I've finally arrived in French Guiana and I've just finished my first week of teaching. My contract only requires me to work 12 hours a week (c'est bon, non?), so I work in the mornings Monday thru Thursday, and then I have Friday thru Sunday off. But before I tell you about my job, let's talk about the circuitous path I took to get here!
My original flight had a transfer through Brazil and Suriname. However, I did not realize that for Americans visiting Brazil, even just to transfer flights, one must have a valid tourist visa. I did not have that, so I got sent back to the United States! My passport was taken away and I was put in a hotel inside the airport so that I would not illegally Brazil. It was quite an experience... I think after the initial confusion, everyone just kind of felt sorry for me. Like, "Oh, you poor American idiot." It's ok - I thought it was absurdly funny, too.
So I went back to Los Angeles and stayed there for one night. Then I took a new flight to French Guiana, this time through Iceland and Paris. I had a 22-hour layover in Iceland, though, so I had some time to explore the country. And let me tell you - Iceland is cold. I guess that should not come as a huge surprise to me, but going from 90+ degree Fahrenheit weather in Los Angeles to below-freezing weather was a shock. But, I had time to go to a Viking museum, eat an Icelandic breakfast (or at least that's what I was told I was eating), and meet some very awesome people! The taxi drivers and shopkeepers there were some of the friendliest people I have ever met.
Then I went to Paris. I only had a six-hour layover, so I just rented a hotel room for two hours to take a shower and quick nap. I think I had been traveling for about 32 hours by that point, so that was a very welcome nap.
And then I finally boarded Air Caraïbes for French Guiana. I slept for most of the 9-hour flight, but I sat next to a very nice French woman on the plane who told me about French Guiana. (That was also when I realized that I could maybe understand 50% of what people say to me, here.) And before I even knew it, we were flying over the dense canopy of the Amazon rainforest and into French Guiana.
I was picked up from the airport by Madame Nathalie Balias-Constantin (pictured below on the left), who is an English teacher at La Collège de la Canopée, the middle school that I'm working at. (The French school system is quite different than the American school system, but the children at la Collège are of the same age range of American middle schoolers.) She and the other English teachers welcomed me with a huge French meal!
The three women above are all English teachers at la collège, and the woman on the right is who I am staying with. Her name is Madame Krys Gandriaux, and she has really lived all over the world. She first left France around my age to work as a tour guide in Scotland, then went back for university in France, and then lived in Mayotte (next to Madagascar) for about five years before moving here. She moved here a few years ago, and she lives with her son, Theo, and her daughter, Kim. They are pictured next to the "cocktail" portion of the meal, which does not really have a true American equivalent, but is similar to appetizers. I had a really good alcoholic drink made from worms (yes) and fruit, and a drink that is like beer mixed with lemonade. Nathalie also served olives, sausages, dried nuts and raisins, and these little fried balls of fish fillet.
We first ate a salad called crudités, which literally translates to raw food, but is really just a salad mix of carrots, beets, boiled eggs, corn, and lettuce / spinach. It's a very typical French salad eaten with most meals. Later, we had couscous and chicken, and then for dessert we had chocolate mousse. So - a "typical" North African, French, and French Guianese meal!
Afterwards, I went to Krys' house, which is where I will be staying until December. The American idea of indoor-outdoor living is laughable compared to how les Guyanais live here. It's quite hot and humid here, so doors are always open and most meals are taken outside on the terrace. The gallery above is of the house I'm staying in. Krys has a dining room inside, but it's rarely (if ever) used. There is air conditioning, but it's generally only used in your own room for sleeping. However, since doors are always open, most people just take advantage of the passing breezes to cool their house.
The day after moving in, we went on a hike at a popular jungle trail nearby. There, I saw the biggest bamboo I have ever seen in my entire life. It's crazy how huge plants can grow to in the jungle.
Finally, I'm struck by how "normal" things are here - I'm renting a room in the suburbs, with houses situated right next to each other, and I've also accompanied Krys as she's taken her kids to judo and rugby practice. The trail we were on was also full of other families just taking a stroll for the evening. It was almost like I was hiking in California. The only difference was the ever-present heat, and the all-enveloping Amazon jungle.
I started work on Monday this week. It's been really wonderful, and I'm surprised by how much I enjoy teaching. I mainly assist the other English teachers with their work, so sometimes I take the reins to do an exercise with the entire class, while other times I just sit with the students and listen. It is mainly British English that is taught here, so the teachers are keen to have an American teaching assistant so that the students can hear an American accent. The students are very very VERY curious about me and Los Angeles - whenever I say that I'm from Los Angeles, the children just quickly repeat "Los Angeles! Los Angeles!" to themselves with a French accent. I've been asked about the Hollywood Walk of Stars and about how many celebrities I've seen. I've also had some funny language mix-ups so far - I told the students that I am a geologist, but one student thought I said I was a professional juggler.
However, I will save talking about my job for another post, since this one is getting quite long! Thanks for reading this far, and stay tuned to hear more about my adventures in la Guyane! I'm looking forward to a wonderful stay here.