his delight, but it was too small to keep. He let LissaLou have a go on the rod but no beginner's luck for her. That, and being allowed to come home with her cousin in their car was probably the highlight of the day for her!

Sunday, 28 December 2008


On Christmas evening, after all the folk had gone home, the delicious sorbet had been made and eaten and the sorbetier put away until next time, I got on with washing up to the sound of Michael Buble. But what were these unfamiliar sounds in the background? Certainly not an additional drumming part to "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas". And who was playing that trumpet? Surely not Mr Buble?

I went down to investigate and we were thrilled a few minutes later to see the first live rehearsals for the carnival. A group of about 20 or 30 people (all in Father Christmas hats) came marching past playing a variety of drums, shakers, trumpets and singing enthusiastically. They even had a man puffing out smoke, and in the dark it made for a very ethereal sight. Shortly a second group came past with a slightly different style of music. Both had a frontman a few metres ahead, warning the traffic to give way.

This will be a familiar sight for the next couple of months, as the various groups practise on Sunday afternoons about the town. Then in February, the real thing will hit the island, with costumes to dazzle and music to deafen. There will also be a huge puppet of Vaval, the King of the Carnival, who is dressed in black and white and carried around at the front of the procession before being burnt at the end, to show that carnival is over for another year. Reminds me of Guy Fawkes, but I haven't found out who Vaval was originally.

The Laptop Is Back!

Hurray! A bit of prayer, a bit of jiggling around and cleaning, a bit of rest...and our laptop is up and working again! Great news! I have already downloaded my most important documents, just in case...The comma button isn't working too well so that may show up in the posts! Now I just need to check out with the Post Office what exactly has happened to my camera and we will be ready to rock for the New Year!

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Christmas Day

Well, I got a lie-in till 7am today, when Baby JoJo woke me. The girls made it through till 8am (LissaLou) and 9am (a record for CassCass). We had put out Bertie's sock of their choice the night before and LissaLou came rushing through thrilled that there was something in it! OK, just a toothbrush, lipseal, an orange and chocolate coins but that did the trick! She wondered over how Father Christmas knew that she liked green toothbrushes...! Then Bertie read the Christmas story and we opened the other presents we had, some felt tips and a Christmas book with jigsaws. Baby JoJo got a book and a musical play frame from his aunt. Then the girls got down to playing, and we laughed at CassCass who when surrounded by these lovely new toys got straight back to lining her happyland cars up!
A little later, the family started arriving for the next meal, officially known as eating up the leftovers (there are lots!). The girls have been playing delightedly with Stella, who has set up a shop she got complete with cash till. LissaLou is clicking around in her heels and swishing her carte bleue (credit card) as I speak!
There has been a lot of noise and laughter for the last couple of hours as people eat, drop in and chat, children play. It is bank holiday here today but not tomorrow, but the French have the marvellous system that if bank holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, they often give their staff the monday or friday too! Bank holidays here always stay on a particular date, whatever the day of the week, and if it is the weekend they are not carried over to the Monday, so you lose out! However, they have far more days than we do so they can't complain too much!
There has also been a lot of rain - it has been pouring on and off for the last few days! I am off to have my buche and ordinaire now and maybe we will persuade the girls to sleep, though they are so happy with their cousins here that probably not!
I have concluded that it is fun to have a different Christmas, but I definitely prefer our style best. Late-night is too hard on small children, I miss going to church (only Catholics have a service), and whilst the Christmas songs are very animated and exciting, I miss our carols with their dignity and solemnity. I cannot begin to describe to you what they did to O Holy Night, Gwada style - it was nothing short of massacre! (It reminded me of Hooked On Classics, which I remember Dad not appreciating and I can see why!) There is not so much focus on presents here which is good, but more on feasting and fun. Whilst the number of people is fun and lively, it does make reflection and quiet focus harder. I also miss our games and activities and what I wouldn't give for a brisk walk on Hampstead Heath right now!

