Total Pageviews

Sunday, February 16, 2014

ENTERING FRENCH GUIANA FROM THE FRONT or Mykel's Caribbean Blog Chapter 12

by Mykel Board


Nov 12, 2013- 
Nov. 15, 2013


[Recap: From the start, it didn't look good for this trip. Everything went right... always a bad sign. Nothing portends disaster like everything going right.

Easy subletter in New York, smooth flight to Miami, promises of “meet you at the airport/seaport” for the whole trip. $10 a night accommodations in Guyana, the rest free.

Uh oh! Too good. The better the news before, the bigger the fall later. And things get worse. (Better) The Miami trip goes so smoothly you could cry. The only problem was a lot of rain-- heavy rain. The streets were rivers. There were waves in the pool. I got wet. Very wet.

Then on to North Trinidad, where my friends pick me up at the airport, take me around drinkin'. Then, I move South to San Fernando T'dad, have some fun adventures, meet a Goddess... er... Empress of a girl. Go back to the airport and fly to Guyana.

In Guyana, my facebook friends from KEEP YOUR DAY JOB! meet me at the airport. From there, we go to Jamal's. This is the only time I have to pay for a place to sleep: 15 days for $150US. Not bad. No, it doesn't go perfectly. But it goes, and I meet some great people in the country. My trip to Kaiteur Falls in the jungle is literally (741 feet) a high point.

The two weeks of my stay in Guyana were adventure-filled, and beer-dulled. Most days, it rained. Sometimes for just an hour or two in the afternoon. Sometimes all day.

I don't get it Mykel,” Jamal tells me. “This isn't the rainy season.”

The plan is to travel to Suriname with Keep Your Day Job! I'll be a roadie! Mykel tours with a band... again. Yowsah! But, uh oh... a drummer problem. (Hard to imagine, huh?) Two drummers had agreed to tour with them. One, a close friend, the other, more PUNKROCK. They ditch the friend for the punkrocker. He bails at the last minute. The now former-friend does not answer emails. I cannot play drums. This cannot work out. We go to Suriname anyway. It works out.

In Suriname, I stay with a punkrock student and his super-generous parents. I mention a local synagogue; they arrange a tour. I mention a trip to “the interior,” bang, we're there... surveying monkey meat. When dad can't do it, they get the poor son, Jose, to chauffeur me around, as if he doesn't have enough with schoolwork and his own band ADHD. I can see he hopes for rain... it's an excuse to stay home. Often, there is rain.

Then it's on to French Guyana. There, Florian, the brother of one of my top ten pals, Simon, lives with his girlfriend Marie. Two blog entries ago, I'd just arrived in French Guiana.

BUT, there was a lot I left out of the Suriname adventure. I did a little back-tracking track last time: My Chinese Restaurant Lunch Terrorist Adventure©, and the general nastiness of my being A BAD GUEST. Suriname was great, except for the rain... the goddamn rain. Every day.

This isn't rainy season,” Jose assured me.

Yeah, right.

Dad tells me that Saint Lauren, my destination in French Guiana, is “very primitive. It's just dirt roads and mud huts. And crime... wow!” He says something in Dutch.

It means criminals up the wazoo,” translates Jose.

Sounds like my kind of place,” I tell him.

He laughs.

So it's off to FRENCH GUIANA. I take a small boat there. The captain lets me choose “legal or backtrack?” I choose legal. Once landed at immigrtion, I annoy the white immigration officer by asking for a passport stamp. They give it to me and try to hustle me away. I'm as hungry as shit and don't know where I am.]

Usually, I can't get out of immigration fast enough. But today, I need their help. Usually, immigration officers want to chat, either to be friendly or to insinuate that I should be slipping them a few extra shekels before they'll release me to their proud homeland. Usually, they speak English because that's what the tourists speak. BUT, this is French Guiana! If there are tourists, they are French. The customs officers are also French --NOT French Guianans, but French French. You know, like white people.

[NOTE: Unlike England and Holland who release their colonies into independence, France absorbs its colonies. It makes them prefectures... like states. Giving the locals citizenship and forcing them to pay national taxes. It's similar to what the U.S. did to Hawaii, except the Hawaiians got to vote on it.]

I try my best with the immigration guys.

J'ai faim,” I say. “Où puis-je trouver un place pour manger?”

One of the officers looks skyward... like an American teen just about to say Whatever! He brushes his hand vaguely toward the street in front of the little customs hut.

Tout droit deux rues puis tournez à gauche...” he says, “ou à droite.”

