Cyclone Survival 101…. Well almost….

This week has not been a normal week.

In my last post I explained that I was off to see my friend spend the evening being a mermaid.

It turned out that this would not be the most exciting thing to happen this week.

On Friday afternoon I spied a depression alert on Facebook. A Tropical depression forms when multiple weather systems collide. They are a common occurrence in the Pacific and usually bring with them sticky days, heavy rain and high winds. Move over Wales, although you used to be my personal reference point for world levels of dampness, nothing that you threw at me in 15 years of habitation can match the ferocity of the rain we get here.  This is the type of rain you can smell coming, rolls like a snare drum and catches you off guard, soaking you to the skin in 5 seconds flat. During this kind of event, it is not uncommon to have to ring out you knickers after attempting to travel even the shortest of distances.

‘But it isn’t depression season!’ my friends declared. ‘We can’t have a depression!’ And yes, technically depression season ended last month, but it seems that this one was not paying due attention to its calendar. The french bureaucrats were very upset. An untimely storm is really quite a nuisance.

After some gentle mocking, I wandered home and went to bed.

Saturday morning, I awoke and checked the weather. It seemed that the depression was still quite depressed and taking it’s misery out on Vanuatu, resulting in some major sogginess. It looked like it would be hanging around and moping for a good while yet.

I went out for brunch with a friend and watched the rain. I informed her of said depression. We laughed about it. Seen as it was raining she kindly offered to take me shopping.

The nearest supermarket is about 20 mins uphill walk from my house. Most weeks I take pride in doing the majority of my shopping on foot, in the vain hope that walking for 40 minutes whilst weight down with shopping in 30° heat  counts as double exercise, but my enthusiasm for this wains dramatically when the heavens open.

In the few minutes between finishing lunch and grabbing my shopping list, I hastened to look at the forecast again.

Things had changed.

The language they were using to describe the event had escalated and the words: ‘cyclone’ and ‘category 4’ were staring to infiltrate news reports. And more alarmingly the words ‘menace’, ‘extreme force’, ‘high risk’ and ‘grave danger’ were appearing close the the word Noumea.

Right. OK then. Things are getting serious. We could be in for a rough few days.

I immediately channeled my inner girl guide and got myself prepared.

A weeks worth of candles, water and non perishable food were added to the shopping list and duly purchased. I found the spare gas for the camping stove and what turned out to be quite an impressive collection of torches and batteries. I tried filling the bath with water. Turns out the bath plug doesn’t work and I realised I have never actually used the bath…

At this point the powers that be had decided that this depression was going to annoy people enough to deserve a name, and ‘Cyclone Cook’ was born (a little ironic that the potential biggest cyclone to hit New Caledonia since 2003 would be called Cook).

It was however a beautiful day so I went for a walk. The prospect of a cyclone did not seem particularly likely, but with the prospect of impending doom, I took some pictures just in case a before and after was required.

The news and predictions were however starting to show a rather different picture. By Saturday night it was getting clear that the cyclone was not going to go away, it was strengthening and on a direct course for New Caledonia and Noumea, due to make landfall late Monday night. The entire country was put on pre-alert, the first level of our three level system, which basically translates to ‘get your shit together in the next 48 hours things might get a bit hairy’.

Cue the expat community to start getting a little bit antsy. But then I think that is really quite a reasonable response to predicted 200kph winds, 6 metre waves, 350mm rains and UN reports estimating the humanitarian impact to be in excess of 50 000, of which we could all potentially be one.

By Sunday I had had no less than 4 people suggest to me that large waves might pose somewhat of a problem to my house and that advanced levels of preparation would be required. I systematically cleared everything from outside my house and then helped my friend clear her balcony and then we started to play the game of: which would be more safe: a flat on the 2nd floor of the highest hill in the area (good for flooding, bad for wind) or my house (sheltered from the wind, but close to a river and the sea). This is not the form of top trumps that I enjoy playing.

By Monday morning I was getting quite worried. Multiple people had convinced me that might house may well be under water in less than 24 hours and until 8am on Monday morning, I was still unsure as to whether I was expected to go to work. We weighed up the options and decided my friend’s house would be the best option so I cleared everything that sat below a metre in my house, packed my bag and waited until 12pm, when Alerte 1 was deployed. Alerte 1 is the point where the government tell everyone to stop being bravado-filled idiots and go home. I closed the door and walked away from my home slightly nervous about what it would look like the next time I saw it and collected people and things from various homes in order to form ‘team cyclone’.

