Australian

Driving Licence

Mine is a fairly strange case.  I was born in England so I have a European passport.  But I grew up in Australia. So all of my papers are Australian.  This seems to cause a whole lot of confusion. Take, for example, the case of my driving licence.  I found some seriously conflicting information about how you convert an Aussie licence to a French one and realised that a trip to the prefecture was on the cards.

Once there, I hand my papers through the slot, thinking that this all seems a bit easy! Well, it wasn’t long before the bubble burst! I was politely informed that my papers couldn’t possibly be taken – I had filled in the form in blue pen, not black!  And I wasn’t even in the right place…  All things concerning driver’s licences are dealt with in St Paul.   I took another application, reminding myself to fill this one out with a black pen, and headed back to St Paul… only to be told that all things concerning driver’s licences are dealt with at the prefecture in St Denis!!  AAAhhhhh!

Back in St Denis and I’m determined to get this sorted out! I hand over my papers and, upon seeing my Australian licence, the lady asks me for my visa. This is where it gets interesting! I explain I don’t have a visa as I am English by birth and have a European passport. « Where is your British driver’s licence? » she asks.  I explain that I left the UK when I was 11, so I don’t have a British licence… « But, why not? » she asks… Uuummm, 11 year olds in the UK don’t get driver’s licences!!  She seems to think this is quite strange, but finally accepts it!

20 minutes later and she suddenly « realises » that this is all pointless and says that I don’t need to change my licence at all!! It’s fine for me to use my Australian one.  Unbelievable!! So all seems well.

That is until I was pulled over by the cops for a random check. The prefecture was right… I can use my Aussie licence… But only for 6 months!! So now I have to head back to St Denis to start the whole process from scratch!!

Vocabulary

to grow up = grandir
to seem = sembler
conflicting = contradictoire
Aussie = Australien
a trip = un trajet

on the cards = inévitable
slot = la fente
to burst = éclater
politely = poliment
to fill in = remplir

to deal with = traiter
to sort out = résoudre
to hand over = donner
birth = naissance
strange = bizarre

pointless = inutile
to be pulled over = se faire arrêter
cops = les flics
to head back = retourner
from scratch = de zéro

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La Réunion Lé La !

When I went back home to visit family and friends in March, I was flooded with questions about how life was on the ‘distant and far away’ Reunion Island.  In Australia, this island is something exotic, and not everyone has heard about it.   I remember the time I told my mum that I was going to live and work in Reunion, and a look of panic came over her face – “But, aren’t there pirates in that part of the world?!?”  When I told a lady at the cash register that I was teaching English in Reunion, an island close to Africa.  She looked at me in awe = ‘we need more people like you in the world who devote their time to aid work’ …

The usual spiel I give people consists of the following observations: it’s hot, there are bugs everywhere, fruit is abundant, buses don’t run on time, people don’t run on time, the lagoon is awesome, just like the pictures you see on postcards, the people are friendly.  But the island has become something more to me, which is an idea that a text like this can’t convey.

Both periods of time that I have been in Reunion have been moments of self-discovery and creativity. Travelling anywhere away from home will evoke this type of personal growth, but why do I always end up here?  For me, there seems to be magic or a connection that I can’t see, but I certainly feel.  To express my gratitude to this incredible place, I wrote a poem, which soon turned into a song.  Here it is…

Needing a change, fly to an unknown place.
Trying to find the perfect option, a tropical island in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
Where white birds with straws for tails fly overhead,
And the locals speak in special code, it’s Creole I think they said.
Beach all around and coral lacing the sand,
A paradise of sorts with the sun on demand

Réunion Lé Là, we come together,
People from all over, with their cultures to offer.

Hiking, Canyoning, essential oils, plants growing from volcanic soil.
Those who come understand, Reunion is a lucky island.
Lychees light up the trees with scarlet, bananas grow at the drop of a hat.
Sugar cane fields line the roads, in summer we drown in mangoes.

Tour the island in a weekend, share a picnic on Sunday with family and friends.
A place where I can always see the ocean, where spirits are high and arms are open

Réunion Lé Là, we come together,
People from all over, with their cultures to offer.

