Published: October 17th 2010October 17th 2010
I found out in May this year that my application was successful to work as an English Language Assistant in Guadeloupe, a French département in the Caribbean. My contract began on the 1st of October, so to kick things off, I flew over a couple of weeks beforehand to get everything sorted before starting work. My previous experience in France had taught me that getting things sorted can take time and I was hoping to get paid before the New Year sets in!
I flew to Paris first in order to take a direct flight to Guadeloupe. My parents decided to accompany me to Paris and we spent a fantastic day wandering around in the sunshine, taking in the sights such as Napoleon’s tomb at Invalides, walk’s along the Seine and a trip on the infamous bateau mouche, which was beautiful and I even got a peek at the French Statue of Liberty, hiding just beyond the Eiffel Tower.
The following day, I left my parents to fly from Orly to Guadeloupe with Air Caraibes. Their slogan is ‘Du soleil sur toute la ligne’, which couldn’t be more true, as the sun was blaring in through the cabin window,
so much so that I couldn’t see my TV screen and was forced to shut the blind, blocking out the sun I had so yearned for. After 8 hours, I arrived on an overcast Caribbean island. However, the heat beating through the clouds was too much for me and my backpacks and I went to the nearest taxi to take me to the school I would be working at on the west coast of the island. Having been quoted the outrageous price of €70, I made my way back into the arrivals area, partly because I wanted to find out the proper rates of taxis and partly because I wanted to avail of the air conditioning inside of the building. I walked up to an information stand to ask about taxi rates and the lady behind the counter turned me away in the way that only French people can, rudely flicking her hand at me back and forth, claiming she did not know, despite the fact that she was providing a information service. As soon as I turned around, another taxi driver approached me saying he could bring me to my destination for €50. I thought to myself, it’s still
pricey, but knowing it was an hour away and not having a clue how to get to the bus station and the humidity prevailing upon me made my response a positive one and we jumped into his taxi. As we drove through the winding roads, I noticed a resemblance to Costa Rica, where I had spent a few days during the summer. I was excited about exploring this island. After a long drive, we pulled up outside the lycée and I went inside and met several of the teachers who made me feel very welcome. However, the jet lag coupled with my intermediate French made my talking and understanding difficult!
The school I am working with had offered accommodation in the boarding school for the year. This did not sound like the Caribbean experience I had desired, but I decided to stay there for a couple of weeks until I found my own accommodation. Hogwarts, it was not! Not a Caribbean wizard in sight. An ominous poster was in my room, detailing what to do in the event of an earthquake. I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore! The boarding school was ok for a few days, but
upon discovering that I would be living in an empty building at weekends and during the holidays, I decided this was not for me. I high-tailed it to Deshaies, a quaint little village near some of the islands most beautiful beaches; to live with one of the teachers I am working with, for a couple of weeks.
Having studied French to degree level, having lived in France on two separate occasions and trying regularly to speak the language, I would say my French is at best, at an intermediate level. I have come to Guadeloupe to improve my French, with the hopes of going into secondary school teaching upon my return to Ireland. I have recently finished a book by the humorist David Sedaris, who like me has difficulties learning the French language. I think he puts it best, in stating that he understands most of what is being said with the occasional interjection of miscomprehension, something along the lines of the following: “And so, Mme, this is the apartment, the top part of a villa, there is jkljfsdafjkl
and all bills are included in the rental price. The lkfsdfaklfjs
is downstairs and you are welcome to use it
whenever you like.” Hopefully these somewhat essential words will come to me with time.
The town I am living in, Deshaies, is difficult to get to and from, the buses are irregular and the area is quite mountainous, so walking is a bit of an ordeal. While making the mammoth uphill trek from the village to my house, I noticed several ant colonies with each ant diligently following the next, each carrying colourful flowers about three times their size, for their colony, reminding me of the beautiful colours of the landscape of the island and making my own struggling trek a little more worthwhile. Luckily, Deshaies has one of the nicest beaches on the island, La Grande Anse, where I have spent hours looking into the paradise of this Caribbean island. There are several restaurants and bars dotted around the beach with traditional Guadeloupean fare on offer. I recently tried the Colombo, chicken with rice with a curry like sauce, an excellent start to sampling the Guadeloupean dishes!
Due to the constant rain over a couple of days, the water was cut off in our school recently, giving us the Caribbean equivalent of a snow day, where we
had the day off work. I embraced it whole heartedly and made for the beach. Lucky for me, the rain had cleared by then and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
After of month of hardcore hiking and waiting for non existent buses, I have decided to rent a car for the rest of my time here, my very own Renault Clio no less, which is rather co-incidental as my middle name is Nicole. Nicole, Papa jokes aside, I was very nervous when I set about the hour and a half drive from Basse Terre to my house in Deshaies. I have just recently passed my test in Ireland and driving on the right hand side, reaching down to change gears, only to find I was opening a window, did nothing to appease my fears. Driving up the near vertical mountains that surround Basse Terre, turning blind corners, pleading to myself that a car would not be there to greet me, as I wound around the summit of a mountain, made the experience even more eventful. And finally, while grappling with the near vertical ascent, desperately dropping down gears, the Caribbean sun kissed sky opened up to deliver sheets of rain onto my car. But somehow, about half way through the journey, I began to relax a little bit and took in some of the magnificent views that lay before me. I got home and spoke with the teacher I am currently living with about my driving woes and explained that I am a relatively new driver. She told me that in France that if you are a new fully licensed driver that you need to display an A plate on your car to indicate that you are somewhat new, may not be fully au fait with driving and for other drivers to beware. Upon hearing this, I was mostly pleased, as drivers around me will give me a wide berth for the next few months. But I can’t help thinking, when will I ever get rid of my L plates?!