A Dirty Weekend

The weekend had got off to a good start. My husband and I and a couple of friends had plans to hike to Marla, but as the Route Forestière leading up to Col des Boeufs was closed due to road-works we had decided to start by hiking across Grand Sable. After an hour’s trek we reached a junction in the path … only to find a big “footpath closed” sign. So we had no option but to turn round and go back the way we came, and then walk up the Route Forestière, before really starting the hike. All this meant that we arrived at Marla later than planned, as night was falling.

At the time there was only one gîte in the hamlet, and unfortunately it was being renovated, so the school was being used as temporary accommodation. The whole room was chock-a-block with bunk beds, only separated from each other by sheets of tarpaulin. As the four of us arrived last we had the only available beds left – my husband and I had adjacent top bunk beds, and the couple of tourists below agreed to move the bunk beds closer. We slept badly as they ‘made the most’ of being side by side, and found out the next morning that our friends, who were on the other side of the room, had been woken in the middle of the night to find their bunk-bed neighbour injecting himself, albeit with insulin.

It had also started to rain during the night, and we left the gîte under a downpour. To head back to Col des Boeufs we had to cross two gullies, which had been streams the previous day, but the overnight rainfall had turned them into raging torrents. Our two male companions crossed by jumping from stone to stone, but I – seeing my life flash before me if I was to slip and fall – decided I’d be better off wading across. In the first stream the water only come up to my thighs, and I imagined the second would be the same, but I actually found myself in chest-high water!

When we finally made it back to our vehicle we were all completely drenched, exhausted, and shivering with the cold. We put the heating on in the car, no realising that this would drain the battery however, and that when we wanted to start the car the battery would be flat. So our eventful weekend ended with one of our party – who shall remain nameless – back out in the rain, pushing the car to get it started, in their underwear

Vocabulary

to lead = mener
road-works = travaux
accommodation = hébergement
chock-a-block = blindé
bunk bed = lit superposé

tarpaulin = bâche
available = disponible
albeit = même si c’était
downpour = déluge
gullies = ravines

to slip = glisser
to wade = avancer dans l’eau
thighs = cuisses
chest-high = jusqu’à la poitrine
drenched = trempé

to shiver = grelotter
heating = chauffage
to drain = vider
however = par contre
underwear = sous-vêtements

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What a Waste!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vocabulary

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

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

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

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

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Fifty Shades of Black

Once upon a time, when you were allowed to descend into the Enclos during an eruption, and when I could be up all night without suffering for a week afterwards, I went to the volcano.

This wasn’t just any old trip to the volcano however, it was a very special trip. An eruption was taking place, and a group of us had packed up the car with clothes for all extremes of weather, hiking shoes, food, water, and cameras for a late night expedition. Midnight found us excitedly driving along the bumpy route forestière … only to reach the car park and be met with a wall of thick cloud.

We were bitterly disappointed, but as we were also starting to feel a bit peckish we parked in an almost empty car park, and tucked into some of the snacks we’d brought with us. A while later when we stepped out of the car, we realised the clouds had miraculously disappeared, so we got ourselves ready and headed along the path and down into the Enclos.

Now, it wasn’t the first time I’d visited the volcano during an eruption, nor the first time I’d hiked at night. I can’t remember what month it was, but although we were warm while walking, we rapidly felt frozen as soon as we stopped for a drink of water. It was during one of these thirst-quenching breaks that I remember looking back towards the centre of the island, and what I saw has stayed engraved on my memory ever since, even though it only lasted a few instants.

There was a full moon that night and no clouds left. All of Reunion’s mountains were perfectly silhouetted against the starlit sky, in different shades of black and grey. There was no artificial light anywhere, and I felt as if I was one of the first people to set foot on the island and discover its treasures. Behind me I could also hear (and smell) the ‘whoosh’ of the lava spouts of the on-going eruption, which added to the magical atmosphere.

The cold forced us to carry on walking, but we knew from the red-tinged sky ahead that a different spectacle awaited us further on. There, we settled down to watch the eruption: far enough away to be safe, but close enough to kept warm. We sat for several hours, until day had broken, watching the amazing forces of nature. Together with what we had witnessed earlier, we formed memories that I am convinced will last me a lifetime.

Vocabulary

once upon a time – il était une fois
to suffer – (ici) payer le prix
pack up the car – remplir la voiture
bumpy – cahoteux
bitterly – (ici) profondément

to feel peckish – avoir un petit creux
to tuck into – attaquer (quelque chose à manger)
snacks – en-cas
to head along – se diriger
thirst-quenching – désaltérant

engraved – gravé
full moon – pleine lune
starlit – étoilé
shades – nuances
to set foot – mettre les pieds

‘whoosh’ – souffle (bruit)
spouts – jets
tinged – teinté
day break – lever du jour
to witness – observer

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Lost in Paradise

A while back I had to call the national hotline of my internet service provider about a problem I was having with my TV channels. The young man in Paris who answered me was relatively helpful, but was unable to solve my problem, which was related to the fact that I was based in Reunion. As the conversation came to a close he consolingly told me, “oh, but at least you’ve got sunshine”, as if that made up for the fact that for all manner of services we generally end up paying more for less in Reunion.