IMG20170410190731

And then we waited.

It turns out that concentration on work tasks is rather difficult when faced with a impending Cyclone, which was definitely by this point being reported as a catagory 4. Look Mum! We even made it to the Australian news: Cyclone Cook! The next few hours were spent checking for updates and drinking tea.

At about 4 pm we lost power.

SO IT BEGINS.

Our 4th party invitee was not yet with us, so Connie and I bravely decided to go and get her in conditions that seemed like they were rapidly deteriorating. We returned unscathed 20 minutes later and so did the power.

We watched the storm until it got dark or became unwise to do so. Something smashed. We gasped. The wind howled. For some reason, my friend’s toilet turned into a wind tunnel.

At 8pm we entered into Alerte 2, the final and highest alert. Full lock down. This shit just got real….

IMG20170410114624-PANO

…..Except it kinda didn’t.

As time plodded on things got quieter. The electric didn’t go out. We watched a film. Nothing happened. We cooked dinner. It got quieter. Are we in the eye? No that would be stupid. It got quieter still. We played games.

At midnight it was almost silent and we decided to go to bed. The eye had passed 50km further away than predicted and all was calm.

 

Day dawned. Alerte 2 was lifted. We were greeted by this beautiful sight:

IMG20170411073914

Work was cancelled and the danger was over. We drove by my house to make sure it wasn’t underwater and then proceeded to have a lovely leisurely brunch before venturing out to assess the damage. Noumea was in a jovial state with everyone enjoying the free day off.

A few trees were down, with a very small light one leaning on my roof. The sea defences at Anse Vata had taken a beating, but it appears that Noumea has had a reprieve.

The rest of the country did not fair so well, with over 20000 without power for 3 days, a few injuries and one death. Some of the roads are still inaccessible and there was significant damage in The Loyalty Islands. But this seems rather light compared to what could have happened.

Cyclone survivors met in the pub Tuesday evening to report on the events. Everyone was outwardly a little bit upset that things had not been as dramatic as they could have been, but inwardly I think everyone was relieved that experiencing a direct hit from a category 4 cyclone is not something that we can tick off our bucket lists just yet….

Big love from a very safe and cyclone free Noumea.

Until the next time…

 

Back 2 Skool & The Big 3-0

Last month I celebrated being on this planet for a whole 3 decades.

After the initial ‘Christ I am old/What have I done with my life?/The end is nigh’ type panic, swiftly abated by a quick google search (apparently working on a foreign tropical island fulfills most of Buzzfeed’s criteria for tricennial* achievement) I got back to the rather pedestrian task of ‘being an adult’ and filled in my tax return, because that is what the over-thirties do.

February, March and April are the most ‘tropical’ months in New Caledonia. It’s hot, sweaty and sticky and most plans are motivated by the need to stay cool. It is also the start of the new school year and so my silence during the past month has largely been caused by me actually having to do the job I am paid to do, which I must admit, was a bit of a shock to the system after effectively 6 months of inactivity.

I was mildly alarmed to find that my timetable seemed to have doubled since last year (peaking at 18 hours a week – the horror) and included quite a number of horribly early starts, so I duly dived into evaluating my performance from last year (as serialized here) and trying (hopefully) to produce something vastly better than what I was able to present last year as a very ‘green’ an unqualified teacher. 

Le rentrée brought with it a certain type of chaos that I have now grown to associate with my place of work. But even despite this foreknowledge, I still was somewhat perplexed to be confronted with the following issues during class:

