Tag Archives: living in Guadeloupe

Done and done.

20 Apr

Yip. Not much writing being done! I’ve been riding the roller coaster of expat life on an island where I don’t belong. No really, I do not belong here. Sometimes in life, you just need to realize that you need something else. Maybe forever, maybe temporarily, but in any case, something else. 

“Yeah, if you were happy with yourself you’d be happy anywhere.” Uh-huh. Ok. Let me air drop you into __________(insert worst place you can think of here), Captain Zen, and you tell me how that goes. 

We’ve been enjoying our home. She is beautiful. I will sincerely miss her. Thing is, when it’s scary to to out of the house, even a beautiful house can start to feel a bit confining. “Scary? Come on. You’re exaggerating  You’re married. You have a visa, everything should be great and easy now!” Ya. I know. And it is. In my personal life. Except for the fact that – I know I’ll get some hate for this – there are too many rude, depressing, haters on this island. (I realize the irony of me writing that) 

Example 1:

My girlfriend goes to her usual supermarket. At the checkout stand, she asks if they sell bags. Normally all the stores do, especially for cold and frozen goods. They whip them out from under the register and charge you for it and life goes on. Checkout lady replies, “No, and I don’t have time for this.” Really, checkout lady? You don’t have time for this? While you’re sitting on a chair at the checkout stand you don’t have time to answer yes or no to a question concerning a bag to carry items bought in the store? No time? Too busy doing…..oh right. Your job. Which would likely include answering that question. 

Example 2:

I’m standing in line to checkout at the supermarket. At the last minute a man jumps in front of me. I’ve been watching him dance between two lines, not waiting in either one of them. He only has one item, so I let him go. After he’s paid, and while he’s organising his change, I say calmly and with a smile, “You know, if you had asked to go in front of me I would have said yes, but it would have been nice if you asked.” His reply, “I didn’t do that.” My face, incredulous, I reply, stil smiling (but now because I’m laughing), “I just watched you do that. Are you joking? It’s fine, but honestly, you should at least ask first, it’s just polite. I waited in line for ten minutes and you just jumped in front of me.” Again, like a child who believes they can’t be seen under the blanket, he replies, “No, it wasn’t me.” Ok. This is what I’m dealing with. 

Example 3:

I arrive at my car in the parking lot. Woman is opening the passenger side door of her car next to my driver’s side. It is very windy. She opens the door and just lets it go, the door whips open and slams into my car, denting it and leaving paint on it. She continues what she’s doing in the front seat of her car, and when she comes out of her passenger side – and only when she is done doing whatever she’s doing, she shuts her door, and walks nonchalantly to her driver’s side. I say, “Excuse me, ma’am. Your door dented my car.” Her reply? “It’s not my fault. What’s your problem?! I’m not responsible for what the door to my car does!” I ask her, “OH? so who is responsible for your car, ma’am? Who should I talk to?” Her reply, “Pffffff….get out of here, you’re bothering me! Go take care of your own problems!”

Yeah. Great. 

Example 4:

I’m walking my dog. On leash. Man sitting at a picnic table walks towards me and asks me when we can cook and eat the dog. Yep. That happened. 

If these things happened once in a while, it would be funny. Thing is, I have the impression that they happen all the time. That this is the general population. if I want to go out of my house to do the neccesary things, like food shop, mail letters, exist, I have to encounter shit like this. Does this happen in the states? Of course it does. Can I move away from it to a place where in general people are more polite and logical? Yes. Would I then experience this nonsense less often? Yes. But…Guadeloupe is SMALL. When things in general  start to bother you, there isn’t really that far to run to avoid it. 

Thankfully there are a small handful of people on the island that impart just enough hope and positivity to help me keep my head above water. There are really nice, interestED and interestING people here. I think they hide. Likely because they experience the same shit I do and enjoy it about as much. I’ve met some born and bred locals who are incredibly kind, creative, open hearted. These people need to procreate. More of that please! I consider it an amazing feat to be born and raised in Guadeloupe and be positive, zen and happy. I do. This is not an easy place. The more I learn the more I’m enthralled and yet ready to leave. A Guadeloupean woman I met in my visa process, who was of great help to me, told me her personal story. What left me amazed is how she explained that after she did her studies, and came back to Guadeloupe to start her own business, she was essentially shunned from her own community. She was told she was now a ‘negropolitan’, who did she think she was, that she was above them, etc etc. What a pity. When people could look at someone and say, ‘oh I want to be more like them’, instead they say, ‘I want to defeat them’. It’s a choice. An interesting one. It’s not the first time I’ve heard that type of story, but the first time I heard it directly from a Guadeloupean. 