Le Reveillon

We managed to get to Nadia's by 9pm last night, with two very excited princesses (they chose their ozn dresses and both zwent with the fairy option, which suited me as no ironing! everyone complimented them, especially as I had struggled over their hair!), two delicious looking buches de noel, two bottles of jus and some ordinaire (a delicious fizzy aniseed drink unique to Guadeloupe) and a fruit salad. We spent the day making these, cleaning, wrapping presents, trying to persuade the girls to sleep (CassCass did, LissaLou didn't, and yet made it through till 1am! I admire her resilience!)
There were about 20 of us (outdone by the French side who had 30 plus!) including Bertie's sisters Nadia, Pierrette and Felicianne with their families and his brother Richard and his family. We tried to persuade Papy to come but no can do!
Foodwise, I have learnt through my trips here that you really have to restrain yourself, as the starter for me constitutes a good sized meal! We had fried malanga and carrot patties, sausage rolls, boudin, salad and ham. The main course was rice with pois d'angole and yams, and various types of porc and lamb. Then around midnight we enjoyed our fruit salad and buche (nice one Bertie!) before opening the presents. The kids had been running around and having a great time all evening, including some turns at musical chairs and dancing. I was amazed that our girls made it till then, must have been adrenaline (or their half a glass of coke that I allowed them!). The tradition here is just for kids to have presents, the adults get theirs at the New Year. So there were several thrilled little children opening their boxes with delight. LissaLou and CassCass got their shoes (and spent the next hour taping back and forth in them) and bible, and a baking set and tea set from their aunts. What impressed me most was each child only had 2 or 3 presents and was perfectly happy with that. It meant that they concentrated on what they had, rather than chucking aside and moving on to the next one. Baby JoJo slept through the whole affair!
Then by 1pm CassCass had tripped over and cut her lip all over her beautiful fairy dress (can I recommend my other great discovery for removing stains, savon de Marseilles!) and was a tearful girl, so we headed home and collapsed into bed. LissaLou wondered if we could play with the presents when we got home, but was fast asleep on arrival!

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

A Pre-Christmas Resume

Before I get eaten alive by the mozzies, here is a quick glimpse into what has been going on here...

I have played our kid's carols cd, i have played Michael Buble's Christmas cd, i have purchased clementines for the stockings (shame there are no jelly babies here!), we have been reading our Christmas books and lighting our advent candle, we wandered around Carrefour looking at the Christmas lights...but in spite of it all I just can't feel Christmassy in the heat! I was thinking of watching You've Got Mail and While You Were Sleeping to help, but no DVD player now!

One thing in common with home is that the shops and roads are very busy. We did our Christmas shopping in two mornings this week. I had it all planned as to what I would get the girls and a strict budget; in fact, I didn't allow for the items I had chosen being sold out!! (Well, the best way to meet your budget!) So we got books for all the nieces and nephews and then yesterday had a lovely morning in Pointe à Pitre where we got CassCass a french bible and LissaLou a pack of high heel shoes (her choice!) We also popped into the playpark on the Place de la Victoire and the girls were thrilled with juice and fries from McDo (against all my principles, but it was the only toilet around!!)

Today we are preparing for our Reveillon celebration this evening, which will be a meal at Nadia's. I believe that Pere Noel should be putting in an appearance (in the shape of Bertie or his brother Richard!) and there will also be fireworks, cool! Bertie is making two Yule logs and some jus de cythere and jus de maracudja to take.

