American

Heat in the Kitchen

I thought that there wouldn’t be too many people at the grocery store on a Thursday morning, at the end of the month. Boy, was I wrong. Fortunately, I got to talking with a nice lady in the line and it helped pass the time.

She noticed a box of couscous in my cart and wanted to know all about how I prepared it, telling me about the one and only time she attempted to make it and miserably failed. After explaining how to cook it, she asked, “What do you eat it with?” and I replied “All sorts of saucy dishes, even rougail saucisses! When she heard that, you would’ve thought, by the look on her face, that she had swallowed a fly, no wait, maybe more like a hedgehog.  I was ready to catch her had she fainted, but she managed to squeak out “You eat rougail saucisse with couscous?” I sheepishly said yes, and even that it was a delicious option to change things up a bit. She nodded and smiled but I could tell she thought I was crazy.

I feel like this example of utter bafflement pretty much sums up my relationship with Creole cuisine. I love to cook, take pride in constantly trying new things and pushing my culinary limits. I love the food here, so naturally I have tried to recreate it at home. Even though I am well aware that I do not have one Creole bone in my body, the numerous cookbooks I have invested in don’t make it easy either.

One of the books has the recipe, a picture with all the ingredients, and step-by-step pictures of how to make it. But what do you do when the recipe says 3 eggs and there are only 2 in the picture? Or what about when a recipe calls for shallot but then talks about an onion instead? I mean, I’m used to, and now enjoy improvising after years trying to find certain American ingredients for some of my beloved recipes. But when you’re using a local cookbook, written by a local person, using local ingredients, why can’t the final outcome taste like the melt-in-your-mouth vanilla duck at the hole-in-the-wall down the street?

Maybe that’s just it. I have often been disappointed with the Creole food I make, but rarely when I buy it from a shack or eat at a restaurant. After only a year of living here, is it already time to throw in the towel, retire my mortar and pestle and get out of the kitchen? I think I’ll invite my supermarket friend to come over for lunch; she’ll make the rougail saucisses and I’ll make the couscous.

Vocabulary

grocery store = supermarché
line = fil d’attente
cart = caddie
to swallow = avaler
fly = mouche

hedgehog = hérisson
to faint = s’évanouir
sheepishly = timidement
to nod = hocher la tête
utter = total 

bafflement = confusion
recipe = recette
beloved = cher
outcome = résultat
hole-in-the-wall = boui-boui 

disappointed = déçu
rarely = rarement
to throw in the towel = jeter l’éponge
mortar = mortier
pestle = pilon

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All Islands Are NOT Created Equally

My first visit to Reunion was a vacation my husband and I took quite a few years before deciding to move here. After the two-week visit, my husband and I definitely felt like it was a place we would want to settle down. And before the move, we were also able to spend some time in Guam and Hawaii.

For those of you who haven’t heard of Guam, it is a quaint island south of Japan in the North Pacific that few French know about. To be fair, it is much smaller than Reunion with a population of about 160,000 people. Guam has some beautiful beaches and aquatic flora and fauna, as well as friendly locals. It is a popular vacation hotspot for the Japanese who flock there for shotgun weddings and luxury shopping and also has a large American military presence. However, Hawaii still remains a top island vacation spot for Americans, much like Reunion is to the French.

It is safe to say that Hawaii is very similar to Reunion. Administratively speaking, it is one of the 50 states; it is extremely culturally rich and has very similar topographical features to Reunion. Hawaii is great for snorkeling, beautiful beaches, tide pool exploring, hiking, and getting a bird’s eye view of it all in a helicopter. Hawaiians are very warm, welcoming and proud of their heritage. This is all part of the “Aloha” spirit along with the “shaka” hand sign which can mean anything from “hello” to “life is good”.

By the end of all of these trips, we were, of course, experts on island living. However, nothing could’ve really prepared me for life here. I have had more “there’s a first time for everything” moments than ever in my 30+ years of existence.

I will never forget one of the first times I walked my kids to school, there was a chicken foot on the sidewalk and an enormous centipede about 10 feet farther. When we bit in to the candy canes we had used to decorate our Christmas tree, they had turned into chewing gum because of the heat. I have never been at a check out stand where the person in front of me was buying chicken livers, the fry of fish, and wasp larvae all at once. I have never been able to run up in the mountains and go to the beach in the same day. Something quirky happens every day and there is so much more to experience. As they say variety is the spice of life, and here it just happens to be very spicy.

