Culture

False Alarm

In January, my parents visited me in Reunion. I’d planned tons of great stuff. Going to the natural pools, eating delicious creole food, visiting the volcano and of course checking out the beaches.

My parents weren’t so keen on that last one. Unfortunately, when they’d looked up ‘La Réunion’ online, they were met with stories of shark attacks. After I explained that there are several measures to protect swimmers in the lagoon, they agreed. And once in the water with their snorkels on, they loved it. After an hour, they came out with huge smiles and finally it was my turn.

Fast forward twenty minutes and I was feeling completely serene, with only the sound of the water filling my ears. Suddenly, the serenity gave way to complete chaos when I lifted my head up out of the water for one moment. The next twenty seconds seemed like twenty minutes. The first thing I saw was my Dad standing on the sand waving at me with both arms and shouting. Then he pointed to where the waves were crashing behind me. There, where he was pointing, was a boat of people and next to it, dark red water. A bright red flare had been shot into the sky. Instant terror took hold of my body. In my mind, this was a shark attack, the red water was blood and the flare was a warning from the people on the boat. I swam as fast as I could towards the beach. I was so sure there was a shark on my tail that I swam through the shallow water full of sharp coral and cut myself all over my arms, legs and stomach. I figured it was too shallow for a shark to swim through. After what felt like an eternity of swimming, I reached the beach and, like in the movies, dragged my weary body up the sand.

After a few seconds of wondering why nobody had come to help me after my near death experience, I lifted my head up from the sand. Looking back at me was a beach full of confused people, and my father, doubled over with laughter.

It turns out there was no shark, or any danger at all. He had seen a group of marine biologists doing some drills in the water and fancied playing a prank on his daughter who was so sure that the lagoon was completely safe. So, good one Dad. You got me. And I’ve still got the scars to prove it!

Vocabulary

tons = beaucoup
to check out = aller voir
keen = enthousiaste
measure = dispositif
my turn = mon tour 

fast forward = passons directement
suddenly = soudain
dark = foncé
bright = vif
flare = fusée

shot = envoyé
to take hold of = envahir
warning = avertissement
on my tail = juste derrière moi
to figure = se dire

shallow = peu profond
weary = faible
to be doubled over = être plié en deux
drills = exercices
prank = farce

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Carri Poulet

I have to admit that Creole cuisine is not my favourite. It’s not because of the flavour, it’s because of the bones. For those of you who know me, you know that I don’t enjoy eating meat off the bone. Give me a chicken breast over a chicken drumstick any day!

So when I first arrived in Reunion I was eager to try the local food to see what it was all about. When my friend invited me to her mother’s for dinner I jumped at the chance. My first Creole dinner cooked by a Creole lady, it couldn’t get any better than that! On the menu was a traditional carri poulet. ‘Great!’ I thought.

So I arrived and I was greeted by the family and we all sat around a very large table. After trying to decipher some Creole and follow a conversation unsuccessfully, my attention turned to the huge pile of rice, which was making its way to the table. I have now learnt that this was a normal amount of rice for any meal. After that the beans and the famous carri arrived – at this point I was starving!

So I was served a generous amount and was the butt of the jokes as I politely skipped on the rougail tomate. I couldn’t wait to stuff my face but being British I made sure my elbows were off the table and I ate with my knife and fork, something, which attracted attention as the majority of the family were eating with their hands…but that’s an entirely different story.

As I neared the end of my meal and ate the last bit of chicken I was just about to put down my knife and fork and then it happened. SLURPPPPPP!

I thought somebody was choking on a bone but to my surprise no! One by one everybody started picking up their bones and sucking and slurping over them. I didn’t know whether to look horrified, smile or even laugh! Awkward doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. It didn’t take long for someone to question me as to why I wasn’t doing the same. I just didn’t know what to respond to not offend anybody or be rude! But where I am from this is a no no! It is just as bad as licking your plate! I have never sucked on a bone at the dinner table nor would I ever do it, especially when invited to somebody’s house!

This was one experience I will never forget. I can still remember the SLLUUURRRPP even now!