In the past week...
The strike last Tuesday went ahead but was mainly a demonstration and didn't affect the roads or last longer, hurray!
We babysat for LissaLou's friend Jade two nights whilst her parents did parents' evenings at their respective schools. Such fun listening to the girls play together. Then on Wednesday Bertie took the girls to L'Ile aux enfants (next to our Velodrome and Pika) with Jade and her parents and oh, did they have a good time! (I was teaching my SIL Felicianne to make bread! And watching Ratatouille, great fun!)
Bertie told me he was a bit worried, as it was a pricey €10 each entry and CassCass cried and cried for the first half hour, as they played on the bouncy castles (there were six!) He was worried it would be like our trip to Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park last year - do the Parents and Evs remember her crying and crying on the roundabout whilst we filmed her?! But then they headed over to the merry go round, and it was all worthwhile, as the girls had a good dozen rides on it and couldn't be persuaded to leave! I was also impressed at Bertie's skills of negotiation - apparently they had buches de noel but only for the staff, and he sweet talked a lady in to giving the girls one each. Then the girls liked the look of flashing dummies for €4 each but he haggled it down to that for 2! And to think that there are people like me who just pay the full price without thought!
For the final day of school on Friday, it was their final trip to la piscine so Bertie joined them. LissaLou has done well picking up skills but I don't think it is accurate to say she can swim yet! In the afternoon they had a cake and each child came home clutching bags of chocolate Pere Noels and sweets, to their delight! I am ashamed to say I spent Friday night whilst Bertie was at his bible study watching the final of Star Academy...!
On Saturday I learnt from experience that it is just no good staying at home so I set off with the girls to La Poste where there was almost a riot! There was a separate queue of 10 or more people to pick up registered mail but then the staff member announced that this queue wasn't in action on Wednesdays or Saturdays, so they all had to join the back of the (long) other queue. It was funny to hear them all yelling at each other, staff v customers (everyone got involved!) whilst using Madame and Monsieur in between insults! We finally got served after oh, 45 minutes...
Then we went to the park and played before walking home by the sea, in the opposite direction to our normal route. It is such a lovely peaceful place to be. The girls love looking at the boats in the harbour - our favourite one with two decks had its owners on board today, one with his Arsenal t-shirt! We also saw some fish - orphie, with long needles for noses - and a jelly fish. Our walk was much longer than usual, as there were two cows blocking our shortcut through the field, so we went by the road. I was very impressed with LissaLou managing it all, especially in the heat! We were so tired when we got home, that my legs could barely make it up the stairs, and I could honestly tell Papy that I was fatikagou! He often tells me he is this after a particularly hard morning at Pika!
After wandering around Carrefour to see the lights, we were planning to go to the Chante Nwel next to our house at 8pm. We waited...and waited...9pm came...10 pm came...Finally it started nearer 10.20pm by which time the girls were shattered. The quality was pretty scratchy so we didn't stay long!
Sunday was the church Christmas Programme in the evening so another late night. It was very well done, but the church was packed out so I couldn't really see anything and couldn't understand a lot of the creole! Afterwards, we went for a delicious meal organised by Nadia and her friends (so much work must have gone into feeding all 200 of us!). The girls were thrilled to be at their own table with their friends and afterwards there was space for them all to run riot!

Not so quick after all! Well, I shall get back to all my tasks for today, including a very long sleep to get us ready for tonight! Thanks so much to those of you who have sent cards - they are up in my kitchen looking very pretty! I am still working on mine, but they should be out by mid Jan!!!In the meantime, may I take this occasion to wish all my readers a very

Woe Is Me

You may have noticed a lack of entries recently...well this has not been due to the busy Christmas season, but rather, more internet problems, sigh. Ok; so it would have helped if we had paid our bill on time (!) but Mediaserve could have reinstated us in the 24 hours they promised, rather than 5 days...
But before that could happen, further disaster struck, of a more long term nature. This time in the shape of CassCass and a glass of milk and the laptop and, er, you get the picture! It is now out of action and I am wondering if I will ever again see my photos and accounts and things. (Yes I know I should have had them saved elsewhere, yes I know CassCass shouldn't be allowed near the computer with milk! Guilty on both counts!)
At first the computer would only beep and show an error message, then Bertie opened it up and now it at least gets as far as the log in page for your password, but now the keyboard doesn't work so we can go no further. And I am back at my SIL's getting bitten by mosquitoes and struggling with azerty!

