Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Going Going....Gone From Gwada

Well our year has come to an end, sniff! Our final three days were quite manic, getting the packing done, the flat emptied and cleaned, the car cleaned etc.

Due to waiting for Mamie's boxes to be packed, we were an hour off schedule on Monday for our checking in and trip to the beach, so we missed the farewell lunch that we hadn't realised was happening for us!! However, it was lovely to be checked in nice and early, comfortable in the knowledge that we were within our kilos and that nothing more could be slipped in our bags.

Then we made a final trip tp Ste Anne, where is POURED and the wind BLEW! We could have been on a UK beach! That made the transition back home much easier! As you all know, the best place to be when it rains the sea! It did feel like hail was hitting us though. Just a short dip before we headed back home for more cleaning and preparation. And just in case you are wondering, people still managed to slide a few more things in my hand luggage!

If I am foolish enough to move again, remind me that it will take at least twice as long as I estimate, so I shall start well in advance! It would have been nice to have had more time to sit chatting with people rather than rushing around. I am not even sure that Bertie had time to cry, but his parents very kindly said how much they had enjoyed having us and both specified that they liked me very much, which was sweet of them.

However, we made it to our plane on time and were whizzed through security thanks to all these children. The girls were hyper, bouncing around the place in their excitement at going on the plane. We didn't get a baby cot so JoJo slept on me all the way back, which meant I didn't sleep very much at all. I was thankful for my ipod, and for everyone else sleeping!

Apart from a bump on takeoff and various bits of turbulence, the flight was fine, the meal edible. After an hour of waiting for our 8 suitcases (I was waiting for someone to ask, are you moving or something?!) we were met by Patrice and Richard, who then took an hour of wandering around the various Orly car parks to find their cars!! The girls and I fell fast asleep on the way home.

It was so nice to step into the fresh air and enjoy the different climate, and to see the beautiful scenery, to play out in the garden without being burnt by the sun, to pick fresh strawberries, to have a long summer's evening, to see the bees buzzing around my sister-in-law's lavendar bush...Ah, it is good to be back in France! The guest room has also been done up and is beautiful, with a top bunk for the girls and a bouquet as the perfect finishing touch.

We popped off to the shop this evening and almost collapsed at how cheap everything was. Bertie and I both got a bunch of grapes and they are both nearly finished, yum yum!

We all slept this afternoon so it was awfully hard getting the kids to bed before midnight (!) but they are finally there and we shall head off now. Oh, and we had a lovely anniversary meal with the family, thanks to Bertie's sister. 8 years, hurrah!

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Safely back!

And enjoying the beauty of the Marne valley, and strawberries from the garden, ummm!

Farewell At Pika

We hosted the long-awaited campfire at Pika on Friday in honour of our departure and were delighted to have 50 or so friends and family members come. OK, so at 7pm it was looking a bit dodgey with no campfire, lights not up (and darkness fast approaching), food not ready, Bertie rushing around like a headless chicken, JoJo not in good humour....(I forgot to mention we have all been down with colds this week after our sea dip, except Bertie, and JoJo has had the most pathetic squeak instead of a cry or voice!).

However, things quickly improved and we enjoyed lovely barbequed chicken, spare ribs, brochettes, rice and bebele made by Mamie. Bertie got the lights up and working which made a big difference, although when he changed the petrol it was beautifully dark and atmospheric. Folks sat and ate and chatted and played cards and belote, whilst the kids ran around crazily.

Their favourite moment was when Bertie cut sticks out of coconut tree leaves and they placed marshmallows in the fire. It was one boy's birthday and he told us we had fulfilled his dream!

One lady got out her ka and started drumming and singing with the group, then there was a very kind and moving presentation from some church friends and Mamie, who stood proudly arm in arm with her son and invited everyone to pop in and say hello when they passed, just to keep them company!

JoJo eventually fell asleep on me and slept through it in the car, but the girls stayed up to the end, and we eventually made it home at 1am! I cannot tell you what poor state we were in for packing the next day (most of it got down on Sunday night) and killing Papy's cow (4am start!!!).

Friday, 24 July 2009

The Kids Part Three: JoJo

Ah, the beautiful JoJo! A joy and delight to us all, most especially to his adoring Papy and Mamie who will be very sad at his departure. It is interesting how well he gets on with them both, especially compared to the girls. He will run over to Papy, and I don't think it is solely for his biscuits! The other day he practically ran down the stairs dragging me with him in order to sit on Mamie's knee!

Bertie took JoJo to the dispensaire for his final check up last week. Vital statistics:
10.3 kg (a bit under the half way line, so he is no longer a big boy!)
82 cm (over the half way line)
I forget head circumferenc and who is bothered anyway except the French health system?!
Bertie took him this time and returned to tell me that JoJo had had two vaccinations, much to my horror! He received the second MMR and the DPT booster, which according to my red book are for 3-5 year olds. I worried over this and crazy french doctors for a while then was relieved to read online that the second MMR can be given a month after the first. He will just need one more vaccination (pneumaccochal) when we are back then that is him done for many years! (Barring swine flu of course...)