Vocabulary

to settle down = s’installer
quaint = pittoresque
fair = juste
hotspot = endroit populaire
to flock = affluer

shotgun = de façon rapide
features = caractéristiques
snorkelling = palmes, masque, tuba
tide pool = flaque de marée
Aloha: “Bonjour” en Hawaiien

could’ve = aurait pu
centipede = scolopendre
farther = plus loin
to bite = mordre
candy canes = sucre d’orges

heat = chaleur
check out stand = la caisse
wasp = guêpe
quirky =  original
variety is the spice of life = La diversité, c’est ce qui met du piment dans la vie 

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Celebrate Good Times

We celebrated every holiday in my family in true American “go big or go home” fashion. Despite our family being of Greek, Welsh and German heritage, everything was dyed green for St. Patrick’s Day, right down to the butter. My son even had a t-shirt one year that said “I’m not Irish but kiss me anyway.” We had heart-shaped pancakes for Valentine’s Day, dozens of dyed eggs at Easter, and red, white and blue fruit kebabs for the 4th of July. Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Halloween were the highlights of the year and brightened up the otherwise overcast and very rainy fall season of the northwestern United States. Any holiday was a good reason to have a fun, themed meal and to decorate every nook and cranny of the house.

Now that I have my own family, I have tried to perpetuate these festive traditions. It wasn’t always easy in mainland France to find decorations for every holiday, much less the festive spirit, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that it is alive and well in Reunion.

There are party supplies here! And we’re not just talking about candles and a few packs of birthday napkins, but real color coordinated, aisles and aisles of napkins, paper plates, and other decor. Even weddings are color coordinated and boy, do they dress up! In the states we have fireworks for the 4th of July, but here they seem to go off all the time! They really do seem to take parties and celebrations here to the next level; even I don’t feel up to snuff.

I don’t remember the last time I looked at a calendar to see what day of the week it was. When I open the window and hear music blasting, you can bet it’s Friday…sometimes even Thursday. Tents start popping up, lots are being taped off at parks and beaches, and the smell of barbecue chicken fills the air. I thought Americans were the kings of barbecue and too much food, but then I moved here. My puny little picnic consisting of a baguette sandwich and chips is nothing compared to the enormous pots and rice cookers being unloaded from the trunks of cars.

Reunion is a melting pot of cultures, races, religions and customs. The United States is for this mixture as well, and there is always something to celebrate because of it. But more importantly, everyone is welcome to join in. Regardless of your nationality or religious convictions, there’s always enough food, one more noisemaker and another chair someone pulls up when you arrive.

Vocabulary

to go big or go home = faire quelque chose à fond ou pas du tout
Welsh = gallois
heritage = origine
dyed = teint
heart-shaped: forme de cœur

kebabs = brochettes
highlights = temps forts
brightened = ensoleillé
overcast = couvert (météo)
nook and cranny = recoin

pleasantly = agréablement
supplies = fournitures
coordinated = assorti
aisles = rayons
to not feel up to snuff: se sentir inadéquate

blasting = à fond
popping up = poussent comme des champignons
lots = terrains
puny = petit, chétif
unloaded = déchargé

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Three Questions to an American

After ten years in Reunion, I realized that I could mentally prepare myself, for a certain series of questions, whenever I would meet a person from Reunion. It’s sort of like preparing for that job interview question, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” After two or three tries, I had the answers down pat in French. Here are my top three questions people from Reunion ask a native New Yorker.

1) Is living in Reunion too much of a shock for an American, especially coming from New York City?

Not as much as you’d think. People imagine New York City, all flashing lights and blaring police sirens. Well, ok, it is all that. But New York City is also, little nooks and crannies, of pocket neighborhoods; with the local supermarket, butcher’s, bakery, bar, and post office. So, I’m not shocked by life in a small town, on a beautiful, tropical island. And that is what living abroad is about anyway, experiencing a new way of living.

2) Is Creole too difficult for you to understand?

A lot of Creoles don’t understand that their language is actually more like English than French. Don’t believe me, ask my husband’s grandmother, who was a school teacher for many, many years in Saint Denis! So Creole is easier for me sometimes than French. No trying to remember masculine and feminine nouns or their articles. “Mi aime a ou?” I love you too!