As a long-term inhabitant of Reunion, a recurrent grumble of mine is the propensity of others to slap the label of ‘exotic paradise’ onto tropical islands. Yes, Reunion has beaches and a generally pleasant climate, but we’re also subject to tropical diseases, storms … and big hairy insects. Many islands such as Reunion can be more or less remote, difficult and/or expensive to get from and to, and this can be reflected in consumer prices, as well as indirectly in the level of employment. The creation of the ‘tropical paradise’ that tourists want (palm trees, hotels, electricity, running water, sandy beaches, and wifi etc.) often comes at a high environmental price, as our Mauritian neighbours are beginning to realise.

The belief that tropical islands are paradise is recent – the biblical concept of Eden was very different, and for centuries tropical destinations such as Reunion were a source of unbearable heat, illness, fear and even death for the European settlers, as well as the slaves who were forced to work there until they dropped.

The notion of what is ‘exotic’ is also worth pondering. Last year, I was interpreter for some Czech clients. While appreciating their surroundings, they wondered where people in Reunion went for a holiday. They were very amused when I told them that for our honeymoon my husband and I had chosen to go to … the Czech Republic! It was different from our every day life in Reunion, and thus exotic to us.

Current opinion tends to be that paradise and exoticism can be purchased as commodities via a travel brochure. The idea that they may be bought could prevent people from looking for a different kind of paradise, one that is closer to home, rather than projecting it on to islands half a world away.

As long as people feel the need to travel to a tropical island to relax, switch off their smartphones, and spend more time with loved ones, Reunion’s tourist industry has a great future ahead of it!

Vocabulary

to come to a close – se terminer
consolingly – pour réconforter
all manner – tout type
grumble – ronchonnement
propensity – tendance

to slap a label – coller une étiquette
hairy – poilu
running water – eau courante
belief – croyance
concept – idée

unbearable – insoutenable
to ponder – méditer
surroundings – environnement
honeymoon – lune de miel
commodity – denrée

travel brochure – prospectus touristique

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Don’t Be-leave

I think I have rarely felt as blindsided as I did on the morning of June 24th, the eve of my birthday, when I woke up and realised that Britain had voted to leave the European Union. Emotionally unprepared for such a result, tears rolled down my face as the news sunk in. Later I exchanged messages with other Brits in Reunion and quickly realised we all felt the same. Touchingly, many local friends also sympathised, some of them telling me they felt almost as bereft as I did.

It may come as a surprise to many people in Reunion to realise that British citizens lose their right to vote 15 years after leaving Britain. So here was a referendum that concerned us directly, but in which we couldn’t vote. If the one million disenfranchised British expatriates living in Europe had been able to vote, the referendum’s result would probably have been different.

Now, I may have left Britain in the early 90s, but I haven’t morphed into a ‘foreigner’. I’ve never taken French nationality, and I’ve always tried to retain ties with family and with friends from my formative years in Britain. Nevertheless, I’m also a convinced Europhile: European treaties allowed me to arrive in Reunion, back in the mists of time even before Erasmus existed. And these same treaties have allowed me to live, work (and, unfortunately, pay taxes) on the island. I was even on the list of a mayoral candidate for the municipal elections in 2008. In short, I feel as much European as I do British, and it seemed to me that embracing British, Reunionese, French and European identities has never been incompatible. On the contrary, it has been instrumental in helping me accomplish much on both personal and professional levels.

However, following the outcome of the referendum that apple cart has been thoroughly upset; even if Brexit never goes through, a lot of irrevocable damage has already been done. The referendum result is a political reality that we have to deal with one way or another, and despite a probable ten-year timetable (and £5 billion bill), changes will have to happen. I have to assume that the advantages I have enjoyed as an EU citizen living in another country will end within the next decade. To further complicate the issue, although I grew up in London I am of Scottish heritage, and two-thirds of Scotland voted to Remain. The spectre of a new Scottish Independence referendum, like the one that took place in 2014, hangs over Britain like a sword of Damocles.

A few months after the result, my initial shock over Brexit has subsided, of course. Now, it’s purely a case of wait and see.

Vocabulary

to be blindsided – être pris de court
eve – veille
to sympathise – compâtir
bereft – endeuillé
disenfranchised – privé du droit de vote

to morph into – se métamorphoser
to retain – garder
mists of time – nuit des temps
instrumental – fondamental
outcome – issue

to upset the apple cart – bousculer quelque chose
thoroughly – profondément
to go through – se passer
to deal with – affronter
timetable – calendrier

bill – facture
to assume – admettre
decade – décennie
to be of Scottish heritage – avoir des origines écossaises
to subside – s’estomper

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My Cup of Tea

My name’s Catharine and I have a confession to make. I’m a cliché. A walking cliché in fact. I’m British and I only drink tea.

