Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Profiter, Profiter, Profiter!

This has been my chanson this last week in Cayenne.

As I'm assuming everyone reading this blog already knows, I am demissionering early from my job here in Cayenne in order to take an opportunity presented to me to work at a translator (English/French) in St. Louis.  So although I'm sad to see this beautifully hot and wonderful (at times) place go, I am pretty excited to start a big girl job back in the states.

With my departure looming ahead, I've been trying to get absolutely as much as possible out of the last days I have here.  Last weekend was the top (for some reason I can't get my head out of French mode today so a lot of what I say is basically just a direct translation- apologies for non-francophones).

Friday- Fun pool party at Jess' house with almost all of the assistants present to celebrate her birthday and just generally have a nice potluck evening together and swim in her pool.

Saturday- Woke up bright and early to drive out, pick everyone else up, and head off to Kourou!  (I rented a car, they let you do that at 21 here).  So we went to Krou and caught the first ferry out of the city to go to the Iles du Salut (in English they're called the Devil's Islands though technically they should be Salvation Islands).   These are the sites of the former French prisons back in the day, think Alcatraz style.  The currents between the islands are such that anyone trying to swim off would just be pushed back and smashed against the rocks.  Also, the French figured (correctly) that most of the prisoners would die of dengue or malaria before they even had a chance to try to escape.  Now the islands have the remains of some of the old prison stuff, but mostly it's just lots of amazing forests and nature.
Things we saw:
- a Pig on a Helopad.  For some reason we all just found this hilarious.
- Agouti!  Described as "rabbits with deer legs", "mini-tapirs", and (my favorite)  "ginger butts", possibly the most adorable creature ever
- 3 macaws flying overhead, then we saw them again up close. They're not scared of humans at all so you can get really close to them.  I ended up getting a little too close and one of the red ones tried to bite my toe.
-  a children's cemetery, this one was pretty sad.  Most of them were under 1 yr old from the families of the guards for the prisons
- Flora.  There are more shades of green than you could ever imagine.
- a parrot that tried to land on Rob's head.
- Iguanas.  We spotted two of them sunning themselves before the rains started
- DOWNPOUR.  lots and lots of rain which happened to come just as we were sitting down for picnic lunch.
and best of all...
-MONKEYS.  Different kinds!  Not at all afraid of humans so you can go right up to them and feed them! I fed monkeys!!! (at this point telling the story I kind of just turn into a giddy five year old and can't do much but just say monkeys over and over again- there's a video to prove it) We gave them cashews, petit laits and baguette.  MONKEYS!  Ok.  Got that out.  They were amazing.

Sunday- Wake up earlyish to drive out to Cacao, the Hmong village on the other side of Cayenne.  Not too much to say about this except that it was a crazy drive through the forest and the market was really neat.  Lots of great Asian food and beautiful needleworked fabric goods. Got back to Cayenne in time to go see week two of Carnival.  We watched the parade through the streets of Cayenne.  It's the most disorganized thing you could possibly imagine but the people are all dressed up in fun costumes and there is more music and bright colors than one can really take in.  The big popular thing is to bang on drums with all sorts of different rhythms but when they come together it all sounds great.  Also, the men like to dress up as women which is really funny to see happen in this terribly homophobic place.  Later that night we ended up in the Brazilian part of town for late night carnival dancing and singing and music.  Generally just a good street party.

And now I'm tired, very very tired.  It's Wednesday and I still haven't quite recovered from it all.
It's been a great last couple weeks here.

Photos are being uploaded.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Visas.... What are those?

So I went to Brazil yesterday.

Completely spontaneous trip that sounded like a fun adventure.  My friend Victor called me at 1:30 saying that he was going to Oyapock (border town) for the night and there were a couple extra places in his truck if I was interested and could be ready to leave in an hour.  Never one to pass up a new country, of course I was ready.