So no, Creole isn’t that difficult to understand.  What’s difficult, is trying to keep the Creole out of my French. I have no filter for this. I actually once, answered “bah” to a French school teacher. Yikes!

3) Is Creole food too spicy for you?

My answer to this question, often disappoints people. In New York City, we’ve got every type of ethnic food you can think of. There is even The Reunion Surf Bar. My favorite types of food, Mexican and Indian. So, scorching chillies, exotic spices, and beans, all on top of a steaming bed of rice, is not too bold. Thanks to China Town; I’d already tasted chayote, bitter melon, and ridge gourd, before coming to Reunion. Even litchis and longan fruit can be found, in the Korean market five minutes from my parents’.

That being said, I have grown to love the typical dishes here. My father-in-law says that I eat more chillies than he does. I am no longer surprised to see rice, being ingested, twice a day. At first, I served myself carrys on a bed of lettuce. I now consider that to be sacrilege and load up my plate with rice too, just like a local.

Vocabulary

strengths and weaknesses – pointes fortes et faibles
blaring – hurlante
nooks and crannies – coins et recoins
pocket neighborhoods – petit quartiers
butcher’s – boucherie

bakery – pâtisserie
easier – plus facile
out of – en dehors
yikes ! – mince alors !
scorching chillies – piments si forts qu’ils brulent

beans – haricots
bed of rice – un lit de riz
China Town – quartier chinois
chayote – chouchou
bitter melon – margoze

ridge gourd – pipangaille
longan – longani
typical dishes – plats typiques
ingested – ingéré
to load up – charger

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American Bouchon

Most people’s opinion about American food, outside of the United States, tends to be not so positive. The trend seems to be, the idea that, American food is pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers and fries; gross, greasy, and disgusting. And these are our favorites to some degree. I could argue, but that’s not my point right now.

So if our grub is so bad, then what’s up with all these food options here in Reunion that are, quote, end quote, American? What’s more, there’s not much that is really very American, about them. Take the case of the snack bars in Reunion. My first time ordering off the menu and I was really shocked.

“Pain américain! What the hey is this?” I asked my lunch companion. “Oh, well, fries, on a sandwich, with melted cheese,” he answered. Did I forget something? I tried frantically to look back at my life in the States. Was there some big, food trend that I had completely not participated in? Let’s see; steak fries, curly fries, sweet potato fries, Cajun spicy fries… and the list goes on.  But always served as a side. I do vaguely remember eating fries, with gravy and melted cheese, late at night, in high school.  That’s about as close to the cheese and fry association that I could get.

In bread, on top of meat, with melted cheese. That was a new one. So, I asked my friend, “If you guys don’t think highly of American food, why name dishes after it?” He really couldn’t answer that one. This first time, I shied away from the sandwich, even if it was so proudly named after my homeland. But then I saw, smelled and was tempted to taste, his sandwich of hamburger and its so-called American bread. And although it goes against all health advice and is probably illegal in certain states in the U.S., that thing was good!

Next, my friend washed down his sandwich with a “Limonade Americain!” Ok, cool I thought. I love a good lemonade. Gets me thinking to summer, picnics and grandma’s house. And pink lemonade, that’s the best! After having grubbed some bites of his tasty, so-called American sandwich, I was more than willing to wash it down with some lemonade.  Not a good experience, if I may say so. Sorry to offend the good people of Reunion (my husband and daughter love Limonade Americain) but to my taste buds, there is nothing lemonade about that drink. There is good reason for that, as I learned some time later. Good old lemonade is citronade and Limonade is like regular lemonade with some weird twist.

Vocabulary

trend – tendance
grub – bouffe
what’s up? – quoi de neuf ?
quote, end quote – je cite
order – commander

what the hey ? – c’est quoi ce truc ?
fries – pommes frites
let’s see – voyons
spicy – épicé
gravy – sauce viande

melted – fondu
side – garniture
dishes – plats
to shy away – éviter
homeland – patrie

to wash down – boire
to grub – bouffer
twist – nuance

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Let’s Dance!

In New York, we have a saying that « white girls can’t dance! » There is nothing racist about this statement. It’s just a given fact. Of course there are some exceptions to the rule, but I am not one of them.  This cliché was pretty much invented for me.

Thank the heavens, for techno, house, electro and their easy beats. Even I can bounce my way across the dance floor.  For a while, I thought “I got this!”