Vocabulary

flavour = le goût
bones = les os
to enjoy = apprécier
chicken breast = blanc de poulet
chicken drumstick = cuisse de poulet 

to be eager to = avoir hâte de
to see what it’s about = voir de quoi il s’agit
to jump at the chance = sauter sur l’occasion de faire qqch
to decipher = déchiffrer
huge = énorme 

to be starving = avoir la dalle
to be the butt of the joke = être la cible d’une blague
to skip = passer
to stuff my face = s’empiffrer
elbow = coude 

to near the end = approcher la fin
to choke = étouffer
awkward = gênant
rude = mal poli
to lick your plate = lécher son assiette

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Unruly Neighbours

You know that saying ‘Be careful what you wish for’? When you long for something that you are so sure you want, until one day you get it, and it turns out to be hell on earth? Yeah, I’m pretty familiar with it now.

I moved into a flat 6 months ago and although the flat is great, it’s well priced and spacious, I quickly noticed that mine was the only flat inhabited in the entire building. That’s one out of a possible 6. The nights grew long and lonely and before I knew it I was posting ads trying to get the word out about the apartments to rent. And it worked! The next thing I knew, I was seeing people come and visit the flats on a daily basis. At this point I was feeling pretty smug, imagining myself chatting with my soon-to-be neighbours over a bottle of wine.

Well someone should have just slapped me right there. It didn’t quite turn out that way. That’s an understatement. A few nights later at about 2am, I was swatting off mosquitos half asleep when I heard what I thought was a burglar trying to break into my flat. Terrified, I jumped out of bed and grabbed my weapon of choice, which due to little choice was my hairbrush, and crept towards the living room. Lights on, no-one was inside. But the front door handle was moving up and down and I was freaking out. I looked through the peephole and what did I see? A woman, maybe in her fifties, crazily looking around her and talking to herself, laughing and shouting all at once. I genuinely thought I was in a scene from an M. Night Shyamalan movie.

I was preparing to call the police when through the peephole I saw the door from the flat opposite open and a young woman drag her inside.

The rest of the night was a bit of a sleepless blur. When I left the flat the next day, I bumped into the same woman, who, seemingly oblivious to the events of the night before, introduced herself as my new neighbour. So there we go. I got what I wanted right? We don’t chat about our days or have a drink together, but every now and then I get the chance to hear her banging mistakenly on my door and I never feel alone, because she leaves rubbish in all of the communal spaces. Moral of the story? Be careful what you wish for.

Vocabulary

to long for = désirer 
pretty = assez
to move = déménager
flat = appartement
although = bien que

to notice = remarquer
to chat = bavarder
ads = annonces
smug = arrogant
to slap = gifler

understatement = minimisation
to grab = saisir
to creep = se faufiler
door handle = poignet
to freak out = flipper

peephole = judas
to bump into = croiser
oblivious = inconscient
mistakenly = par erreur
rubbish = déchets

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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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WTF is that!?

Imagine the situation. I went outside at 8pm to feed the cat. Dusk had arrived, a mist had settled on the horizon. The only sound is the rattling of the cat food as it dropped into the bowl. A bush rustled, “Must be Satan, the cat” I thought to myself. But out of the bushes came a giant tailless rat.

As it came closer, it actually looked kind of funny. It had a big fat hind which was wobbling side-to-side as it sauntered towards the cat food. It also had this minuscule face with a long coneshaped snout. It approached the cat food and, strangely enough, didn’t seem to mind me standing just a foot away from it.

So, that was my first experience of a tenrec. I went straight on the internet to look up some information about it. Apparently tenrecs are practically blind, possibly the thing came that close to me because it didn’t know I was there! Also, the reason that it took the risk to come so close to a house is that it probably just had a litter of children that it needed to feed. Tenrecs can have as many as 32 offspring per litter! Wow.

I’m certainly not going to chase it away if I see it again. I might even leave some extra cat food out for it and its family. I’m sure Satan won’t mind. I don’t intend to eat the creature either. Many Reunionese that I know have eaten tenrec and, to be honest, I’d eat pretty much anything in cari form, but after seeing its cute posterior swaying side to side; I just couldn’t bring myself to eat it.

Another incredible piece of information I found online: Despite their resemblance to hedgehogs or porcupines, tenrecs are actually closer genetically to shrews.

Fascinating animals. Here’s a last piece of information so you will go to sleep tonight as a more intelligent human being. Tenrecs hold a world record. Are you ready for this? This is amazing. Tenrecs hold the world record for the most amount of nipples on a mammal. Up to twenty-nine of them! There you go. You can share that information with the family when you’re having your rougail saucisse tonight. You’re welcome.

