“We wish you a Merry Christmas” has now been replaced with Jingle Bells, and I must say it’s made my job a little bit more exciting. A month of that song (which is repetitive even to the casual listener) really has been getting on my nerves. Trying to get my kids to sing “in a one horse open sleigh” is challenging, not helped by the fact that they can’t read my handwriting when I try and write the lyrics on the blackboard. I’ve actually started learning how to write in cursive, as that’s all they can read for the moment, and now the teachers have to rewrite my words much less frequently.
Last Wednesday Marina and I attempted to head out to Trois Ilets for an afternoon at the beach, but were thwarted by the Fort de France traffic, probably due to an accident. The problem with the roads here is that there’s literally only one route through Schoelcher – the road that either goes north to Saint Pierre or East through Fort de France and if the road is blocked you’re basically trapped. So we gave up with that plan, turned back and headed to a local beach. I then decided that one of my New Year’s resolutions is to swim every day. I’ve started early on that, swimming every day since except for yesterday due to the rain.
In an attempt to feel more Christmassy (harder to do when it’s really warm), I decorated my room. All the lights here seem to flash so sadly I’ve got to put up with flashing lights in my room but I’ve gone a bit crazy with the tinsel which more than makes up for it.
On Friday evening, we met up with Molly and Jacq for a go at Zumba at Caroline’s gym. In my head, gyms mean air conditioned. This gym is in an upstairs warehouse sort of place with no air con. Let me tell you, an hour of Zumba in 30 degree heat will definitely make you sweat. After embarrassing ourselves at Zumba, we hit the cinema to watch the new Hunger Games film. It was dubbed into French so we had to make do without Jennifer Lawrence’s lovely voice.
Friday evening was our first ever experience of Caribbean fast food – Snack Elizé, the Antilles’ answer to McDonald’s. Unable to decide what to try, Molly and I went halves on a burger and a fish kebab. The burger was nothing special, but the fish kebab was pretty good. The fish burgers are rumoured to be better, so maybe fish is the way to go at Snack Elizé.
On Saturday I headed to Trois Ilets with Molly and Jacqueline for a beach day, but the weather was pretty cloudy and it was spiting with rain. I’d been eyeing up the accras (the local fish cakes) in a cafe on that beach for a while and we grabbed some for lunch. They were as good as they looked, nice and crispy instead of soggy. Some of the best we’ve had.
It’s fast approaching Christmas. Here in Martinique they have what’s called a “Chanté Nwel” where everyone gets together and sings Christmas songs and has a drink. They’re literally everywhere – there’s one at the gym, in the local restaurants and Marina invited us along to the one at her school last Saturday night. There was plenty of rum, traditional Christmas food and a band hired in. All the teachers at her school were invited and they all brought along their family and friends, meaning a good crowd turned up. We didn’t know that you had to buy your own song booklets (we should have worked that one out, they’re in all the supermarkets), so someone kindly donated their booklet so we could have a stab at singing along in French and Creole.
Food wise, there was the traditional Jambon de Noél, which is a kind of cured ham. I asked my kids at school what is different from Christmas ham to normal ham and they just shrugged and told me that it’s because you have it Christmas. So I’m still none the wiser. They also had ham patties, black pudding and later for the main course a stew served with yams and “pois d’angoles” which look like chick peas but aren’t chick peas and translate into something I’ve never had before. It was a lovely way to kick off the Christmas season and we’re looking forward to our next one. It went on so late, we all eventually flagged and called it a night by midnight.
On Sunday, Molly and I went for a morning swim before I drove Molly and Jacq back to Sainte Marie. Combined with the afternoon spent on the beach with Caroline after we got back, I ended up pretty pink. Surprisingly I really haven’t burnt all that much out here. I definitely expected to be burnt most of the time.
On Sunday evening I went with one of the other assistants to another salsa evening, this time in Lamentin. They’d set up the dancing in the square in front of the church and loads of people turned up. Things got really awkward when our dancing was interrupted by some random guy who wanted to trap us in a group hug and tell us all about his work as a doctor here. Originally we thought he was going to criticise our dancing technique, but he turned out to just be an enthusiastic onlooker. Very strange, but you learn to accept these things as normal out here. Everyone is extremely friendly so you just have to let your personal space be invaded from time to time.
On the way home I got my first ever flat tire. I didn’t really fancy hanging out on the side of the motorway alone at 11pm while I tried to sort it out so I pulled over in a garage and enlisted the help of a couple of guys who were parked there. I first tried to approach a woman in her car but she refused to open the door so maybe going up to people in their cars isn’t the best way to make friends. When the guys changed the tire over, they showed me the massive nail stuck in there. Just what I need. I actually was really thankful there was a spare tire at all, as my car is a hire car and I hadn’t even checked. Another lesson learned. Anyway, I was watching extra carefully while they changed the tire so I can do it myself next time.
That’s all from me this week. Hi Grandad if you’re reading this, hope you’re well! Look out for a postcard from me soon.