  1. Poorly functioning doors. Yes. Doors can function poorly. You would think that they operate on a binary system of open and closed, but turns out that in New Caledonia there are further options. Who knew? A clever electrical system can also add: Closed and not willing to open; Open once and then not again meaning students are locked inside and teacher outside or indeed, the opposite. Luckily my students have a sense of humour and did not hate me enough to exploit the potential of this for mayhem.
  2. Hostile automatic Lighting. It turns on when you enter the room. It works for 1 hour. It buggers off, not to return for the remaining 3 hours of class. Even if you suggest to the class that they are too still and should therefore all start waving frantically in a bid to re-activate it. This doesn’t work. You then have to instruct the class in blind opening. This is harder than it sounds.
  3. General lack of electricity. Never mind the lights, think of the entire electrical system in one sole classroom disappearing. I am not entirely sure how this is even possible. Try trying to explain that one in pigeon French. Think of Basil Fawlty shouting ‘THE ELECTRICITY IS BROKEN’ repeatedly and pointing maniacally at a plug socket. This was me. My Department secretary is very understanding and hasn’t sectioned me yet……..But there are still six weeks left of term.
  4.  Disappearing internet. When I was younger, it used to give me great pleasure watching my computer literate friends exasperatedly try and explain to me where the internet was. It must be somewhere right? Turns out, one place that it definitely isn’t is my workplace. It was there last year and still claims that it hangs out in the locale, but it seems to hibernate at critical points during my lectures. Praise be to YouTube’s ability to pre-stream and BBC podcasts. I love you and your ability to not make me look like a complete tool.
  5. And finally, slightly more primadonna-esque the lack of a working projector for an audio-visual class. I definitely didn’t audibly utter the words ‘too old for this sh*t’ during a rather hot and frustrating class and do a fist pump and shout YYEEESSS when I worked out how to use the portable one….. :s

Apologies for this slight whinge. I am aware that teachers across the world have a job far harder than my own, with giant class sizes and lack of resources to contend with. I am in awe of you and all the amazing work that you do. But still it is still all rather funny.

It is also nice that my actual ability to teach is not the thing I worry about most when I enter the classroom. This is definitely progress from last year. I now absolutely adore my job and get super excited at the prospect of designing a new class (yeah I know!) This terms highlights: Should we protect ugly animals? (Brought to you by the Ugly animal appreciation society.) Does the punishment fit the crime? (Cue the opportunity to play Les Miserable really loudly) and most recently (at my student’s request) Should we legalise Cannabis? 

It would be inadvisable to view my browsing history at this point in time.

Exams are nigh and I have almost finished half my years work which does seem rather odd seen as I only started  6 weeks ago.  I am currently on holiday and trying to force myself into advanced action whilst Phil is away exploring the Pacific (he is currently 2 weeks into a 3 1/2 week stint in Fiji – it looks like we are paying for last years ‘travel-light’ schedule). 

I seem to have managed to guilt the expat community here into spending time with me in Phil’s absence, so have spent the last couple of weeks, when not doing battle with utilities: entertaining (in an attempt to prevent myself eating a balanced dinner of frozen peas and slices of ham), having spa dates, attending French expressionist theatre and trying to cultivate French friends. I have actively started back in regular French classes and hopefully am starting to make some progress (fingers crossed). This evening I am going to watch my Hungarian friend get dressed as a mermaid and swim in the turtle pool at the aquarium. As you do. 

* Yes this is a real word. The internet told me so.

Pride after a fall

Happy New 2017 everyone!

First let me apologise profusely for the hiatus in posts. The last 3 months have been somewhat of a whirlwind (literally, we had 50kmph winds yesterday) and for quite a considerably part of that time we haven’t actually been in New Caledonia, making the whole ‘blogging from the Pacific’ thing a little pointless.

So, what have we been up to, I hear you ask?….

Well, following my return from Melbourne, Team Helen & Phil got on with some major logistics.

The start of December saw a fantastic weekend spent on a catamaran with 5 of our fabulous New Cal mates. The weather was perfect, the scenery beautiful, fishermen Phil & Andrew caught us dinner, I played with sharks and touched a sea snake (Pacific living is making me well’ard) and we survived the weekend with only 2 broken fingers and some mild seasickness. For a group containing: ‘Liability Phil – there is no Pacific Island he can’t get injured on’, a guy that on occasion has got lost at sea and myself (to which my failings have been well documented) I think this is really quite good going. The skipper, who has now taken us out 3 times has already planned our next adventure & told us very firmly that next time we have to speak entirely in French. And only feed him French wine.

Phil and I then had a quick pre-holiday-holiday (because our lives are tough) to Lifou, the last Loyalty Island on our list (coz, like Pokemon, it is important that you catch them all). It was stunning, interesting, we had adventures in French and on the last day Phil asked me to marry him. Not a bad trip really.

