On Saturday me and Rachel ventured into Colmar to see for ourselves one of the renowned Alsatian Christmas markets. I was keen to see if they were as great as everyone said they were and if they would live up to my high expectations. I had wanted to go to Strasbourg (one of the biggest cities in the area) to see its Christmas markets despite the warnings of large crowds, little walking space and over-expensive wares. But in the end it hadn’t been possible and as Colmar isn’t too far away, I decided to go there.
On the bus journey over one of the other English assistants got on so we ended up spending the day together. As soon as we got off the bus we headed for the town centre – I’m beginning to feel very familiar with Colmar but every time I go there I seem to discover something new about it and I must admit I’m very much in love with the place; the buildings, the windy cobbled streets, the fountains, the quaint little shops and the river, known as the little Venice. It’s all so beautiful and even more so at Christmas time.
As we got closer to the town centre we noticed signposts guiding tourists like us (although we can hardly be called tourists) to the Christmas markets. As we passed through the park we saw the big outdoor ice rink and little wooden cabins selling Alsatian specialities and mulled wine.
Despite the signs to help us it took us a little while to find our first market but on our way we drifted into some of the many boutiques and gift shops, all beautifully decorated. It was wonderful, much prettier than anything I usually see back home. The town had really gone all out to make sure its visitors were not disappointed.
The first market we found was rather too small and crowded to be appreciated properly but all the same, it was much better than the one at Guebwiller. The markets we found afterwards were just as crowded but the more I saw the more I began to appreciate and understand what was so special about the Alsatian Christmas markets. The items on sale ranged from mulled wine to wooden puppets, from decorations to hand-made soap and every cabin was beautifully decorated. In the background English Christmas carols played and I sensed a great Christmassy atmosphere. Now and again we’d come across a person in the crowd wearing a crazy hat in various shapes and forms. On most occasions it was a stalk, the famous Alsatian mascot. We did our best to surreptitiously get photos of this strange attire every time it passed but this wasn’t exactly easy.
As well as the stalls were fun fair rides for children (and adults). One of the rides we came across was a circular track for horses which jolted along carrying a child. Adults were also permitted to have a go but let’s be honest, no respectable dignified adult would dare to do something like that. I thought I was such a person until Rachel asked if I’d like to have a go with her and I thought why not. It couldn’t be that embarrassing could it? It turned out to be one of the most publicly humiliating situations that I’ve ever voluntarily put myself into but it was still good fun, although going round the corners, I felt like I was going to fall off and I wondered if perhaps the horse was strong enough to hold me. Going through the station, I dared to look up at the parents waiting for their children and their expressions held a mixture of disapproval and amusement. I’m afraid we might not have done much good to the British reputation in France.
After that rather embarrassing experience we looked round a bit more of the Christmas markets before deciding we’d seen enough – I discovered there’s only so much you can take. On our way back to the bus station we stopped to get a cup of mulled wine from one of the many stands. It was very strong and very warming, just what we needed in the freezing weather. We had been certain it would snow but all the sky gave us were some heavy rain showers. After the storm we’d had during the week when it had rained continuously and gale-force winds had blown incessantly, I was rather sick of rain. I get enough of that back home.
I can safely say that the Christmas markets did live up to my high expectations and on leaving, I felt considerably more Christmassy than I had done.
That evening we had a special Church service as it was the last before Christmas. Various people came to the front to show off their acting and musical skills. Lydie, one of the English teachers who is also in charge of the photography, showed a very amusing photo montage of everybody in the church. It was all very entertaining but I felt the worship should have been placed at the beginning rather than the end. I also had the pleasure of seeing one of the English girls who came here a couple of years ago, Becky Cole. I was kind of hoping I wouldn’t have to meet her face-to-face and so spend the after-service part trying to avoid her. I just didn’t feel comfortable meeting her, it’s been hard enough trying to shake off the Elizabeth shadow and I know God has called each English girl here for a different purpose but it’s hard when people talk about the English girls before me as if I’m just a replacement of them.