So myself, Victor, V's "son", Nico, and Nico's girlfriend headed off to St. George on the eastern border of French Guiana.  (V's "son" is actually his pet lizard named Maurice).  As is typical with life here, we represented 4 different native languages: English, Spanish, French, and Creole respectively.

Got to the border, hopped in a pirogue and got to Oyapock.  This is where is gets interesting.  You see, Americans need visas to go to Brazil.  But these things require paperwork, and time, and money.  None of which I had.  And of course, no one else bothered bringing their passports either (C'mon who needs ID when traveling in foreign countries).  I had my passport for going through the military controls in French Guiana but not the correct visa to enter into Brazil.

We get a room at a hotel that the guys know from a previous trip.  The owner specifically tells us, they very rarely control passports around here but in the off chance that they do check you, don't tell them you're staying here.  Unconcerned, we go around the town do a little shopping, drink some Kaiser beer and go off to eat dinner.  We're having a wonderful meal chatting eating delicious things and drinking Caipis.  We have just popped open the bottle of wine, and then come the Policia.

Yep, we got controlled.
Of course none of us have the appropriate ID and we're obviously foreigners (speaking French).  So we get hauled off to the police station.  Where we give them our names and date/place of birth and V and N flash their military IDs to help us get a little leniency if there is any to be had.  V speaks pretty good Portuguese and I at some point in this trip have discovered that I can understand the language extremely well even if I never quite succeed at speaking.  So we chat it up with some of the officers while they're holding us.  Everyone is very polite but it's quite clear from the get go that there will be no getting out of this.

Flash forward several hours.  The official big chief comes out with papers to sign for each of us.  The end result is that we get some nice hefty fines (827 Brasilian Real) and have permission to stay in the country for 3 days but cannot return for 3 years unless we pay the fine.  Handshakes are exchanged and we go on our way.

We go back to the restaurant, get some more food then figure out where to go out to.  And where do we go out dancing but of course, to the same place as our arresting officers.  We're allowed to be in the country now so there are no hard feelings.  Everyone is friendly, we dance, we sing, we vaguely putter along with our only half understanding each other's language.

Today we came back and it was really a good, fun, random way to spend a Friday night.

Friday, December 23, 2011

There's nothing like home for the holidays

Surprise- AMERICA!

Yep, just proving to you all that I can keep a secret.  For almost two months now my mother has been helping me plan a Christmas surprise.  Somehow I managed to go that whole time without telling anyone (except Brion who had the dubious honor of accepting my overflow excitement) that I would becoming back to the US for the holidays.

In order to get back my friend Erin and myself left Cayenne on Friday morning via covoiturage (car-share) and headed out on a 3ish hour car ride to St. Laurent du Maroni on the border between FG and Suriname.  Our driver was a very nice metro-French lady probably in her late 20s early 30s.
We spent the night in SLM at the house of another assistant who had already gone home to Tennessee for the holidays.

Saturday morning we woke up early to go find a pirogue (water taxi) to take us across the river to Suriname.  There are currently no roads leading out of FG.  They've been working on one over the Oyapock river border with Brazil for several years now and still haven't opened it up.  In order to get a pirogue very little effort is required, the conductors run up to your car the instant you arrive at the dock and try to grab your bags to force you into their boats. We ended up getting a guy who would take us across for 2.50euro a piece which is quite a good price.

Once across the river we were assaulted by swarms of taxi drivers vying for our fares.  Prices were discussed and we got a guy who would take us to Paramaribo (the capital) along with two other people in his Camry.  This is third world at its best.  Cheap transportation over dirt roads with potholes large enough to swallow cars.  A trip that would take probably around an hour on American roads takes almost 3 in this place.
Paramaribo was reached with only a few stops because the engine was overheating and we got to the guesthouse where the night was to be spent.

The rest of Saturday and Sunday were spent exploring the capital, seeing why they say mosques and synagogues sit side by side in Suriname, making vague attempts to understand Dutch, drinking disgusting Parbo, and gearing up for America (the northern edition).
4:30 AM Monday morning the taxi driver came and knocked on our door to start our epic voyage from Paramaribo to the US.  
Suriname airport (2 security checks including a pat down)--->  Aruba (get off plane, pass through US customs, 2 more security checks including bag searches and another pat down) ---> MIAMI!
In Miami Erin and I split up and  I headed back to Columbus with a layover in Atlanta.