 

A mere 24 hours after that bombshell we got on a plane and took the long 32 hour flight back to the UK for 5 weeks of merriment, over-indulging and reveling with friends family and general hangers-on (thank you postcards are on their way). It was lovely to catch up with everyone and we enjoyed ourselves fully.  We traveled over 3000km within the UK. We were quite tired. And Cold. So very very cold.

So now what?

After a plane journey that seemed to last forever we are back to the unusual existence I call normality. We have blundered through jet lag and for the first time realised just how royally it can mess with you. After a mere 18 hours back in the country Phil and I went shopping. I decided that I did not need a handbag. This turned out to be quite possibly the most stupid decision I will make in 2017. Well maybe. Turns out supermarkets are distracting places and I am easily distracted.  Shopping is often a chore that requires both hands.

I wandered off. So did my purse.

Cue: panic, hysteria and the realisation that this was a problem that couldn’t be solved in English. I would have to speak French. Quickly.

And oddly I did.

Even though I was sleep deprived and on the verge of tears.

Even when 12 hours earlier I had been failing to understand the French plane announcements which I have heard thousands of times.

I found an army of helpers. I got announcements made. I was able to give all my details and make people understand me.

Cards were cancelled. Banks were contacted (coz in New Cal it isnt enough to just cancel the card centrally.) I understood that my bank at anyone time does not know the contents of my account and that I would have to wait 3 days to see if I had been defrauded. I understood when the lovely lady who found my purse called me. I understood the instruction to pick it up.

I UNDERSTOOD. AND PEOPLE UNDERSTOOD ME.

Finally after two years (practically to the day) of living here, I feel like I have actually achieved something. Yes, I speak french in an English accent. Yes I, make up words or freely add in the English if I don’t know the French. Yes, I use the wrong conjugation and blatantly miss out any words that don’t immediately seem important to me. Yes, I have decided to be zen and only live in the present (there is no past or future). Yes, I pick gender on a whim and change half way through a sentence, but god-damn-it, I can get shit done.

For this, I am proud.

I may be stupid and a calamity and loose stuff idiotically.

But I am proud that  I can deal with it when I do.

 

 

Projects for 2017:

Get better.

Cultivate French friends.

Be awesome.

 

Guilt Free English

I was luckily enough to spend last week in Melbourne, Australia, the result of a rather snap decision on the back of cheap flights, wanderlust and the realisation that my current time-rich situation will be fleeting and that do I really have to ‘use it or lose it’. Life is short and there are adventures to be had.

So I booked my flights, found myself a hostel and started dreaming of proper coffee and art galleries.

As I boarded the plane, I realised that this was the first time that I would be going to an English-speaking country in 11 months.

11 MONTHS.

This was a fantastical revelation.

Everything is going to be SO DAMN EASY.

img20161130101424

It could be pointed out by an observant reader of this blog that I do not exactly have an ‘immersive’ language experience here in Noumea. Yes, I live in a French-speaking country, yes, if I want to get anything done I have to operate in French, yes, it is part of living overseas that you try to immerse yourself in the new language and culture in an attempt to integrate.

BUT.

Turns out this is harder than it looks. I live with Phil. We converse in English. Granted, I often do not have a clue what he is on about (early in our relationship he told me he had spent the day making a model – I naturally assumed he was a sculptor) but we do still clearly speak almost identical versions of the same language. Indeed, the majority of our friends speak English as their first language, or at least speak English to us (as their English blows our feeble attempts at French right out of the water). I also have the luxury of working almost entirely in English (and Google Translate) and there can be some days where I actually end up not speaking any French at all.

HOWEVER.

Relying on others is  a constant source of guilt and shame for me. I really wish I could speak better French and it is something I am going to put a lot more effort into improving next year. I try hard, but not being understood is frustrating and learning any language is difficult.  Currently, every interaction has to be planned and practiced, and if someone doesn’t stick to the script all hell breaks loose (see my previous post Girlz on tour).

I feel guilty when someone speaks English to me. I feel guilty when someone has to translate for me. I feel guilty when I feel I am taking up too much of someones time because I don’t understand and I feel guilty when someone (?understandably) gets pissed off and ignores me.

Therefore, you can imagine, after so long, that the prospect of going somewhere that speaks English was somewhat of big deal.

