Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas in Paradise

It’s the middle of December, and Christmas is approaching.  But I haven’t been able to get into the Christmas spirit this year while being in the Caribbean.  How can it feel like Christmas with no snow, no Christmas tree, and no peppermint mochas?? 

Decorations in Martinique are…interesting, to say the least.  I find them to be quite tacky, like things you would find in a Dollar Store in the States.  Martinican Christmas decorations are bright and colorful, just like their clothes.  To me, it just doesn’t look like Christmas.


Buildings are often covered in hanging lights like this

Decorations in the supermarket

All the garland you could ever want

Decorated palm tree

Decorations in one of the shopping centers

Santa in front of the supermarket

Christmas threw up all over this tree

Every once in a while you’ll find a “winter scene” with fake pine trees and snow.  It shows how much commercialism has spread through the Caribbean because you know that most Martinicans have never even seen snow before.  To them, December doesn’t mean snow; it means sunshine and tourists!

Winter Wonderland in the movie theater

Even Christmas songs are extremely different than what I’ve grown up with.  All throughout November and December, Martinicans have what’s called a Chanté-Noël.  It’s basically their form of a Christmas party with Christmas songs.  But these are not your typical Christmas carols, like Silent Night or Jingle Bells.  The lyrics are mostly religious, but the songs are all set to an upbeat salsa or reggae beat.  So bizarre to hear!


Book with les cantiques

Live band at the Chanté-Noël
A Chanté-Noël can be public or private, free or paid-entry, food and drink included or not.  Each one varies, but the one I went to was in an open space in an area of Fort-de-France called Terres Saintville.  It had a live band and an area where everyone was dancing.  It was very crowded and lively, but Christmas-y?  Not so much.


It has been very interesting to experience the Christmas season in the Caribbean.  It’s a kind of culture shock I haven’t felt before.  From the sunny weather to the lack of traditional American decorations, I just haven’t been able to get that “Christmas feeling.”  When Bing Crosby sang, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” he definitely wasn’t in Martinique…

Initially, I had wanted to spend Christmas in Martinique.  I hadn’t been planning on going home at all during my seven months here because I wanted to really push myself to be away from home for an extended period of time.  But after Thanksgiving, I started to cave in.  I missed my family and didn’t want to spend a 3rd Christmas away from home.  Most of all, I wanted to see my nieces.  It’s crazy how much those two little girls mean to me!

So about two weeks ago, I told my parents I wanted to come home.  We bought a ticket, and I am currently sitting in Chicago O’Hare, sipping on a gingerbread latte.  Funny how drinking this has given me more of a Christmas feeling than anything did in Martinique!  



Saturday, December 3, 2011

America, I Miss You, I Miss You Not

Right now, I'm sitting outside enjoying a cup of coffee, reflecting on life.  I've been in Martinique for just over 2 months.  I think it's starting to hit me that I actually live here.  I can't believe how fortunate I am to have this opportunity to live in a foreign country for 7 months, let alone on a Caribbean island.  But as always, life here has its ups and downs.  There are certain things that I miss about home.  Of course, I miss my family and friends, but that goes without saying...


I Miss:
  • Dryers.  Dryers don't really exist in Martinique.  I actually really enjoy hanging my clothes outside to dry, but I miss being able to throw things in a dryer when I need to.  Most of all, I miss the feeling of warm towels fresh out of the dryer.  
  • 24/7 grocery stores.  Well, 24/7 anything really.  Everything in Martinique closes so early, and I do miss the convenience of stores being open at all hours in the United States. 
  • Microbrews.  Although beer isn't always my drink of choice, I miss the beers from back home.  The options are very limited in Martinique, and although Lorraine isn't horrible, I often find myself craving beers from home.  Especially from Short's. 
  • Cardigans and scarves.  Superficial, I know.  But anyone that knows me knows how obsessed I am with cardigans and scarves.  I miss layering.


I Don't Miss:
  • Snow.  I don't mind cooler weather, but winters in Michigan are just too cold and too long.  I like snow for a couple weeks around Christmas, and that's about it.
  • Cheese selection (or lack thereof).  I love French cheeses.  They are much too expensive in the States, and just not as good...
  • Living with my parents.  Sorry Mom and Dad, but I love my freedom.  
  • American drivers.  Although Martinican drivers are insane, I've grown accustomed to them.  I'm beginning to love the windy roads and the way Martinicans drive with such focused recklessness.  Americans should really take notes.

Although I miss certain conveniences from home, there are so many things that I love about Martinique.  Most of all, I love that I am able to be here on my own, living my life exactly how I want to be living it.
 
Me with my noodle at Madiana Plage


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Logobitombo

Life is great.  Every day I keep discovering more that I love about Martinique.  Not everything is perfect, but my life on this island is pretty amazing.  Sometimes I find myself in disbelief that I am actually here and that I'm not just dreaming...

I discovered a beach right by my house that I am absolutely in love with.  It's actually a private beach for hotel guests, but who's to know that I'm not a tourist?  They imported white sand and actually constructed the beach just for the hotel.  It has some pretty good snorkeling too, when the weather is right.  Plus, there is a bar/restaurant just by the water.

La Batelière

Corona, only 4 euros
Last week, I had a medical appointment with OFII, the office of immigration to receive my carte de séjour (which makes me a temporary French citizen).  It was just a brief exam, but then I had to get x-rays and tested for TB.  In the waiting room, there were posters everywhere about leprosy.  The workers even had t-shirts that said "la lutte contre la lèpre" (the fight against leprosy).  I'm not sure if that means it's prevalent here, but just so you know, lepers are people too and shouldn't have to live in isolation!   

Poster advocating la lutte contre la lèpre
Thursday was Thanksgiving, but since they don't celebrate it here, we didn't get any time off of school. Thursday night was spent at la Batelière getting drunk with random Irish men, but Friday evening, one of the assistants had a huge Thanksgiving dinner at her house.  We had turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, mac and cheese (random), and salad.  It was delicious, and about 30 people showed up (a blend of Americans, Canadians, Brits, Spanish, and French).  Wonderful.