So, back-packed and computer-cased, I walk tout droit through St. Lauren. The place looks like a full-fledged city. The roads are all paved. No mud huts. Buildings, stores... no bars to speak of. And so far no criminals wazoo or otherwise.

I count the rues and at deux I turn gauche. I walk among the buildings. No food shops of any kind. Just some wide streets with a bookshop on one side, what looks like an automobile parts store on the other. Again I walk tout droit. A shopping center... a mall... appears out of nowhere. I forget what it's called... some letter combination... C and J maybe.... It's a mass of bright yellow buildings, as ugly-- if a bit smaller-- as anything you'd see in New Jersey. I enter the complex and find a bakery/sandwich shop.

Inside, two black women take care of the counter. In their early 20s, they wait on a bearded young white man in his early 30s. Behind the counter sit a few refrigerators. Right outside the restaurant is a small enclosed courtyard for people to sit, eat and diddle around on the internet. I'll sit there after I buy my sandwich.

Vous avez Quel genre de sandwichs?” I ask.

She says something. The only words I can understand are O and avec fromage. To avoid ordering a dingleberry special, I say, “Je voudrais l'une avec fromage.”

That's when I notice the drink. It's in the freezer in a soft plastic pouch. It looks like a picture of a Durian on the front. The drink is called JACK'S FRUIT. Most of the label is in German! How can I pass up something like that?

I take my sandwich (in a bagu-ette, of course) and my Jack's Fruit drink (German edition) out to a table in the court- yard. I pull a chair up, open my computer, then suddenly notice the people around me. They're so white it hurts my eyes.

While there were mostly Caribbeans on the street-- Black, Indian, no Asians-- at every table here sits some white guy or girl... most in their late 20s to early 30s... all with a computer typing away. I haven't been with so many white people since I started this trip. What's up with that?

[NOTE: In the future, I'll ask my hosts about this. They'll tell me: Teachers, Doctors and Gendarme. Those are the white jobs in French Guiana. The French government pays French French (as opposed to Caribbean French) big bucks to go out to the colonies to teach, doctor or gendarme. That's why they're there.

There is no medical school in French Guiana. French is not the native language of most of the French Guianese. (That language is Nenge Tongo. More about that later.) So they need French French to teach it to them. And this is the Caribbean! You need authoritarian people to be gendarmes! Except for a few politicians in a few islands, Caribbean people do not have the energy or the personality to be cops. So you gotta import 'em!]

So here I am, in a den of imports, probably teachers, since the doctors probably have to work and these guys are too young and hirsute to be cops. In my pocket, along with a very primitive map to where I'M GOING, I have directions:

Prendre la route de Saint Jean, passer le pont de Balaté (le pont jaune) et rouler 200m. Prendre à droite l'entrée de la résidence des rivages et tout de suite à gauche dans l'allée de la résidence. La première maison est la bonne. (n°1)

At my table, I connect to the internet and try to Google my destination. No luck. I finish the sandwich, and Jack's Fruit®. (The drink is delicious-- just like Durian.) Then, I walk over to the bearded young man facebooking at the next table.

Ou est la route de Saint Jean?” I ask.

He gives me directions that include highway and ne pas loin d'ici. And that's all I understand. I ask him to dessiner une carte. He smiles, pulls out a pen and scribbles a map on a napkin.

[NOTE: I know the image of the French. The arrogant, xenophobic, annoying FROG. The unhelpful, insulting, brusque, cheese-eater. This image is RIGHT-- for about half the people of France. The rest are friendly, helpful, funny, down-to-earth. In French Guiana-- don't forget the locals too, are French-- the percentage is different. All the French, except the immigration officers, are great! There isn't one person I meet in the country... er... prefecture (except the immigration officers) who I wouldn't want as a next door neighbor.]

My new bearded white friend, gets up from behind his laptap, walks with me to the exit and points to the street I take to the route de Saint Jean.

I put away my own computer, pick up my backpack, thank my new friend, and walk... and walk. I go to the first street. Turn left. Then walk three very long blocks up to what looks like a main street. I turn right on the main street and look back at the map. On this street is an arrow that points... somewhere off the page.

I walk some more. Another long block. And another. Both the computer and the backpack gain weight with every step. My shoulders are in the clutches of a VULCAN DEATH GRIP.

I don't even know if I'm going in the right direction. I walk along the highway. Looking for someone to check with.

[NOTE: If I need proof of my oft-stated contention that I am NOT a man, but a myn... here it is. I ALWAYS ask directions. Not only once, but twice, thrice. Whenever I'm out of eyeshot of the previous askee... I ask again. So take note, you accusers of macho male-chauvinism or whatever it's called in the 21st century. I am NOT one!]