When you live in Reunion what do you have to do to get a decent cuppa? Well, it turns out quite a lot actually. Something that you take for granted when you grow up in Britain can become quite difficult once you live abroad.

Now I don’t want to make a storm in a teacup, but having spent twenty of the past twenty-five years living in Reunion there are many things that I love about my adopted home, including some great food and drink, but making tea is not a strong point on the island.

There’s the time I ordered tea with milk in a Saint-Denis café and was served a frothy concoction in a teapot, with more milk than tea. In a fancy west coast hotel I once ordered plain tea and was brought lemon tea. I was given the explanation that plain tea wasn’t served other than at breakfast time because it wasn’t, and I quote, classy enough.

Another time in the south of the island after a Scottish-themed evening I requested my favourite drink at the end of the meal, only to be told “do you think this is breakfast here or what?”. And I’ve given up ordering thé gourmand in restaurants as I’m invariably served half a thimbleful of black, lukewarm flavoured tea.

New friends who invite me to their house must find me rather rude as when they offer me a cuppa they’re often subjected to questioning about whether they have a kettle, fresh milk, and most importantly, proper tea.

Recently when my elderly mother came to visit we got into the habit of going on our outings with a thermos and some teabags to ensure that she got a decent cup whenever and wherever. I’m pretty sure we got some funny looks as we sipped our refreshment by the side of the road in Plaine des Gregues or Salazie.

When I travel I take the opportunity to visit tea plantations in various far-flung corners of the globe, and enjoy bringing some tea back to savour on my return. However there can be problems elsewhere too, like the hot drink vending machines that use the same equipment to make tea and coffee, thus leaving you with a revolting beverage that doesn’t know which drink it is!

But for all the tea in China I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else than Reunion, and in recent years I’ve seen some improvement. We do say in Britain that “where there’s tea there’s hope” – so here’s to a brilliant future for tea-making in Reunion!

Vocabulary

cuppa – ‘cup of’ tasse de
actually – en réalité
to take for granted – prendre pour acquis
abroad – à l’étranger
a storm in a teacup – tempête dans un verre d’eau

to order – commander
frothy – mousseux
teapot – théière
thimble – dé à coudre
lukewarm – tiède

rude – impoli
subjected to – assujetti
whether – si (oui ou non)
kettle – bouilloire
elderly – agé

outings – sorties
teabags – sachets de thé
to sip – siroter
improvement – amélioration
hope – espoir

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The Invisible Woman

I’m a professional French to English translator, and as such I’m invisible. “How come?” I hear you cry. Well, the best translations are invisible. That means you don’t notice that what you’re reading has been translated, and I’m sure you don’t think about the person who’s translated it.

So what is life as a translator on Reunion Island like? Personally I work mainly with local clients in Reunion, but also with some translation agencies in Europe. As a freelancer I’m glad to say no two days are alike! During the course of my working day as well as translating I also have to find time to answer e-mails and phone calls, draft price quotes, invoice clients, chase up any late payers … and make myself copious cups of tea of course.

When you translate you have to be an investigator and an explorer. You’re constantly solving a complex puzzle: you can’t just take words from one language and turn them into words in another language; you have to rearrange, and rephrase, and think very hard about the word choice in order to produce seamless writing in the target language.

If I’m home for lunch I follow the news in French on TV and/or in English via the internet. As somebody who translates into English but who lives in the French- and Creole-speaking environment of Reunion it’s important for me not to lose my native language!

In addition it’s essential to keep up to date with Continuing Professional Development, or CPD as it’s known, and although Reunion is far away from where most translation industry conferences and presentations take place, I manage to stay abreast using online webinars.

When I go out I admit I sometimes have trouble switching off, as at the cinema I tend to compare subtitles with the dialogue, and at a restaurant if the menu has been translated into English I invariably end up finding a humorous mistake: souris d’agneau translated as ‘lamb with mouse’ for example, or the fish cabot de fond translated as ‘dog’s bottom’! At the weekend in ‘Meeting’, sorry Reunion Island, I could go and stay in Saint Pierre at the ‘Beating of the blades’ hotel…

If I want to visit one of the ‘circuses’, as I’ve seen Reunion’s caldera called many a time, I could go to Cilaos and see its famous embroidery ‘days’, or hike in Hellbourg on a path whose sign proudly proclaims that it’s been ‘done’ (as opposed to amenagé).

All in all I think there’s plenty of days work left for us ‘invisible’ translators to do… and I’m not talking about embroidery.

Vocabulary

translator – traducteur
“How come?” – comment ça se fait?
to draft – rédiger
price quotes – devis
to chase up – relancer

late payers – client retardataire
to solve – résoudre
to turn into – transformer
to rearrange – reorganiser
to rephrase – reformuler

seamless – harmonieux
up to date – à jour
to stay abreast – se tenir au courant
webinars – webinaires
to admit – avouer

to switch off – décrocher
bottom – fesses
blades – lames
caldera – cirque
embroidery – broderie

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