Vocabulary

to be flooded = être inondé
cash register = la caisse
spiel = baratin
bugs = insects
to run on time = être à l’heure 

to convey = exprimer
self-discovery = découverte de soi
personal growth = culture personnelle
to end up = finir
straw = paille

overhead = au-dessus de nos têtes
to lace = orner
on demand = sur demande
soil = terre
lucky = chanceux 

to light up = allumer
scarlet = écarlate
at the drop of a hat = tout dans un coup
to drown = se noyer
spirit = esprit

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Natural Beauties

There’s nothing better in life than when we feel truly lucky!  The delight comes when there are no expectations set, no worries about missing out, and having an idea about how to acknowledge and experience feelings of gratitude.

Upon coming to Reunion Island, I already felt like I had won the lottery – having found such a great opportunity, which seemed like something ‘out of the blue’.

Within my first week of being here, I heard about the complete solar eclipse which was to darken the island on the 1st of September, 2016.  Best place to see it?  Oh, you know, Central Africa/Reunion Island… and even better still – it was taking place at the New Moon – a time of change and new beginnings in the Lunar Cycle.

My colleagues had organised to attend a special Solar Eclipse Meditation.  I gladly went along.  Not only did we witness the moon passing over the sun, we were also able to connect with ourselves with Tibetan bowl ceremonies, yoga, and affirmations, as well as each other (hugging each and every other attendee at the very end and celebrating such an exciting natural event together).  You couldn’t wipe the smile from my face since I was just so appreciative of the whole experience.

So one can imagine my surprise when September’s Full Moon conjured magma from the depths of Piton de la Fournaise to spill out from one of its many active openings!

My first attraction to La Réunion (since 2010) was its volcano, which sits in the top 3 of the World’s most active. It was my first time EVER seeing a volcanic eruption, having completely missed its eruption of 2014 after my first stay on the island.

We spent a good one and a half hours driving to the site, and caught the sunrise above the clouds as we ascended La Route du Volcan.

The hike from the parking lot to the viewing point was on terrain that appears to be quite dry and rugged.  Up at those heights on the island, one gets a sense of drought, so no surprises when I had flashbacks of hiking in the Flinders Ranges back home!  I had forgotten my handy head lamp, but thanks to impeccable timing, the full moon lit most of the way for me.

So there you have it, two incredible, natural events within less than a month… a friend of mine tells me that all good things come in threes…

Vocabulary

expectation = attente
to miss out = rater
to acknowledge = reconnaître
gratitude = reconnaissance
the lottery = la loterie

out of the blue = inattendu
to darken = assombrir
to take place = avoir lieu
colleague = collègue
gladly = avec plaisir

to connect with oneself = reconnecter avec soi-même
to wipe =  effacer
to conjure = faire apparaitre
depths = profondeurs
to spill out = se répandre

sunrise = lever du soleil
rugged = accidenté
drought = une sécheresse
Flinders Ranges = chaine de montagnes en AUS
handy = pratique

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Wedding Bells in Reunion

Having been a photographer and photographing a lot of weddings, I always knew that organising a wedding is a big task.  Well, when you get married in a foreign country, the number of things to get ready goes through the roof!

There’s all the normal stuff – booking a place for the reception, deciding on the menu, hiring a photographer, getting the suit…. And then there’s the paperwork! After visiting the Town Hall in St Paul to book the date, my wife and I very quickly realised that getting all the papers for the Town Hall would be no small task.  We received a list of the required documents and it was clear we had a lot of work to do.

There were documents that we’d never even heard of! And some that only exist in France! For two of them I had to get a letter from the British embassy explaining that they didn’t exist in England!

After a lot of long-winded overseas phone calls, we reckoned we were on the right track to getting all the things we needed.  But it wasn’t over yet! A month later the papers arrived, but to our dismay, they had got wet somewhere between England and Reunion!!  They weren’t destroyed but we were pretty anxious about whether the Town Hall would accept them with watermarks.  It was a nervous week waiting to hear from the Town Hall for the OK, but finally we heard, with great relief, that everything was fine and we could go ahead and get married.