He is definitely taking after his daddy in most features, very slim and with a definite M head! His hair is riotous curls now, I had to cut the fringe a bit as it was down to his nose! I think he could be mistaken for a girl (LissaLou was playing hairdressers with him today and had it tied up! Nevermind, he will just look like his maternal grandfather...). He has so many teeth, possibly only two left to come through. And the loveliest smile, that still crinkles up his little face and puts a horizontal crease between his blue eyes. (Do words convey the same effect that one little photo would?)

Food - JoJo is his grandparents' (and parents') delight as he eats more or less everything and with such gusto and enjoyment! He feeds himself pretty much entirely now (ironically we still have to feed CassCass and occasionally LissaLou!) and will not start his meal until he has his fork in his hand. He loves drinking out a proper cup now, though does spill it a bit. Still a morning and evening breastfeed. He enjoys it so much (!) and I figured it would make flying and settling into the UK a bit easier for him. And me!

Movement - JoJo doesn't walk now, he runs! A funny little toddling run all around the place! He is constantly investigating here and there, following chicks and people, and to my horror crawling up the stairs and bumshuffling back down again. He is very confident and will go anywhere, or climb anything. The French word for him is casse-tete which I find very appropriate! He has plenty of war wounds, which may have worried me if he were the firstborn but just seem par for the course now.

Playing - JoJo is perfectly happy entertaining himself, if people let him get on with it. They don't usually though. That spoil sport mother of his is always taking him off the stairs, his sisters always remove the toys, his grandparents always shout to get away from the water etc. Honestly....
He is getting interested in Happyland now and likes placing objects in boxes etc. He has also done a couple of scribbles.

Reading - still loves it! Particularly anything with animals. His latest favourite book is the one mum and I made following our trip to London Zoo last year. He moos his way through it, despite there not being one cow within, and gets very excited with the penguins!

Speech - not a lot happening here. Well, there probably is a lot happening, but it is still all internal so not a lot to report! LissaLou is always telling me he said this or that, and he does occasionally repeat a sound. I think he repeated JoJo and he repeats rhythms accurately. He still does a great lion roar. His most regular word is Amen! after we have said grace! It is more like AhhhhMennnn!

GBH - plenty of this. He is constantly thwacking his poor sisters, particularly annoying in the car when we are limited to stop him. We are considering sticking him on his own in the third row...! He loves banging his hands down, with or without something within. First thing in the morning (we are talking before 6am) he will climb on Bertie and jog up and down and then....THWACK! throw his whole body and arms down on his poor father! We can definitely see the difference between girls and boys, he is so much more physical and daring, even than CassCass was.

Obedience - life is certainly a lot simpler with a 16 month old, but you can already see that glint in his eye as he redoes the action that you just said a very firm no to.... Won't be too long till another one will be learning about the merits of obedience!

The Kids Part Two: CassCass

In seeing how different the girls are, it is great to see how unique each individual is but challenging as a parent to learn not to make comparisons or have unhelpful expectations. Not to mention striking the balance between treating each one fairly and equally, whilst allowing for their character differences when interacting with them.

I have even more difficulty believing that CassCass is now three (at her next birthday she will be the age LissaLou was at the beginning of this year!!) but it is lovely to see how she is growing.

I really notice it in her speech, which is very fluent and clear in both languages. It is interesting to see how she automatically adjusts her language according to whether she is speaking to me or Bertie, and also just observing her language choice in different circumstances. She has started translating things to me, so she has obviously got the two languages differentiated. She does copy LissaLou though, mistakes included, so they both say "je vas" and "nhuit"!

CassCass is a ball of energy, and very agile which is lovely to watch. She loves climbing and jumping and, oh anything that involves moving! She can sit at the dinner table longer now, but she doesn't always! Sitting down activities are still limited with her, but she likes reading now a lot more.

Ah, but one time she is happy to be still is when she snuggles up beside mummy on her bed, a lock of mummy's hair in her hand and her thumb in her mouth! She loves this time and asks for it regularly, and she is quite happy to just lie, or to read, and occasionally chat.

CassCass still loves playing with Happyland, either on her own or with others. I think she is perfectly happy with her own company. She is still very wary of people, even those she knows well, and there are a few people (loud men!) of whom she is a bit scared. She has also developed a real phobia of people seeing her body, which I think stems from getting told off for going downstairs with no clothes on when we first arrived! At the beach on Sunday she made her daddy change her in the car with me standing blocking the window! She was most distraught at LissaLou just getting changed outside.

CassCass is a sensitive soul, and it is somthing I am praying about understanding better so that we can help and encourage her. She doesn't like being looked at sometimes, and gets upset if she thinks you are laughing at her, and she is still easily reduced to tears. She is also very specific about what you can or can't do with her, often being very independent. Some people are a bit insensitive or impatient with her, and I am working on how to handle this - avoid them? tell them to not say this or that? Sometimes we can intrude on another person's personal space (either verbally or physically), without giving thought to if they are comfortable with that, and I think this is what happens with CassCass. It is a helpful lesson to me that we are not all the same and so we shouldn't presume everyone will appreciate be treated in a particular way.

