Manapany

I went to the Manapany Festival last weekend, and couldn’t help but notice that the switch from surf festival to rock climbing festival has had an impact on the number of festival goers. It may be that there are other reasons, of course, but that’s the biggest change I can think of.

I remember going to the festival for the first time back in 2008 with some friends. I’d never been or heard much about the Manapany festival, so I didn’t know what to expect. I’d been to a surf/music festival before, the Sudoeste festival in Zambujeira in Portugal, which is a well-known five-day festival. This was in 2007, and I saw the likes of Manu Chao, Damian Marley and Gilberto Gil in concert, as well some great surf. So to be honest, I didn’t think Manapany would quite cut it in comparison.

I was wrong. I loved every minute of it (apart from the bit where my friend’s wallet got stolen). And what I loved about it was the fact that even though this was a small festival, the atmosphere was incredible, the music was good, and I felt the surf was even more impressive than at the Sudoeste festival because I honestly felt that every wave those surfers caught could lead them to their deathbed (it looked so dangerous!). It also taught me a valuable life lesson: when it comes to this kind of event, it’s actually more special when a festival is still in its younger years. Apart from the fact that you don’t spend the majority of your time fighting your way through a crowd, although the toilet queues are still as annoying, it’s nice to see bands and sportsmen and women who are still at the potential stage. And by the potential stage I mean that stage in our personal or professional lives, or in relationships, where everything is still possible. It’s the stage where we haven’t quite got to where we think we want to go, so all our energy goes into making things happen, because we still believe anything is possible. I’m not saying that the ‘I’m finally there’ stage isn’t great, it is, because that’s where we tend to stay in out comfort zones and reap the benefits of our work. But not leaving our comfort zones also means we try less, and get lazy. So I really loved that ‘potential-stage energy’ at the Manapany festival in 2008.

My best Manapany festival moment was in 2010, just after I got married, when the band I played in with my husband (the world-famous ‘Afro-Machin’) played on the Saturday night. We weren’t on the main stage as we were still at the potential stage, but it was HUGE. H.U.G.E. The place was filled with well over a thousand people who danced away throughout the whole concert. It was the best concert I’ve played till this day, and I’ll never forget feeling like a superstar for about a month afterwards. The icing on the cake was the picture of my sister, who’d played with us as well, and I, on a local newspaper the next day. That small victory for our band was what I’d call ‘the sweet-spot of the potential stage’. It’s that first taste of success which confirms the fact that everything really is possible.

So going back to the Manapany this year was an interesting experience for me. I had a good time, didn’t actually watch the rock-climbing but enjoyed watching the bands and being at that beautiful place. But I was sad to see that a lot less people went. I don’t know whether I was sad because of the actual low turnout or whether it was because I’d known the festival in its glory days and realised that it was now going downwards rather than upwards in terms of its success. I couldn’t help but remember our concert back in 2010, and was reminded that even our band doesn’t play anymore.

Rather than being sad about it, I’ve decided to turn this into another valuable life lesson. Life is impermanence. Things change. But we never go back to square one. The Manapany Festival is going through some changes, and is now back to a new potential stage. And I’m sure that potential-stage energy will blossom into a new and even more wonderful festival one day. And who knows, the Afro-Machin might even be back to play there!

Vocabulary

The likes of – des gens comme (en contexte : des artistes comme)

It doesn’t cut it – ça ne suffit pas/ça n’est pas assez bien (en contexte: le festival ne serait pas assez bien)

Deathbed – lit de mort

To fight your way through something – se battre pour arriver où on veut (en context: faire la queue des toilettes pendant longtemps)

Reap the benefits – récolter les fruits

Icing on the cake – la cerise sur le gâteau

Turnout – participation (en context: le nombre de personnes qui sont venues au festival)

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My First Mountain Race

I remember the very first time I went hiking. I was a 20 year old London girl living the island experience. Reunion was a real eye opener and falling in love with the island took no time: I learned to like beer while watching the sunset with friends who have since been part of my life, I discovered the sounds of Maloya which I love so much, I started appreciating a more laid-back attitude to life and even went on my first strike (which I actually enjoyed at that point). Everything was truly perfect.

And then I went on my first hike, to Mafate. Now, don’t get me wrong, it was a great experience.  But it was also a very confusing one for me. I was young and fit, and expected to march down to Mafate without any trouble, with spare time to have a chicken samosa and Dodo beer break every now and then. The first 15 minutes were ok, and then I just didn’t understand what was happening. I was out of breath, and felt like a one-year old taking her first steps on unknown territory. I actually remember watching my American friend, Bridget, who’d obviously been on hikes before, skip downhill and manoeuvre her New Balance trainers from rock to rock like it was child’s play.