By Reunion standards, our wedding wasn’t a huge one.  We had 80 guests on the day, but over 50 of them had come from either Mainland France, England or Australia.. So on top of organising our wedding day, we had a lot of people to accommodate.  A few of the English and Australians hadn’t even heard of Reunion, and before they booked their tickets, had to look it up just to see where it is!!

You can’t come to Reunion just for a wedding! There is so much on offer here and we wanted all our friends and family to make the most of their trip and see the real Reunion.  We took them hiking in Mafate, scuba diving at Cap la Houssaye, canyoning in Trou Blanc, paragliding in St Leu and they all got to taste a real rougaill saucisse and sample the local rum!

Vocabulary

wedding = mariage
suit = costume
Town Hall = Mairie
to book = réserver
quickly =  rapidement

embassy = ambassade
long-winded = interminable
to reckon = estimer
on the right track  = sur la bonne voie
dismay = consternation

wet = mouillé
watermarks = tâches d’eau
to go ahead  = avancer
huge = immense
to accommodate = loger

to look something up = rechercher qqch
to make the most of = profiter au maximum
hiking = randonnée
paragliding = parapente
to sample = goûter

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Mi Aime a Ou … Or Not

It was a Monday night, and I had just ridden my electric bike to the local fruit and vegetable shop where I’m on a ‘first name basis’ with the owner.

This particular night, a local man came into the shop to buy a beer for himself and his mate.  While he spoke Creole with my friend at the counter, I tuned out, knowing that I wouldn’t understand a thing!  After a while, I asked them both with a smile of wonder – “Are you speaking Creole?”  They looked at me.  The man asked me in his best French “Are you from Mainland France?”  I replied, “No, in fact I’m from Australia”.  This changed everything!  And after I showed-off some of my best Creole phrases, we had a laugh, and then he left to give the beer to his friend.  Upon leaving, he turned and said with a big smile “Mi aime a ou, this is important Creole to know”.

Should I have expected him to approach me again when I was walking to my bike?  Immediately he started the famous ‘small talk’, Creole-style.  Where are you from?  What do you do here?  And the burning question: “Did you come here alone?”  To his surprise, I had.  He insisted I take his number…because that’s custom here in Reunion…

Usually I would throw this number in the bin.  No matter which country or culture I’m in, I get shy when someone is so forward with me.  But this time I was to play it differently.  I messaged him back “thank you for the attention, but no thanks, I like being alone.”

To my surprise, the next day I received a barrage of messages from an unknown number: “Bjr c bien Clara svp” “cosa I passe avec ou et willy” “je peu sava ou s azote la rencontre a zote” “pourquoi tu répondre pa?!? Ou peu bien repondre! Mi sa pa mange a ou!”

Well, I had to ask one of my sixteen-year-old students to help me decipher the message.  It seems that Willy’s interests are spread far and wide, and my simple message from the night before was enough to send someone on the hunt for my blood!  In my best French/Creole I replied with a message that explained that, in fact, nothing had happened between myself and Willy, and to leave me alone. I then tactfully wished them good luck with him.

Since then I have received messages from Willy wishing me a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year… and this time round, I didn’t reply.  Ignorance is bliss.

Vocabulary

first-name basis = bien connaître quelqu’un
mate = un ami (UK/Aus)
counter = la caisse
to smile with wonder = sourire avec de l’émerveillement
to show-off = d’être une frimeuse

to have a laugh = rigoler
small talk = banalités
burning question = une question brûlante
custom = une coutume
bin = la poubelle (UK/Aus)

to be forward = être entreprenant
barrage of messages = un déluge de messages
unknown number = un numéro inconnu
to decipher = déchiffrer
to be spread far and wide = être très étendu

to happen = se passer
to leave someone alone = laisser quelqu’un tranquille
tactfully = avec tact
this time round = cette fois-ci
bliss = le bonheur

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The Pirate Graveyard

I am a complete sissy. A wimp, a wuss, a scaredy-cat. If I watch the trailer of a horror film (or let’s be honest, a thriller), I cannot sleep properly for several nights. I still haven’t grown out of my childhood fear of clowns. And I have a low tolerance for anything remotely spooky. However, my son is obsessed with pirates and each time we would drive past the marine graveyard in St Paul, he’d be fixated on the Jolly Roger at the entrance. He begged me for months to take him to what he called the ‘pirate graveyard’.