All this to say, it’s not me, this place is tough. It is not warm and fuzzy. You will not be greeted with open arms and open minds. It is, I would venture to say, unprogressive. Is that even a word?

BUT. Always a but. I can’t tell you I wouldn’t come back. WHAT?! I know. I know. I need a break. I need some perspective. I need something else. I know we’ll move sometime in the coming year, and with that knowledge I can say that I can see the intermittent good things about Guadeloupe. Perhaps one day we could come back. But for now…it’s time to focus on a different, hopefully more polite and uplifting path. Meantime, I’m perfecting my baking skills and my three guys make perfect taste testers. We also have a new puppy (there’s an spca in Guadeloupe – see? A positive!) who is freaking adorable, which totally makes my day. A bientot.

 

 

 

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11 Aug

There are things I learn in my French life that I am sure exist in my American life but that I just didn’t happen upon until I was in version francais. For example: this tiny grater that comes in the tiny bottle of muscade (nutmeg). How freaking adorable is that?

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Things I miss and things I still don’t understand

7 Jan

Just ruminating today on some things I still don’t understand here in Guadeloupe. There are some services that don’t exist here (and also some that do, but let’s focus on the missing) where I believe they certainly should. I miss these things from home. Let’s examine them:

That person who runs to the checkout line to get the code/price for the item you are trying to buy which doesn’t have the price tag on it.

Yeah, I’ve mentioned it before. They don’t care here. Don’t have a code on the cheese you took half an hour to find? That’s your problem, and you need to fix it. While everyone stares at you from the line behind you making disappointed noises. Two thumbs down. I LOVE that person.  I miss that person. I think Guadeloupe needs to create jobs and this should be one of them, pronto.

The scale for the fruits and veggies at the checkout stand.

It’s DIY here. Battle the grey-haired pushers and get to the scale with your fruits and veggies, weigh them, stick the price sticker on them. Do not mistake one type of fruit for another, because if you are paying more, they’ll never tell you. If you are paying less, they might just ring that item up twice. I would really prefer that the store and the people who work there bear the burden of marking the items with the correct prices. Isn’t that why they work there and I’m the customer?

The bagger.

Nobody will ever put things into bags for you in the grocery stores in Guadeloupe. In other types of stores they might. It could go either way. At the clothing stores I find they do, and in the sporting goods store I find they ever so slowly place your items in a pile without even looking at where they’re placing them. They then pass you a plastic bag without looking at you. Bag it yourself, muchacho. I do miss someone putting things in bags for me. You know why? Because it’s nice. It’s helpful. And it kind of goes with the whole checkout thing ala “Thank you for spending money here, I’ll now burn minimal calories to place these things into a bag so that you can swiftly exit and I can help the person waiting behind you, have a nice day”. Why not?

The waitstaff hello.

While food may not be, food service is lost on Guadeloupe. Il n’existe pas. Waitstaff approach the table and say, “Oui?”  That’s it. Now, I will say while that the overall service in restaurants stateside is far superior, sometimes it is a bit over the top. I really thought the girl at Starbucks was going to propose to me before I even told her what I wanted. Five minutes of high pitched fast talking super bubbly greetings and offerings and suggestions later I had forgotten what I wanted. I was mesmerized or confused, not sure which. Overkill. But a nice hello good morning how may I help you would be nice. I do miss that. But you know, it’s hot here. Extra talking is just too sweaty a task.

Things being open on Sunday.

There are a few things. It’s not entirely lost. But it is extremely limited. I miss that option. I think for a lot of people, the weekend is the only time you can actually get out to do your shopping. So what, you have Saturday? So little choice. I miss that. It’s convenient.I mean, THE MALL is closed on Sunday. What the….?!

My girlfriends from home.

No matter how long you live Someplace Else, girlfriends who know you well, who understand your jokes, and whom you can understand entirely…they’re missed. New friends can become great friends, but I don’t know…there’s just something about friends from home.

Cathedral, no belly.

13 Dec

After a trip back to the states, Pirate and I are back in the swing of things here in Gwa-duh (that’s what I call it when I’m not loving it.) Upon our return, we discovered that the Mensa geniuses working on our future home had really outdone themselves. Ideally, a house has a roof. So the roof sits on top of a support system made out of enormous wooden beams, in our case. The too-high IQ club decided to create the support system in Gwa-duh style. What that means is, they didn’t look at the plans. Not even once. They may have even brought the wrong plans with them to the job site and then only used those to wrap their morue sandwiches. The roof support is over a meter too tall. We have a cathedral folks. An open air cathedral which cannot take the roof because the roof is now too small for the roof support.

Solution? Too-high IQ club to the rescue, to tear down their craftsmanship and rebuild. Months of delay.