As for me, I could completely understand why they laughed at Christopher Columbus for suggesting the world was round – it’s just so much easier when we’re on a flat surface! But I soldiered on, made it to Mafate, pretended it had been easy so my new boyfriend wouldn’t laugh at me, and drank as much Dodo as I could to forget the fact that I had to go uphill the next day.

So when last week I took part in my very first mountain race, the Cilaos Women Trail, which was 22km long, I couldn’t help but grin at the thought of that very first hike. My friend Cobie, who had had a similarly disastrous first hike and who was also doing the race, and I were both very touched at the thought of how far we had come.

The trail itself was amazing. There was such a good atmosphere, and hearing all these people cheer you on really does keep you going when it gets tough. I twisted my ankle somewhere in between the first and second checkpoints, but still managed to make it to the end, in 3h39. I felt so proud of myself!

I remember, only two years ago, thinking that all these people signing up to the Grand Raid and similar races were mad. I just couldn’t understand why they would put themselves through the physical and psychological strain.

But now I do understand: Reunion does that to you. This little island has the strange capacity to draw you into the most unlikely situations that bring the best out of you. Situations where you see yourself transitioning into someone you never thought you could be. Some say it has something to do with it being a volcanic island, I don’t know. All I know is that I’m glad to have experienced that transition from almost dying of a heart attack on my first hike, to doing the Cilaos Women Trail, and who knows what will come next…

Vocabulary

a real eye opener – un véritable révélation
laid-back attitude – attitude décontractée
actually – en fait
don’t get me wrong – Ne vous méprenez pas
fit – en bonne santé

skip – sauter
soldiered on – persévéré
grin – sourire
tough – difficile
checkpoint – point de contrôle

signing up – enregistrer
strain – tension
glad – heureux

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The Strikes and I

Before I came to live in Reunion I’d heard of the French reputation for going on strike whenever possible, or necessary, whichever way we see it. But I hadn’t realised how true this was, and how often I’d have to be involved with, or a victim of these strikes.

It all started back in 2006 when I was first an English assistant. Teachers were going on strike nationwide, I can’t remember why exactly, and my boyfriend, who is a music teacher was going to get together with a group of fellow ‘Education Nationale’ musicians and play outside of thetown hall. Now, I honestly cannot remember why that strike came about, but I can tell you that it was a very exciting introduction to the world of French strikes. At one point, chanting along to words I couldn’t really understand (my French wasn’t that great) and to the sound of banging snare drums, I decided that the French were great, and whichever Frenchman had decided to invent strikes must have been a great man. I’d call this the ‘Naïve’ stage. 

And that’s as far as my love of strikes has gone so far. The next stage of my evolving relationship with strikes was being baffled by a generally dissatisfied group of people taking their anger out on another generally clueless group of people. I’d call this the ‘Confusing’ stage. Confusing to me firstly because I found it hard to understand what the strikes were really about, and secondly because I always got the impression that at least half of those striking actually didn’t understand why they were striking in the first place. For fun, maybe? At that point, I started questioning the greatness of the Frenchman who’d invented the concept of a strike. 

The following stage, which I’d call the ‘What’s the point?’ stage, came about when I started to seriously question whether all these strikes were effective. There wasn’t really a direct impact on my everyday life, not any that was tangible enough to call for a strong enough reaction on my part. And that was the problem. I found myself wondering whether all these strikes were getting any results. Surely they must have been, for many.

The last drop came when, this week, I had to queue for two hours to get some petrol, in the scorching heat, to the sound of a local radio station where I could get constant updates on the situation. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do like this radio station. But 15 minutes at a time and with air conditioning or a good fan. I think I’ll call this the ‘I’ve had it with strikes that I know nothing about’ stage.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve aged. Maybe I’m just selfish. There certainly are situations which call for action. I’m just not sure striking is the way forward.

Vocabulary

to go on strike – faire la grève
whichever – quel que soit qui
involved – impliqué
town hall – mairie
baffled – déconcerté

dissatisfied – mécontent
clueless – désemparés
everyday life – la vie quotidienne
scorching heat – chaleur torride
updates – mises à jour

air conditioning – climatisation
selfish – égoïste

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Grand Raid 774

The Grand Raid is always a special event when you live in Reunion, even if you’re not directly involved in it. You always know someone who is running, or at least someone who knows someone who’s either running or helping out. 

My husband often played with a music band at the start of the race, and we’d always cheer on a couple of friends, even if only online. We actually got married a few days before the 2010 Grand Raid, and there was definitely something special about that. I think we managed to save quite a bit on alcohol as a few of our guests couldn’t drink before the race. 