So I found myself on a plane Melbourne,  excited by above all else, the promise that I would be able to speak fast, unthinking English, freely throwing in as many colloquialisms, idioms and general ridiculous slang as I could think of…. HEAVEN.

….I think however, I might have got a little carried away, such was my delight in guilt-free English-speaking.

I asked for help, often needlessly. I spoke to everyone I came in contact with…..often unsolicited. I started conversations to rooms, aimed at no one in particular and waited for someone to respond…

Yes, I am aware that this is not really socially acceptable behavior and could be considered the actions of a crazy person, but in my defence I was travelling alone, I like people and I appear to have developed a word daily word quota that I must communicate, even if no one else is around.

But it did pay off.

Fortune favours the bold.

And bold I was (quite uncharacteristically).

I even started conversations with people in restaurants and cafes, who nearly all turned out to be truly lovely and fascinating human beings who I hope I will spend a lot more time with in the future. It also appears that since I moved to the other side of the world, I seem to have become at least 50% more interesting as a person. Turns out not many people have met a Brit that lives on a tropical island, and that fact alone can at least keep a conversation going for long enough that people forget that you accosted them whilst they were having some alone time or enjoying a private meal.

Proven fact.

I took the advice of my newly-enforced friends and I went (slightly) off the beaten track. I went to some lovely places and saw some amazing things (ironically the 2 big block busters in town were Banksy and Hockney respectively….a little taste of home). I made snap decisions, tearing myself away from my natural instincts to plan everything. I found seats to comedy an hour before it started, I went to gigs and revelled in the fact that I could understand (almost) everything. It was awesome.

But blimmin’ heck it was cold.

It’s suppose to be Australia – a place to which my opinion has sole been formed by watching Neighbours, Skippy and Round the Twist. It is always sunny and warm. That is why people from the UK go there! You always wear ‘thongs’ (which still make me giggle) and short shorts and pretty summer dresses.

I was freezing at 14°C and wanted to do none of these things.

Socks, jeans, fluffy boots and a jumper were worn.

I am very much starting to worry about my imminent trip to the UK.

I am hoping that in the next 2 weeks I can absorb and store enough heat that I can then slowly radiate it back out throughout my 6 weeks in the UK.

Failing that I am going to hibernate until my flight back to the sun…..

If I don’t speak to you beforehand, have a lovely festive period and I will be back, blogging about my Pacific adventures in 2017 🙂

Girlz on tour

Having visitors is awesome. Phil and I are still both overwhelmed that people are keen to give up their holidays to come and see us, particularly when it is so ridiculously far and the cost of a ticket is so incredibly hefty. Granted, we do live in a pretty cool place, but still, we do really appreciate it. And seeing the place where we live and love through other people’s eyes makes it even more special.

The last couple of weeks have been particularly cool as they saw the arrival of my friends Jane and Ali, both from the UK and both eager to get some extremely well deserved R&R South Pacific stylee.

Or so I thought.

Having visitors is easy right? Show them the beach, warm sea and tropical fish and they will be happy to get on with it?

img-20161026-wa0014

Well not entirely.

Turns out my friends are of the active and adventurous mindset.

OK, I shouldn’t have been really surprised by this seen as I met them both over a decade ago through ‘outdoor pursuits’ but I thought that age, heat and keeping there blood-alcohol level high might slow them down a bit.

I was really quite wrong.

What ensued was a veritable ‘fat camp’ of activities that included hiking (approx 6-8 km per day), mountain biking, swimming, horse riding, boating, SUPing, dancing, road tripping, camping (wild, normal and glamping) and of course catching up with either copious amounts of tea or an alcoholic beverage, all at 27°c+. We didn’t really waste a single minute.

And I have never been so exhausted.

To add a certain level of challenge (coz let’s face it, all that in 3 weeks is a doddle), all this was largely arranged and carried out in what I (and my companions) believed to be passably correct, understandable French. Hell, I have been here 2 years, I can do this shit. Of course, in reality this turned out to be (best case) laughable or (worst case) incomprehensible French. This of course (it being me) led to some truly ridiculous situations which I am sure you would like me to share.