One day a few months ago, I finally said yes. I was sceptical about how interesting a cemetery could be for a four-year old. But surprisingly, we both ended up really enjoying our little outing. For starters, it is a beautiful cemetery. On a sunny day, the contrast between the sparkling blue water of the St Paul Bay, the black sandy beach, the cliffs and the lush green plants all around is breath-taking.

The cemetery is also well organised, with signs pointing out the most famous or significant graves. Most of all, I appreciated the historical explanations, placed throughout the graveyard on black metal scrolls. The marine graveyard is the final resting place for not only pirates, but writers and political figures in Reunion’s history. I could finally understand why so many street signs or schools were called Eugène Dayot or Leconte de Lisle. There were even extracts from their poems hung up around the place. Being a history geek, it was fascinating to read about certain people’s impact on modern Reunionese society.

Well-known families such as Desbassyns and Panon were there, but so were many lesser-known doctors, naturalists and entrepreneurs. The most famous grave, and the one that brings in so many tourists, is La Buse. What’s unusual about this cemetery is that the graves of laypeople, famous land-owners, sailors and priests are all placed together with no separations or hierarchy. When the cemetery was established in 1788, some members of the public called for a racially segregated graveyard.

But the decision makers decided against it, saying that it was ‘revolting’ to separate the races since the corpses of black and white men were equal. What a progressive decision, especially when it would take another 60 years for slavery to be abolished in Reunion. All in all, the marine graveyard is worth a visit if you like history or pirates or both. And don’t worry, it’s not that spooky.

Vocabulary

sissy / wimp / wuss / scaredy-cat – poule mouillé
trailer – bande annonce
spooky – sinistre
Jolly Roger – drapeau de pirate
to beg – supplier

graveyard – cimetière
breath-taking – à couper le souffle
scroll – manuscrit
sign – panneau
hung up – accroché

lesser-known – moins connu
unusual – inhabituel
laypeople – profane
sailors – marins
corpses – cadavres

equal – égale
slavery – esclavage
both – les deux

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Six Degrees

Most people know about the famous ‘six degrees of separation’ theory. It suggests that each individual is connected to any other person in the world through six acquaintances. I have one degree of separation between myself and my friends, two degrees between myself and my friends’ friends, and so on. Mathematicians have actually proven the theory using a fancy thing called the Flajolet-Martin algorithm. It’s official: you could make a phone call to the Queen of England or the Dalai Lama in less than six steps (if they actually pick up their own phones).

This got me thinking: Reunion being so small, and families being so close, it would logically be less than six degrees of separation here. To test my theory, I used the most reliable and accessible social research tool available to me: that big blue social media site! I went onto a fan page for a soccer team in the south of the island, a sport and region I have no real connection to. Randomly, I clicked on the profile of the first person I saw on the page. Unsurprisingly, we had no friends in common. But as I scanned their friends list, one of the names rang a bell. Sure enough, it was the brother of a good friend of mine. As I had predicted, there were only three degrees of separation between myself and a complete stranger. I had already done something kind of creepy, so I investigated several more times with other profiles. I soon realized two important things. First, many people have no idea how much information is publicly visible on social networks. I could find people’s phone numbers, addresses, where they worked and their children’s names. Secondly, this island really is tiny in a social sense. Even though, as a foreigner, I’m a newcomer to the island, I could quite easily connect to nearly any person I found through two or three friends of friends.

