Life in Réunion

A Dirty Weekend

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

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

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

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

Vocabulary

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

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

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

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

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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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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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Life in the Circus

Like so many of us today, I sometimes find that working can be stressful. Whether you’re an employee, executive, or freelancer like myself, you often feel like a circus performer: you could be a lion-tamer managing your boss, a high-wire artist trying not to fall, or an acrobat juggling a hundred different hoops at the same time.

Personally, the circus act I feel closest to is the plate-spinner. You know, they have a whole load of plates spinning on wooden sticks, and they have to keep rushing from one to another and back again to stop the plates from falling and smashing on the ground.

Of course, it depends on the time of the year. But just one glimpse at my timetable and to-do list for this week is a daunting challenge. I’ve three main activities: coaching, interpreting and translating so, in reverse order, this week’s plates have included translating the following documents: Air Austral’s in-flight magazine, a European regional funding report, a short film in Mafate and the finishing touches to the Musée de Villèle website and application.

As far as interpreting goes, I need to brush up on my technical vocab for next week’s Iomma, the three day Indian Ocean music market before Sakifo kicks off.

And as for the coaching, every week involves a lot of driving. As I work between St Louis and Ste Suzanne, I usually do an average of 2000 km per month. The companies where I teach business English at the moment work in fields such as sugar cane, automobiles, IT, tourism, construction and regional cooperation.

Ok, this might sound like a lot, but it’s not finished yet! I do my own admin, so there are all the quotations and invoices to send, money to chase up and, of course, taxes to pay! And not forgetting working on anglais.re’s podcasts and e-learning program with my fantastic friend and colleague Richard, and having the privilege of working with all my fellow English trainers, translators and interpreters. You know who you are!

Like them, I enjoy keeping myself busy. But I must admit it would be nice to work just a little bit less! However, once a plate has started spinning, you can’t let it stop and crash to the ground! Which reminds me, I have to go now, as my circus act is calling me, and there are a few plates which need my attention! That’s life in the circus folks!

Vocabulary

whether = si (oui ou non)
executive = cadre
lion-tamer = dompteur de lion
high-wire artist = funambule
circus act = numéro de cirque

plate-spinning = assiette tournante
to smash = éclater en morceaux
glimpse = aperçu
timetable = planning
daunting = décourageant

to brush up on = réviser
to involve = impliquer
average = moyenne
fields = domaines
my own = ma propre

quotations = devis
invoices = factures
to chase up = relancer
fellow = confrère
however = par contre

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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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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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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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What a Waste!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vocabulary

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

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

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

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

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Arrival

My arrival in Reunion is hard to forget. I remember the flight so well! Sat in the airport, I was so scared! When they announced my flight, I picked up my hand luggage and slowly joined the queue; it felt like I was in a dream, my head and body felt numb. But when they called my row of seats, I leapt from my apathetic state into action, rushing to the front of the queue.

I flashed my boarding pass and headed off down the corridor, the end of which I could see the plane’s open door. And then it happened. All the fear, all the panic, all the apprehension, every negative feeling I had had over the previous 12 months vanished into oblivion, and all the worry and dread disappeared. I was so happy, so excited, nothing was going to stop me. This was my adventure and no-one was going to get in my way.

On one side of my seat was a German kid on an exchange program. It didn’t matter. In front of me were his 30 schoolmates. It didn’t matter. On the other side was his moustached German teacher. It didn’t matter. I didn’t even mind him talking to me for 11 hours. I didn’t mind it when he kept getting up every 20 minutes to tell his kids to shut up. Nothing mattered. Nothing mattered but this indescribable feeling of freedom.

About six hours later, the darkness outside began to glow faintly, and then the sun began to rise. When you’re at 30,000 feet the sunrise is pretty special – I’m glad Wolfgang next to me kept me awake with his ramblings or else I wouldn’t have seen it. 4 hours later, we landed.

From my seat on the plane, I had no view of the island as we landed, and so my first glimpse was after having picked up my guitar and suitcase and departed the terminal. What a view! The mountains in the distance hit me first, and then the sunshine, and then the heat. Stifling’s the word, I think. I gave a thought to the folks back home as I slipped on the shades they’d given me, and I hailed a cab, jumped in, and headed off to a new world.

Three hours later I was sat in my hotel near the sea front – looking right out of my balcony I could see the most amazing mountains and looking left, the Indian Ocean. It was time to explore!

Vocabulary

flight = vol
scared = effrayé
hand luggage = bagages à main
numb = engourdi
to leap = sauter 

to rush = se précipiter
worry = inquiétude
dread = effroi
it didn’t matter = c’était sans importance
schoolmates = camarades de classe 

darkness = obscurité
to glow = luire
sunrise = lever du soleil
ramblings = incohérences
glimpse = apercu

suitcase = valise
stifling = étouffant
the folks = les proches
shades = lunettes de soleil
to hail = héler

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It’s All About Balance

Ask my partner what his favourite sport is and he will, without a doubt, respond “Slacklining”. For those of you who aren’t sure what this sport is, you might have seen it on the beach. It’s a flat webbed line that is set up between two anchors (for example: two trees) and then individuals, such as my partner will then balance and walk across it, or try to do certain tricks such as sitting down with their legs crossed. But it doesn’t just stop there, there are many categories, including: highline (a slackline set up, for example, in between two mountains), jumpline (instead of walking across, the slacker performs tricks while bouncing on the line) and waterline (slackline set up over water) as some of you may have seen in St Gilles in front of the waterfalls.

When we first arrived in Reunion Island, four years ago, my partner would set up his slackline on the beach, which would result in many stares and looks of surprise, there just weren’t that many people doing it here. There were even times when random people would break out in applause when a slacker would accomplish a difficult trick.

As time went on the slackliners on the island formed a small community, which eventually grew into a slackline association. Nowadays when you go to the beach there is a slackline set up every 20 meters, and you see everyone from children to grandparents testing out their balance. However, many of the die-hard slackliners tend to stick together, organizing meetings, events, and installations, sharing a passion that they all have in common, that of balance.

Slacklining on the island has evolved, just as the slackliners continue to evolve testing slacklines that are more and more challenging, longer and higher each time.  Just last year a well-known slackliner from France, Nathan Paulin came to Reunion to break the Highline world record and crossed 403meters on his second try! He has since, broken this record and crossed a 1km Highline in France. Highlining isn’t just about the slackline, it’s also about the installation which requires lots of equipment and some rock climbing know-how, and there is also the mental aspect of getting over your fear of heights, the one time I tried a highline my brain somehow missed out on the “you are safe, you’re wearing a harness” messages I was sending to it, and I was frozen with fear, I couldn’t even attempt to stand up on the line as I was hanging on for dear life.

Connected to nature, the rush of adrenaline, working every muscle in your body as you attempt to fight the urge to topple to the ground, and just like many things in life slacklining is all about balance.

Vocabulary

webbed line = sangle
balance = équilibre
tricks = figures
waterfalls = cascades
to stare = fixer (du regard)

applause = applaudissements
to form = former
to grow = se développer
nowadays = de nos jours
die-hard = fervent

to stick together = rester ensemble
well known = bien connu
world record = record du monde
to cross = traverser
rock climbing = escalade

know-how = savoir-faire
fear of heights = peur du vide
harness = baudrier
to hang on for dear life = se cramponner de toutes ses forces
to topple = tomber

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