Friday, 26 June 2009

Bits And Bobs

No Wimbledon coverage here, but we are following Andy Murray's progress (and Roger Federer's outfit) with interest.

Tomorrow is the final day of school for LissaLou! Hurrah! She has been moaning about going for weeks now so I am looking forward to that stopping and having fun at home with whatever activities we come up with. We have to sign her livret scolaire tomorrow and then get to take her books home. Most schools have finished now and there is a holiday feel in the air. Very soon they will all be getting ready for 3 week long colonies, holiday camps either here or abroad, or simply attending activities and soutien scolaire for July. I am impressed at how hard the French work to ensure their parents can get back to work and not have to spend much time with their children...!

To the triumphant sound of La Marseillaise, President Nicolas Sarkozy is honouring the island of Martinique with a visit and will touch down here tomorrow. Bertie already recognised his special plane flying over with his advance team. Unfortunately, my request to go and photograph the occasion was met with a firm no from the staunch anti-Sarkozyite! On referring to him in conversation with his mum as "ton president" she retorted "ou anglais!" (You're English!)

On the moving plans, Bertie checked out the shipping company AGS. Coming over we had half a metric cube of stuff so that is what we paid for. Going back, we have to pay for a whole metric cube whether we like it not, so we are busy going around seeing if anyone wants to slide in a few more items. Unfortunately, people mostly like to send over fruit and veg and frozen things which we are certainly not shipping! I have sorted through the bags of stuff I need to give away - sadly there is no such thing as charity shops here! I did have a good 40 or mor pair of shoes for the three kids - WHY??? I have resolved to be far more fussy in what I accept in the future! All that clutter only leads to more mess! (Additional goal - reduce significantly CassCass' wardrobe. She wore FIVE separate outfits the other day! That is not necessary - and does not help reduce our extortionate water bill!!)

At Pika, we are enjoying pomme d'eau and the first of the carambole, the very last of the mangoes and a very occasional cythere. Plus the pineapples are through, hurrah! They all go straight to JoJo but he kindly shares the odd one with me!

Speaking of JoJo, and in fact speaking of speaking, he is now much chattier and great fun to hear. He makes a sound that is very like "ca va?" though it could be "papa", for now the jury is out. He stands and says it as he watches people pass by the house so it could be the former. He generally gets a reply though! He imitates really well, and does a great lion noise when he sees one (tends to be in books as opposed to outside....). He also snaps his hands for a crocodile and makes a clicking noise for a rabbit. So cute!

Bertie is preaching on Gideon this Sunday so we actually have this laptop to type his sermon up. Best give it back to him....

Fete de St Jean

Our town's patron saint is St Jean so the town's fete is this week, in honour of his day yesterday. The roads have been beautifully painted with a zebra crossing outside our house, a great concession to the poor pedestrians here I must say, as normally we are subjected to trials such as bushes/cars/piles of cement in the pavement obliging us to walk mostly on the road. Not to mention sky high pavements - fair enough, they get rid of the water quickly during the torrential downpours, but are a nightmare with the buggy! Which has broken again, probably terminally this time, but I am impressed at how long it lasted with Mum and Ev's makeshift repair!

But I digress. Various things have been happening, such as boeufs tirants - which bull can pull their cart the quickest? There is a podium in the town place each evening, a film was shown tonight, an agricultural fair held last weekend, and yesterday a bonfire was lit before the mass for St Jean. Most shamefully however, we haven't made it to any of these events for one reason or another! However, all the little areas around our town will be having their fetes over the next few weeks and we have marked down a few events to visit. Having already seen boeufs tirants in previous years, I am hoping to get to see the cabris tirants this time! (Goats - funnily enough no one uses the word chevre here, just like vache is rarely used in favour of boeuf).

We did however have a quick peek at an event being held in honour of the French Journee de la Musique last Saturday, which apparently is huge over in the metropole. We watched through the window a Quadrille which is a very charming dance just like country dancing. Bertie used to do this with his siblings when he was much younger, and it brought all sorts of happy memories back to see it. There was a man singing (or bellowing rather) the instructions and the musicians consisted of maracas, triangle, 2 guitars, tam tam style drums and bamboo scraper. Aside from one man Bertie's age whom he recognised as having learnt with him, the dancers were all of a very certain age and took it very slowly indeed! They mainly danced in twos in groups of eight, and it is made up of six different dances which each last quite a while. We saw one but then headed back home.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Mother's Day

In France, we celebrate Mother's Day on 7 June and Father's Day is coming up on 21 June. It is taken very seriously by the school, where the teachers spent the week before working for it. Everytime I asked LissaLou what she had done at school, she replied she couldn't tell me as it was a secret!