But equally she can be so full of joy and laughter and merriment! Some cousins of Bertie's have just arrived and it has been great to see how well she has taken to them, snuggling up and playing with them.

Her "obeying straight away" is definitely improving but depends entirely on how consistent we are! She will regularly push the boundaries deliberately, and it is very tempting to just let it go, so I have to pay attention to what I ask her to do or not do, to make sure that I really mean it and will follow it up. She will obey immediately if I mention the consequences if she doesn't! She also knows that she is not to shout or hit or push. I was struck by a story I read ecently on the importance of obedience, which told of a pastor's first funeral being for a three year old girl whose parents let her get away with disobeying whenever they told her to do something, and who was killed running in front of a car when she had been told to come back. It is hard work, but I believe so very important.

Often CassCass picks things up with little input from me (the joy of a second and subsequent child!). We began on the alphabet recently, learning the a b c song, but hadn't done anything for a few weeks, and suddenly she knows pretty much the whole song! She really enjoys reading the a b c book her Grandma made her (CassCass est adorable, CassCass est belle, CassCass est courageouse....) and recognises probably 16-20 letters. She enjoys counting too, and is often accurately counting objects around the place or in pictures.

CassCass and JoJo still get on really well, she plays very well with him, being gentle and sitting beside him with a toy or book. She will often steal his toy away though! When he wakes from his siesta, she goes in and opens the windows and entertains him till I come!

CassCass doesn't eat particularly well at the moment, but I suspect it is a mixture of too many biscuits in the diet (!), the heat, and not needing too much. I keep forgetting to serve child size portions, as mum helpfully advised! Perhaps I should serve food on saucers?! Eating when she is tired is a lost cause so that encourages me to have meals for midday and 6pm. If she has a siesta she will not go to sleep until 9 or 10 pm but otherwise is fast asleep within minutes around 7pm, then wide awake and raring to go at 6am. She does have night wakings regularly but I'm not sure what that's due to.

As with LissaLou, I am really looking forward to having CassCass at home for another year, as I feel that there is so much to learn about her and for me to understand in how to interact with her. I also quite simply enjoy the girls' company! The main challenge will be sharing my attention between her and LissaLou. As LissaLou is so much more vocal, it is easier for her to get my attention and to forget about CassCass who just gets on quietly with her own thing. I am hoping to find activities that will be able to involve them both, especially as CassCass is able to sit for longer periods.

The Kids Part One: LissaLou

LissaLou is now five and a half, amazing! She will be a six year old before you know it! She is a great little girl, sorry, I mean big girl!

I have noticed that as I think about and record the younger children's development, it is all about what they can do now, whereas with LissaLou it is a lot more focused on her attitude and shaping her character.

You'll remember from this post that obeying straight away has been our recent priority and she has got the hang of it very well. We try and chat and pray about it each morning with the girls as it seems to help remind them, and now that LissaLou has (generally but not absolutely) mastered that step, her daily challenge is to obey with a smile (as opposed to the constant "yeah but" that became her mantra, only to be replaced with kissing her teeth!!). Her other one is to come to me about any problems with CassCass (usually) or someone else, rather than hitting/pushing/screaming at the other person... She is so pleased when she has done a good job! (As am I!).

I think she has found it strange not being at school or having a routine over the last few weeks, as she has constantly been coming and asking "what can I do now?". I look forward to getting back into a routine with them and having all our toys and things back!

LissaLou is still deeply devoted to Hamie ("I love Hamie SO much mummy...) and will often retreat to her bed and suck her thumb whilst holding him. He has a very dinky house bag from mum which she loves carrying around with her too.

Reading is coming on bit by bit, and I think she might actually be better in french than in english right now. As for writing, her big dream is to write en attaché (the very impressive cursive style so beloved of all French people) which we have started on. But she gets very frustrated when she can't get things straight away - I can't tell you how much we struggled with k!

She adores JoJo (rather too violently at times!) and has a more love-hate relationship with CassCass. They will play beautifully for hours (always in french!) then end up fighting over something or another. I like the idea that shaping a child's heart is more important than shaping their external behaviour, but it is a challenge to know how to do so. However, it is really easy to chat with LissaLou about issues like this, for example today we discussed that it was more important to love CassCass (by being patient) than to have her play in a particular way.

LissaLou is a chatterbox. Oh boy. But (like her mother before her!) she is apparently very quiet at school, as the maitresse wouldn't like it otherwise. (Oh yes? and what about her poor mother?!)

She loves counting, particularly in french. I pity anyone learning to count in french, having to cope with their forty-twenty-seventeen, that is in fact 97!

One thing I have loved recently is every morning that we get up early and find ourselves on the balcony as a family, she will come along with her French Bible and get Bertie to read to us! A great example to us all!

The girls haven't really developed the same relationship with their Mamie as with their Grandma, as she, in common with parents and grandparents in general here, doesn't spend one to one time with them doing activities and involving them. So I have been pleased to see LissaLou joining Mamie in her sewing room and watching Mamie as she makes her a dress. Hey, perhaps I won't need to learn to sew after all....!