There is a guy down the road pasting up a sign, an advertisement for some kind of soap. He looks like a Caribbean beatnik, tanned, dark shaggy hair, a scruffy beard. He's wearing overalls and handles a large stick full of paste.

I show him my map and ask him, “Je vais le droit chemin?”

He puts down the stick, nods, points in the direction I was going, and then says something back to me. I know he's speaking French, but I have no idea what he's talking about.

I shrug.

He points to his truck.

Oui, beau camion,” I say.

He shakes his head. I thought I was giving him a compliment. Maybe I said something bad.

I shrug again.

Mykel! Mykel!” a voice comes to me like a dream. Uh oh, that Durian drink was spiked! Now, I'm hearing voices.

I turn to where “the voice” is coming from. There's an attractive white girl on a bike, riding up behind me.

Are you Mykel?” she asks.

She looks like neither a government official nor an American feminist, so I answer, “Yep, that's me.”

It's me, Marie,” she says getting off the bike.

I run up to her and give her a hug and a huge-but-chaste kiss on the cheek.

I've been trying to speak to this guy,” I tell her, “I have your directions here, but I just wanted to check.”

The guy says something to her. She laughs and then speaks to me. “You're about a kilometer away,” she says.

I look skyward, thinking about my pain.

But that man says he will take you in his truck” she continues. “You only have to wait until the poster is posted.”

She talks to him again. Then to me.

You can meet me in a shop right near where we live. He knows where it is.”

Great!” I say to her.

Merci beaucoup,” I say to the posterer, “very beaucoup.”

And before long we're in the truck and out on the small highway that is la route de Saint Jean.

It seems like miles before we turn off the road, drive through a construction site, and end up at a small shop near a traffic circle. I wonder if I should give the guy a tip... he's so nice. But he's French. Ask any New York waiter or waitress... the French don't know shit about tipping. They say tipping's an insult. The last thing I'd want to do is insult my new friend.

I just thank him again, shake hands, watch his truck fade into the distance and sit down in front of the store to wait.

She won't show up. I think completely irrationally, “I know she won't show up. It's all a trick to get rid of me.” After another 10 minutes of thinking this, the bike appears with Marie on it, wearing a smile as big as my backpack.

The house, as it turns out, is right around the corner from the store. A two story affair with a side entrance, a kitchen, living room, upstairs and with an extra bed, “office,” bedroom, back yard with a swimming pool! Though not the kind of pool you're likely to meet in say, California.

(this picture is from later in my stay-- first time I wore a bathing suit on the entire trip)  
Besides Florian, Marie shares the house with two cats and a tank of goldfish. My room, it turns out, is in an open space upstairs... a double mattress on a balcony, next to “the office.” Key benefit... MOSQUITO NETTING.

While Marie shows me the layout, I hear what sounds like pebbles on a tin roof... first a few... then louder, faster, harder.

It's the rain,” she says. “I don't understand it. It's every day. It shouldn't be. This isn't the rainy season.”

Florian is on his way back from work. Both he and Marie are teachers. Marie is in elementary school. Florian teaches the older kids. My connection?

Florian is the brother of Simon... If you read LAST YEAR'S AFRICA TRIP, you'll remember that Simon is one of the guys I visited in Strasbourg in 2012... and winner of Mykel's Best Friend Award for 2009... or was it 2008?

Besides being more fun than a coffee enema, Simon is a great cook, and took care of Marilyn and Jody in that capacity for a few weeks on Fire Island.

If you'd guess brothers would have similar personalities and cooking abilities, you'd guess right. Marie is Florian's girlfriend, a co-owner of this house. If you'd guess she, too, has cooking ability and a wicked sense of humor, you'd guess right.

[Aside: One of the many things I like about writing is the power it gives you. You can perform deeds impossible for other mortals. Want to see me swallow steel girders and shit the Eiffel Tower? POW! There it is! How'd you like that? Ok stockbroker, YOU try it! So, it's time to bring Florian into the picture. POW! There he is!]

Just now there is a rustling at the door. It's Florian, returning from school. (See how easy that was?)

I haven't seen the guy since he, Simon, sis, Mom and Dad were together in New York for a Drink Club orgy. No, that's wrong. In 2012, I was in Strasbourg having dinner at the Hebtigs house. It was there that Florian made the fatal mistake of telling me he was moving to French Guiana.