Place settings, before we added an extra table
After the dinner, I went out dancing at one of the only clubs in Martinique.  It ended up being a lot of fun, but extremely expensive.  It was 10 euros to get in, and I've heard that even a beer is 8 euros.  Insane!  But Saturday morning, I woke up to this over my neighbor's house:


This morning I had to go back to the OFII office (again) to pick up my results.  Afterwards, my friend Agatha and I decided to check out what was playing at the theater (the only movie theater on the island is about 2 minutes from my house).  We stopped by the grocery store to pick up some necessities (rhum) and snuck a water bottle filled with rum, Sprite, and grenadine into the theater.  We saw The Artist, which is a silent movie in black and white.  It was amazing, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone.  You can watch the trailer here.

Tomorrow should be filled with good food, drinks, and friends.  After work, I'm going to a Bal des Pompiers (Firefighters' Ball) and then to a BBQ with some chefs that work in the military.  Amazing.

Now, go check out my new favorite dance song they play in clubs:

Logobitombo



Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Conquering Fears

I chose to come to Martinique for many reasons.  Most of all, I wanted something that was completely different than anything I had ever experienced before.  I had studied abroad in France, so Europe was somewhat familiar to me.  I wanted to learn about different people and a different culture, and the Caribbean lifestyle seemed to be exactly what I was looking for.  Plus, the beaches and rum didn't sound too bad either...

One of my goals when coming to Martinique was to try new things and really force myself to step out of my comfort zone.  I have to say that within the past two months, I have definitely been doing that.

Traveling by myself to Puero Rico was the first step.  I had traveled alone before, but it was to an English-speaking country after I had been traveling in Europe for a while.  Pushing myself to go spend a couple of days in San Juan was my initial effort to see exactly how capable I am.  It didn't turn out perfectly, but I think that's the beauty of stepping outside your comfort zone: sometimes it's great, and sometimes it's not, but you always learn something about yourself in the end.

Streets in San Juan

One of the forts in San Juan

View out of the lookout hole

One of my good friends here is big into rock climbing.  When he first talked to me about it, I thought it sounded amazing, but I was also really hesitant to try it.  In case you don't know, I am not athletic in any way.  Climbing up a rock would normally sound scary and disastrous, but in Martinique, I'm finding that I'm much more courageous.  I went rock climbing the first opportunity I had, and it ended up being a lot of fun.  I'm sure it was the route I was on, but it was a lot easier than I had imagined.  I surprised myself.

I climbed up the pink rope in the center

Then this blue rope in the center

Several weeks ago, I had a few hours to spare before going to school, so I decided to grab a quick lunch.  Normally, I would simply buy a sandwich from somewhere, but on this day, I had decided to do something that I don't usually do: I went into a real restaurant and sat down alone.  No book, nothing but me.  It's such a small thing, but it made me feel very empowered.  

I did however, feel extremely embarrassed when at the end of the meal, the server told me that they didn't have a machine that could run my American credit card.  I didn't have any cash, so I had to walk about 15 minutes to the only ATM in the town to take out money, then return to pay for the meal I had just eaten.  So humiliating.  Now I've learned to always, always carry cash in my wallet, just in case.

Dining alone

Marlin, fries, and vegetables

Dealing with my car in Martinique has been a great accomplishment for me, and I still haven't been as proud of myself as when I went to get it fixed by myself.

But my most recent experience with stepping out of my comfort zone was probably the most challenging.  I had been invited to faire de la chasse sous-marine, or go underwater spear-gun fishing.  It sounded exciting, but inside I was secretly petrified to go.

When I was younger, I tried to go snorkeling once in Michigan in Long Lake near my house.  As soon as I put my head in the water, I would panic and not be able to breathe.  My uncle had told me that if I went in clearer waters (like in the Caribbean), I might react differently.

That was a long time ago, so I decided that I wanted to try it again.  I bought a snorkel mask and flippers, borrowed a bodysuit, and found myself at the beach on Sunday about to test out my uncle's theory.

Again, I found myself struggling as soon as I put my head in the water.  My lungs seemed to shut off and it was almost as if I had entirely forgotten how to breathe.  But instead of letting panic take over, I kept trying.  I controlled my breathing and calmed down my thoughts.  In a few short minutes, I was able to successfully breathe through my snorkel without freaking out.

We swam quite far, and I was proud of myself for conquering one of my fears.  I got to see some beautiful fish and fascinating corals.  There is one type of coral that I think is called fire coral, and if you touch it, it stings/burns you.  When I did a little research, it turns out that it's not actually a coral, it just looks like it; it's more closely related to jellyfish.

Out in the open water, I still had moments of slight panic.  If I found myself far away and unable to see my friends, I immediately thought at how incredibly horrifying it would be to be lost at sea.  I had issues with my mask for a while (most likely because it was extremely cheap), but I still didn't give up.  I forced myself to keep trying, and I was able to stay out for quite a while.

In the end, I felt like I had really accomplished something.  Even though my friends didn't catch any fish, I felt like the trip had been a success.

Beach where we went snorkeling/spear fishing

La perle



It's really important to me to constantly be trying new things, especially things that have previously made me feel uneasy or hesitant.  From small things like dining alone to bigger things like snorkeling, I'm really stepping out of my comfort zone.  I feel like I'm becoming fearless in Martinique, like I can truly accomplish anything if I try.

It's not even about necessarily conquering your fears.  But I think that it's important for everyone, no matter what your situation in life, to try to overcome things that make you feel uncomfortable.  People get stuck in their routine and stick to what's familiar.

I'm trying to do exactly the opposite and let life take me wherever it can.



Monday, November 14, 2011

Story Worth Telling

I've been neglecting my blog, once again.  It makes me sad because I have so many great stories to tell!  It seems like every day brings some new adventure,but for now, I'll tell of my three favorite days...