Finally arrived in Columbus a little after 9:30pm.  It took 4 days from Cayenne and 20 hours in one day from Paramaribo to Ohio but I made it.

My mother picked me up from the airport and brought me home.  To quote my father when I walked in the door- How did you get here? It's like looking at a ghost.
Surprise successful.

Now I will be spending a couple weeks enjoying the amenities of the first world and visiting with people that I've been missing.

Merry Christmas to all and a Happy Festivus for the rest of us!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Wednesdays are my favorite days of the week.

Schools aren't open on Wednesday afternoon so with rare exceptions, that means that the assistants don't work either.  So instead, we go get lunch together (whoever is free around lunch time) and eat some "soup saigonaise" in the chinois near the market.

"Chinois" literally translates to Chinese.  Not Chinese restaurant or store, just Chinese. It's what we call all of the corner stores and small eateries around here (wildly ignoring the fact that although most- not all- of them are run by Asians, they are mostly Vietnamese or Laotian).
The soup saigonaise is Phô and delicious.  Noodles, meat and broth.  Love it.

In the evening a group of us join the Métro world of Cayenne (the population that is imported from mainland France) and go dancing at Café de la Gare.  The name translates to Café of the Station although it is no where near proximity to the actual station.  But every Wednesday night they have free Bachata dancing lessons and then a night of dancing with Bachata, Zouk, Salsa, and other things that I can't recognize.  The atmosphere is friendly and encourages intermingling with everyone (in the lessons they make you constantly change partners).  The crowd varies from young 20s to upper 50s and includes all demographics (though admittedly it is a mainly metro crowd there are plenty of locals mixed in particularly later in the evening).

It's by far the most full and active day of the week that I have here and thereby one of the most fun and interesting.  I find myself looking forward to Wednesdays more than the weekends.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Little Rant.

A couple of weeks ago I was working with a class of middle school students (12-13 yrs old) on the future tenses.  So we played a little game of imagining what they will be doing with their lives in 10 years.
Pretend we did this same exercise in america?   The responses would run something along the line of this:
"I will be 22years old.  I will be in college.  I will have a boyfriend/I will be married.  I will be a doctor/lawyer/various other ambitions career.  I will be living in (insert amazing place to live)"

Ohh what a different world I live in....

"I will be married and have 2/3/4 children.  I will be living in Cayenne/Kourou.  I will have a dog.  I will have a car (boys only).  I will be a midwife (girls only)."
EVERY child said they would have a minimum of two children by the age of 22.  Not a single boy said he would have a job but they all mentioned the nice cars they will have.  Every girl but one said they would be a midwife.  TWO of my 12 students said they would be in university (one boy and one girl) and in France.

There are so many things wrong with this place. Normally I make happy blogs.  I tell you about the nice sunshiny days that go on here and don't get me wrong, it's a beautiful place to live.  But that's about where the nice things stop.  It's hard for the good to balance out the bad when there's so little ambition and so little desire from anyone to improve their situation.  30% of the population here is on CAF (government assistance), 1 out of 9 people have HIV, the obesity and diabetes rates here are SIGNIFICANTLY higher than in mainland France, the birth rate rivals that of any third world country (which is basically what this is- a third world country with first world cards).

The way CAF works, the mother gets money based on how much she and her husband make and how many children she has.  IE- more children = more money, also no job = more money, also no husband = more money.  So society here basically says, you will get money if you do nothing but pop out as many children as you can as fast as you can and there is no encouragement for the man to stick around, actually it's better for the woman if he doesn't.  A large portion (nearly half) of my female students in the high school are pregnant and a good amount of them already have children at home. Nevermind that they don't actually want these children.  Nevermind that they don't want to care for them.  Nevermind that you live in a society where your children are there exclusively as commodities.  Just go ahead and get some more children.  That will improve your situation.  Then go ahead and beat them in public.  That will make them grow up into responsible adults.