Noumea is a useful place to live. It has amenities. It has beaches. It is where we work and generally where stuff gets done. It is not however, a good representation of New Caledonia as a whole. I once played devils advocate and wrote: ‘Noumea is a beautiful city’ on the board in a class. The reaction this received was both violent and heartfelt. Noumea is not a beautiful city. So therefore to fully experience New Caledonia you need to get outside the capital – a road trip was high on the list of things I wanted to do with my friends.

The 4 day trip that ensued held most of the hilarity.

Following my Martin Randall Travel training (where I used to work), before leaving I drew up an itinerary and tried to confirm campsites and activities the day before leaving. It even had estimated timings and contact details on it. We had a plan. We were feeling great.

Unfortunately after only a few hours people cancelled on us, but we promptly rearranged stuff, using the age old method of just calling the next person on the list. No probs. This was probably mistake number 1.

We were waved off by a gleeful Phil who, after watching us noisily pack a ridiculous quantity of stuff into our car, was obviously rather relived that he was staying at home. First stop was Ouano, on a peninsular about 2 hours north of Noumea.  We hiked through mangroves and found a lovely spot to wild camp.

 

We made camp, I invented a new TV cooking sensation that will be called ‘Cooking with a view’, Ali went swimming in nature and there is a 80% chance that the drivers of 2 Utes watched me pee. The night passed fairly uneventfully and we woke up to another beautiful calm New Caledonia day.

At this point we decided to look at a map and realised that our destination for night 2 was not quite where I had envisioned it, that the road on my tourist map looked a bit questionable and that there seemed like there was only one route there. Mistake no.2. We stopped at the nearest town and the rather bemused lady at the tourist office told us that it would take us at least 2 hours to drive there and that the road was erm…. twisty. She did however let us use her toilet and she did have very nice soap which cheered everyone up. After a really lovely walk through the Fern forest spotting Cagou (cool, shady and definitely preferred to the previous days walk) we embarked on our journey North.

Our destination was a tribune where we were looking forward to experiencing traditional New Cal life. We found the turning after a mild detour. We drove. The road did not match the map. We had a few mild panics but decided that, as there was only one road, we must be on it.

The road got steeper. We left tarmac. Dirt road turned into 4×4 road. Car parts miraculously started appearing in trees. The road fell away to our right leaving a vast ravine.

Driver Ali was marvelous and Jane and I did our best ‘we are not at all nervous about this situation’ looks. And then we found the lovely tarmac road that had come off the motorway, but had not seen as it was on a different map…..Oh well we thought never mind. Mistake no. 3. Strike that one up to experience.

You would think that finding yourself on a challenging piece of road with front bumpers and wheels strewn in trees would be the most exciting thing we witnessed on our drive.

It was not.

A little further along the road we came across this:

img-20161103-wa0019

Quite an innocuous bit of smoke right? Well not really, as we discovered that the hill we were driving along was covered in it. We got out to investigate – coz who doesn’t like watching things burn?

As we were watching the fire started getting bigger. Was it someones campfire? Well, it might of been, but as we were watching tress started catching fire.

Trees don’t normally catch fire. Campfire flames are not normally 3 metres high.

We discussed. I rang Phil (cos obvs he knows about these things). He yelled at me and told me to ring the fire brigade.

I have never rung the fire brigade before.

Or the police, or ambulance for that matter.

I tried to find someone to palm this responsibility off onto. None were there. I psyched myself up. I phoned the pompiers.

In response I got a rather bored sounding woman who didn’t really seem to care less about my rather panicky description of the ‘feu dans le foret‘. I duly told her where I was in my best French: on a road, by a river, near a bridge, under a tree, next to a forest. She didn’t seem that enthused.

In retrospect, I probably could have been describing anywhere (with the exception that I did at least know which road I was on)….but I think I at least pointed them in the right direction.

So, we were on a road, bye a river, next to a tree, taking pictures (oh look its spreading again!) and we had a decision to make. What do we do now? Onward towards the tribune (we were about 30 mins off by this point) or backwards, away from the fire. We put it to vote. Retreat was favoured. But now I had to cancel the tribune. Nobody was answering so I left a message. I hate leaving messages. I always end up saying something ridiculous.

The message went something like this:

‘Hello, My name is Helen, I have a reservation for this evening. I am terribly sorry but on the way to your tribe we encountered an awfully big fire and we are really worried that if we continue we may not be able to return. I am really incredibly sorry for the inconvenience and I hope that the fire does not increase and that you are all safe. Truly sorry again. Helen ‘

You would agree that that is quite a lot of French. And said in a very British way. Which doesn’t usually translate. And I was a bit panicky. And I had already used a lot of my daily French quota on calling the fire brigade.