Often when I’ve mentioned an administrative problem I’m having at the prefecture or the secu, my in-laws will ask the name of the public servant who was in charge of my file. I never understood what the objective of that question was. Now I do. In the back of the Reunionese mind, there’s always the idea that potentially you know someone who works somewhere important, and if you don’t know them personally you’ll have a friend who does. This is sometimes used to get a favour for a friend or family member, such as a job or a discount. I’ve always found this a bit unfair. At the same time, it shows how interconnected everyone really is. And that’s a strangely comforting thought.

Vocabulary

acquaintances – connaissances
fancy – classe
to pick up – décrocher
close – proche
less than – moins de

reliable – fiable
soccer team – équipe de foot
randomly – au hasard
to ring a bell – rappeler de quelque chose
creepy – sinistre

newcomer – nouveau arrivé
to mention – parler de
the in-laws – la belle-famille
public servant – fonctionnaire

file – dossier
favour – un service
unfair – injuste
comforting – rassurant

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The Vanilla Conspiracy

Have you ever believed something was true for a long time, then found out it was a lie? I guess most people experienced this as children, when they discovered Santa wasn’t real. I always knew Santa was someone’s dad dressed up in a cheap red polyester costume in the middle of the Australian summer. But a few years ago I discovered everything I knew about vanilla was wrong. This may seem ridiculously frivolous, but let me explain. I’ve been cooking and baking since I could stand up on a chair in the kitchen alongside my mum. I love experimenting, testing recipes and discovering all sorts of new ingredients.

Even when I was living on a university student’s budget, I would happily go into my local gourmet food shop and ask for their softest, plumpest vanilla bean for my next recipe, despite the fact it cost an arm and a leg. As any good foodie learns from reading cookbooks and cooking magazines, the best vanilla should be flexible, squishy and fragrant. Leathery or dry beans are flavour less and bad quality, so say the best cooks in the world.

This is what I naïvely believed, until I went to visit the vanilla cooperative in Bras Panon. At first, everything was going well. We saw the vanilla plants growing, learnt about pollinisation and harvesting. But when we sat down to watch a short film about the vanilla maturation process, I nearly fell off my chair. The guide explained how it takes many months, even years to dry out the pods, in order to develop the vanillin inside. According to this expert, the best quality vanilla is dry enough to tie in a knot, and should be odourless. Armed with this new information, I did some more research. As it turns out, the big, shiny and fragrant vanilla pods found at many markets are known as « vanille zoreil » or « vanille touriste. »

Frequently, the pods are so fragrant because the vendors spray vanilla extract on their products to entice customers. Not only is this type of vanilla lacking in taste, it often becomes mouldy after being stored in the pantry. Since discovering this, I have a newfound love of vanilla. I’ve always cheered for the underdog, and knowing that the ugliest, leatheriest and least fragrant vanilla pods are the best quality makes me happy. I feel like the luckiest home baker to have access to some of the best vanilla in the world right on my doorstep.

Vocabulary

true – vrai
lie – mensonge
Santa – père Noël
dressed up – déguisée
wrong – faux

to bake – faire la pâtisserie
plumpest – le plus dodu
despite – malgré
to cost an arm and a leg – coûter un bras
squishy – mou

leathery – comme du cuire
to harvest – cueillette
to fall off one’s chair – tomber à nu
to dry out – sécher
to tie in a knot – faire un nœud

shiny – brillant
to entice – séduire
mouldy – moisi
pantry – placard
to cheer for the underdog – encourager l’outsider
doorstep – palier

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Getting a Driving License: Reunion Style

In my pre-Reunion life, I was happily car-free. Buses and trains were perfectly fine for trips to work, university or visiting friends. And I would walk to the shops and markets a few times a week to get food or other necessities. I knew how to drive, and had a learner’s permit allowing me to drive as long as another person was in the car with me. But since life was so easy without a car I never found the motivation to actually sign up for the driver’s exam.

That is, until I arrived on the island in 2007 and was immediately confronted with the reality of Reunion’s public transport system. Or lack of it. Buses ran every hour, and stopped at seven pm. Half the places I wanted to go were nowhere near a bus stop, and tickets were expensive. The only fun part of taking the bus was clapping to signal the driver to stop. But that was no consolation as I spent each day stuck at home and unable to go anywhere interesting.