Saturday 11/5
My friend Danny's teacher Jean-Yves invited us to a cook out on the beach.  Danny couldn't go, but his roommate Ryan and I went.  Upon arriving at Les Salines, we found out that it was actually Jean-Yves' birthday.  It was a cloudy and overcast day, but it couldn't have been more beautiful.  They had a pig and a sheep roasting since 8am.

Pig Roast
I sat down and played dominoes with a man from Senegal and a Martinican named Olivier.  We ate the pig and sheep, which were both quite delicious.  They "saved" me the souris (mouse) of the sheep, apparently the best part, but I have yet to discover what exactly it was...
I met so many amazing people, from all over Martinique and France.  I met a couple that lives in St. Luce that told me that any time I get sick of staying with my friends, I am always welcome to stay with them in their guest room.  The woman's mother told me that I was welcome anytime in her home in Normandy.  I met a fisherman named Patrick who agreed to take Ryan and me out fishing on his boat.  We also met another fisherman named Patrick, who goes fishing with spear guns, who also agreed to take us out. 
Meeting so many incredibly friendly people was so uplifting.  Sometimes being in Martinique can be really frustrating, but days like that are what make it all worthwhile.


Wednesday 11/9
Patrick #1 agreed to take us out on his boat to go fishing.  It was Patrick, Jean-Yves, Olivier, Ryan and me.  They showed us how to hook the fish for bait and throw out the line behind the boat.  It was a perfectly sunny day, and the waters were a gorgeous shade of blue.  For a while, I just sat down to tan and drink beer, but eventually I got in on the action.  Ryan ended up catching about 4 or 5 fish, including a massive mahi mahi!  Apparently mahi mahi are really rare to catch here, so it was very exciting.  I ended up catching two barracudas.

Ryan with his Mahi Mahi
When we returned from fishing, we had to clean the fish.  At first, I just took pictures and held my nose, but then Olivier and Patrick made me help scale the fish.  When they cut open the mahi mahi, there were eggs inside, which are apparently a delicacy.
After cleaning the fish, we drove to Jean-Yves' house to eat the mahi mahi eggs and drink ti-punch.  Ti-punch is the Martinican drink.  It's just sugar, rum, and lime juice.  So strong, and so good.  And the mahi mahi eggs were surprisingly very tasty as well.
All in all, it was a perfect day.  I got to learn something new, get a tan, drink beer, and taste a new food, all in the company of amazingly fun people.


Saturday 11/12
So while eating the mahi mahi eggs, we had made plans to go to Patrick's house on Saturday to eat the fish that we caught.  Olivier couldn't go, but Danny came with us.  Patrick made us a great meal, minus the pâté de la tête du cochon.  Yes, that's pâté made out of pig's head.  Most likely the most disgusting thing I have ever seen, but I was brave and tried a bite.  It just tasted like salty pork, but I ended up getting a stomachache later that evening.  Not sure if it was actually from the pig's head, but I'm going to go ahead and say it was.


All in all, I have been having some really amazing experiences.  I keep meeting such fascinating people that really inspire me.  There are so many things that I want to do in life... So many places to go, things to see, foods to taste... I just hope that when I'm older, when I tell my life story, it will be a story worth telling.

Anse Figuier

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Money Money Money!

I've never posted two days in a row before, so already you should know that what I'm about to write is pretty dang important.


I got paid!


This is probably the most excited I have ever been to get money, and that's probably because this is the most desperate I have ever been to get money...

Technically assistants aren't supposed to get paid until the end of November, and then you get the salary for both October and November.  However, you could apply for an advancement (which obviously I did).  It was one of the most stressful and complicated procedures, and we had to do it within one week of being in Martinique.

Yesterday, I found out that some assistants had gotten their advancement already.  I checked my bank account incessantly, but my balance stayed at a measly 31 euros.  Later that night, some of us were wondering if we were actually not getting our advancement and we were just SOL.  I panicked slightly, not knowing how I would pay rent (which is due today), having images of myself only living off of a baguette a day, needing to hitchhike to work...

But then this morning, I woke up quite early (especially for me) and checked my bank account.  To my surprise, 1000 euros had been deposited at some point yesterday evening.



Oh, and P.S.  I'm pretty sure that that 1000 euros is only 70% of my salary...


Monday, October 31, 2011

Ma belle voiture

It's funny how living in a foreign country completely changes you.  You are forced to do things that you would never do at home.  And in a foreign language.

A few weeks ago, I bought a car.  It's a 1999 Renault Laguna (automatic, of course).  It is in excellent condition, but there were a couple minor things I had to get fixed.  I had been dreading doing the repairs, but on Monday last week, I decided to suck it up.  The man that sold the car to me had recommended that I go to a place called Ho Hio Hen because they are the cheapest, so I drove down to Lamentin.  First, you have to take a number and wait in line to talk to the welcome desk.  Then they send you to the livraison to get a paper with the codes for the parts you need.  Then you go to the caisse to pay for the parts.  Then you have to go back to the livraison to actually get the parts.  Ah, so very French.

So the man hands me the parts I need and says I'm all set.  Umm, ok... and now what?  Oh, now I need to go to a garagiste to actually do the repairs.  Really?  This whole process was just to buy parts?

Randomly, the man in line next to me says that he can take me to do the repairs.  At first, I couldn't understand if he was taking me to his house or to a garagiste.  Whatever.  So I followed him (which would seem super sketchy in the United States, but somehow isn't sketchy here).  It ended up that he lived above a garagiste.  I spent the next hour and a half in this man's house watching Casper and Wendy and playing with his 7-year-old daughter while my car got fixed.

All in all, the man that sold me the car told me it would cost about 400 euros.  He had said that he would split the cost with me, so he lowered the price of the car by 200.  In the end, between parts and labor, it only cost me 150 euros.  Best deal ever.

At the end of the day, I felt so proud of myself.  I don't know cars; I would have never wanted to go in to get my car repaired even in Michigan.  But all on my own, I had managed to get my car fixed in a foreign country speaking a foreign language.