Oh, I stopped the pocket money (she hasn't noticed!) as inexplicably, the money kept going missing, wherever I hid it.... She didn't really enjoy doing her daily tasks so we will work on that in the autumn. She loves washing up with me though, so we can do that more often when we are away from fizz sinks!

LissaLou is looking forward to coming home and seeing her family and playing with her BF! I am looking forward to homeschooling with her and getting to know her and appreciate her even more.


I have been trying to do at least a couple of activities each day with the girls - as most of their toys have disappeared with the shipping, they have been a bit more at a loss as to what to do with themselves!

Lots of my ideas come from Trish Kuffner's Busy Books which I really would heartily recommend. I have the Toddler and PreSchooler ones and they have ideas that have been great from 2/3 year old CassCass through to her 10 year old cousin.

A few months back I spent a while cutting out photos of familiar folk (yes Grandma, Grandpa, Tatie Evie, Uncle Malc, you are all there!) and different scenes/objects then sticking them on cardboard. I could cover them in sticky back plastic but haven't got round to it. Then I wrote out cards with the name in french on one side and english on the other. We have used these cards in a variety of ways (mostly with LissaLou for the moment):
*matching the picture with the word in different games
*playing a version of Guess Who, where we each select a card and the other person asks questions to find out which card it is - not only did LissaLou manage to read each card by herself, but we also learned about different categories (man-made is our newest one)
*I tried a game where we guessed the card from clues, but that was a bit challenging
*with CassCass we played shout out a card and run and collect it
*when I run out of inspiration we make up stories involving the different pictures!

Recently we also had a session on bird's eye views (which funnily enough was a phrase that even Bertie, the English expert, didn't know!) - thanks to Mum for this idea. We matched objects with their shape and then drew a plan of the verandah and placed an object according to where it was on the plan. I think we are still grasping this one! However, it made for a lovely treasure hunt, where Stella had proper clues, CassCass had drawings with a cross, and LissaLou had a bird's eye view plan of the room with a cross for the position of the clue. They also got a tamarind with each clue. That went down really well!

We tried north south east and west this week. Once I explained which was which, LissaLou was supposed to run to the right side when I shouted it out. She claimed to be too tired, so I gave her a passion fruit to chuck in the right direction instead, which she then ended up running cheerfully after!! I would like to do a treasure hunt with directions ie walk three steps north but that will have to wait!

What else.... the girls had great fun cutting out scraps of paper and sticking them onto sticky back plastic today and it made for beautiful pictures. In fact, anything involving sticking goes down very well, but they have used up all the glue and lost all the pritt stick now!

Ah, and thanks to Tatie Evie for this popular one - we each cut out a postcard of Guadeloupe stuck on a piece of cardboard in jigsaw style then had fun putting them together again, then getting the other family members to do so! Last time we did this was Christmas 2007 and CassCass had a two piece jigsaw - she has sinced moved on!!

When we have had enough of all this creativity, we have been enjoying the computer by singing along to Cedarmonkees (!) on youtube or watching Balamory and Charlie and Lola. It's a fine life!

I shall go into more details about the kids in upcoming posts, for those interested...

Piou Piou, The Friendly Chick

We haven't been doing very much this week, just chilling out, or rather boiling out! It is so hot, I often go in the girls' room and find them resting on their beds and I can sympathise!

Today Bertie was at Pika preparing for our Campfire tomorrow which started off as a small do for friends and family and now sounds like half the town has been invited....

At home, we carried on with different activites in the company of our friendly Piou Piou. Have I mentioned him to you? He is LissaLou's schoolfriend's little chick and Mamie is babysitting him whilst they are away in France. Only, I am not sure how much she is remembering that they will be taking him back!

The initial plan was to take him to Pika and put him with the other chickens, to protect him from the mean mangoost that ate his sibling, but Mamie said the other chickens and hens wouldn't accept such a small chick on his own, so he stayed for a little while. And then a bit longer. And now he is still here and there is no more talk of taking him to Pika!

Piou Piou is a people chick, loving company. He sits next to Mamie and Papy, or if possible on their shoulders! He wanders around all day pecking at food (a chick with fine taste, he enjoys JoJo's spilt porridge, and today's brown rice was gobbled up!) and making the noise that gave him the name. There was no one around downstairs today so he must have been feeling lonely - he hopped upstairs and proceeded to wander around our flat, eating who knows what under my bed and pooing all over the place. He also loves water melon so I put that out for him, until JoJo got hold of it.

Needless to say, JoJo in particular loves Piou Piou and follows him around pointing and saying "nah!" which is his excited response to most animals in books or live. Thankfully he hasn't squashed him yet; in fact, as fascinated as he is, he is also scared of him and usually ducks away at the last minute.

Mamie told us with a chuckle that whilst all the other hens in the neighbourhood go to bed at sunset (the ones opposite us fly up in to the trees, quite a sight!), Piou Piou stays up faithfully at Mamie and Papy's side until 11pm or whenever they shut up and turn the lights off! Definitely a people chick!