So I signed up to do the famous ‘code de la route’. For those who haven’t done this exam recently, here’s an example of a question, which I’ve only slightly exaggerated: “It’s three pm on a Wednesday in September. Am I allowed to park on the left side of the road if I have snow chains on the tyres of my car and my headlights are on?” The questions were crazy and at the time I couldn’t speak a sentence in French. Luckily, I’m stubborn and over several months I studied with the code book in one hand and a French English dictionary in the other. After passing the theory exam, it was time to sign up for the driving exam.

Even though I could already drive, I took extra lessons in order to adapt to driving on the other side of the road, and dealing with the mountains. Back home in Perth, the roads are all flat but here I needed to get used to extremely steep roads, hairpin curves and trying not to drive into any ditches. My first attempt at the driving exam, I failed miserably after it started raining heavily, another situation I had no experience with in Australia, and I panicked. The second time, I passed with flying colours. That was in October 2010, and today I’m proud to say I can do a pretty good parallel park and drive in torrential rain up and down mountains. What was a frustrating situation turned out to be a gift in disguise, and as a bonus I learnt to speak French because of it.

Vocabulary

car-free – sans voiture
learner’s permit – permit provisoire
to sign up – s’inscrire
lack – manque
clapping – taper les mains

slightly – légèrement
snow chains – chaines à neige
tyres – pneus
headlights – les phares
sentence – phrase

stubborn – tétue
even though – malgré
other side of the road – l’autre côté de la route
flat – plat
steep – raide

hairpin curves – virages en épingle
ditches – caniveaux
with flying colours – avec distinction
to parallel park – faire un créneau
gift in disguise – un mal pour un bien

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Mad May

In my hometown of Adelaide, there’s one month of the year that I prefer a little more than the eleven others. On top of temperatures being ideal, it’s also my birthday month which makes March my favourite time of the year!

The month of March is chock-a-block full of world-class festivals including WOMAD; a world music festival, The Adelaide Festival; a mix of theatre and dance pieces, visual arts and outstanding music performances, Writers Week; a chance to listen to acclaimed writers talk about their work and The Fringe Festival; a whacky and vibrant few weeks showcasing national and international artists performing burlesque, comedy, magic, circus, dance and music acts.

Adelaide, often considered by our neighbours from Sydney & Melbourne to be a sleepy town, truly comes alive at this time of year; a period that is affectionately known as Mad March.

It’s definitely one of the things I miss the most about home, but thankfully in Reunion we have our very own equivalent in May!

Beginning with Komidi; a drama festival that takes place in the South of the island, Reunion in May is the place to be. I highly recommend the Komidi festival, it has something for everyone and entry only costs 1 euro!

Then comes Leu Tempo Festival, in St Leu, as the name would suggest. The town is a buzz thanks to numerous street art, dance, circus and comedy shows. There’s lots of free stuff on offer allowing for everyone to make the most of the festive atmosphere.

This is shortly followed by the Festival du Film d’Adventure; an adventure film festival that begins with a free opening night on the beach in St Gilles where three films are projected onto a big screen. This evening is then followed by three others, both in the South and in the North. Two heartfelt and inspiring amateur films are shown each night taking us on the wildest of journeys.

Needless to say I’ve renamed this time of the year Mad May. And to top it off, I wouldn’t rather be in any other country than France in May given all the public holidays, four in total!

Vocabulary

on top of – de plus
chock-a-block – plein à craquer
word-class – de classe internationale
outstanding – exceptionnel
acclaimed – réputé

whacky – farfelu
to showcase – mettre en valeur
neighbours – voisins
sleepy town – ville endormie
to come alive – prendre vie

own – propre
to be a buzz – être vibrant
to make the most of – profiter
atmosphere – ambiance
screen – écran

heartfelt – qui vient du fond du cœur
wildest – le plus fou
needless to say – cela va sans dire
to top it off – couronner
public holiday – jour férié

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