On the day itself, I received a lovely card with a poem which she recited to me, and then she sang a sweet song. I filmed it so I shall add the words sometime. Her Tatie at school had helped each child make a lamp (minus the bulb!). Bertie spoiled me with three roses - in Guadeloupe! Bliss!

At church we received beautifully decorated pencils and cards from the girls. Then we went for lunch with Bertie's sister, but strangely enough it was the women who did all the work and who gave gifts - I received two lovely bags from my two SILs. I questioned why the men did nothing (perhaps they feared the results?!) and explained how in the UK we got spoiled and everything done for us throughout the day. My SIL was most impressed and decided to come to the UK for her next Mothers Day!

We look forward to another poem and song from LissaLou on Sunday and Papa's present (a bowl - but shhh, don't tell him! It's a secret!)

Daily Life

It is hot hot hot now! I made it to the park at 8.15am this morning with JoJo and CassCass and the thermometre said 28 degrees - so who know what it reached by midday! There are more mosquitoes out as a result and also we have had an influx of cockroaches. Grr! Downstairs they have had mice so the poison was put out, and a few dead ones have been discarded of by the brave men of the house.

Speaking of poison, I watched a cat across the road writhing in agony yesterday and asked Bertie if they had rabies here. He replied that it must have eaten the poison. It was a sad sight and I said if I had a gun I would put it out of its misery. Later I saw it on its side and felt glad that it was at peace. Then Bertie pointed it out the next day walking along with no worries in the world!! Apparently cats really do have 9 lives! Good job I have no gun! He added that when he was younger, he always saw poisoned cats when it rained (it was torrential yesterday) and thought that it was the rain that poisoned them! Well, that may be a fair conclusion in London....

I would add that that very same cat is believed to be responsible for the recent mysteries in our house, where we have awoken to find a chicken carcass tipped on floor, but oddly enough other things too which you wouldn't associate with a cat! Thankfully my initial fear of giant cockroaches has proved unfounded.

One final cat story - the cat opposite caught an iguana today! Amazing, they are big creatures!

Back to the rain - following the incredible torrents yesterday morning, we had an infestation of flying ants, that got everywhere, even down my top! But they disappeared by the afternoon so I am not sure which predator got them but am very grateful to them!

Away from wildlife, Bertie's lessons are all but finished now, though the school term carries on till the start of July. Apparently no one bothers going to school after our town's fete which is next week, in honour of St Jean. Today in the town we saw them painting the town hall, putting up red and yellow banners and the podium. They have also resurfaced the road by LissaLou's school, a sure sign that the fete is on its way. Bertie says the town has to look its best!

Bertie does have one pupil every morning from 8-10am however, which has meant that LissaLou is late for school every day. No real loss, as the teacher is always chatting to people for the first quarter of an hour anyway... This pupil is hoping to be a footballer and has just been to France for a selection game. How exciting to think Bertie may have taught the next Thierry Henry!

Bertie's biggest excitement is his one and only water melon that reached maturity this week - a beautiful and tasty specimen it is, I can assure you. Now he is waiting for his melons and marrow. Papy brought home the latter weighing 5 kilos but apparently has had one weighing 22 kilos! Wow!

LissaLou has started to learn writing en attache (cursive) which is such a french thing. It really is impressive how nice it looks and that even small children manage it. I am not sure why we are so against it in the UK - I remember we were not allowed to write like that (or with pens) until perhaps year 5 and Bertie says that hasn't changed. We are doing her learning via a Dora book (what else!) and she is making a great effort, presumably as it is on her initiative.

After the drama of the dentist, Bertie finally took LissaLou to the doctors to see about a kind of fungal wound she has had for a while now (a recurrence of the one she had last November). You know you are in France when you go in for one wound and you come out with a prescription for....
Antibiotics for 6 days (disgusting despite its pinkness!)
Disinfectant spray
Sellotape stuff
Doctor's visit: €26
First 3 items on prescription €20 !!!
We explained to our BIL how you would get sent away with a fly in your ear and empty hands in the UK! I told Bertie if all that doesn't do the trick then we will obviously have to amputate the foot...! (Joke, mum!)