This year was extra-special though. My husband’s family came over from mainland France on holiday, and brought four friends along with them, one of whom came to do the Grand Raid! When we first heard about it we were a bit worried about whether that was a good idea. From what we’d understood – wrongly perhaps – he had trained mainly on the ‘Mont des Alouettes’, a 230m high hill in a town called Les Herbiers, in the French department of La Vendée. We knew that in order to sign up for the Grand Raid you need to have done some races in order to qualify, so we didn’t think he would be unprepared. But still, 172km with over 5600m of elevation gain, in under 64H! There’s a reason they call it the Diagonale des Fous, right?

When they got to Reunion, only a few days before the start of the race, there was a very special atmosphere at home. We found Guy very relaxed, and yet focused on the race. My husband and I found out that Guy was doing the race in tribute to special someone who had passed away some years ago. So there was this really special and loving support for him, and I think it was great for him to have his wife around, as well as four close friends. We slowly went into Grand-Raid mode, checking out the race routes about 10 times a day, working out when he might get to certain checkpoints so we could figure out where to see him, and so on. I actually couldn’t go anywhere to see him myself, so had the web-page used to keep track of the runners on our iPads ready to be refreshed every few hours. 

It all became very real when he went to pick up his number bib on the Wednesday. Number 774. Just a nine off 974! So off he went on the Thursday, and I have to admit that as much as we wanted him to succeed, there was a little bit of doubt deep inside, and a little bit of worry about whether he really knew what he was getting himself into, especially as we kept hearing about the number of people who had to abandon because of the weather at the beginning. We hoped he could get to Cilaos at least. And he did. Then we thought we’d be really proud if only he could get to Maïdo. And he did. I reckon it was at that point that we started really thinking he might make it to the end. And he did! We were so proud of him! And what made it even more special, although slightly strange, was that he came 774th, bib number 774! 

It was a truly magical experience for him and for all of us supporting him, and I’m pretty sure that special person he paid tribute to has something to do with that 774…

Vocabulary

Involved – impliqué
To help out – donner un coup de main
Husband – mari
To cheer on – encourager
Quite a bit – un peu

Mainland France – métropol
To sign up – inscrire
To find out – découvrir
Tribute – hommage
To pass away – décéder

Support – soutien
To check out – vérifier
To work out – calculer
Checkpoint – point de contrôle
To figure out – comprendre

So on – etc.
Keep track – suivre
Bib – dossard
Get into – aborder
To reckon – croire

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Signing in Creole

I was recently introduced into the wonderful world of Sign Language. But not just any sign language, Reunionese Creole sign language! Well, 40% of it anyway.

I originally signed up for the sign language course because I thought it might be interesting, as a language teacher, to see how a completely different language is taught. I was keen to pick up on some new teaching techniques and thought it might also be fun to be able to have a basic conversation in sign language.

What I hadn’t realized was that learning to sign could go way beyond just learning a new language. From the very first lesson, our teacher Emmanuelle, who is deaf, made us understand that going into a sign language classroom meant going into a world of silence. A world where speaking instead of signing is inappropriate because it would cast her aside. So off with the chatting and the side jokes, and into a world where in order to communicate we must look into each other’s eyes and be mindful of all our gestures.

I was amazed to learn that sign language isn’t one universal language, although there is an international sign language called International Sign, which is mainly used at international meetings. There are in fact over three hundred different sign languages around the world, as well as regional dialects! The sign language I’m learning is actually 60% LSF – Langue des Signes Française, or French Sign Language, and 40% Reunionese Creole. I feel silly now to have thought there could be only one sign language, especially as I studied sociolinguistics and did research into language varieties.

I’ve also learned to what extent language and culture and intrinsically linked. I speak Portuguese, English and French, and have always known that understanding a culture is an important part of learning a foreign language. But learning sign language takes this to a whole different level. I think this is because we get so used to our native languages or to our second languages that we forget to question the origins of the words and expressions we use, and we fail to notice the link between these words and expressions and our cultures. Learning to sign makes us ask those questions and notice those links because that knowledge comes in really handy when trying to remember the signs.  For example, the sign for ‘Ste Rose’ is lava flowing around a building.

Doing this sign language course has therefore been more than just a way to pick up new teaching techniques. It’s really been an eye-opener, and a very humbling introduction into the silent world of Reunionese culture!

Vocabulary

To be keen – être désireux
To pick up on – apprendre
Beyond – au-delà
Deaf – sourds
To cast someone aside – mettre qqn de côté

Off with – arrêter
Side jokes – plaisanterie
To be mindful – être attentif
To feel silly – sentir idiot
Linked – lié

To fail – échouer
To notice – remarquer
To flow – s’écouler
Therefore – donc
An eye-opener – une revelation

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