When I first came to my classrooms the students asked me questions about my life.  It worked exactly the same in every class.  question 1. How old are you?  (22) 2. How many children do you have?  (none)  3. Are you married? (no) 4. Do you have a boyfriend? (no)
EVERY class.  Question 1 is normal.  But #2, it was never "do you have children?" always "how many".  At 22 years old it was assumed that I of course have already popped a few out.  The shock that my negative responses received was incredible.  It's completely unheard of that a decently attractive girl would not be married and pregnant by 22.

Welcome to Guyane.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Just as in metropolitan France (or “le metro” as we say around here) there are markets around the city where everyone goes to buy their fresh fruits and vegetables. The main market in downtown Cayenne is open from 7-130 Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. There are also other smaller more neighborhood markets operating other days including one I went to one Saturday in the parking lot of the Super-U grocery store. The markets here are mostly run by the Hmongs. The people here in Cayenne can be divided in to several distinctive groups one of which is the descendents of Laos immigrants (I'll write a later blog about the cultural groups of Guyane). Originally the Hmongs were people in French speaking Laos back when it was part of French Indochina. After they were displaced they relocated to French Guiana. By luck, la Guyane has almost exactly the same climate as Laos as such, the people were able to recreate their former communities on a new continent. As such, the Hmongs (pronounced M-ong) moved into the jungle to cultivate the soil and rejuvenate their people. There are several villages of Hmong who provide the produce for the market but the main one is called Cacao (think Ka- Kaw like a crow)

As for the products themselves, these are edible plants as I've never seen them before.

Chadek (Sha- Deck)
Essentially a giant grapefruit but with less flavor. Their size ranges anywhere from just slightly bigger than a large grapefruit to almost the size of a watermelon. Can be eaten as one would eat a grapefruit, or peeled, shaved then put into salad

Abriba (Ab- Ree- Ba)
- Looks like a giant yellow pinecone. The inside is soft and mushy with huge seeds. Sweet flavor is worth the grossness of the texture

Pomme Canelle
- Literally translated: Cinnamon Apple, it tastes almost exactly like an Abriba which is nothing like a cinnamon apple. Same size as a small apple but textured like a pinecone again with big seeds in the inside but this time with less mush and more form giving it a better texture for flavor.

Rombouton (Rom Boo Ton)
- In colloquial franglais these are round buttons. A cousin to the lychee they are wonderfully sweet and delicious inside after peeling off the tough skin. The green parts on the outside are plastic-esque hairs that serve to make it look like a lychee with a bad hair day. Also like a lychee they have a fairly large seed in the middle but this one is larger than that of a lychee

Pomme Rosa- Waxy Apples
- Delicious little things that taste pretty much nothing like an apple, almost dry and feathery inside

Concombre- Cucumbers (allegedly)
- The things that are called "cucumbers" here can range from that which we generally call by that name in america to little light green, oval shaped things about 2 inches long and covered in spikes, to enormous egg plant shaped veggies over a food long but green in color

Papaye- papaya
- Same as what you might find in the states, sweet and soft when ripe although also eaten when hard before it's quite ripe. Often shredded up and put into a salad. Green outer skin with orangey meat inside with lots of black seeds inside that look like caviar

Mangue- mango
- you could make so much mango salsa here. There are several different kinds though. There are small green mangoes whose skin never goes orange even when they are ripe (about 4 inches long and non-stringy), then there are larger green mangoes who get a bit lighter and spotty as they ripen (5-6 inches long and stringy), then there are the mangoes that turn orange or yellow when ripe (any size and both stringy and non-stringy) I still have yet to figure out exactly how many kinds and varieties there are and how to tell them all apart