Well, it’s not like we don’t have a home. We’re good. But it’s the principle of the thing, isn’t it? This feeling of are you people kidding me how do you get by day to day can be quite overwhelming at times. It comes on in waves. Sometimes it’s little things, like what I perceive to be rudeness from the locals:

Walking into the small store in my neighborhood for some groceries…

Me:”Bonjour”. (It is customary here still to say bonjour when walking into almost anyplace, a store, a waiting room, a restaurant even.

Them:”__________”

At the checkout stand…

Me:”Bonjour!”

Them:”__________”

After I’ve paid, upon leaving, to the same person as above…

Me:”Au revoir, bonne journee”.

Them:”___________”

 

It’s such a small thing, really, but repeated time and time again it can really get under your skin and begin to weigh on you. I guess on the upside I’m learning to appreciate just how spoiled I was in the states. Service is nice. Do people always do things right?  Absolutely not. Could we have had the same thing happen with the roof in the states? Sure. I would argue that it’s less likely to be handled in the same way though. A mistake like that is a mistake. People respond. Perhaps not how you would like them too, but probably not by sucking their teeth and responding to your awe with, “Ahhh, bon? Hmmm, beehhh, je ne sais pas….you have a roof, so….

(Sucking the teeth, or the lips in against the teeth is culturally accepted here as the equivalent to an American “tsk” or  a heavy sigh signifying confusion, frustration, or some level of unhappiness, it’s referred to as ‘the chip’ and is rather comical when you hear a symphony of ‘chips’ when there is a line of people at the supermarket who all realize at the same time that the granny checking out is writing a check.  The ‘chip’ comes in various lengths and volumes to signify the level of unhappiness)

How does it all come together, the little rude things and the huge incompetencies? Well, it makes for days or periods of time where you wonder, are these people miserable or do I just not understand?  Do they really dislike me for no apparent reason, and what a bummer that I begin to feel the same in return, disinterested in learning the culture and finding friends. Hate that. 

Then I go to another local store which frankly I like better and I remember why. It’s not the prices, they’re higher. It’s not the location, it’s totally out of my way. It’s the lady who owns it and works there. She’s great. We chat. About nothing. About whatever. She doesn’t push me. She remembers what I like and lets me know where the freshest things are. She tells me what they’ll be preparing for take out meals over the weekend and the price, if I’m interested. She smiles. She says she knew I didn’t have kids because I don’t have a belly like her, which makes me giggle because she says it with a huge smile and we both laugh. She says see you next time honey. If only those few people who give out that little bit of happiness knew how much it changed the day of the proud owner of an unintended open air cathedral.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Local fruit in Guadeloupe

14 Sep

You know when you discover something so basic that you feel kind of stupid for not knowing about it beforehand? Yeah. Welcome to the most common emotional state of someone who likes to make things way more complicated than they really are. In two years, I’ve never tried to make puree, which is quite popular here: in order to make gratin, for mixing into various baked items, stuff like that. My neighbor recently shared some homemade gratin banane with me which was just the best thing ever. When she explained how she made it, it was so simple sounding that I was ashamed I’d never tried.  Here I was thinking this delicious stuff can’t be easy to make or it wouldn’t be so delicious. Wrong! Another friend introduced me to this basic kitchen apparatus, the passe-purée.  So simple. So basic. So easy. So useful. 

This morning I used my very own, newly purchased passe-purée to make some puree of mango and banana, both picked from nearby gardens. I mixed it with some yogurt. Best. Breakfast. Ever.   Oh, but wait. I have another best ever.  Last week, I bought a two Euro bag of local guavas, and made three – THREE – bottles of guava juice. Seriously? BEST EVER!

Long live grandma’s passe-purée!

Old school passe-puree.

Mango banana puree mixed with yogurt.

This bed is a piece of toast. Toast, I tell you.

8 Sep

Just as I was waxing philosophical thanks to a reader’s mention of ‘enoughness’, I discovered this great post on this great site which I feel relates to the idea of enoughness, only coming from a slightly different angle.  Here’s what I’ve learned from two different people:

Enoughness=not having all the ‘stuff’ you had in your own country, but realizing that actually you have enough, even if you have less ‘stuff’.  Being able to feel happy without having everything you want or even everything you thought you needed.

Toleration: “The things (small and large) that we put up with in life but which make our lives just that bit more difficult and frustrating” –Evelyn of thesmartexpat.com

There are lots of  serious issues surrounding survival in another country, like healthcare, money, safety, your rights. I’d like to confess that it’s the little things that get me, in terms of enoughness and tolerations. Let’s review:

In the US, it’s fairly easy (although admitedly expensive) to buy a big, comfy bed where two people can sleep through the night without any of the following:

“Move over, I’m practically off the bed!” “Me too.” “Not even possible!(looks)Oh. Merde alors!”

