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.