CassCass currently enjoys playing with toothbrushes (don't ask!) and cycling Meddy's bike which now seems to live here, and taking lengthy afternoon siestas which mean she is up and about till waaaay too late at night!

As for JoJo, well he is into everything, climbing everything, risking his life and our sanity at every turn! He delights his Mamie and Papy with his little noises and by stuffing into his mouth with gusto any food they give him. He gets all excited when given food now and holds it, looks at it, turns it around, all the time whilst laughing and smiling and making oooh noises! He has a very cute crease between his eyes when he laughs, which I do believe is the same as his tonton who is here right now!

As for me, I have managed 8 letters this week so am feeling very pleased with myself! My BIL will post them in France for so much less than the €3 they extortionately charge me here (not to mention the hour long queue thrown in for good measure! I was so pleased at our last visit to the Post Office to see Mamie at the desk, so I nimbly joined her there and got seen to hey presto!)

I am also working on my packing up list, though it is best not to mention our departure to Mamie, it is the source of much sadness for her...

As it stands, we need to...
*Work out what we are sending by cargo, pack it up and send a good month in advance
*Change the Phone bill to Bertie's mum
*Get travel insurance
*Paint the house
*Bits of shopping
*Persuade Mamie to make us some ponch a coco and confiture de goyave
*Give away additional clothes etc (I will count one of these days, but would you believe these girls have amassed about 20 pairs of shoes between them!)
*Make a list of all the things to do on arrival

Definitely not as long as the list I had before coming!

Les Marches des Esclaves

It amazes me how the locals here do not visit their beautiful island! I was horrified to find out that Stella has never been to the lovely calm lagoon at Porte d'Enfer so off we went yesterday to put that right.

On the way we crossed another visit off our list and delved into Guadeloupean history as we stopped at Petit Canal and visited Les Marches des Esclaves (the slaves' steps). In the days of slavery, the boats would pull in at Petit Canal and just metres from the port you can see the steps that they went up before arriving at a market area where they would be examined and branded then finally sold.

There is not much to be seen now and they could certainly add more information panels - we had been told of a prison ruin but couldn't find it either. However, as Bertie said, there was a certain sad atmosphere there that he has never felt anywhere else on the island.

When I was in Senegal many years ago I visited the Ile de Goree where slaves left for the Caribbean, so it was very interesting to see the arrival point and wonder at their impressions and emotions as they pulled up and left the boat.

We left Petit Canal somewhat solemnly and made our way to to the other side of north Grande-Terre, enjoying on the way the sight of fields and fields of sugar cane being cut down by huge machines and then loaded (or often overloaded!) into big lorries called Titans to be taken to the last remaining factory at Gardel. This is the end of sugar cane harvest season normally, but the strike has meant they are very behind and working flat out to catch up.

Porte d'Enfer was pretty empty and after a delicious lunch of chicken and pasta (makes a change from sandwiches!) we enjoyed the sea all to ourselves. It was amazing how the fish would come swimming right up to our toes and inbetween our legs, apparently not in the least in awe of us. Thanks to our high temperatures now, the sea was boiling!

JoJo is getting so confident in the water, he wanders around without being held, right up to his neck! (We stand right by him I hasten to add!) Then he loses balance and falls neatly on his bottom with a splash, always a fun sight!

After our bathe, Bertie climbed a tarmarinier and threw the tamarins down for a rather bemused JoJo to pick up. They are so sour!!! I am not sure who will be eating them! We got magnums instead on the way home....

Les Chutes de Carbet

We have the Zafira back again after a few weeks of yet another car (our neighbours keep laughing at Bertie who looks like he runs a car hire place!) so off we went last week with Stella for a walk in Basse-Terre.

There are 3 Chutes de Carbet, the 1st is very high and the route up described as difficult and sportive - I have undertaken it twice and it is hard hard work, and there is one really tricky bit that keeps me worrying for the whole climb! I never am able to enjoy being up the top as I spend my time worrying about the climb (or slide!) back down! So we weren't going there.

The 2nd Chute is much smaller and accessible by a well planked path. A €1 charge has recently been added, but you can't bathe in it as you used to be able to. That wasn't on our list.

Our goal was the 3rd Chute - Bertie went with his family and LissaLou three years ago but I chickened out and stayed at home with CassCass, so this was my chance to enjoy the easy walk and bathe in the refreshing cold water of the river. We set off with the lovely surprise of a wild raspberry each that Bertie found next to the car park. Within moments, the rain started pouring. Torrential rain. And it didn't stop! Happily, Stella is wonderful company for the girls and had them singing Dora tunes all the way, meaning a most cheerful walk nonetheless, even through mud mud mud. THey were particularly cute with huge leaves as umbrellash

Then, ten minutes from the end of our hour long walk, just as we arrived within earshot of the deafening noise of the waterfall, there was the sign:


So what do you do? Well, everyone else apparently ignored it and went on down all the same! But they didn't have a 10, 5, 3 and 1 year old with them, and they did tell us that whilst you could see the waterfall, you couldn't bathe. So much to everyone's disappointment, we turned back. Honestly, it has been closed since Jan - would it have been too much trouble to have put a sign up at the start of the walk??!!

Instead we headed to the Plage de Roseau, a black sand one for the second week in a row. The kids had a wonderful time stuffing mud in their swimsuits to give themselves extra body parts (!) but Bertie proclaimed that we would return to the golden shores of Grande Terre next week!

A Tale Of Woe

Our BIL has been kindly looking at our computer this week and marvelling at the fact that, despite undergoing immense destruction and abuse at the hands of the wee ones, it has kept on going! He said that he would recommend it to his clients as a very robust laptop!
Sadly, even robust laptops have their limits. First he fiddled and tugged until eventually he discovered the girls' mini-cinderella disc that had been the cause of the dvd player not working. (I could just imagine one of them slipping it in and then wondering and wondering just why nothing was happening!)
Next we showed him our favourite method for opening the computer with no proper kit at hand - my super duper potato peeler! It is great for peeling too! I would not leave the country without it and if i could, I would post a photo for you!
Once inside, he marvelled at the traces of milk and who knows what else. The inside of our keyboard and the screen were also places of horror for this Computer Man!
In all the turning on and off at the button rather than by the more traditional shut down method, we had destroyed some of the Windows files. Possibly could have been sorted, but then he finally pulled out the hard drive, and almost wept at the damage wreaked by that infamous glass of milk and CassCass last December!
Diagnosis: it will certainly never ever work again and he will do his best to get the stuff off it, but is not holding out much hope. Ahh! I am glad that Sister Evs had the bright idea of transferring all my photos to her hard drive in march so we haven't lost too much.
And for all you dear readers, go save your important files on to disk RIGHT NOW! (And do not let your children near a computer with a glass of milk!)

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Maison De Cacao

3 June
Our neighbour, a childhood friend of Bertie's, has been babysitting her two nieces recently and after an enjoyable trip to Ste Anne with them, the girls clamoured to see them again so we arranged to go over to Basse-Terre.

First stop was La Maison de Cacao. We visited the garden which has various cacao trees - there are three types, used to make luxury, superior and normal chocolate. The girls were most interested in pushing JoJo's buggy! Fine with me!

There is no longer a cacao industry in Guadeloupe, though there used to be a thriving one at the beginning of last century. This seems to be to do with a mixture of destructive hurricanes, a better income from bananas, and all the regulations and fees from being part of France.

After the garden, we were given a very interesting talk about cacao and how it is produced and then made into chocolate. I can't remember the whole process, but the beans are taken out of the shell and you can eat the soft bit surrounding them (delicious!) then they are roasted I think, before being ground down like coffee beans. She explained the whole process and differences between cocoa butter and paste but I will have to look it up again.

Then we did the tasting part, which was great fun, and I can assure you that JoJo really got involved here! He tasted every bit of chocolate that came his way (and we are talking 90% cocoa, the hard stuff here!) and begged for more!

First we tried hot chocolate how it should be - mixed with water and very strong. Next was 90% chocolate on its own, then mixed with sugar cane and you could just smell those sugar cane fields! Then mixed in turn with coffee bean, rum, and pepper. Ouch! I think I am just a plain kind of girl! We went out with our heads pounding!