Monday, 15 December 2008

Recent Happenings

We were very excited on Friday as we got to put up our Christmas tree! Actually, it belongs to Mamie but as she is away, I asked Papy if he minded us putting it upstairs, and unsurprisingly he didn't! It is pretty tall, made up of three sections, and there are lots of decorations too. Stella and the girls helped me put it together, but I have to admit I redecorated it after they had gone to bed, for a bit more aesthetic pleasure! Then on Saturday we decorated some little card frames Mum sent us and put various pictures inside, now these are hanging on the tree. I would like to put a few chocolates on, but I just know that CassCass will eat them all up! I have a bag of chocolate in the fridge that I have been keeping tied up, just to make sure it is safe and untouched!
When I went for my bible study on Saturday evening, Bertie took his girls to a Marche aux puces in Gosier, and they enjoyed eating pineapple cake and walking on the beach in dark, but with lights on (if you see what I mean!). They then went to Pointe a Pitre and heard a bit of the Jazz festival happening on the main Place de la Victoire. Their favourite moment though was finding a shop that sold bokits (our tea!) called Chez JoJo!
Bertie has finished mending his bike and celebrated by going for a long ride this morning - he is still recovering poor boy, and only just hobbled his way to church! And a good job too (it is mended that is) as another set of people are threatening more blockages on Tuesday. Honestly, this country!!!!
The girls love going to play next door at the neighbours, and all the more so as they have recently acquired a Charlotte aux Fraises playhouse complete with cooker! I can watch them out of my bedroom window and it is fun to see them with the big girls.
My menus have been going well and continuing to make life and cooking much easier. I made a couple of meals for Papy this week but he wasn't very impressed with the lack of salt, so I put a bit in for him when I made a colombo. The plate was scraped clean so I presume that it met with his approval!
Congratulations to Bertie's brother Abel and his new wife Martine, who tied the knot in Versailles yesterday. She is the fifth Madame E****** I have calculated! Apparently the weather was not too good but it was otherwise a marvellous day, finishing at 4am or so. Hopefully we shall get some photos through soon.
Still no sign of the pig, despite a long trek through the fields by Bertie. Sniff! I am still chuckling at the thought of it wandering across empty roads during the blockages, in front of a somewhat bemused audience!
We learnt last night that there are some trees that, if they don't bear fruit, you can hit them hard and they will start to. (It was used as a spiritual illustration during our bible study!) I have to check this out and ascertain if it is a Gwada Myth or not...

9 Month Check-Up

CassCass and I took Baby JoJo to the dispensaire on Friday for his 9 month check. Here are his vital statistics:
Weight - 9.04 kilos
Length - 72.5 cm
Head -45.5 cm
The doctor checked his chest, ears, mouth, eyes and all is well. She was very pleased with all his teeth - one is now pretty much fully through and the other 3 front teeth have just started coming through this week. They were also pleased to learn that he eats well, and doesn't turn his nose up at all the fine local produce!
Did I say that he has started clapping now? Very cute, and a nice addition to the banging on the table. His other two new tricks are 1. Screeching. Very very loudly. It reminds me of our little friend Caitlyn when she was young! 2. Spitting out his food (not because he doesn't like it, just because it's funny). Ah well!
He is so sweet crawling along, and speeding up when he sees something interesting, like an open door - or Daddy's legs!
He was less sweet when he found his dirty nappy (it was on its way to the bin, honest!) and behind my back managed to open it and spread its contents on the floor and himself...I am trying not to think about it going in his mouth!
Next check-up will be for one year - it is coming so soon!

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Back To Normality

Hurrah! The blockade was resolved late last night, I think with a compromise of a 30 centimes reduction in petrol, and we are now free to roam the island once more.

This led to a fascinating discussion with Bertie about the political system here, which I will run through and bore you with...

France is made up of régions (26 I think) which in turn are made up of départments (usually 3 or so to a région, and nearly a hundred altogether). Guadeloupe, which is a DOM (départment d'outre mer) is both a région and a départment. As a région, it has a Président du Conseil Régional, and as a départment it has a Président du Conseil Général. As a région, it also has a Prefet, who is the top bod, and is based at the Prefecture (in Basse-Terre). He has just arrived from France in the last month as the previous one was promoted, and as we watched him signing the agreement he looked very hot, even in our cool season!

Within each départment there are many communes, and each of these has a maire. Sometimes the maire is also a member of the Assemblée Nationale (corresponding to our House of Commons) and called a deputé. This, and the Sénat, make up Parliament.

For those of you who made it this far, I shall reward you with some exciting news...Papy's pig has been sighted! Two eyewitnesses testified to seeing it wandering away from Pika, so he is going on a hunt for it later today. It is nice to know that it wasn't stolen and as it had plenty of food, we can only assume it was missing Papy and going in search of a bit of company. Thank you for your concern!

This morning I dedicated some time to CassCass whilst Baby JoJo slept, and we had great fun doing puzzles together. I kept asking her names of objects on her cards, and it was interesting that some of them she only managed to name in french! Including, strangely enough, socks - this is not exactly something we see much of here! Before and after school we are looking after LissaLou's friend Jade which CassCass is looking forward to. I think she enjoyed LissaLou being home these last few days and playing together.