Ma belle voiture

I love having my car, but it is so expensive.  It cost me 2,800 euros to buy, then 50 euros a month to insure, 126 euros in tax to get the title put in my name, and then 150 euros to fix.  Then, there's gas.  It's 1.50 euros per liter here, which is about $9 per gallon.  So basically, all my "hard-earned" money is going to be going into my car.  But on the bright side, I should have no problems selling it when I leave, hopefully for more than what I paid...


Monday, October 24, 2011

Ah, La Martinique

Let's catch up.

I'm not going to lie.  I haven't posted in so long that now it's a little overwhelming.  So much has happened in the first few weeks in Martinique that I can't even begin to explain everything.

I've written since being here, but my internet has been so hit or miss that I haven't had the opportunity to post.  So I'm just going to copy down things I've written in Microsoft Word and hope that will be sufficient...


September 28


Puerto Rico wasn’t everything I had hoped for.  I wanted to have an adventure before I went to Martinique, but overall it ended up just being a waste of money.  Not a waste.  But my money could have been better spent elsewhere, or at some other time.

What I learned:

Rule #1: Know Spanish.  At least a little to get you by.  Everyone speaks Spanish, and even though most people know a little English, you’d be better off at least knowing the basics.

Rule #2: Stay somewhere with air conditioning.  This is not an option. It’s seriously f**king hot.

Rule #3: Know what things cost.  Don’t just hand over money.  CAB DRIVERS WILL RIP YOU OFF.  (Ok- maybe I shouldn’t generalize like that.  I’m still a little bitter about paying $30 more than I should have for my cab ride to my hostel.)

Rule #4: Don’t travel on your way to or from a long stay somewhere abroad.  This isn’t specific to Puerto Rico at all, but just as a general rule, when you are beginning or ending a long stay trip, don’t try to travel.  For one, it sucks to have to deal with all of your luggage.  More importantly, it is very challenging emotionally.  Especially when traveling alone. 

Rule #5: Don’t travel alone, especially if you’re a woman.  It’s not that San Juan is unsafe.  I didn’t ever feel unsafe during the daylight hours, but I wouldn’t have felt comfortable going out by myself after dark (and the sun sets around 6:30 PM).  So either stay stuck in your hotel room, or travel with a buddy.  Preferably male. 

I’m glad I came here though.  I got a little acclimated to the hot and humid weather.  I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and proved to myself that I can still travel alone.  I saw some amazing things in San Juan.  The history here is amazing, and I got to see forts that were built in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  I got to see some amazing architecture and meet a couple of cool people. 

More importantly, as always, this trip has taught me more about myself. 

It made me realize that just because I took a few semesters of Spanish in college doesn’t mean that I know Spanish.  And I want to at least be able to communicate more easily in Spanish. 

I also learned that even though there are so many great things about traveling alone, there are also just as many drawbacks.  Traveling alone means having the freedom to do exactly what you want, when you want.  It’s intoxicatingly empowering.  But at the same time, it can be lonely and frustrating.  And as a woman, it’s not always completely safe.  


October 2

I don't know what to think right now.  I have such mixed emotions.  I have had so many moments of pure joy, yet so many moments of suffocating anxiety and doubt.  

I've been in Martinique for four days now.  The first few days were absolutely wonderful, partly because everything was new and exciting, and partly because I was busy exploring and doing things.  

Then two nights ago, I spent the night alone at my apartment.  It was the most lonely and isolated I have ever felt in my entire life.  I began to doubt everything, whether I am actually as strong as I think I am and whether this is right for me...

I am having a lot of anxiety about speaking French again.  It's frustrating that I feel this way, but I become so overwhelmed that I just shut down.  It's been over two years since I've spoken French, but I just feel so far behind everyone else.  I feel completely incompetent.  

I have so many moments where I just want to give up.  But I don't want to just throw in the towel.  That's not me.  But I don't like feeling the way I have been feeling.  That's not me either.  I'm in this beautiful and breathtaking place with so many amazing opportunities, and I don't know how to feel.


October 6

This experience is just f**king crazy.  I don't think anyone could understand unless you are or have been an assistant.

This is the most confusing and stressful time of my life.  Between having orientations, finding housing, finding a car, opening a bank account, applying for a salary advancement, filling out paperwork and turning in documents, all while trying to get yourself situated and used to the heat and humidity, cultural differences, language barriers, and just wanting to explore and meet new friends.

I just can't wait for things to be settled so I can start feeling more like myself and more comfortable being here.  I still have doubts and feelings of being completely overwhelmed, but I don't think it's a possibility anymore to just go home.  I will get through this!


October 9

La Martinique.

I’ve been here for about a week and a half now, and this is the first time I’ve had enough spare time to sit down and really write.  Life has been crazy, to say the least.  It’s so hard to even explain right now because I don’t know where to start.

My tutrice had found me a little studio to live in.  It has amazing views and is absolutely gorgeous, but it’s completely in the middle of nowhere.  Every time I am here, I feel so isolated and lonely.  And right now I don’t even have internet, so it really sucks. 

I’ve actually only spent a total of 3 nights in my apartment.  And now I can begin the countdown to when I get to move out.  I signed a lease today to live in an apartment with 2 Spanish assistants in Schoelcher, close to Fort-de-France.  It’s cheaper (by 10 euros) but the situation will be so much nicer.  I love everything about it.  And we get to move in Friday night/Saturday morning. 

When previous assistants had written that the first few weeks are the most challenging, they really meant that the first few weeks would be challenging.  Every assistant’s situation was a little different, but basically within a week or two, you buy a cell phone, have to find housing, open a bank account, apply for an advancement in your salary, buy a car, get internet, buy insurance, apply for a social security number, send in paperwork to the office of immigration, and start school.  Oh, and primary assistants had several days of orientation.  Did I mention that public transportation is basically nonexistent on this island?  And that everyone lives in different cities?  And everything closes between 12 and 2 for lunch, and then closes at 5.  Nothing is open at night (buses stop running at 7:30PM), and the weekends are worse.  Nothing is open, and if it is open, it closes early. 