Vocabulary

dusk – crépuscule
mist – brouillard
to settle – se poser
rattling – claquements
to rustle – bruissement 

tailless – sans queue
funny – drôle
hind – derrière
to wobble – osciller
to saunter – se diriger vers 

cone-shaped – en forme de cône
snout – museau
tenrec – tangue
litter – portée
to sway – se balancer 

to bring oneself to – se résoudre à
hedgehog – hérisson
shrew – musaraigne
nipple – mamelon
mammal – mammifère

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The Fourth Cirque

Ask anyone, just ANYONE, the question: ‘How many cirques are there in Reunion?’ and everyone, I mean EVERYONE, will say ‘three?’

Wrong! There are four. You have probably only heard of Mafate, Salazie and Cilaos. This is because the fourth cirque, or ‘caldera’ can no longer be seen as it was completely filled up one day by a massive eruption of lava. And what is its name? It is called Cirque Des Marsouins. Marsouin means ‘porpoise’ in English, but you won’t find any of those here… And where is it? Well, it is located between Salazie and La Plaine des Palmistes.

Hang on”, I hear you cry! “That’s the Forests of Bébour and Bélouve!” Exactly. Over 150,000 years ago, our lovely Piton des Neiges was warming up for her swansong, preparing to give one final explosion of sulphurous ecstasy! Turning the taps on full flow, the vast crater was filled up to the brim with molten rock, fire and brimstone. This explains why, when you come up to the Col de Bébour, the wonderful panoramic view shows a forest which looks completely flat! And you’re standing on top of what used to be a towering cliff!

It might seem like a long way to drive – but if you live in the south, it is only one hour from St Pierre, and if you’re in the north and you fancy some exercise, the drive to Hellbourg only takes an hour from St Denis. From there you can hike up to the wonderful Gite de Belouve with its stunning view over Salazie, and the short walk to the famous Trou de Fer. While I’m on the subject of the Trou de Fer, I would formally like to invite everyone in Reunion to stop translating it as ‘The Iron Hole’. This means nothing! The French word ‘fer’ here does not mean ‘iron’, but ‘horseshoe’, because of the U-shaped configuration of the many waterfalls. Granted, ‘horseshoe hole’ doesn’t sound much better, so why don’t we go for ‘Horseshoe Falls’? Please pass this information on to EVERY helicopter pilot you know!!

Anyway, coming back from our horses to our porpoises, I have to admit that the Cirque des Marsouins is the one part of the island that I have explored the least, and just looking at the names of places and hikes to do there is enough to get my running shoes and camelback on! So, I’ll see you in the Cirque des Marsouins – may the Fourth be with you!!

Vocabulary

anyone = n’importe qui
everyone = tout le monde
wrong = faux
no longer = ne plus
to fill up = remplir

located = situé
between = entre
to hang on = attendre un instant
to warm up = s’échauffer
swansong = chant du cygne

taps = robinets
to the brim = à ras bord
molten = en fusion
brimstone = souffre
flat = plat

towering = gigantesque
to hike = randonner
stunning = éblouissant
granted = effectivement
anyway = (ici) bref

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Ice-Skating in Reunion

I’m going to share a secret with you, in my dreams I am a champion ice-skater.

Whenever I watch ice-skating on TV, I can hear and feel the blades cutting into the ice.   Intuitively, I can recognise the precise moment when the skater inclines his foot and changes from the outside to the inside edge of the blade.  As a child I skated regularly. Later in life there were few opportunities to skate and my boots were often out of sight, but never out of mind.

Before moving to Reunion, in July 2000, my husband diplomatically brought up the subject of my skates. “Sheila, what is the point of taking your skates to Reunion?  Tropical islands don’t have ice-rinks.”

Well, of course he was right. For nearly three years they lay at the back of the garage gathering dust, until one day, out of the blue, I noticed a poster in town. Wow! A former French Olympic Champion was coming to skate on a specially constructed outdoor rink in St Denis where I live!

Back home, I dug out my old, shabby skates and polished them, much to the amusement of my family. I was now a woman with a mission. I was going to skate in the tropics.

Several months later, I drove down to the venue. I hadn’t managed to get an invitation to skate even though I was a client of the main sponsor. Not surprisingly, the security guard at the gate wouldn’t let me in. Stubborn as ever, I decided to hang around outside.