Could I have a freaking corner of the blanket perhaps?”

“I can’t move my neck. The air conditioning blew directly on me all night. That can’t be good air. I think I’m sick. ”

“Is that a scolo?”

“Look on the wall. You told me cockroaches didn’t like heights and can’t fly.”

I have to say, and call me as American as you will, that the size of the beds here, and as I’ve seen in France,  were clearly designed without measuring the average person’s overall size.  It is clear to me that the beds were designed after some group of mattress researchers went into a third grade classroom, took measurements of height and weight, and left triumphant  and secure in their calculations for mattress production for grown ups.  Honestly, could we not simply have a mattress bigger than and thicker than a piece of toast? Is there not a topsheet or a blanket which could cover more than me or Pirate?  Why I ask you, must I set up a windguard system using duct tape, an old curtain, and a fan to block the lowest wind speed of 50mph which comes from the air conditioning unit which is (obviously)  mounted directly above our bed, which, based on the laws of physics and excellent architectural design, can only be placed in that particular spot in the room?

So you know, we tolerate it. We tolerate the matzoh bread mattress. We stay strong in the face of the howling wind that is the low setting on the clim, and I begin speaking to Pirate after a couple cups of coffee in the morning although he did his magic grab, roll, and lock trick with the covers all night leaving me windburnt and stiff-necked. We tolerate. Why? Because I’m happy to have the clim, after all. Not having it is insanity during the summer months, and only half insanity in the other months. And because frankly we’re happy to have a bed that was bought new and is clean and, when I’m not kicking Pirate in the ribs to get some space, it’s actually comfortable enough. Enough.

Enoughness. It is enough, isn’t it, to have a nice bed? Even if I can’t have that deep, soft, sleep inducing comfortable pilow-top mattress I left behind (read:still whine over) in San Francisco? It is. And since we sleep upstairs, isn’t it enough that we even have air conditioning, as opposed to sweating through nights relying on one window to bring in enough air to keep us comfortable? It is. It is enough, because when I wake up on the floor and see Pirate sleeping soundly on the toast, I look out the window at the town and the sea below us, re-align my spine, and consider the beautiful island I live on and the gorgeous beaches I frequent, the fresh food I prepare for Pirate and Les Monstres.

The question is, are two cups of coffee really enough for Pirate to begin talking to me in the morning or should he wait until I’ve had a third one – the coffee here just isn’t up to par you know….no seriously, have you had Blue Bottle Coffee? There’s just no going back from that….

Around Guadeloupe – homes and other buildings

7 Sep

Once you get used to a place, do you forget what it felt like to see it as new? Houses and buildings in Guadeloupe seem different to me now than they did when I first arrived. At night, for example, things are closed. You can’t tell if anyone lives there during the day, when places are opened to the air and the sun. At night, homes are shut to counter mosquitoes and to use the air conditioning. Where I’m from, central air conditioning is sacred. Seriously, open air? No screens? Insanity. Nature is out. People are in. Sweat your butt off outside but wear a sweater inside. The outside look of a house where I was raised doesn’t change much from night to day, apart from lighting. In Guadeloupe, the whole look of the house changes. Closed is closed. Big wooden shutters keep out bugs and light and keep in air conditioning, or as they call it, “clim”. (pronounced cleem, short for climatiseur – so fancy-pants.)

I enjoy looking at the houses and buildings around Guadeloupe. There are very old houses, and apartment buildings, each apartment with it’s tiny balcony where laundry is dried and stuff is stored. There are wooden island homes and concrete island homes.. There is a lot of graffiti in Guadeloupe in general. Some of it is art in the form of murals, but a lot of it is just crap. Older complexes and buildings have a ton of graffiti, which is what gives off such an uninviting air. Aside from the fact that I’m just another blogger, my lack of professional journalism shines through in the fact that I don’t even have a camera with a flash with which to take photos of graffiti covered buildings at night, so enjoy a few photos of houses and buildings in Guadeloupe during the day…

Older well maintained house, Sainte Anne Guadeloupe

Calm and cool, front porch of beautiful wooden home, Sainte Anne Guadeloupe

Bright happy colors, big wooden doors, Sainte Anne Guadeloupe

Newer construction for the library in Saint François Guadeloupe

Incredible color inside an open air bedroom, Tendacayou Hotel and Spa, Basse-Terre Guadeloupe

Older style home in Sainte Anne, put together over time around a small wooden central house. On the left is the closed in yard and other parts of the home.

Abandoned home on the side of the main road, Morne a l’Eau Guadeloupe

Messages in La Marina, Gosier Guadeloupe

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