[WARNING: Never tell me you're moving anywhere! If you do, chances are I'll show up on your front porch-- in the rain.]

Now, Florian looks exactly the same as I remember him, only a bit wetter. Not bronzed as I expect, just this friendly white guy.

Hey Mykel,” he says in English. “You have any trouble getting here.”

Non,” I reply in my best French. “J'ai été très facile.”

He laughs.

I think you'd better speak English,” he says. “At least here. Otherwise you might embarrass yourself.”

What'd I say?” I wonder... but don't ask.

That night, Florian makes dinner... lots of fruits... everything fresh from the market. Fish just cooked at home... and it's a good thing I love seafood. I have it almost every one of my 7 days in the country... er... prefecture.

We talk about plans for my week in French Guyana. I'm going to take a canoe trip through the Amazon swamps, go to a huge festival sponsored by the school, take a class in Nenge Tongo-- the local language (a weird mix of African languages, Dutch and English... an escaped slave creole), and explore the exiled prisoners camp in the center of town.

Here we are, the prince with the king and queen of the castle.

But it's getting late, and I'm really tired. I thank my hosts and go up to my bed. I crawl under the mosquito netting and tuck it in after me. I fall asleep quickly but awaken to thunder and the pat-pat-pat-pat of falling rain on the roof. I fall asleep again. This time I'm awakened by an earthquake.

The mosquito netting is shaking. Waving back and forth. The mattress shakes with a thump. Then again. Then the netting shakes. Then a thump. I wonder if the house is going to tumble down around me. Should I put on my pants? I don't want to be discovered dead in my underwear. I don't... and I'm not.

It is not an earthquake. It's one of the cats. He loves the mosquito netting and jumps from the mattress to the netting... crawls up the side... then to the netting... then drops down on the mattress again. I push against the netting to dislodge the cat. He thinks I'm playing and digs his claws into my thumb.

I pull my bloody hand away and squeeze my body into a safe zone in the center of the bed. Next thing I know, it's morning. I'm awakened by the shuffling downstairs. Then a whirr. I crawl from beneath the netting, put on my pants and head downstairs.

The whir is the sound of blender blades turning a myriad of fresh fruits into fresh juice. Next to the blender is a teflon frypan, and a pitcher full of white batter.

I hope you hate crepes,” Florian tells me as he leaves the kitchen. “That's what we're having for breakfast.”

I laugh, trying to act like crepe-making is part of my normal breakfast routine. Actually, I love crepes, but have only ordered them from waiters with mustaches. I never actually made one.

After Florian is out of eyeshot, I confess my ignorance to Marie. She opens several packets of things... each wrapped in individual wax paper pouches.

Here are chicken pieces,” she says opening a packet. “And here is pork.”

One by one, she continues to open the packets and display the contents.

This one has cheese,” she continues. “This one has jam. And here are pieces of fruit: pineapples, apples, pears...” and something I didn't catch. It looks like cat fur. I don't ask.

First you spread out the flour on the frypan like this...” she pours the batter onto the pan. “Then you put in the ingredients,” she takes some jam and puts it in the center of the crepe.

Then you wait a minute, and finally roll up the crepe and put it in a plate.” She does it with perfection. “Now you try,” she tells me.

I pour the batter into the pan. It sizzles and bubbles but soon lies flat, very crepe-like.

Which ingredients should I put in?” I ask her.

Whatever you like?” she says.

So I throw in a few pieces of pork, some chicken bits, some pear slices, and cover the whole thing with jam.

Marie laughs. Laughs harder. “You put pork and jam together?”

You said put in what ever you like,” I answer.

Florian!” she yells. “Mykel made a crepe with pork, chicken and jam!” Then she laughs more.

It's supposed to be what I like, right?” I say, stubbornly trying to defend myself.

Florian comes out of the bedroom, looks at my crepe and also laughs out loud.

Wise guys.

Okay, they think they can laugh at my Poulet-Porc Avec de la Gelée. I'll show them... Here come my magic powers at the keyboard. Pow!

The rain comes... hard!

--end (more next month)

Oh yeah, besides my great hosts, I owe some special thanks to Assia Franz, my friend and French teacher in New York. I couldn't have managed even this without her.

[You can subscribe to this blog by clicking the RSS link at the bottom or by joining the Yahoo group for readers of Mykel Board's rants

You might also want to check the blog of Mykel Board's Columns .

WARNING: The Column Blog is neither PC nor PG. It might make you mad, or disgusted. The thin-skinned, politically correct, and easily sickened should stay away. You have been warned.]

No comments: