La Réunion: Made It!

September 28 – 2:34am @ La Possession

She told me that while she was waiting for me in the crowd, she was playing a game with those around her of Guess the Head of an American. As she was thinking in her head, no, no, not that one, no, is when I approached her and took her by surprise. It became a story that she told all of the people from her quartier (neighborhood) all night.

That scenario tells you a lot about her personality already – involving, vibrant. Her name is Nathalie, and she is one of the English professors at Lycée Hotelier La Renaissance. When you meet her, she’ll make you think that it’s an island of 800.000 inhabitants where everyone knows everyone. “He is a very good golfer,” she told me after bumping into another person that she knew at the airport.

As we continued towards her car, Nathalie asked me if I liked golfing. Her family – her husband Pierrot and her 11-year-old son Anton – are  avid golf players. Tomorrow, Pierrot is going to play in a tournament. Aside from golf, she loves to play tennis and do a form of dance that involves stretching. Anton loves golf, swimming, and tennis as well. He was very interested as well by my skate.

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The drive to their house from St. Denis, the capital, made me say, “Oh my god,” three or four times. It was raining which, I was told, is a rare occurrence on the western half of the island. Fog shrouded the green mountaintops a mere mile away from view. As we drove west on the main road, we hugged the base of enormous vertical cliffs with massive sheets of chain-link preventing the rocks from disrupting traffic. Completely vertical cliffside to our left, the Indian Ocean to our right.

As we went through the gate to their residence, I was attacked by their dog Acadie who is quite serious about being pet, clawing your arms if you stop. There, I met Anton who could easily have had a modeling career for a clothing line – tan skinned, black-haired, beautiful smile. Nathalie’s husband, Pierrot, was very fit, walking around later that day shirtless, a bit quieter, but just as nice.

Their house is a small paradise with a small swimming pool, a lawn fit to putt on, palm trees and exotic flowers, and more flowers and cacti hugging the rim of their patio. The house has an open floor plan, the main entertainment room through the front door. All rooms branch off from their. Anton has a side entrance to his bedroom that is a 4-foot-tall, and cave-like, cut straight into the concrete with little doors on wheels that slide over the entrance.

Water from the pool is pumped to small tubes in the roof to heat the water and then is cycled back into the pool.

A small green gecko disappeared behind a dresser as I walked into the studio apartment on the second floor. I’ll be staying with them until I move into an apartment on the 1st of octobre in St. Gilles-les-Bains. It is fully-equipped with a kitchen, dining area, full-size bed, and bathroom with a waterfall shower head. The windows remain open all the time. At night you stick a prise (preez) in an outlet to keep mosquitoes away from you.

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Nathalie took Anton to an open tennis day at a dirt court just down the road while I unpacked my things, took a shower, and napped for a couple more hours.

For dinner, I attended a neighborhood gathering at the community building just near the tennis courts. 20 people or so showed up for the potluck they had planned earlier that day during open tennis. A mixture of z’oreilles (zor-ay) and des créoles showed up. Z’oreilles is a slang term meaning ears for French inhabitants of the island. “They’re called les oreilles because when the French first came here, they couldn’t understand a word of creole. They were always pointing to their ears and asking the natives to repeat what they were saying,” Nathalie informed me.

What’s fascinating about the island as well as our gathering is that races are completely mixed on the island. Their is no segregation among skin colors like there often is in the US. People come from all over the world to live on this island, mainly immigrants from Africa, India, and China. The food is reflective of all the cultures.

For dinner, two women had prepared for everyone an array of differences salsas, one mild with finally chopped green mango and onions, another the same but with peppers added, and also a fresh tomato salsa. There was steamed rice, sausages and some of the most amazing chicken I have ever tasted. I drank two glasses of red wine, aloe vera juice, and coca (coca-cola). “Tout le monde aime le coca (Everybody likes coke)” said one of the neighbors while pouring himself a glass.

I could already tell after a couple of hours that the overall personality of the island was much more laid-back than France. It could be from being exposed to so much sunlight all year round. It could be the fact that they were all living in paradise and a small part of the world where race meant only one’s cultural offerings.

Everything is so beautiful and perfect here that it honestly scares me. It feels like the setting of a dystopian novel where the main character becomes slowly aware of all the imperfections in the vase. I don’t think this is one of those situations, though. It’s just really really good.

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