In order to get your advancement in salary, you need a bank account.  In order to get a bank account, you need a place to live.  And you need to turn in all the paperwork within one week.  So.  Since I didn’t have a place to live technically, I had a lot of trouble with this.  Where I am staying, the landlord is actually not even here.  She is in Canada for a month.  I needed a copy of her passport in order to prove that I lived here (even temporarily) but had no way to get that.  So I ended up having a friend’s landlord write a letter saying that I was temporarily living there.  I also had to use their address for everything else… my bank account, my salary, my social security number, and buying my car. 

But.  Now I have a new place to live that I will be moving into next weekend.  I bought a car yesterday so I can actually get around the island.  This past week has been the most stressful week imaginable, but it’s all coming together. 


October 10

It’s really horrible having to live out of a suitcase.  You don’t realize how terrible it is until you’re actually doing it.  I have 7 months worth of my life packed away, and I can’t unpack any of it yet.  I have a couple of outfits picked out to get me through this week, but I have no idea how to even begin to find other things… like my nail polish.  I will be so glad to have the chance to unpack and finally settle in somewhere.

I’m also sleeping with my suitcase.  I know, it’s strange.  But I have a double bed, so I still have plenty of room to sleep.  It’s just that there are so many bugs and creatures here that I really don’t want to get into my things.  So I’m trying to make it as difficult as possible to get a millipede climbing into my suitcase.  Of course, when I finally unpack, I’m sure I’ll still find at least a dead beetle or two. 

Even though I’m not settled in yet, I am feeling more comfortable being in Martinique.  I’m starting to be able to find my way around the island, especially with my new car.  I have such a feeling of autonomy driving my car.  It’s a sense of freedom that I haven’t felt in a long time.

I’m becoming more comfortable speaking in French, even though my skills are extremely rusty.  I’m actually becoming more comfortable approaching people and asking for help or directions, which is something I’m not even comfortable doing in English.  It’s interesting who you become and how you change when you live in a foreign country. 

I miss certain things from home, but most of all, I miss having the Internet at my disposal.  I haven’t been able to connect with my family or friends back home, and it’s been really difficult.  I guess I’ve been so busy that actually keeping in touch would have been near impossible anyway, but I especially miss the little messages and texts that I could exchange with my family. 

I have also been feeling very disconnected from the rest of the world.  I connected to the Internet one night and found out that Steve Jobs died, Sarah Palin is not running for president, and there is a new iPhone.  Had I not been able to connect that one night, who knows how long it would have taken me to find out this important information!

Life is getting easier.  I’m acclimating a little to the extremely hot weather (even though I currently have sun poisoning).  I’m getting some of my paperwork in order (well, the most important stuff), and once I move this weekend, everything will start to feel a little more normal.  


October 12

Martinique is changing me.  But I feel like I am becoming more like myself and who I want to be.  I feel like I can just... be.  And I'm okay.  Being away from my family has been difficult, and not having internet is really frustrating, but it has actually been good for me to have a little space.


October 20

Being on my own here has really changed me already.  But in such a good way.  Despite all the stress and frustrations in Martinique, I truly love it here and can honestly say that I am having the time of my life.  I'm happy.  And I know that this is exactly where I'm meant to be right now.




Saturday, September 24, 2011

Significant 2s

I leave in 2 days for Puerto Rico.  I'll be staying in San Juan for 2 nights before I fly to Martinique.  Then I'll stay in Fort-de-France for 2 nights before I get picked up by my tuteur and see my apartment.  I'll stay in my apartment in le Morne Vert for 2 nights before returning to Fort-de-France for 2 nights for my orientation.  That's a lot of 2s.  Must be significant somehow!

My current favorite activity is making lists.  And then crossing things off those lists.  So:

Things to Do:

  • Repack my suitcase.  Again.  I packed it completely, realized it was 2 pounds overweight, repacked it to make it lighter, only to discover that my suitcase is falling apart.  So I now need to transfer all of my crap into a different suitcase.  Ugh.
  • Figure out my travel insurance.  Yeah, I know I probably should have made this call before now.  But I forgot.
  • Deposit money into my checking account.  I went to do this yesterday, but I didn't have a pen.  I hate how drive-thu ATMs never have pens.
  • Back up computer.  Kind of important.  
  • Make plans for Puerto Rico.  I want to have an idea of what I want to do while I'm there.  Or at the very least, write down directions to my hostel.  Side note: I got an email from them the other day saying that there have been setbacks due to the hurricane so my room wouldn't be available.  Instead, they're putting me in a bigger room (by myself) for free.  Yep, free.  There might not be hot water, but come on... FREE.

Off to be productive before a family dinner tonight!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Cheers!

I leave one week from today.

Somehow it doesn't feel real yet, unless I start looking over documents and my lists of things to do.  Then I feel unprepared and get overwhelmed.

So I'm taking a very avoidance approach to this whole thing.  As soon as I start to feel stressed, instead of freaking out, I just avoid doing anything Martinique-related.  Whenever my mind starts to buzz and I feel overwhelmed, I just pour myself a glass of wine.

So far this approach hasn't helped to cross much off my to-do list, but I am doing a good job at helping my parents out with their abundant supply of alcohol...



Thursday, September 15, 2011

T minus 10 days

I leave for Martinique in 10 days, and I'm feeling extremely unprepared.

My head is a big jumbled mess right now.  For the past several days, my mind has been running a mile a minute trying to make note of things I should pack and what I need to do before I leave.

I'm anxious to go abroad again.  It's been over 3 years since I've left the country, which in my opinion is way too long.  I've stayed in the States for so long that I've become a little too comfortable with life here, and I've been feeling very nervous about traveling to a new area again.  Excited, definitely.  But nervous. I think that's a good sign that it's past time for me to do something new.