In the end, it was her boyfriend who I got introduced to because someone heard I was from Wales and he’s from Wales too so we kind of got paired together to share our Welshness. It was kind of cool because he’s the first Welsh person I’ve bumped into since being here. Like me, he didn’t sound at all Welsh and had more of a South England accent. We spoke at considerable length about different things: what I was doing here, how I ended up here etc. I learnt from him that Becky had found it very difficult here to begin with and had been very close to coming home (she originally stayed with the Fau family like me but couldn’t bear it so moved into the Chateau to live independently). She is now a French teacher at a Christian school in England. At least her teaching experience here proved relevant for what she ended up doing after university and from what I gathered, she spent a lot more time teaching than I do.
By the end of the evening I was evidently introduced to Becky herself who told me how much she had hated it here to begin with but now she finds herself so at home here. I know that I too will leave at the end of the year and think of this place as home. Did God plan it that way? Yes, I think He did.
Tuesday was the last day of term and a great day at that. I went into school early that morning with Anais. My first lesson wasn’t until 9:30 but I still had some preparation to do and since moving, we haven’t been connected to the internet. For my end of term lesson with the 4eme we did a small sketch from the Nativity (the second group did this considerably better than the first), a Christmas word search and started talking about ideas for our New Year Resolutions.
At 11:30 I had my first full lesson with the 4eme because the teacher wasn’t there and she had asked me to fill in. I was quite excited about doing it and made extra care that I was well-prepared. They were all in excitable Christmas mode so managing the noise level was sometimes difficult but I think I managed rather well considering I’m only four or five years older than them and have had no teaching experience before. To help me in my mission was a bag of sweets which I used to make them work hard and create competiveness. It worked well but some of the students got a bit too worked up when I denied them a sweet.
For lunch I headed over to La Maternelle for a pre-arranged pizza lunch. I was looking forward to it and by the time I got there I was very much in need of it. Sitting in the classroom, munching on pizza and surrounded by children and adults I’ve come to know so well, I sensed a feeling of peace and being at home. It’s almost like God is saying to me ‘This is where you belong now’.
At 14:00 was the school party/concert. Everyone gathered into the Evangelical church just next to the school to watch a series of performances by the children. As well as feeling excited I was also a bit nervous – for the past three weeks I had been teaching my class of 8-9 year olds the chorus to ‘This Little Light of Mine’ for them to perform in front of everybody, along with another class from the primary school. Before going into the hall I managed to catch up with them and used my magic bag of sweets to encourage them to sing well. But I still felt the pressure was on and when the teacher from the class we were meant to be performing with came to me and said we weren’t on the programme and that it might not be possible for my class to sing with hers, I really began to panic. But after a bit of negotiation with her and another teacher in charge of the programme we managed to sort it and my class sang great. I’ve never felt more relieved and I felt so proud of them all.
Despite the room being full I managed to leave my standing-by-the-wall-teacher position and squeezed in between Anais and another girl. The rest of the concert went great and afterwards we were invited to share cake and warm spicy orange juice together in the school. It was a great way to end the term.
That evening at 19:00 I had been invited to the teachers’ party which I was very excited about and very honoured to have been invited to. For the first time in my life I am no longer a student. The dress code was formal and luckily Laetitia had lent me a brand new black dress which she had never worn. It fitted perfectly and a lot of people said how nice I looked that evening. The theme of the party was casino. On arrival everyone was handed an envelope which contained some fake money for us to use in the ‘casino’. There were a number of different games, each managed by a student. It was great fun and I ended up being in a group with Aida, her husband and another man who I didn’t know. The first game we had a go at was a maths game and very complicating so I was doomed to fail right from the start. The game I proved to have most luck in was Jenga so ended up having a few games of that.
For dinner we all sat together in a big classroom and the students waited on us. The food was great. For mains there was chicken, a cooked tomato and a potato thing with a lovely garlic sauce. In between mains and dessert we enjoyed some more playing time and for those of us that had enough money by the end, there was an auction with various goodies. I was excluded from this, having done more losing than winning that night.
Straight after dessert I had to leave with Aida and Smaely because they were taking me home and Smaely had to be at work in the morning. On leaving, Patrick, the school director came to say goodbye and gave us each a hug. Getting a hug from my boss. Now that’s a first. It had been a great evening and yet another reminder that this is my home now.
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