Which meant that inevitably, the above is not what I said at all.

I ran out of French. I got confused. My genuine worry for their safety got lost in translation. Particularly as I forgot the word for safety mid-sentence. What actually happened was a garbled apology which ended with me wishing that they all had their gilets de sauvetage, in case of emergency. Yes, in the event of a bush fire on a mountain, my recommended course of action is to wear a life jacket.

FRENCH FAIL.

I bet they had a laugh though….stupid English.

 

 

There were also plenty of really amazing things on our holiday, that were largely free from cock-ups (including a few New Cal firsts for me as well) and I think these are best portrayed in a photo-montage:

 

Thanks to Ali and Jane for making the 3 weeks so fun, putting up with my inability to function and for stealing their photos.

Next stop: MELBOURNE ON MONDAY!

Je déteste les moustiques

For the avid reader of my blog, it is probably pretty obvious that life here in New Cal is pretty awesome at the moment.

The sun is shining, the weather is fine, it’s not too hot, there are vegetables in the shops, I am embracing the extensive holidays of the teaching profession with open arms and I (probably) have another years worth of paid employment. We have been off adventuring with our last set of visitors (Stephen & Alex, Phil’s father and brother) and have added another couple of things to the list of reasons why we love this wonderful, beautiful country.

But there is a However.

And it is a pretty big HOWEVER…

There is one aspect of life here which could potentially be a deal-breaker.

I can deal with the absurd bureaucracy, the strikes, the paperwork, the language barriers, the mafia and the appalling driving. These are really just part of what keeps life entertaining and interesting here. Indeed, they all play a part in my love for this place. Without them it just wouldn’t be the same.

What I do not find funny is this:

150731180818-aedes-aegypti-exlarge-169

Aedes aegypti or yellow fever mosquito, and all his vile little mosquito friends that seem to be able to detect me from a vast distance and know exactly which part of my body I have failed to hit with repellent (literally – they will home in on the one un-touched nano-meter of skin).

Even after the best part of two years on the island, it appears my Anglo-Saxon blood is far too tempting for this hideous little imp, and despite copiously lathering myself in a delightful mix of chemicals, I still on average get bitten twice a day.

Usually on the arse.

I have been told that after 5 years you stop feeling them, but that seems a very long time to this thoroughly pissed off and perpetually itchy Brit.

To add a certain je ne sais quoi to this situation, we are just coming out of the the ‘cold’ season. The time of year where there are supposedly a lot less of these little blood-sucking sods, as they all die of cold and are much slower and easier to satisfyingly squish. This however hasn’t stopped there from being a major dengue epidemic in Noumea, to which quite a few of my friends have succumbed. And it sounds freaking hideous. Fever, hallucinations, rash, aching….all symptoms of this delightful ailment.

And itt certainly doesn’t take a genius to work out that at the current rate that these repulsive imps are feeding on me, it is not really a question of ‘if’ I will get dengue, but more a question of ‘when’. Especially as now the only way is up. Higher temperatures, more rain, more mosquitoes. The odds are certainly not in my favour.

BUT HARK! Cue a flash of genius from the local public health department (which give it its due, is pretty good with these things – you can read about that here).  We receive an email from the government stating that to preempt an escalation of the current epidemic, before the season gets underway, we are all going to get issued with a red bag. Phil’s would be delivered to his office. ‘OOhh how exciting!’ – I did actually think. Yes I am that easily excited.

What might be inside it? What will I get in this exciting extermination goody-bag? DEET? My own personal hazmat suit? Some kind of mosquito-blasting-sonic-screwdriver?

As Phil was on holiday I had nearly two weeks of anticipation.

But alas, when my wait was finally over I was handed:

A SINGLE

(EMPTY)

RED

BINBAG

Yes, dear friends, in Noumea, the government stance on disease prevention is to give everyone coloured refuge sacks.

After my initial disappointment abated a little (I could really have used a sonic screwdriver)  I began to realise the ingenuity of this campaign.

When used like this, mosquito bites are unlikely:

20161009_112300

It also has the added benefit of potential suffocation. If you don’t have people, you are unlikely to have a dengue epidemic.