I studied abroad in France for a semester in 2008.  I was 21, which felt old at the time.  But that was when I began to really figure out who I am.  Those short few months in France taught me so much, but I want to get so much more out of my upcoming experience in Martinique.  So... Time for a list.


DO be prepared.
... but DON'T overpack.

Monday, September 5, 2011

"Everything Is Under Control"

Last week I heard from my tuteur in Martinique.  Her name is Karine and she is my main contact person in Martinique.

I had actually gotten a phone call from her while I was in Chicago.  My mom and I had been shopping in Ann Taylor Loft when I received a call from some weird number.  When I listened to the voicemail (actually, voicemails--one in English, one in French) it was from Karine.  I had a hard time hearing the message, but it basically consisted of her repeatedly saying "Don't panic!  Everything is good, everything is under control."  She had been vacationing in the south of Martinique, so she said she would call back.

Last week, I was dealing with a customer when my phone rang.  Again, it was the weird number, so I let my manager take over as I scurried outside to take the call.  My first impression of Karine is that she seems amazingly sweet.  She told me she would be my "mother in Martinique" and would help me with everything once I'm there.  She kept telling me not to panic and that everything is under control.  (Hmm.  I wasn't panicking... but should I have been..?)

I found out that I am actually going to be living in le Morne Vert.  It is a bit further south than le Morne Rouge.  I am assuming that maybe le Morne Vert is a part of the school district of le Morne Rouge.... Minor details that I will just figure out when I'm there.

Karine said she will pick me up from the airport when I arrive in Fort-de-France and drive me back to le Morne Vert.  She found an apartment for me (apparently with a view of the sea), but if I don't like it, she'll help me search around for something else.  She also told me that the Spanish assistant that was supposed to be placed in the same district is no longer doing the program, which is disappointing but explains why she had never responded to the email I sent in July.

Things are coming together, and I'm starting to get excited.  It still doesn't feel real, but it will soon.  Tomorrow is my last day of work for the summer, and I'll be able to spend my last few weeks at home getting packed and spending time with family and friends.

3 weeks from TODAY

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

TVC-SJU-FDF

Get Visa
Buy Ticket


Things are finally starting to come together.

I received my visa already.  It got here within 6 days.  Gotta say, I'm pretty shocked.  I thought the whole visa experience would have been more stressful than it actually was.

Last Tuesday night I decided to finally buy my ticket.  Just FYI, Martinique is very expensive to fly in and out of.  Initially, I was planning on buying a ticket to St. Lucia and taking the ferry over to Martinique.  Overall, it would cost about $550 total, in comparison to $750 to fly straight to Martinique (from Traverse City, one-way).  Then I found out that the ferries (all of them) shut down between the middle of September and the middle of October.  Exactly when I am going.

On to Plan B.  I decided I would fly to a different Caribbean island, stay for a few days, then fly into Martinique.  After doing some research, Trinidad seemed to be the cheapest.  But before I bought my ticket, I changed my mind and decided to spend the extra money to fly straight into Martinique.... until I saw that I would have a 22 hour layover in San Juan.  Really??  22 hours?  I might as well stay there a couple days then....

Okay, Plan C.  Fly to San Juan from Traverse City, stay a couple nights at a cheap hostel, then fly to FDF.  And so, at about 2 am last Tuesday, that is what I finally decided to book.

The next day I heard from my aunt (who heard from a friend) that Trinidad is not a great place to visit, especially for a woman traveling alone.  Guess I dodged a bullet there.  I ended up paying a lot more than I had initially expected, but I'm happy with my itinerary so... it is what it is.

For weeks, I had been so overwhelmed with things to do that I could barely even feel excited to go to Martinique.  Now that things are coming together and I can finally cross things off my checklist, I am feeling much more relaxed.  I even got to do some research today (which, by the way, led to the decision that I am going to buy a car when I get there).

One month + 3 days until I leave  


Monday, August 15, 2011

Chicago Love


Chicago.  Chi-town.  The Windy City.  Also, one of my favorite cities in the world.  Top 2 in the U.S.

I don't know what it is about Chicago that I love so much.  But every time I go, I discover something new that I love.  

My mom and I took the train to Chicago last Tuesday.  I've been to Chicago about 5 or 6 times, but the only two times I've taken the train have been to get my visas (the first to study in France and now the second for Martinique).  My sense of direction and comfort with traveling has changed quite a bit between those two trips... 

My mom and I on the train

This trip to Chicago was absolutely amazing.  We ate fabulous food, played tourist on a boat ride down the Chicago River, did a little shopping, and went to a dueling piano bar.  

Oh, and I had my appointment to apply for my visa.

My visa appointment went very smoothly.  I was a little nervous because I still didn't have the official stamped document that I needed, and I was just going there with the hopes that the consulate had received it already.  I only slightly panicked when the woman at the consulate asked, "Is this all you have?"

Luckily, after a little searching, she found all of the documents I had needed.  Whew.  I am even supposed to receive my visa faster than I anticipated... within 7-10 days instead of 2-3 weeks!  Can't wait to get it and check that off my list.

My list is still longer than I would like, but I'm feeling better about things.  I am starting to feel like I'm actually getting things in order.  My goal for tomorrow (night) is to finally purchase my ticket.  Stay tuned...

And enjoy these pics from Chicago!







Thursday, August 4, 2011

Life... Back in Order

Well, in case you were wondering, I did not, in fact, fall off the face of the earth, but it was pretty close.  July was an incredibly hectic month, between work and family, but now I am starting to get my life back in order.

My sister and my niece came up from Houston to spend almost the entire month at home.  It was amazing to spend so much time with them, but it did make for an exhausting month.  But I love and adore my family so much that I really can't complain!