Banane- bananas
- They come in way too many varieties, just like mangoes. But they are all delicious
- Banane Vert- greeen bananas baked or steamed so and they taste just like potatos
- Banane- what you expect from bananas
- Banane Asiatique- Asian Bananas
- Plantanes: cooked sweet or savory in pretty much any dish imaginable

Prune de Cythere (see – tare) – Golden Apples
- Have you ever eaten grass? This fruit is mushed up and turned into Jus Local (the popular local juice). Its nearly neon green color can be a bit off-putting and the flavor is uncomparable to any other fruit. Somehow these taste like a fruit and a vegetable at the same time. You may be able to recreate the flavor by blending grass with sugar and water. It can also be found in popcicle and icecream form, probably one of my favorite flavors found here.

Maracudja (mar- a- coo- ja) - passion fruit
- Yellow ball size between a golf ball and a baseball. Thick skin and lots of little seeds inside. Can't say I've eaten the fruit directly (actually not sure if you can really do that) but delicious and very popular in juice form

Pitaya (aka- Fruit du Dragone)- Dragon Fruit
- One of the coolest looking fruits, neon pink outer skin with green spikes and when you open it up it's basically a mixed up kiwi. It tastes like the middle white part of a kiwi and is about the same color but with tons of little black seeds speckled through

Fruit de pain- bread fruit
- Looks like a green brain. Can be cooked steamed or baked and ends up very starchy like a potato or, you guessed it, bread!

Cerises- cherries
- Theses bear no resemblance to cherries in the states. Green or pink in color and about the same size as a cherry in the states they're turned into juice which is incredible and delicious though apparently time consuming to make.

There's a smattering of the fruits/veggies found in our market. Lots of things I've never see before and will probably never see again, but thus far all delicious.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

My Roommates

My little apartment is pretty simplistic. Just a mattress on the floor, a small shelf and mosquito netting in the room with a not-yet-functioning kitchen on the balcony. None the less I have some fun little roommates and lots of visitors to share the space with!

The first one I met my second night staying there. I was adjusting the shelves and lo and behold who did I find, little Roachy! Well after about half a can of insecticide, little Roachy is no longer with us.

Then there was that evening as I was sitting out on the balcony and my neighbors Mr. and Mrs. Batwing came over to visit. They're welcome guests on my terrace though they don't get along too well with my other housemates and I have to remember to close the curtains so they avoid flying directly into my room.

The roommates that have trouble being friends with the Batwings are the mosquitoes. And, in all honesty, I have difficulty being pleasant to them as well. They're quite picky and for some reason they like to hang out on my bed which is really not acceptable, hence the netting.

The Batwings and I are not alone in our dislike for the mosquitoes. Slimey the gecko and his little friends are plentiful around my apartment and they only like to keep the mossys around for their delicious crunchyness. Unfortunately Slimey had a run in with some poison the other day so he will is no longer with us and I had to politely remove him from my shower yesterday morning. Actually it's been quite a bad week for the gecko family as Slimey's father was taken by a Kis Ka Dee on my porch last night. (The Kis Ka Dees don't live with me, but they like the Batwings are my neighbors)

My only mammal roommates have also not been having the best week since I moved in. I only discovered the presence of little Squeeker a couple nights ago running from my bathroom to my closet, but judging by the disruption of the souricide (mouse poison) I put out, he won't be with us much longer. Also, I'm pretty sure another member of his family is already rotting somewhere in my bathroom walls if the stench is anything to go off of.

The Aunts are still all over. But there's not much I can do about them so we've just accepted each other's presence in the space. They were here first but I'm bigger. So I squish them as they are discovered and try to keep food in airtight packaging.

See, It's impossible to be lonely with this much company around!

Dead Slimey

In other news, I've been here for almost two months and still have no been paid which is a bit of a problem, but there doesn't seem to be much we can do about it other than reduce money consumption by only eating packets of ramen and instant soup. Fun life. Getting quite frustrating at this point but we're still working on figuring out what exactly can be done about it. A French style Grève may be in order.

Cooking Ramen using an upside down iron... yep that poor