Thursday, 23 July 2009

The Good The Bad And The Ugly

Back in April 2008 I made my lists of things I was and wasn't looking forward to about leaving the UK and coming here. Well now it is time to do the same but in reverse....

What I am looking forward to...

English countryside - walks
London parks and play areas and toddler proof areas
Seeing friends and family
Not having stairs - JoJo perches precariously on the top of ours constantly and then edges his way down, making my heart shudder! Today he chucked down a 3kg water melon and I was mostly relieved that it wasn't his head!!
Cool weather! Ah, fresh crisp autumn mornings, winter chills, the children not smelling constantly of sweat, not being required to wash numerous changes of clothes...
Seeing JoJo in all the cute trousers and hoody tops we have been given for him, not to mention the pair of big boy boots!
Not having people appearing in our flat before I am even up and dressed
Apples, berries, blackberry picking, pies and crumbles, custard
Eating soup in cold weather (LissaLou is constatingly commenting on the illogicality of eating hot food in hot weather and well, I agree!)
Parsnips, broccoli
Proper sausages (none of this saucisson business!)
Being able to prepare healthier food - wholemeal flour here I come!
Limiting biscuits, cakes etc (and certainly NO biscuits at 6am! That cheeky JoJo begs to go downstairs first thing as he knows exactly what his Papy has waiting for him...)
Not being constantly surrounded by people with everything we do open to their viewing
Being independent
More uninterrupted time with the girls and as a family
Fresh milk (none of this UHT nonsense)
Bertie not working evenings and Saturday mornings
Not paying an arm and a leg for everything!
Being able to visit lots of places (island life is great but, well, it is limited!)
Internet shopping
Back to organic and fair trade shopping
Having a garden
Cultural delights such as theatres and music (okay, even if we never get to them it is nice to know that they are there!)

And just to balance it, what I will miss or am not looking forward to...

Ok, let's start with the obvious - the beaches, the tropical rainforest, the beautiful scenery
The rural nature of life here - when we drive, it takes 2 minutes to leave the town and get into the beautiful countryside (oh, if only that were the case in London!)
The fresh fruit, often free for picking
Visiting Pika
Being next to the sea
Small town life
Always having someone around to chat to or to guard a sleeping baby
Large bedrooms
Washing drying on the balcony in a day
Bertie being around a lot
Bertie shouting "Whey!" to practically everyone he meets
Being able to meet up with folk easily because they just arent doing anything else
Hearing Papy and Mamie laughing their way through their favourite soaps

Seeing the kids, especially JoJo, with his grandparents and other relatives
Heating bills
February (let's be honest, I probably will not be loving winter so much by then - those long nights and short days will undoubtedly be getting less beautiful by then!)

Busy hectic London life and consumerist society
Travelling for hours to get somewhere
Parking restrictions
Living in a detached house (this is a new and scary one for me!!)
Crime filled London (despite all the folk here say about crime leves rising, and even despite the noisy bar next to our house turning very quiet even since a police raid discovered arms and drugs, it still feels much safer here - after all, back home we would never dream of leaving our house unlocked and random items out on the verandah - unless they were chained down of course!)

For your info, Lissalou's list consists of NO ANTS AND MOSQUITOES whilst Bertie's consist of PLAYING GOLF. Some people are just more concise!

Monday, 20 July 2009

Out And Abouts

LissaLou said how nice it was to have Daddy at home and to go out together as a family, and I have to agree! We are profiting from these days!

Other recent trips have included...

Walking down by the sea to watch the Tour de Guadeloupe by boat which arrived into our port one lunchtime. As we walked through the trees to get there, we stepped over mango after mango and picked up a few to add to our picnic. Bertie spent most of his youth going down that way to the sea (rather than the less muddy and hilly route by road that now exists but is much longer) and walking through smelling the very strong fragrance of fresh and rotting mangos reminded him of those days.

One of our churches had a Campfire out in the country and we enjoyed singing mostly creole songs around the fire, whilst being eaten alive by mosquitoes! Unfortunately by the time we left at 10pm with one sleeping and two tired wee ones, the food still hadn't been served....

Last Friday at the girls' special request we returned to La Ferme Ti Bou, this time with two other families. Needless to say the girls had a fantastic time, seeing the animals, trampolining, bouncing but most of all going round and round and round and round...(you get the idea!) on the go karts. The cool pool water was very much appreciated as was our water melon! Jojo was also able to appreciate it a lot more this time and had good fun in the ball pit.

Yesterday was a family outing to Port Louis to visit Bertie's nephew at a holiday camp he is working on. Not a job I would wish for!!! I thought they were camping but turns out their tents have bunk beds inside, easy life!

We then went on to the beach and enjoyed splashing and diving with all the family. Well, we would have if LissaLou hadn't had a meltdown and cried out the whole visit... These are few and far between now but still painful to live through!

Not many days left now so we shall see what they hold.

Maison De La Banane, Grand Etang

Last week's Wednesday trip (aw, I'm going to miss this Family Tradition!) could have happened any day now that Bertie is off work, but funnily enough it was still Wednesday.