There I was, standing at the entrance, skates flung over my shoulder, when a large car pulled up at the entrance. The driver was involved in the logistics for the ice-show. Staring at my skates in sheer disbelief, he stuck his head through the car window and listened to my story. With a ‘tranche papaye’ smile, as they say in creole, he told me to come back the following day. I was on cloud nine and rushed home to tell everyone the news.

I remember vividly the strange sensation of skating outdoors in light summer clothes, trying forgotten figures and a simple jump, only to fall on my bum and get soaking wet! With dripping clothes and a bruised ego, I got up determined to make the most of every second. In no time at all I was bone dry again and smiling.

Reunion Island had come out tops once more with this amazing one-off skating experience.

Perhaps it wasn’t such a bad idea to bring my skates to Reunion after all.

Vocabulary

ice-skating = patinage sur glace
blades = lames
out of sight but never out of mind = loin des yeux mais jamais loin du cœur
to bring up the subject of = aborder un sujet
what is the point? = quel est l’intérêt?

dust = poussière
out of the blue = en sortant de nul part
outdoor rink = patinoire à l’extérieur
to dig out = ressortir, déterrer
shabby = usé, miteux

stubborn = têtu
to hang around = trainer
flung = jeté
to pull up = s’arrêter
I was on cloud nine = j’étais aux anges

to rush = se précipiter
bum = fesses
bone dry = complétement sec
to come out tops = arrive en tête
one-off = un cas unique

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Cyclone Ready

Anyone who hasn’t spent a cyclone season in Reunion will simply not understand. For those people, imagine not knowing if the shops will be open the next day in order to get food to feed your family. Imagine not even being allowed to leave your house. Even worse, imagine sitting down on the toilet to do your business and not knowing if the toilet will flush your business away.

January to March every year is a very special time weather-wise on our lovely tropical island. Scorching heat? Check. Torrential rain? Check. 160km winds that cause over three million euros of damage? Unfortunately, check.

Quite honestly, cyclones can be a real pain in the arse for the reasons mentioned above. Only, however, if you are unprepared. Myself and my family are certified cyclone ready!

Out in the back garden, we have a water tank with 350l of tap water. We got it at the hardware shop for a modest amount of money. Indispensable during a cyclone. You might think that this is a lot of water, honestly, it really isn’t. Especially when you consider that some toilets use 10l per flush. 10l! When you couple in the fact that gastroenteritis is prevalent during this season too, you’ve got some serious water-usage on your hands.

That’s enough about that. Food! Over the past six months or so, we’ve been adding about 5% of our shopping to a special box upstairs. Now it’s got enough tinned and dried goods to last us a couple of weeks. So even if every shop in the south has to close for a few days, we needn’t worry. We might get a bit sick of tinned cassoulet after a while but hey. And, will I miss rougail saucisse? Of course.

Torches are almost just as important. During a massive power cut you’ll need to be able to see when it’s dark outside. If you have young children, they’ll be less scared of the power cut if they regard the experience like a camping trip. We found some hand-cranking re-chargeable torches for a decent price in a sports goods store.

Games are not to be underestimated too. We’ve got a huge supply of board games at home. Enough to keep us busy for a heck of a long time.

Are you prepared for cyclone season? If cyclone season is over when you’re listening to this, were you prepared enough? Or were you one of the poor people queuing for hours to buy a pack of water and a half-dozen tins just before the red alert? Let us know below.

Vocabulary

weather-wise – météorologiquement parlant
scorching – brûlant
heat – chaleur
unfortunately – malheureusement
quite honestly – très honnêtement

pain in the arse – embêtement
back garden – arrière-cour
water tank – réservoir d’eau
hardware shop – quincaillerie
especially – notamment

tinned – en conserve
to worry – inquiéter
to get sick of – se lasser de
power cut – coupure de courant
to regard – considérer

hand-cranking – manivelle
board game – jeu de société
a heck of a long time – un sacré bout de temps
enough – assez
let us know – nous tenir au courant

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The Future has Arrived!

I love technology. When I heard about 4G arriving in Reunion Island I must admit I was excited. No longer were the days of buffering when trying to stream a video, or at least that is what I thought.