Playing in the Princess Tent with LG


Shortly after I received the email about le Morne Rouge, I received my arrêté de nomination!  I was so excited, but once I started taking a closer look, I noticed that I hadn't received any official stamp on my documents that I was supposed to.  Without allowing myself to panic, I immediately emailed the contact person in D.C.  She told me that in the past, l'Académie de la Martinique has sent the stamped forms directly to the appropriate consulate, so I should either have forms there waiting for me, or they will arrive soon.  My fingers are crossed.

So... I went ahead and scheduled an appointment to get my visa, so I am now going down to Chicago on my days off next week!  My mom is going down with me, and I am so excited to get some mother-daughter bonding time.  Plus, Chicago is one of my favorite cities, and I can't wait to go back.



Although getting my arrêté and applying for my visa are the most crucial steps before going to Martinique, my list of things to do is still a lot longer than I'd like it to be.  Let's see... I still need to:

  • Purchase my TICKET (yes, I know I probably should do that soon)
  • Translate my birth certificate
  • Get translated birth certificate certified/stamped/something to please the French officials
  • Find housing
  • Renew my driver's license
Hmm, that list seems short.  I'm sure I'm forgetting about 40 things.  Not to mention that I still have not spent any decent amount of time researching Martinique or le Morne Rouge.  Plus I want to look into what I need to get an international driver's license since rumor has it Martinique's public transportation is...less than desirable.  Which of course adds yet another expense when I get there... a CAR (or moped or scooter preferably).

Right now, it's hard to get really excited to leave because there are still so many things I need to do.  I feel more overwhelmed than anything else.  It still feels far away, even though I will leave in less than 2 months!!  Okay, that means I really need to search for flights...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Le Morne Rouge

I wasn't planning on hearing from Martinique until late July or early August.

Well, I got an email on Friday.  It included an introduction letter about orientation and such (that I have yet to read all the way through) and a table of where each assistant is going to be located.  So now it's official:

I will be going to Le Morne Rouge.


I have barely had time to research it, but it's a town on the southern end of the volcano in northern Martinique.  Maybe you all could research it and send me links... (hint hint)




Looking at this map, I'm a little confused because in the email it says my school will be Morne Vert.  Hmm.  I guess I should probably actually read the documents that they sent...

I'm actually extremely excited about my location.  From the little I have researched it, le Morne Rouge looks breathtakingly beautiful.  I think hiking will be a wonderful hobby to pick up while I'm there.  The more I think about it, the more I think this will be the perfect location for me.  Plus, whenever I feel like hitting up the beaches or a bigger city, I can just get in contact with some other assistants around the island!

I am happy that I heard from Martinique, but it's almost overwhelming me right now.  I got the email at the beginning of 4th of July weekend, and I haven't had any time to do all the reading and researching that I want!  And of course, I leave tomorrow to pick up my sister and niece from the airport (YAY!) so things won't be settling down for quite a bit!

Although it's exciting that I heard about my location, and I got information for my contact person, I am still waiting for my arrêté (work contract).  I need that in order to get my visa.  But getting this email (which is not required of the académie and therefore a huge surprise) gives me hope that my arrété will arrive sooner rather than later!

Cheers, to la Martinique!


............


After note:

So I just decided to look up the definition of le morne.  I assumed it was something having to do with a mountain or volcano, but I hadn't heard that term before.  I dusted off my Petit Robert, and under the third definition listed, it does define it as a small mountain... dans les îles.  This means that le morne is officially my first "island" word that I have learned.  


Therefore Le Morne Rouge = The Red Mountain.


(Although "the red mountain" sounds so much more lame than le morne rouge....)



Thursday, June 30, 2011

My Purpose Abroad

First things first:  I have to say a huge congratulations to my big brother and sister-in-law!!  Baby Sophie Rose was born Friday evening, and I am SO beyond excited to have a new baby niece!  She is absolutely beautiful!

Sophie Rose, 6 pounds 5 ounces, 20 inches



Now, let's focus on la Martinique.

My friend Courtney at La Fille Américaine posted a few weeks ago with some advice for future assistants.  One of her guidelines was to "Decide what you want to get out of the year abroad."

At first, this seems like it would be a fairly simple task.  Well, duh, I want to get the most out of my experience and change my life!  But what does that even mean to me, and how am I going to implement it?

In general, my goals for going to Martinique are as follows:
  1. Learn to just be me.  I want to go to Martinique with the goal to stay true to myself and not be influenced by other people around me or people at home.  This is my experience, and I want to be able to listen to what I truly want.  I want to learn to be myself without feeling that I need to justify my actions (or inactions).  
  2. Improve my writing.  Maintaining my blog is important to me.  I'd also like to find a way to include writing in my everyday life.  I think by writing more often, I will find ways to improve and figure out what direction I want my blog to go in.  Writing a book is also something to ponder...
  3. Live in the moment.  I used to always be a planner, and lately I've been trying to let that go.  I hope that by living in a foreign country for 7 months, I can learn to truly live one day at a time.  I hope to live a more laid-back and carefree lifestyle.  Living in the Caribbean will hopefully help with that, too...  
These are all great goals to keep in mind going to Martinique.  But aren't these just things I want to achieve in life in general?  I want to find a specific purpose for myself while I'm there.  How can I attain my goals?  What are my Martinique-specific goals?

Do I want to:
  • Improve my French?
  • Travel as much as possible?
  • Indulge in teaching?
I honestly don't know how to answer these questions.  Teaching is definitely not my top priority, but I don't know what is.  For a while, I had planned on just going to Martinique and just letting life take me wherever.  Now, I feel like if I don't have at least some idea of what I want to make out of this experience, it might just pass me by.  I definitely don't want to return home next summer feeling like I didn't accomplish what I wanted to.  

I guess that means I have about 3 months to figure out what I do want to accomplish.

    Monday, June 20, 2011

    Writing About Writing

    A couple of weeks ago, I decided that I was going to try to post in my blog once a week until I move to Martinique (and things get a bit more exciting).  But I didn't post last week because I had a lot going on, and quite honestly, I've been feeling very discouraged lately.