I had been looking forward to going to the Maison de la Banane for ages, but the last time we tried it was closed. Finally success, but at a price - it is a costly €8/€6 for entry, which is more than anywhere else. Would it live up to our expectations, and be worth the euros....?

We were welcomed with a banana each (naturally!) and we also got to try a red one, which was very nice tasting if odd looking. Then we were showed the plantation and giving some fun facts (some of which I knew from all my earlier research!):

*bananas grown on hillsides are sweeter (but all that extra work!)
*they take 9-12 months to grow
*they grow between 5 and 15 metres
*there are nearly 1500 types but only some can be eaten and we only seem to get one type imported to us in the West, which is Cavendish
*each regime of bananas can weigh from 25 to 50 kilos
*bananas for exportation get their maturing slowed down by being kept at 13 degrees - their taste and colour is very different from ones allowed to riped naturally
*they get put in blue plastic bags as they grow as otherwise a little bug gets inside with little or no sign on the skin that it is there

We were sent off to enjoy the garden, which was very beautiful, and all sorts of different banana trees. The girls (with their cousin) were most taken with a little kitten who followed us everywhere and was promptly named Bannie. Happily there were few other visitors there subjected to their cries and shrieks of Bannie around the place!

After the garden was the information room then a Maison Creole full of rooms and things from antan lantan (the olden days, but it only really applies to the late 1800s and early 1900s!).

All very interesting, especially all the products made from banana leaves, but I was disappointed that we didnt get to see the plantation packing line in action (though we were highly tempted to swing on the line carrying bananas to the packing room!). I also thought we would get more of a tasting session but it was not to be.

Afterwards we headed inwards and upwards to the Grand Etang which is a lake on the way up to the Chute de Carbet. So peaceful and tranquil. And then we arrived! Oh the noise those children made! I am not sure if it was due to us that the six families who visited whilst we sat there picknicking all left within five minutes!

The girls paddled in the water, JoJo paddled in the mud, and they had fun on and under a bridge but sadly no walk around the lake as Mr Driver had forgotten his trainers. We previously visited in 2000 and didn't manage the walk then so it looks like it will have to wait a few more years...

Distillerie De Damoiseau, Moule

This was our Wednesday destination two weeks ago.

There are a few distilleries left in Guadeloupe, and from what we can see it is possible to visit at least some of them. Sugar cane can either be taken to the factory and made into sugar or to the distillery and made into rum. Papy thought that the latter pays a bit better, Bertie thought that you only take the cane to rum outside of the factory season, I remain unclarified on why you would use one rather than the other!

From my reading, I have discovered that the reason there is only one factory left here and a few distilleries is not so much that the island hasn't been able to produce enough, but that since the mid-1800s the demand for it has been falling drastically. This was initially due to the innovation of producing sugar from sugar beet, and then due to all the other countries entering in on the market and producing more cheaply and effectively. I was interested to note that following the first world war, a huge limit was put on rum being imported into France, partly in response to the alcoholism that had crept in as rum was liberally used to encourage the troops.

In any case, the lack of successful alternative product to import has greatly influenced the economic difficulties faced by the island, not helped by the frequent devastation through the last two centuries by hurricanes, earthquakes, volcano action,'s no bed of roses in the Caribbean!

Back to the distillery. Bertie's sister had recommended it as a lovely place to visit and picnic in the grounds, but they had been the Sunday. Going during the week had the advantage of seeing the place in action....but the disadvantage of NOISE! It really was deafening! The men working there all had earphones on and I don't know how the houses nearby tolerate it!

We watched as the cane came in on the back of titans (huge lorries) - as it has been mechanically cut it is already in small pieces when it is loaded into the machine where it passes along a conveyor belt and all the juice is extracted. Cane that has been brought by individuals and cut by hand is still in one long stem and tied up the traditional way by a cane leaf.

There was no proper tour, just some boards explaining the process, and I kept a close eye on the girls whilst looking at the machinery as it would have been oh so easy to slip on the metal stairs into it (rather like a James Bond film).... Health and safety does not seem to be a major concern here!!

Bertie explained to us how Papy used to bring his cane to the same type of machines but at the factory (the initial process is the same) and it was interesting to imagine them there.

We had a look at the windmill, no longer in action, and there was plenty of rum on offer at the bar/shop but we declined (despite being cheerfully greeted with a loud "hello" from the bartender!). Around the site were plenty of boxes and empty bottles and then outside was a huge pit for all the begasse, the leftover product, which in bigger islands is used to make petrol.

Not being the ideal spot for a picnic, we went off to the beach Autre Bord in Le Moule and enjoyed our current favourite of drumsticks and pasta. The water was so hot that it was almost uncomfortable, in fact more refreshing outside than in!

I don't think I recounted my encounter with a crab at Petit Havre the previous week - I was happily lying in the shallow water carressing a stone when suddenly that very same stone gave me a good hard bite! I threw it out of the water in my horror and didn't even get to see the culprit. Bertie found the whole event very funny but it has left me somewhat apprehensive in the water!