Fast forward to my first trip to Reunion Island, to meet my husband’s family. We’d gone out dancing before, in Mainland France, and that had worked out fine. The atmosphere and music was similar enough to New York’s, to make me feel at home. However, our first family event in Reunion, equipped with a DJ, made me very humble. I stood there with my mouth gaping, watching women and men twirl and shake their bottoms, effortlessly. There were specific dance steps involved, not just bouncing to a beat. Complicated, tie your feet up in knots moves, that I was convinced were taught since birth.

I will admit, that I tried studying the way Creole women were swaying their backsides, wanting to understand how to get that Maloya boogie into my step. My only saving grace is that mostly, Maloya, is a dance you do independently or with a group of friends. I couldn’t make anyone fall or stumble with my mishaps. I look even more like a pro, when I get invited to parties, where the dress code is the traditional Maloya dress. A little skirt waving and the local look is pretty much guaranteed, for the most part. I still have a way to go, until I get those booty shakes down right. It’s just not part of my genetic make-up. But I’m getting there. The right partner can help too. Wink Wink.

But nothing could prepare me for Sega dancing, for couples. This requires a tempo that was beyond me, for nearly ten years. I just couldn’t get the footwork or the hip synchronization down. In fact, I was quite certain that I was going to break an ankle trying. It made me remember watching my parents, doing their nifty, 50’s dancing, at weddings, when I was younger.

Luckily, once I gave up trying, like lots of things in life, I finally succeeded or sort of. I found that by closing my eyes, looking only at my 1.90M, husband’s chest, I could give up following the steps and just be led around the dance-floor. Sega is a dizzying but wonderful dance to me now and I no longer beeline it out of there when I hear it.

Vocabulary

to bounce – rebondir
fast forward – avancer
gaping – bouche ouverte
twirl – tourner
shake – secouer

bottoms, backsides, booty – popotin
tie up in knots – faire des nœuds
swaying – balancer
boogie – danse
mostly, pretty much – la plupart

stumble – trébucher
mishaps – mésaventures
way to go – de la route à faire
to get something down – perfectionner
genetic make-up – constitution génétique

wink – clin d’œil
nifty – coquette
sort of – presque
to give up – abandonner
to be led – être mené
beeline – ligne droit

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Nicknames in Cilaos

I’ve always lived in small towns, and some things don’t change regardless of culture, like the tendency to gossip that seems to be so much more prevalent in small towns. There is a psychologist who suggests that gossip is actually one of the reasons human language developed. If that is the case, thank small towns for preserving language in its purest form. I’m not a huge fan of gossip in general, I like to meet a person before knowing all about them.

However, I enjoy listening to my Cilaos family gossip for one reason, and one reason only: the nicknames. I don’t know if this is something that happens all over Reunion or just in Cilaos, but people have the craziest nicknames for each other. When the whole extended family gets together someone will be prattling on in loud high speed creole about the brother of the cousin of the wife of someone called “Small Bread”, and I am mostly zoning out until I realize, wait, there is a person called “Small Bread”? Why “Bread”? And this isn’t the only food related nickname. There are many more, and they all seem to be bakery related. And no one can explain where these type of nicknames come from.

There are also nicknames based on physical characteristics. There is of course lil’, before the actual name. This exists in the US as well; we’ve got ‘Lil Wayne, and ‘Lil Kim and even ‘Lil Bow Wow (although I don’t think his name is actually Bow Wow). But the American “lil” is mostly used for rappers as a stage name. In Cilaos, it means the person is actually small. I’ve also heard of such characters as “Thin iron,” “Long distance” and “Mr. Quirky.” Some nicknames are so specific to someone’s physical appearance that you can figure out whose nickname it is just from walking around town. I’ve asked what the real names of these people are, and in many cases, no one knows.

To my knowledge, I haven’t got a Cilaosian nickname yet. For the moment, I am mostly referred to as “the American that married the little brother of a certain fireman.” But, if I’m going to get a food nickname, I will accept Pizza, because it is the best. If I am going to get a physical characteristic nickname, I will accept something along the lines of “Super Attractive Person”.