Bertie's brother Richard is home from St Martin and so has taken his car (hyundai). Agathe, whose car we use, is having her final chemotherapy this week and so should be able to take her car (citroen) back soon. So we are hoping for another option to become available - otherwise Bertie will be on his bike all week!


Today is a year since we received the news that Bertie's youngest brother, Gael, had been killed in a collision with a car in Brittany. Please do remember the family in prayer, especially as his next youngest brother gets married this weekend. I am sure that whilst it will be a joyful occasion, Gael's absence will not be far from their minds.


Well, the blockade around the island intensified today and we have been unable to leave our town at all as a result. Correction to my post yesterday - it is actually the professions liberales who are taking action, including transporters such as the bus companies (which makes more sense, as they are the ones hit by the higher fuel prices). Fishermen joined in today too. They are after a reduction in the price of petrol by 40 centimes, but are only being offered 9 centimes by SARA, the petrol people.

For anyone wanting to know more, and to see some pictures of the huge lorries and buses that block all the roads, have a look at rfo (radio france antilles) here. Interestingly, they say that the movement is supported by the majority of the island (which appears to be the case from the phone-in we heard today). Nor are there any traffic jams, as everyone has left their cars at home. Also true! Just about everywhere was closed today: schools, shops, banks, post offices... There is a real holiday atmosphere around as people meander around the empty streets (of cars) and there are a far higher number of cyclists around! Food is also running a bit low (happily we did our shopping on Monday) and there are rumours of someone paying €4 for a baguette (normally 80 centimes...). Strangely, Bertie got ours cheaper today!

As regular readers know, today is usually our beach day. Well, that wasn't happening so if Mohammed can't go to the beach, then the beach must...come to us, of course! We cleaned and filled up the girls' paddling pool and they had a marvellous time with their cousin Stella splashing in the freezing cold water this morning. Then we moved on to a bit of creativity. I had a lovely parcel from London (thank you Judy!) including My Little Red Book, which is part of the Tiddlywinks range by Scripture Union. LissaLou has been enjoying reading through it with me, and today we made an Advent Ring, according to its instructions. This involved cutting up potatoes to put the candles in (Papy whisked one away from me, apparently it was for planting!) although plasticine works well if you have some. We covered everything in tin foil and put on some red tinsel. Aside from our four white candles, we also have a lovely red one in the centre, which was a gift from Yvonne last Christmas - thanks Yve, I knew it would be put to good use! It looks beautiful, and we enjoyed lighting the first two candles this evening during tea - ok, we are a bit behind!

For more creativity, Bertie made a kite out of newspaper (the London metro Mum brought in October!) with the centre part of a coconut tree leaf as the frame. It flew beautifully in the wind and the girls were thrilled with it!

Sad news: Papy went to Pika and discovered the pig has disappeared. We don't know if it just made a bid for freedom or if it has gone to be part of someone's Christmas dinner (pork is traditional for Christmas here) but it is rather frustrating for him either way.

This evening - it is chilly! We are about to have a mint tea to warm up a bit. The rain is bucketing down too, the paddling pool will be full again in no time! I can hear the band practising for the carnival, getting to be a regular occurrence now. And we wait with baited breath to find out whether the blockade continues tomorrow...

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

The Strike Mentality

As I mentioned in my previous entry, yesterday the petrol people started striking (again!) for the prices to be lowered. Petrol here is decidedly expensive - about €1.51 which is about £1.35. Ok, so it is an island and it does have to be imported , but Bertie pointed out that the price has barely gone done since we arrived (whereas the price of a barrel has dropped significantly) and not only has the price in France gone down, but also in Guyane, Martinique...Even the President de la Region is irked about this state of affairs, and is campaigning to have it lowered.

So in true French style, the petrol people have taken things into their own hands and not only stopped work yesterday, but decided to stop everyone else from doing so too, by blocking all the major roads (there aren't that many!) and stopping people from going to Pointe a Pitre or to the industrial centre of the island at Jarry. So Bertie can't get to his pupils or them to him! (Roll on his bike being repaired, then he will whizz around on it, strikers or not!)

I have to say that I am not particularly in favour of strike action, and especially not in blocking roads and preventing people going about their business. Perhaps it is my Britishness, that I don't have this same accepting attitude of strike action so prevalent here! A friend was saying that people are selfish, so it takes a huge amount of inconvenience to make them wake up and realise when a situation needs changing. I personally think the strikers and blockaders are rather selfish... Hopefully it will all be resolved shortly (in Guyane the same situation went on for 11 days) and we can get back to normality.

However, there are always silver linings to every cloud, and we are delighted to have LissaLou at home today (all the schools are shut) as well as Bertie. Although it has to be said his company is being somewhat monopolised by Papy, who is somewhat bereft of the conversation that was previously forthcoming from his wife and sister!

Playing Houses

This is what I felt like yesterday, as with Mamie gone for three weeks, we are now kind of in charge of the house. Papy believes very strongly in the division of roles - he goes off to work (previously he moved wooden houses from one place to another, now it is a morning at Pika) and his wife does absolutely everything else. Cooking, cleaning, ironing, washing, washing up, the lot! In Mamie's absence, he will just sit at the table watching tv and wait for his food to turn up...someday!
So yesterday I began by tidying up Mamie's stall from which she sells her fruit and veg. It looks a bit neater than this now! Then I arranged a lovely bouquet of flowers which Papy had brought from Pika, the rest of which has gone over to France. I swept all the floors and washed our stairs...and then brought Baby JoJo down to enjoy crawling around at his leisure with no fear of him eating unwanted items or coming across hazardous tools and things. CassCass lined up her dominoes and pretended they were train tracks for her Thomas trains and Happyland toys. It never ceases to amaze me how the girls can entertain themselves for hours - either alone or together - with these two sets of toys. CassCass still prefers just lining up everything and pushing along, whilst LissaLou accompanies her playing with lots of chatting, often in French, when it is usually shouted or said in a very stern tone, which I attribute to her maitresse!
Bertie was unexpectedly home, due to another strike, so when LissaLou came home we had a lovely walk down the by the sea. Have a look at these photos for what we saw. The cow looked a bit menacing so we hurried past as far away as possible. Whilst we came past the shipwreck (which really is an eyesore that I wish they would remove!) we saw the plane we arrived on and that Grandma left on flying in, so we watched it and waved as it turned and came along right in front of us. When we got to the pier, it was like standing on a boat, it swayed so much in the wind! So no dipping our toes in today. The girls ran up the hill and then ran most of the way home - don't know how they do it!
We finished the day when the girls were in bed with a game of scrabble - I began with my first ever scrabble (fraises) and won the game by 50 points - hurray!

A West Indian Sunday

We went to church in the morning - Bertie goes with the girls at 9.30am for the Adult and Children's Sunday Schools respectively. The adults are working their way through Ezra and the girls enjoy the colouring in and singing they do. Baby JoJo has his siesta and I enjoy being at home in the peace and quiet for a little while! Then we join them for the main service at 10.30am, where there is lots of animated singing and then the notices - these go on for ages, are given out in a very severe tone so you would feel terrible about arriving late or missing anything, and everyone brings their diary to write down important dates. Good way of saving paper! After this is the sermon, at which point the kids and I go out the back and amuse ourselves until it's over. This week Baby JoJo amused himself by falling down a step outside and getting his face all scratched, poor thing.

A special treat this week was some Christmas songs. But Christmas songs with a difference, let me hasten to add! 'Angels from the realms of glory' was belted out, followed by the most cheerful 'Silent Night' I have ever heard! I like our carols, but it was lovely to hear this alternative style, complete with our nephew on the drums, a bass guitar and singers swaying at the front!

Back home, Mamie was preparing to leave for France, for the marriage of Bertie's younger brother Abel to his fiancee Martine on Saturday. When people leave here for the metropole, it always follows the same pattern: get hair done for a few hours; make a huge lunch and invite lots of people round; do the packing at the very last minute, squeezing as many local products in as is humanely possible; weighing the cases and ignoring the extra kilos; leaving for the aeroport at the last possible minute; weighing the cases and discovering they are too heavy; frantically deciding which items to remove and sending them home with whoever dropped you off. Today was no different!

Poor Bertie came back full of the stress of having to take 10kg out of the cases (they are getting strict at the airport! And no wonder, when we are already allowed 40 kg!) and then getting his Mum and Tatie through to their flight - they were the very last to board and being hurried on all sides! Meanwhile, I did the washing up left from the large lunch and Mamie's much baking. I reckon she must have used every single huge pot that she owns, I was so thankful for my ipod to entertain me whilst I worked! The kitchen is now gleaming, and will probably stay like that till she returns, as Bertie's Dad will certainly not be using it!

Happily Mamie and Tatie are safely there and hopefully enjoying the cold (!) whilst the French side of the family should be enjoying the many local delicacies that did manage to make it through!

Out And About

As Bertie works from 8.30am till 2.30pm on Saturday, it is not the most relaxing of times for me! However, every now and then I organise myself and go out with the girls, and it is so much more enjoyable than just staying in.
Last Saturday we wandered along to the Post Office, where we found a queue of about 50 people, eek! Happily, a lady let us go to the express line and within a few minutes we had cashed our cheque and left. Apparently it is the Caf day, when all the benefits arrive.
We jumped out of our skins when Tatie Nadia drove past and beeped us, then bumped into her again down the road...and again in the fruit and veg shop...not in the boulangerie though, where they are currently out of wholemeal baguettes, pity.
There is a very different feel to our town centre on a Saturday, with lots of people around and lots of stalls selling things. I like Sunday best, when the town is peaceful and quiet and no cars and few people on the streets.
Last stop was the playpark. Well, everywhere else is busy and animated but here it is always empty! (Except last Sunday evening when the square was milling with people and children and someone had his rap music blaring at top volume out of his car!) The girls had a great time racing around - I have to chase then and say snap! or roooooooar! or even miaow! Today I was too hot for that so I left them to do it! Now Baby JoJo is getting bigger, he enjoyed sitting on the ground playing with the leaves and sticks he found. The girls spent a long time sitting in the little house chatting and laughing - I found out later they were saying "Totototoya!" to each other (their rendition of Toyota apparently!)

Plage Des Amandiers

Last Wednesday morning we set off rather late (we got carried away cooking, playing and mending bikes - I leave you to guess who was doing which!) into Basse-Terre for a change. I had in mind to go to Plage des Amandiers (almond trees) which someone had mentioned. First we drove too far and found Plage de Cluny, which stated "Plage dangereuse" - er, not that one then! So we drove back a bit and found our goal, and with the powerful waves, decided it was not much better!


However, by now it was so late, we decided to stay and have our picnic and a run around there. There is a huge picnic space with little huts and tables (have a look here to get the idea www.karaibes.com/PICT0095.JPG) and it made for a lovely setting. The wind blew everything everywhere and the girls found playing in the car more interesting than running around, strange!
After our lunch, we went for a walk by the sea which you can see in the photo, watching the crabs (touloulou, an orangey colour) skittle back into their holes as we passed and appreciating the nature outside of the sea for a change.
We ventured down to the sea to dip our toes in and boy, was it rough! It almost swept my flipflops away (from my feet!) and then, shriek! shock! horror! it did sweep LissaLou's away! Bertie bravely ran into the sea and got wet up to his, er, derriere, but only managed to retrieve one. To calm the very upset little girl, we then made up a story about where the other one was off to - Marie-Galante, Martinique, France, Spain, over to the UK, perhaps then to Holland? One day I shall put it in book form for her! The promise of a new pair dried those tears away but the experience left them skittling away from the sea, so we decided it was time to head home!
LissaLou was particularly comforted by two stories from our wild youth - when Tatie Evie kicked her shoe into the Thames on a Sunday School outing, and hopped home in the leaders' socks, and when Mummy kicked a ball - and her shoe - into the neighbour's duck pond!

Saturday, 6 December 2008

A Request Of Sorts

Well, we are into December and Christmas is very much on its way. We have brought out our Christmas books and put them in a beautifully decorated box (the result of last Saturday morning painting on the balconey). These books are only around for December so are particularly fascinating to the girls.

Here, the decorations and lights only went up in November, which feels very late really! The shops and catalogues are full of presents, our local Carrefour has Father Christmas and his reindeers outside (so odd, in the hot sun!) and a nativity scene inside (no Jesus yet - I don't think they notice that they have left him under a rock!).

A traditional Christmas activity here is Chante Nwel, which is Christmas carols Caribbean style! I don't know any of the songs but they are very cheerful and catchy, with plenty of singers in traditional madras dresses and musicians playing drums and guitars. We hope to go and see a performance one evening.

All in all, it feels much more relaxed here than at home. We are celebrating at Bertie's sister's house, and all bringing a dish. We are to get presents for the children so I think I will do books all round! I have mentally chosen the girls' presents (a French bible for CassCass from CLC and a toy or two for them both). As for cards, in France the deadline is 31 January so no hurry there! One aspect of life which is definitely less stressful here is the lack of travel as no where is much more than an hour away, meaning you don't have to allow a whole long day to visit someone, which is an integral part of our holidays back home.

So to my request - if you are being kind enough to send a card this Christmas, to save you some money, do send it to our London address. It will be forwarded to us and we don't mind receiving them late - you have until 31 January! My other request is I would love to have an up to date photo of you or your family which we can make into a collage to help us remember who all you lovely people are! (I hasten to add that is for the benefit of the younger ones, I can just about remember you!) You could just email one, but I don't think I know how to turn that into a printed one to go on my wall! Thank you very much in advance!

Other projects include putting up some decorations and a tree that are in a box in our hallway; making some decorations for the tree (I like the idea of making/getting something each year, and so this year we will decorate little carboard frames mum brought us and put our photos in them); having a special advent reading each day during the week before Christmas.

What are you up to this Christmas and what projects do you have during the remaining weeks?

Scenes Around Our House

A lovely organised kitchen, and one happy mum...

...quickly brought back to reality by the piles of cumin, tumeric and mixed herbs CassCass leaves around the place, dying various bits and pieces yellow, and leaving a very frustrated mum! CassCass is now officially banned from the kitchen!

Baby JoJo just learning to clap his hands and sitting joyfully doing so with a very appreciative audience...

Our first Christmas card - and homemade too! - thanks Judy!...

The Queen perched regally on our fridge, being warmly introduced to all who enter (is that your mum, they ask!). Thanks mum for the postcards and keeping us in touch with our heritage!...

LissaLou bringing home her cahier de travaux pratiques from school, with the different songs and poems she has been learning. She sings them all for us with great enthusiasm and we enjoy the actions, one moment she is Lulu la tortue, the next she is paying attention as she crosses the road...

Bertie's mum is preparing for a trip to France, and the house is full of wonderful smells, as she produces shedloads of rochers (coconut rock cakes) and doucelette (like fudge, made with coconut) and sucre a coco (err, the name says it all really!). She has 40 kilos and will use every bit of it, and then some, with frozen meat, local fruit and veg, and not a jumper in sight! I think she is waiting till she gets there to be clothed appropriately...

A freezer full of so many good things, every time I open it something falls out!...

Fresh bread with a lovely soft crust - I made two loaves and a set of rolls this time and they are fast being gobbled up...

Baby JoJo pulling himself up everywhere - his favourite spots are either mummy or daddy's legs, or Papy's if he is around. Otherwise he likes to stand holding the chair at the top of the stairs and look down at all that is going on...

LissaLou identifying more and more words when reading, and writing "and" all by herself...
(I asked how much banana the four of us would have as we only had two left, and was somewhat taken aback to hear "a half" from her!)

CassCass lining up all her Happyland toys then shrieking for her sister as Baby JoJo comes crawling over, destruction and havoc in mind...

LissaLou dashing to her rescue, heaving up Baby JoJo and lugging him to a place of safety...

...only for it all to happen again. And again. And again!

LissaLou finally sitting him down on her lap and reading him a story, to his evident delight!

A dead frog under the sofa. Er, how...?

Bertie in the midst of repairing his brother's old bicycle with parts from here, there and everywhere...

Clothes dripping from the hanger as the washing machine really doesn't seem to like the spin and rinse function. Good job we have had so much sun recently...!

LissaLou's bed collapsing. Oops...

Baby JoJo standing in his cot looking at hopefully at passersby when he should be sleeping...

The kitchen tap coming off its base. Another oops...

LissaLou ferciously rubbing her tired eyes before insisting "I'm not tired! I'm just rubbing my eyebrows!"...

Two of my yoghurt maker pots smashed to smithereens by one small girl. Triple oops...!

Even in the Caribbean, life can be very enjoyably mundane!