Off we went to picnic and swim at Bouillante, a black sand beach. Black sand is so strange, it just looks like you are really dirty! The waves were pretty strong there so the kids decided making castles in the dirt, sorry I mean sand, was a better option.

CassCass managed to cut her foot open on something, but a kind lady at one of the many diving places there provided 1st aid. I have started taking a first aid kit with me now, though like an umbrella, I will probably never need it except the day I forget it! It is all healed now and she runs again with her usual grace and gusto.

Monday, 1 June 2009

This And That

I have missed recording life here for you all so here are some of the recent highlights for you...

We borrowed our friends' seven seater Zafira and what fun we have been having with it! It zooms up mountain roads, LissaLou loves sitting right at the back on her own with her pile of Choubouloute books to read. Plus we get to take others along, notably Stella.

We have been weekly to the beach (got to make the most of it before we head back!) and I have suffered at the hands of the sun, grr.

For those with a map we have visited Anse Babin which despite its murky waters is renowned for its mud. Bertie covered himself in it and was so so smooth! I was too busy looking after ten children in the water to be able to indulge, one of whom was intent on drowning himself....!

We went for a marvellous walk in Port Louis amongst the mangrove. Such an interesting area that I have never visited up close before. There were so many crabs, funny little things with one huge pincer the size of its body or bigger! It was very wet and muddy even in dry season so must be quite a sight in wet season. This was followed up by a visit to a part of the beach much further up than we usually go, and it has shot to number one in my list! Deep clean blue water, coral beach, ahh! Our friend left us his snorkel kit and we had great fun visiting the fish below the surface. It is an amazing experience snorkling, so calm and peaceful and feels like you are so far away from the real world rather than two inches. Bertie can dive and then emerge blowing out the water from his pipe like a whale! I have not reached such skill yet!

We have gone down to Basse Terre more often recently - I am getting used to the hills there (always helps to have a more reliable car!). We visited a bain chaud on the side of the road near Dole, which is where they bottle water. We love these kind of pools - like a swimming pool with no chlorine! They are lovely and warm too, warmed by the volcano.

Bertie's brother is building a structure at Pika to keep up dry and safe from falling mangos. It is still needing a roof though. Speaking of maangos, they are all gone! Sniff! Back to maracudjas and some guavas and a lovely new fruit I haven't tasted before called pomme malaka.

This weekend has seen Bertie rejoicing as Bordeaux took the French title and in deep sorrow as Nadal went out of the French Open. As long-term readers may be aware, the other half of our couple was somewhat pleased about this and is behind Federer every step of the way, unless of course he faces Murray!! I think there is discrimination on the side of the french sports people here though as they never mention him. Hmph.

It has either been raining horrendously (unusual for may i am told) or very hot recently, no fun either of them!

Bertie has been able to preach a few times which he enjoys. He is particularly in demand for church on the beach (or message sur la plage as I like to call it!) as he has such a loud voice! He got told off by his dentist for talking too loudly the other day!!

Speaking of Bertie getting told off, we were enjoying a pleasant evening in the park with some friends when he got accosted by a random drunk guy and viciously insulted for quite a while about how he has nothing, is nothing, will come to nothing. Bertie was quite taken aback by the tirade until he was called Galette by the man, and it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity! Now his nieces are taking great joy in shouting Galette at him! But I did point out that in my eyes he is the Galette des Rois!

I hear the Scrabble pieces come out, I think I shall stay hidden a bit longer rather than lose atrociously to the Super Scrabble Sister In Laws!

Update On The Kids

Sorry I have not worked out how to put photos on here!

The kids are all well. LissaLou has been off school for a few days as it is closed to deal with rats! What really made me laugh was the rumour that they resulted from the grandmother of one of my nephew's cleaning out her house.... She has my sympathy though, we have had an invasion of cockroaches this week after arely one a week all year. I now walk around eyes constantly scanning for any unusual dark shapes and then it is out with the flip flop and....wham! It is really hot now and we wonder if that is causing it. There are certainly far far more mosquitoes. Guadeloupe is far nicer Nov - April, believe me!

Back to LissaLou....she and CassCass spend hours playing together with their Happyland/trains/polly pocket toys and it is lovely to see and hear them creating stories and personalities together as well as discussing and checking with each other for approval. Still fights and disagreements but it is much better now.