Sunday, 19 July 2009

History Gets Personal

Not only have I been looking into the general history of the island, I have also been able to look into one of my hoped for projects this year, drawing up a family tree. I have spent various occasions asking Mamie and Papy about this and that person - Mamie thinks I'm strange and can't think why on earth I want this information, whilst Papy loses track of people and then shrugs and says with such a large brood, he had no time to keep up with all the other relatives! Neither of them know that much of their ancestry so plenty to be done!

Two Thursdays back, we organised ourself to spend a day at the Archives de Guadeloupe with a friend also interested in the subject. This is based in Gourbeyre and we presumed not a child friendly place so the girls went to our JEM friends and JoJo was confided into his Tatie's hands (my first proper separation from him and I must admit to being quite moved at his going!). They all got on fine.

We arrived at the archives and were told it was full and to come much earlier. Happily they saw the disappointment on our faces and found us a place to look at micro film. There was a very helpful man, passionate about his subject, who went through all the complicated procedure for us and then left us to it.

We started with Mamie's father, whose birth certificate we had, but could not find his parents for love or money. The same with her maternal grandmother. All these people come from Grand Bourg in Marie Galante and we had a rough idea of dates so it really was frustrating.

Before leaving, Mamie had given me a marriage certificate for her paternal grandfather and between micro films I struggled through it. It turned out to be a goldmine! We had the exact birthdate for him, but still he wasn't coming up on the records! The helpful man, recognising the novices that we so clearly were and taking pity on us half an hour before closing, came and found him, just like that! Success! It was so sweet! So we presume that the others were all there, we just missed them! This great grandfather was born in 1862 so his parents were born in slavery, not that many generations ago.

Time was up and off we went. We can carry research on by post with a place in France and all details should also be available in the local mairie so we will try our luck there. Unfortunatey, there is very little online that I can find.

I can quite see the attraction (and frustration!) of this detective like work now that we are into it and look forward to continuing it as and when we can.

A Bit Of History

Having heard so much from people about slavery and this and that and the other I thought it was about time I looked into the history of Guadeloupe myself. And as I have put all my books in shipping, what better time than to borrow a book on it? Our neighbour lent me "Une petite histoire de Guadeloupe" by Lucien René Abenon and it has been great reading.

I was regretting not having read it earlier in the year but then I decided it was all the more interesting now that I am familiar with the names and places in it. The French are very much into naming their streets and schools etc after particular people and here is no different, so I have been coming across all sorts of folk and saying ah, that's who he was!

Some interesting details from it....

It's amazing how present the English are throughout Guadeloupean history, constantly invading and often victoriously taking over the island, only to swap it back for somewhere else. As the author notes, it says something about the importance of Martinique and Guadeloupe for their prosperous sugar based economy that they were swapped at one point for the mighty Canada!

The English were actually responsible for building Pointe a Pitre (which made me chuckle as my English friend was very scathing of the town at Easter!). It has been rebuilt several times though following earthquakes and hurricanes.

La Place de la Victoire was originally la Place Sartine, but renamed after successfully opposing the attacking English ships. Hmm, I think I prefer the original name....

The folk who made up the island is also interesting in itself. There were actually Protestants among the first colonialists, escaping from anti-protestant sentiment in France. There were some Dutch and even an Irish family, Birmingham, after whom I presume the area near us was named.

After the colonialists came the slaves, but also whites known as engagés who were required to work pretty much as slaves for three years to gain their freedom. Many didn't make it as it was so hard and the climate so different, and the practice died out. After slavery was abolished, in order to find workers for the cane fields, they initially brought Africans called congos over but this was banned as being too similar to slavery. Next came Chinese people who didn't fit in at all so finally they opted for Indians in the 1860s who had a terrible time, being treated not that differently from the way the slaves had been previously.

Slavery was initially abolished in the 1789-1784 Revolution period. The English invaded but were then thrown out by one Victor Hugues and his men who then shot hundreds of colonialists for colluding with the English. The others ran away, mostly to Martinique. He then lost sight of his revolutionary ways and got the slaves back to work before Napoleon properly reinstated slavery. This was the period when one Louis Delgres was holding up the fort we went to in Basse-Terre with his supporters and standing against a return to slavery. When finally they were cornered into the mountains, many of them jumped off together to show their preference for death rather than returning to slavery.

The English abolished slavery in the West Indies in 1833 which put some pressure on the French islands, who meted out heavy punishments on anyone trying to escape the island in a bid for freedom. The abolishment finally went through in 1848 with the Second Republic. Can you imagine the logistics of 87,000 finally being freed and then soon after receiving the right to vote?

I am up to the 1900s and about to find out if Papy's claims that there were U-boats around the island during the war really are true!

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Les Saintes

Our trip to Les Saintes was a spur of the moment thing two weekends back following an invitation from church friends and a great way to spend Bertie's first Saturday without work since September (except Christmas and Easter).

Les Saintes is one of several islands Guadeloupe also has under it, including Marie-Galante, La Desirade and previously St Martin and St Barthelemy. I say island but it is actually made up of two islands, Terre du Haut, where all the tourists visit and where we visited in 2002 and Terre du Bas (which is actually more mountainous) which is unknown to us. We went with some friends from church who are from there and stayed in their family's house. Here are a few thoughts from the visit.

It is a tiny place!!! There are two small towns, Grande Anse and Petite Anse. Of course, Petite Anse is bigger than Grande Anse! We stayed in Grande Anse and all there is are a few shops and a lovely village square, a restaurant and....the FINEST playpark we have seen in a year! I can't begin to describe how beautiful and well equipped it was! And do you know the irony? There are hardly any children on the island, mostly retired people!

We were in walking distance of two beaches, very nice! Our friend grew up in a house right across the road from one of them, what a view!

The island suffered an earthquake in 2006 which devastated it, but has mostly been rebuilt now. There are a few signs left though - there is a beach which is now just a dumping ground for all the bits of brick and iron from collapsed houses, a road along the coast to some pottery ruins just crumbles into rocks, and there are empty plots of land where houses once stood.

Everyone is related on the island! Every person who went past, or car or house we saw, received a nod and a muttered "c'est un cousin"! This worked in our favour going over, when our friends' cousin was taking money, therefore charging us the lower residents' price! Speaking of the boat, well I am not sure that I can, it was awful! The sea to both Marie-Galante and Les Saintes is so rough and bumpy, it felt like being on a rollercoaster at a theme park. I was so pleased not to chuck up, but it was a close thing! Apparently the journey to La Desirade is even worse, which may explain why we have never visited!

We took a tour around the island - with a cousin! - and saw Petite Anse with the Mairie, primary school, college and police station. Lyceens have to go to the mainland (Guadeloupe) where they board for the week. There are some people who commute over each day on the 6am boat - they must have stomachs of steel is all I can say!

There are also beautiful forests and mountains and views to be seen. We stopped off at a Mare (small lake) to look for tortoises or turtles. Very soon, up to 30 pairs of beady eyes could be seen in the water bearing down on us, as they waited for the bread that we would surely have. Very sadly we didn't! If we looked closely in the trees above, we saw iguanas, for which the island is famous. Too close and they would crash noisily down into the undergrowth. Finally we saw some fish called lapiya (?) which are apparently aphrodisiac when consumed!

The island is very, very dry. In fact, all there is is fish! Our friends told us that when they lived there, it was normal to have court bouillon (fish in sauce) for lunch and fried fish for tea and possibly even breakfast! We certainly enjoyed some delicious tuna. Other delicacies are tourment d'amour, a lovely tart with coconut inside, and a kind of fudge made with tamarinds. However, one to be avoided at all costs is the mancilinier tree, including its leaves, its fruits even its sap. It is toxic and not to be ingested, touched or even stood underneath during a shower. There were many around so I wondered how many unsuspecting people miss the signs and actually touch them.

All in all it was a very peaceful and relaxed weekend, far from the noise and bustle (!) of Guadeloupe and much enjoyed by us all. We were particularly thankful to find our cars okay on our return, having heard that 20 cars in the car park at Trois Rivieres had been trashed the night we were away. No such behaviour on Les Saintes, that's for sure!


We have 10 days to go till we set off - again, we will be flying on our wedding anniversary, though this time we leave the night before and arrive on the day so maybe we shall celebrate with the Paris relatives under the influence of jetlag!

I don't really like the final weeks waiting for something - be it babies or new jobs or moving - as you just want to get on with it and begin the next stage. There is also the continual having everyone ask when we are going and Mamie looking sad and making a comment on it all the time!! I remember having just the same feeling this time last year, when I couldn't get inspired to do any cleaning or start any new projects. Bertie was working right to the end so it didn't bother him, but he agrees with me this time!

However, I do love the making lists side of things and have several of these around! We will be taking our baggage early Monday morning to the airport and checking in (our flight is at 7pm). This may seem weird, but it means that NO ONE can try and squeeze any more items into our luggage and stress me by putting us over the limit...!! So all baggage we are taking for people has to be with us by Sunday. We have an astonishing 160 kg between us so I will pack on Saturday and then tell Mamie how many kilos she can send. Believe me, she will fill it all! In fact, I might just give her a figure somewhat below the real one! (Like we used to tell mum we were leaving one hour before we actually were...).

The other advantage of dealing with the luggage early is that we can go for a final trip to the beach then come home and get ready, safe in the knowledge our seats are already sorted! I am hoping for the four middle ones with baby cot again, though I think JoJo might be too big. A final trip to the doctors showed him to be a hefty 10.3kg.

So on my list:
Pack- leave out clothes we are not taking home for final days
Trip to lavomatic (mamie's washing machine has given up the ghost, even when you SLAM the door really hard!)
Buy some final items
Change telephone bill to Mamie
Bertie - fishing, prepare Pika for our farewell BBQ on Friday
A final trip out or two
Visit/call a few folk
Sort out travel insurance - bit lost on this one as i am not sure where i am resident of!
Give various items away that we dont need
Finish my history of Guadeloupe book

Not too laborious really!