PROBLEM SOLVED.

Joking aside, it did prompt Phil to go and clear out the gutters and I went and bought 20 more bottles of the insect repellent that I like (effective, moisturising and doesn’t smell as bad as some).

I think it says a lot about you as a person when your credit card company dosen’t bat an eyelid when you buy large quantities of toxic chemicals, but deems 7 tops from Warehouse as ‘suspicious behaviour’…

…But then, this might be a small price to pay for this:

Helen, the jury have spoken and you have been saved…

Editors note: This blog was going to be a jolly tale of my time in Tokyo. Another installment of my current series of: ‘live while you can’, ‘isn’t life great!’type vomit inducing drivel. Yes Tokyo was awesome. But turns out real life in New Caledonia is just far more amusing….

Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while will be very much aware that aspects of my life are quite frankly laughable.

Not only is this down to the complete state of ignorance that I adopt as I bludgeon my way through this rather surreal existence, but also by the downright bizarre system that I operate in (country, job, bureaucracy) which has kept you, dear reader, entertained for the past year.

And the events of today have been no exception.

So firstly, let me take you back a few posts when I discussed my employment prospects for the next year. After a 30 second conversation with the bloke who is trying desperately not to be my boss, I learned that I ‘should not worry’ about my future employment status.

Okay then.

But of course this can be interpreted in two completely different ways:

  1. ‘Do not worry, of course you are going to be employed. Do you really think we would go to the effort of replacing you needlessly? That would take effort….

OR:

2. You don’t need to worry about working for us next year…. Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

You see my dilemma.

In the mean time I still seem to be on the staff mailing list and rather optimistically keep getting invited to meetings and training sessions. I also got sent some planning documents for 2017, so I assumed that everything would be OK/ ignored it in favour of strutting around Tokyo pretending I was on my Gap Yah….

However, time has now passed and I am very aware that I only really have 7 days left in the office until the end of my contract. I have heard nothing of the future, and decided that my colleagues might need a helpful reminder that I still exist, and that I am quite keen to continue existing for the foreseeable future. Preferably, a form of existing that elicits a regular wage packet. I decided to bite the bullet and attend another staff meeting.

I have been to exactly 4 staff meetings since February. They all pretty much go like this:

Enter room. Sit awkwardly on my own and try to make pleasantries in my crap French to a room of complete strangers. Colleagues clock I am English and therefore decide I am not worth/ too hard-work to listen to so go back to ignoring me. Meeting commences. I try my best to understand a veritable storm of technical and often argumentative French. I miss the point completely, and usually wait until it is obvious that we are allowed to leave (usually signaled by people physically leaving). Sometimes we have to vote on stuff. To date my rate of understanding what exactly I have voted for tends to be about 1/5.

Before the meeting today I bravely go and talk to Mr ‘trying to not be my boss’ and he assures me that I should be employed (I think he had mostly forgotten about this) and that my contract should just roll over. Its automatic. Phew! Problem solved.

However, on the way out of the bathroom I bump into the head of department, and she drops this bombshell:

‘Ah good, you’re here…coming to the meeting? Well I just have to explain….during the meeting we have to vote on whether your contract gets renewed. It’s just something we formally have to do, but don’t worry about it. You will however have to leave the room.’

So yes, you understand this correct: in order to continue to be employed, a large group of near strangers, whose only interaction with me has been the odd awkward meeting and occasionally witnessing me swearing at the photocopier, had to vote to save me.

These people have no clue about my ability to do my job or indeed no what I actually do, or probably even who I am (although I did wave helpfully on departure). If they have had the pleasure of meeting me, probably their lasting impression is that I am a blank-faced imbecile…..

…But apparently I am a blank-faced imbecile that warrants another year of employment, because I seemed to be let back into the meeting, so I assume they voted to keep me. Either that or they were feeling particularly malicious and just wanted to inflict another hour of mind-boggling tedium on me before giving me the axe.

So hurrah, I live to fight another day. I rather feel like I have been on the x-factor – there are quite marked similarities between the voting procedure and I am feeling (marginally) more reassured of my future.

And so now I can (tentatively) go back to the very arduous task of being on holiday for pretty much the next 4 months. Photos to follow…..

imag4191imag4198