Vocabulary

regardless – malgré
tendency – tendance
to gossip – faire des commérage
prevalent – très répandu
nickname – surnom

to happen – se passer
extended family – la famille élargie
to prattle on – bavarder
to zone out – planer
to realise – se rendre compte

bakery – boulangerie
‘Lil – contraction du mot “little,” comme le créole “ti”
bow wow – woah woah
stage name – nom de scène
iron – fer

quirky – excentrique
to figure out – comprendre
town – ville
referred to – appelé
fireman – pompier

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A Tamponnaise in America Part 2

New York City. When I think of New York, the first thing that always pops in my head is a song from the musical Annie, called « NYC. » My favorite part goes « NYC, just got here this morning! 3 bucks! 2 bags! 1 me! » To me, New York will always be the city of Broadway…because that was the big dream back when I was a kid in acting class…to see a real Broadway show! My dream came true when I was 16, during my acting class trip to New York. We saw « The Phantom of the Opera, » a musical I had been obsessed with since I was old enough to talk. The story, coincidentally, was what made me fall in love with Paris, and probably what I can credit with my ending up in France…but that’s another story.

Anyway, so here we are! NYC. 3 Creoles, 2 bags each, and one taxi to the Upper West Side!

We landed on the 4th of July, which I probably don’t have to tell you, is America’s birthday. And what better way to say « Welcome to America! » to my parents in-law, than to show up on the 4th of July and see the most amazing fireworks display in the entire country? We have a saying in the US for times like these… »Go big or go home! » 

I used Airbnb to find us a great apartment in Manhattan next to Central Park. I swear by Airbnb, it is so much better than a hotel! Not only is it cheaper, you also get to discover what life is really like in the city you are visiting, and usually you have great hosts that will guide you around the neighborhood.

So after numerous trips to The Big Apple (which is the nickname of NYC I have no idea why though…) I have devised my favorite tourist program! Here it is…Jen’s Top Ten Must See Things in New York City!

1. GO TO A BROADWAY SHOW! Obviously this has to be first. I took my in-laws to see Aladdin, because I thought that they would already know the story and the music enough to enjoy it even if they wouldn’t be able to understand a word. Broadway shows…musicals especially…are like no other show on this Earth. You actually CANNOT go to New York without seeing SOMETHING on Broadway, it’s against the law.

2. Go to the Top of Rockefeller Center. It’s one of the highest points in New York and you’ll be in awe looking down on all the skyscrapers. You can tell where the really rich people live because they have rooftop gardens and pools. You can do the same thing from the Empire State Building, but I prefer Rockefeller Center, especially during Christmas time because the famous Christmas tree is there.

3. Times Square. You have to go once during the day and do all of the ridiculous shops; my Creole company loved the giant M&M store, the giant Disney store, and the Toy Store. Then you have to go to Times Square at night and be blown away by everything all lit up. Also I usually am against stupid bus tours in big cities, but my in-laws wanted to do one, so we caught a bus in Times Square for the sunset and actually it was one of the best bus tours I’ve ever been on! They took us all the way to Brooklyn so we saw a lot of the neighborhoods in Manhattan before crossing the bridge and seeing the entire city lit up and glittering at night. I totally recommend it!

4. Get some culture. My favorite museum is always the Met, but if that is not your style, New York has everything you could ask for. The Museum of Natural History was pretty impressive, it was right next to our apartment so we spent an afternoon there and it was my first time. I would definitely go back because you can’t see everything in only a few hours!!

5. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s just cool.

6. Go see Freedom Tower. This is the new World Trade Center, constructed next to the site where the old towers stood, and where the memorial now honors the lives lost during the attacks on September 11th. There is a special tree near the memorial site…it is the only tree to have survived the attacks, and now they call it the Survivor Tree. It is a beautiful symbol of resilience and rebirth.

7. While you’re down in the area, go see the Statue of Liberty, of course! I’ve only taken a Ferry out there once…and I have to say it kind of sucks. The lines are long, the ferries are crowded…it’s a long day. I can see it just fine from the pier.

8. Ok for the French people wondering where to eat!! Go to Katz’s Deli and get a pastrami sandwich. Nothing is more New York than a pastrami sandwich with a big pickle. Other New York must eat things include a giant slice of pepperoni pizza, cheesecake, a hot dog from a dude on the street, (with American mustard which is the BEST mustard!) and…my husband’s all time favorite…Shake Shack. We probably ate there every other day he loved it so much. Shake Shack is like a high class Quick. They only use the best beef possible and it is probably the best fast food burger you will ever taste. You have to get a milkshake there too…it’s in the name, after all!!