    I've always thought of myself as a strong writer.  The more I write, the more I realize that I want writing to be a big part of my life (even if it's just blogging for fun).  I really enjoy writing.  Even though I dreaded writing term papers in college, part of me would get such a thrill from producing a piece of work that I was proud of.

    Last week, I decided to look into freelance writing.  I need to try to get some extra cash, so why not try to earn money doing something that I love?  But when I started researching opportunities, I got overwhelmed.  Technically, I have no professional experience under my belt.  I wrote plenty of papers during college, but that was all academic work.  Just because I like writing and editing and I think I'm good at it doesn't mean that I have any proof.  How can I convince someone that they should hire me?  How do I make myself more marketable when I don't have any solid experience?

    I've always thought that job searching was extremely discouraging, and I hate how it makes me feel about myself.  I don't necessarily doubt my abilities.  But I doubt my qualifications.  How can I shake this feeling?  How do I get my foot in the door?

    Anyway, enough grumbling!

    Still no news on my work contract from Martinique.  I'm trying to be very patient, expecting that it probably won't come until late July or August.  I don't exactly mind waiting that long, but I am a bit concerned about getting it early enough to have plenty of time to get my visa (which I have to go to Chicago for).

    I've decided that once I find out what city I will be teaching in, I will start to research options for housing, but I don't think I want to commit to anything.  The idea of going to Martinique with no place to live is a little terrifying, but I don't want to sign a lease with a place until I've seen it and figured out how far away from my school it is.

    Even though so much about my contract is up in the air, the unknown is a little thrilling.  I secretly love the idea of just arriving there without an apartment.  I love that I have to figure everything out on my own.  I want to be thrown in a situation where not everything is handed to me on a silver platter.

    I am so excited to welcome a little more adventure in my life.  

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011

    My Love Affair With Books

    I keep complaining about how I have nothing to do to prepare for Martinique.  That's not entirely true: I have to save money.  Lots of it.  Even though I have been living at home for the past year and a half, I honestly don't have much money saved up.

    I've been getting better at telling myself not to buy more clothes I don't need and not to go out to eat as much.  But there is one thing that I can't get myself to stop buying.

    Books.

    Yes, I realize I could rent them from the library.  I do that, too.  But the library doesn't have all of the books I want to read.  And there are some books that I just want to own.  I try to buy them cheap and used, but so far, I haven't been able to stop buying them altogether.


    My recent purchases:



    French Women Don't Get Fat, Mireille Guiliano
    This is the only recent purchase that I've actually read so far.  This book compares French and American cultures surrounding food.  The author has some great advice and insight on why French women (and men) don't get fat.  There are some amazing recipes included, too.  Honestly, I can't get enough of this book.




    The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin
    I just received this in the mail today and was SO excited.  It's one woman's story of her "Happiness Project," where she spent one year dedicating her time and energy finding things that made her truly happy.  I have heard so many wonderful things about this book, and I can't wait to start it.




    The Art of Non-Conformity, Chris Guillebeau
    I was also very excited to receive this book today!  I've just discovered Chris Guillebeau's blog The Art of Non-Conformity and decided to buy his book right away.  Just reading the title of this book makes me feel inspired!




                                      

    The Perfectionist: Life and Death in Haute Cuisine, Rudolph Chelminski
    I was recommended this book by one of my French professors, and I can't wait to read it.  It's the story of  a Michelin three-star rated French chef who committed suicide from the pressures brought on by his career.



    ALL of these books were less than $10 each.  Most of them I bought from abebooks.com which is my favorite site to buy used books online.  They are SUPER cheap even after shipping costs, and the selection is pretty impressive.


    Have you read any of these books?  Do you have any suggestions of similar books that I should check out?  Please share! 

    Wednesday, June 1, 2011

    Now I'm Ready

    Even though I have received some information about my contract, it still doesn't feel real to me.  I don't know where exactly I'll be located, I don't have a ticket, and I don't have anything specific that I can do right now to prepare.  Every time I tell someone about my future plans, they always ask me if I'm excited.  Well, yes, of course.  But there's more to it than that.

    As I said in my first post, I was a little hesitant to apply for the program.  As a French major, it seemed like the "thing to do" after graduation, but I wasn't in a place in my life back then that I could commit to anything.  Now, I am ready for an experience that will be life-altering.  

    In a Facebook group for 2011-2012 Assistants in France, I read comments that at times make me feel insecure.  Several assistants comment on how excited they are to teach and to use their French, even thinking of lesson plans already.  It makes sense, since this program is mostly aimed at people with the desire to go into education.  But that's not me.  I don't want to teach, and that is the least appealing part of this program to me.  I have never been a big fan of kids, and I have no idea how I'll be in a classroom.  I'm anxious to have to use my French because I'm so out of practice and I've always been very insecure about my speaking skills.

    These were the main reasons that I wasn't previously wanting to commit to the program.  They say that once you apply, you are basically committing yourself, and I wasn't comfortable with making that sort of commitment if I wasn't 100% into it.

    Then I realized, I will never be 100% into it.  I will never wake up one morning without any doubts or insecurities.  But last summer, I did realize that my life wasn't going where I wanted it to.  I needed to do something that would push me out of my comfort zone.  After reading my friend Courtney's blog about her experience as an assistant in Paris, I finally made the decision to do the assistantship, even if I wasn't absolutely positive about it.  

    Now, I am more than ready for this experience.  I still don't want to teach, and I don't love the idea of working with little kids.  But that's why I think I should.  I wrote in my application that I wanted to be in a position that I could learn from the students and help them with something that will benefit them in their lives (learning another language).  I am depending on these little Martinicans to open my eyes and change my life in a fabulous way.  

    Just replace this woman's face with mine...

    Maybe to some people this doesn't sound like a great reason to be an English assistant.  But I am going into this with an open mind, ready for anything to be thrown my way.  My heart is in it for the right reasons, and I know that it will be an amazing experience in so many ways.  


    If you want to read my short essay included in my application, please click here.