LissaLou came home from school and told me 2 + 2 equals 4 and a few other sums so we tried some addition and subtraction and she got the hang of it really well. CassCass and I have been singing the alphabet together and she can do perhaps a third of it now, plus she recognises maybe ten letters and loves writing names.

With all the recent rain I invested in some playdough which has been much enjoyed, by the teenagers in the house as much as the small ones!

Both the girls have lovely new sandals, pink for LissaLou (of course!) and yellow for CassCass. LissaLou also has new trainers for when we go walking. She has improved vastly in her walking, dating back to the 5 hour trek up the Soufriere which I yet to blog about. She didn't moan for four hours of it would you believe!! Since then we have done a few more walks - it really is a beautiful island and lovely to discover this way - and she has been great. I have high hopes for our return home! Now we just have to work on CassCass who is not quite so obliging....

Healthwise CassCass seems to have heat rash poor thing and LissaLou FINALLY got her filling at the dentist. Only for it to come out few days later. So she returned and got another one, brave girl. Only for it to come out a week later. So I think we will see if we can hang on till we return for a better quality dentist...

As for JoJo, he continues to be a delight, and his Mamie is already telling him how sad she will be when he is gone... He went through a horrible teething patch recently and that was no fun for anyone - I have never had teething problems in the girls so it was a real shock. I think it must be because they suck their thumbs and that assuaged the pain. But we didn't see a smile for a good few days and it did not help in the gradual stopping of breastfeeding process!!

However he is over that and back to his sunny self (except when hungry). Actually, if he is thwarted in his desires or efforts he will scream! He loves wandering around exploring, trying new things, climbing the most dangerous things. But his favourite activity of all is...reading! Ah, he is his mummy's son! He will bring book after book out for us to read to him, but if no one is around he will sit in the corner and leaf through piles of them. So cute! No words yet but if I roar like a lion he copies me!!

1st Communion

My kind BIL, knowing my plight, has come over for a family meal with his laptop, all for me!!

Last Sunday was a Big Occasion as our niece Stella went through her 1st communion - this is a massive thing here, accompanied by a huge party and lots of presents etc (they made far more of a fuss of it than of her birthday for example, which passed almost unnoticed). It is the culmination of months of catechism and 50 children went through the occasion at Mamie's church. It will be followed up in years to come by Profession de Faith and then Renonce.

The party was kept for this weekend, as it is bank holiday (yup, yet another one!) which gives plenty of recovery time. Well, more like another opportunity to finish the enormous leftovers in family! And those still left after today will be for the Mother's Day party at Nadia's next Sunday!

Preparation for the party has been going on for weeks, and this week got serious as Wilson painted and spruced up the house, a huge mutton was brought home (it looked like a bag with a corpse!!), we filled baskets with dragees (favours?) - LissaLou was a dab hand at this - and Mamie's sewing room looked more like an off licence! Saturday was spent cleaning cleaning cleaning (or in my case entertaining all the children, including Meddy!) and the place looked great at the end. The mairie lent us some tables and chairs and it looked like a restaurant with Mamie's fine china and glasses out.

Lunchtime was a family meal so there were a mere thirty of us! Then in the evening all the friends and family of Stella's father came so it was a much bigger affair, carrying on into the wee hours. My BIL laughed at me for going to bed early - I took the girls up at 9pm and fell asleep with them! Fortunately there were still some cakes left this morning that we tucked into (note: cakes - there were at least five or six HUGE affairs to begin with!) None of us feel that we should be eating for another week!

It is a major issue for Evangelical Christians here as to whether or not to attend such parties - many have a clear stance that they don't, and their point of view is known among their Catholic friends so they are not invited. We were happy to attend the party and help out where needed, and have been involved in numerous debates with others as our position was discussed.

I worked furiously on my photo albums over the past days and put them out for the family to browse through. It was nice to hear people remarking that they had never seen this or that photo before, and it is certainly a big improvement on the last. I used up all the acid-free sticky stuff Evs brought me and had to resort to pritt stick to finish, much to my sorrow!!

During the party, upstairs became the kids' hangout, and they were particularly impressed with the flying pig mum brought over for us! LissaLou got her hair done by her tatie and now has little beads for the first time - cute! But a nightmare to sleep with!