9. Central Park. Sit on a bench, or have a picnic, and people watch. You can also take a horse-drawn carriage around the park, which is a beautiful thing to do if you’re there around Christmas.

10. Go to Chinatown to buy your souvenirs!! You will pay at least half the price for the same things elsewhere!!!

My Tamponaise in-laws had a bit of culture shock. The first day, they were desperate to find a baguette. The second day, they wanted to know why ordering an expresso was so difficult and why it tasted so bad. By the third day, they got into the swing of things, although I think they concluded that New York is not really their thing. If you also don’t like the fast pace of big cities…don’t worry…the rest of the country is not at all the same. 

There is no place in the world quite like NYC.

Vocabulary

musical – comedie musicale
bucks – des dollars
coincidentally – par coincidence
skyscraper – gratte-ciel
rooftop – sur le toit

lit up – eclairé
glittering – scintillant
resilience – tenacité
rebirth – renaissance
pier – la jetée

pickle – cornichon
dude – mec

horse-drawn carriage – une calèche

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A Tamponnaise in America: Part 1

Recently I took my Creole husband and his parents on a guided tour around the US. We visited New York, (because it’s New York!) Texas, (where I went to University and lived before moving permanently to Reunion,) and Michigan, (where my parents live, and where I was born and raised.) I had been planning this trip since January…and our itinerary was pretty good, if I do say so myself!! So I’m going to share it with you, just in case you ever find yourself in any of these places and you need to know the best things to do!!!

But first let’s start with how NOT to fly to the United States.

As we were traveling in prime Reunion Island vacation period, I decided not to fly through Paris, since ticket prices were sky-high. Instead, I took us through Johannesburg, South Africa. It seemed too good to be true! One direct flight to Johannesburg, followed by one direct (15 hour…ugggg) flight to NYC. Clean, uncomplicated…and we saved about 800 euros each on the cost of a ticket!

So funny story…here’s what really happened. Air Austral canceled our flight to South Africa a few weeks before, and rescheduled us to go through Mauritius, which added another day to our travel time. We arrived way too early in South Africa and had to wait the entire day in the airport until our flight to NYC. Not the end of the world, we thought, and we took turns guarding all the luggage while the rest of the family browsed the boutiques. After what felt like forever, we finally could check in our bags and go to the boarding gate

That’s when the lady at the boarding gate informed us that my mother in law’s ESTA Visa (which is required by French citizens to purchase before going to the US) was not validated. We found this a little strange, since all three of the ESTA Visas the Frenchies needed were purchased at the same time, and the other two were fine. « Go find a wifi connection and repurchase her Visa, » they told us. Except strangely enough, we couldn’t find a wifi connection. And when we did, we would fill in the info for the Visa and the connection would cut out every time JUST before the transaction was validated. This happened about 4 times, and the minutes were ticking away. I was freaking out, but there was no way I was missing that plane. I would be back home in my country in just a few (15) hours, I was sure of it.

We ran (and I mean RAN) all over the airport, asking, begging, employees of shops and cafes, the boarding people, ANYONE to help us, to let us use their interntet, to do SOMETHING. They just shrugged and said things like « I’m sorry, can’t help you. You have to pay on your phone. » I have never felt so helpless in my life. Finally, the boarding woman told us: « you’ve been removed from the flight. You can go get your bags in baggage claim. » My heart broke. I really have never wanted to punch anyone in the face more than I did at that moment.

So we were stranded in South Africa and it was almost midnight. Someone at the information desk « had a friend » with a motel close to the airport and they arranged for us to go there. The motel was dirty and had these brown ugly carpets from the 1980’s that smelled like smoke and feet. There were no towels in the rooms or any heat, and it was probably about 9 degrees Celcius that night. We asked for a heater and he gave us this dangerous looking thing that sparked when we plugged it in, and shook so loudly that we couldn’t sleep with it on. I spent the coldest night of my life stuck like glue to Richard.

The next morning, we made some phone calls and found out that the Visa was indeed validated and that there should have been no reason why we were denied boarding. Armed with this knowledge, it was time for me to go to war. I called every single person that works for South African Airways, but no one wanted to help us get on the next flight. They kept telling me the flight was booked, or we would have to go to Germany for a connection, or even better…that we had to PAY to rebook our tickets!! So we decided to take a huge risk and continue the war face to face at the airport. It was almost the same story at the airport…we were being passed around from desk to desk, person to person, told to wait for some manager who comes in at noon, and so on. I don’t fight my customer service wars by yelling or causing a scene, I do it by smiling politely, thanking people, and killing them with kindness. Up until that moment, that tactic has worked my whole life. I did not understand South Africans.

FINALLY THANK GOD we found the right man. He was a manager of something important and he actually had a heart. After catching up on our story, he looked at me and said « I’m sorry for what happened to you, » and I almost burst into tears. (Oh funny side note, I was also almost seven months pregnant during this time.) He got us on the « completely booked » flight that night, and handed us tickets. We had won!! 

The 15 hour flight was awfully long, and we arrived in NYC early the next day with what I’m sure were high fevers thanks to our freezing night in South Africa. Actually we were extremely sick the entire week…but who cares?? We were finally in New York, baby!!

And I guess since this story got a little long…I’ll have to make another podcast to tell you the rest!

So! To be continued….

Vocabulary

prime – principal
sky-high – au sommet
rescheduled – replanifié
browse – jeter un oeil
boarding gate – porte de l’embarquement

ticking – tic-tac
beg – supplier
shrug – hausser les épaules
punch – coup de poing
stranded – bloqué

sparked – étincellé
and so on – et cetera
catching up – rattraper

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Dance Therapy

A little while ago when I was feeling homesick, I talked to you about not having as many opportunities for classes or activities on the island as I would back home in the US. This month, I had an experience that made realize that having 100 options is not the same as finding that one unique treasure…which has the same possibility of existing among the hundreds back at home than it does hidden away, nestled in the sand on a faraway place called Reunion Island.

This particular little treasure I’m talking about is a dance class called NIA in Boucan. Of course NIA exists (and maybe even originated??) in the US, but what really makes this class different is the teacher. Veronique exudes passion and energy in a way that could uplift even the saddest person in the world. 

This past weekend, Veronique was invited to give some dance courses during the Wellness Festival in Mauritius, and to prepare, she started taking English classes with me. For the past month, I entered her world of dance a few times a week. 

I’m definitely not a dancer, but as a theater student I had to have the ability to learn simple dance sequences in a short period of time. So while I can grasp easier rhythm and steps quickly, I am missing that natural grace, beauty and flow that I so admire in real dancers. All of that vanishes when you dance with Veronique. I don’t know how it’s possible, but when you dance with her, you really feel as elegant and free as she looks. Her energy is contagious and soon you aren’t thinking about how silly you look, you’re thinking about how great it feels to stretch your body in ways you haven’t done since you were about 7. If I had to describe NIA to someone who hadn’t seen it before, I would say it is a dancer’s version of yoga, tai chi, and martial arts. Like swimming without water. Like meditation in movement. 

I ended up going to the Wellness Festival in Mauritius and it was one of the coolest experiences of my life! We arrived Friday night and set up our tents under the stars. Saturday morning we started around 8 and every hour or so you had two or three classes to choose from; things like yoga, pilates, tai chi, singing, meditation, and of course, dance. There were tents set up where you could buy homemade vegetarian food and healthy drinks and desserts. There were tents offering massages, healing crystals, spiritual books, and everything else you could dream of in the wellness world. After lunch we bathed in the nearby waterfall, and at night we had live concerts by yogis playing instruments I never knew existed! Every second was a new breath of life.

Not surprisingly, Veronique’s dance classes were by far the most popular!! The first day, she guided about 60 people through a dance therapy class under the big tent. It was so powerful I get chills just thinking about it. I remember specifically this little stout old man dancing in the corner with this eyes closed, as if he had never moved his body so freely and was finally flying out of a cage that he had been in for maybe his whole life. 

On Sunday, Veronique’s NIA class got a standing ovation, and people even asked her to move to Mauritius! It was truly a testament to her unique and beautiful gift.

If you’re like me, and you’re looking for a hobby here…something different, something worth your precious time and money, I think you should come meet Veronique and try out a NIA class. I think all of us could benefit a lot by learning to let go and dance.

Vocabulary

homesick – nostalgique
to uplift – élever les sentiments
to grasp – comprendre
steps – pas
to look silly – avoir l’air ridicule

to stretch – tendre
set up – installé
to let go – se lâcher

Dance Wellness Therapy, Mauritius

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