I made sure my phone was fully charged and I had all the correct settings ready to finally see the 4G symbol on the 1st of December. The morning came and went, still no 4G. I couldn’t help but feel that they had somehow forgotten about me…

Around noon, I finally saw the 4G symbol. Hallelujah! I quickly went to stream some videos on the net to see the 4G in action. I was, however, a little disappointed with the speed, it didn’t seem to be as fast as the 4G in the UK. Although the videos did stream with only slight buffering, I couldn’t help but compare it to being able to watch HD videos at the push of a button. I decided to be patient, something that is very difficult for me, and see if the service improved. As the days and weeks passed the speed increased and it is now slightly comparable to that of the UK. I can now stream videos in HD but it is still not perfect.

Not only has 4G allowed Reunion Island to move with the technological times, it has also opened the floodgates for mass competition. Gone are the days of expensive phone contracts with hardly any data allowance. Now the prices are, in my opinion, more reasonable. No they are not as cheap as the UK but they are better than they were. There are now contracts, which boast 20 gigabytes of internet for as little as 25€. I think this is a massive advantage for everybody living in Reunion Island! I would go as far as to say that I think in the coming months the contracts will again reduce in price, with the introduction of other phone companies to the island.

In addition to the cheaper prices, I feel that I have better signal quality. Even when at home, I have a full signal so I no longer need to hang out of the window to try and gain a few extra bars!

As I said, I am so happy that Reunion Island is moving forward with technology and I am excited to see what the future holds for us in paradise!

Vocabulary

no longer  = ne…plus
buffering/ to buffer = charger
to stream = regarder en streaming
at least = au moins
to make sure = vérifier

settings  = paramètres
cannot help = ne pas pouvoir s’empêcher
around = vers
hallelujah = alléluia
in action = en fonctionnement

to be disappointed = être déçu
speed = vitesse
slight = léger
to open the floodgates = ouvrir la porte à qqch
mass competition = concurrence de masse

phone contracts = forfaits
data allowance = internet inclus avec le forfait
cheaper = moins cher
signal = réseau
bars = barres

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Tourist for a Day

At one point during the school holidays, the wife and I decided that we were going to be tourists for the day. We booked a guided tour of St Denis, we also booked my mother-in-law so that she could look after the kids. Bright and early on a Tuesday morning, off we went!

The guided tour was of the main street in St Denis, Rue de Paris. If you’re not familiar with St Denis, it’s the road leading from the coast, all the way to the national park in the centre of St Denis.

Let me tell you that there is there a lot to see there. The tour started off at the town hall in St Denis, which is an outstanding building. High ceilings, twisting traditional staircases created using rare, local wood. Upstairs is a lavish meeting room; in which you could fit hundreds of people. The courtyard surrounds an ancient fountain, and there are dozens of paintings of the man himself, Denis de Paris (who only seemed to appear in his ‘headless‘ state – surely he is known for the things he did before his head and his body parted ways…).

Out of the town hall we carried on up the street. We visited several town houses that each had interesting stories, famous inhabitants or both! Take for example the story of the rich man with four young daughters. One day the father discovered that his youngest was pregnant with the grounds man’s child! Well, the father did what any other father would do: he forced the four girls to wear white and to remain virgins for the rest of their lives, thus saving the family name! Quite a different world it was back then…

Aside from the historical gossip, the beautiful houses and their grounds, the guide also showed us a «Palme à citron» It’s true! We also discovered various trees, plants and leaves that grow in the gardens, houses tiled with tamarind, the features of the famous Reunionese porches whose design is important to keeping social traditions. You’ll have to take the visit to see what I mean exactly, but it’s all about showing where a guest stands on the social ladder compared to the host. A guest would be invited for a drink on the porch (which is one step up from the garden), and if that goes well the next time they would be invited inside the house (which is one step up from the porch).

All in all, an excellent morning. I did regret not wearing my sports shoes though!

Vocabulary

to book – réserver
bright and early – très tôt
town hall – mairie
outstanding – exceptionnel
ceiling – plafond

twisting – sinueux
staircase – escalier
lavish – luxueux
courtyard – cour
to surround – entourer

headless – sans tête
to carry on – continuer
pregnant – enceinte
grounds man – jardinier
aside from – à part

gossip – commérages
porch – varangue
to stand – situer
social ladder – l’échelle sociale
step – étape

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