Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The USA? Where in England is that?

So we'll start off by saying that we're ok.  Despite the fact that Cody was involved in a boat crash, and Becca almost got eaten by a toad.

The boat crash happened while coming home from Papaichton (the next closest village to us, which is about an hour away on the river).  We basically had to get off of the boat and push it off the rocks that were in the middle of the river. 

Becca's incident happened one night just outside our house.  We had just finished dinner with our friend Marie-Paule, and Cody went outside for a second and immediately ran back in, grabbed his glasses, and said "You have to come see this!"  We went outside and there was a toad (not exaggerating) easily the size of a human head just sitting on our terrace.  Even Marie-Paule said she had never seen one that big before (and she's from the country of AFRICA! *insert wittiness here- we will come back to this point*).  Again, as promised, we will put pictures up on facebook soon (we're actually trying to simultaneously write this and upload pictures, but the picture half of our plan doesn't seem to be working).

*Coming back to our comment about people often mistaking Africa as a country instead of a continent*, it still amazes us what a constricted view of the world people have here.  It may be due to the fact that many of the kids don't watch tv, either because they don't have one or because they're not allowed in the house during the day, but they have no concept of anything outside of Maripa-Soula, except things that they're somewhat exposed to (like Paramaribo- the capital of Suriname, or Cayenne).  This was probably one of the most shocking things for us teaching here- to be in a place where people have never heard of, have no concept of, and know nothing about the USA.  At best, people might think that we're from England- and even this is only because since they recieve the "same" education as kids in France, they're more exposed to Europe than the US (or South America, for that matter).

And this might be a good place to post this post's edition of "You know_______ when_________"
This list is entitled "You know you live in a small village in the middle of the rainforest when....
  • You get directions to someone's house including "turn left at the mango tree"
  • You have to go to a neighboring country to do your grocery shopping
  • Everyone knows everything about you.  Always.
  • You can ask anyone for directions to someone else's house, and they know exactly how to get there
  • Your house doesn't have a number- it's just "so and so's house" on whichever street
  • You notice when the neighborhood kids get new underwear (because that's all they wear outside once they get home from school)
  • Cloud coverage can cut out phone, internet, and tv
  • You find frogs in you living room when you wake up in the morning
  • Kids bring their pet beetles (whose bodies are the size of your fist) to class with them
  • There are no school busses.  There are, however, school pirogues
  • "Did you put a giant leaf in the sink for some reason or is that a bat wing????"
  • Your third graders wave at you as they drive past on their mopeds
  • It's rare to see any less than three people on a moped
  • When the medivac is arriving or departing everyone in the village runs after it as long as possible
  • There is barbed wire all around the elementary school
  • When you ask your landlady if you're allowed to have a pet, she tells you "people here aren't that complicated"

We've been finding some various ways to pass the time here.  A few weeks ago we went to a Reggae conceert in Papaichton.  We rode there in the back of a truck (Mom please don't get mad), and took a pirogue back at 8am the next morning when the concert ended.  We celebrated a small and lonely Thanksgiving on November 17 (can't remember if we already wrote about that or not), but then, much to our delight, we realized two days later that Thanksgiving is not the third Thursday in November, but the fourth!  Since we weren't going to let Thanksgiving sneak up on us twice in one year, we did the best we could to plan a typical American Thanksgiving for some of our friends here.  We had sweet pickles, carrots, and a cherry type fruit (in honor of Grandpa Rosenbarker's famous hors d'oeuvres tray), powdered mashed potatoes with a gravy like sauce, authentic Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, peas, carrots, corn, and some chicken cooked by Mamaya, a local woman who has been very nice to us.  We would have liked to have cooked a turkey, but seeing as how they don't have turkey here, nor do we have an oven, we decided to tackle that at a future Thanksgiving.  We finished up the meal with worms and dirt.  For those of you who don't know, worms and dirt is chocolate pudding (or in our case, modified cake mix recipe), gummy worms (bears), and crushed oreos (crushed oreos).  Despite all the substitutions, the dinner was wonderful, as well as the company. 

Last weeked we went on a little excursion with some of the teachers.  We took a pirogue about a half hour down the river, then hiked another half hour to a waterfall.  It was an awesome ride, awesome hike, and beautiful waterfall.  We spent about 4 hours there, and in the 4 hour period, we didn't go more than 2 minutes without seeing at lesast one of those giant bright blue morpho butterflies.  After, we went another few minutes down the river and went swimming and had a small BBQ.  Even though the waterfall wasn't huge, it was nice to just get out of the town and spend some time with some other teachers. 

Tomorrow is actually the start of our Christmas break!  We'll tell you all about it when we get back, but we will be celebrating Christmas with some other assistants in Barbados, and then our 1 year anniversary in Paramaribo.  Miss you all, especially around this time of year, and hope to hear from you as well!


Friday, November 18, 2011

2 Months In and 90 Degrees is Comfortable

Hey everyone :)

So quite a few things have happened since the last time we wrote. 

First of all, we went back to Maripasoula.  We have really for serious almost started for real this time.  Becca actually worked about ten of her twelve hours this week.  We had a meeting with someone for the other two, so she wasn't able to go to class.  Cody, on the other hand, only worked for about five hours.  He has finally figured out with who and at what times he is working at the middle school of Maripasoula, but things for Papaichton are still a little foggy.  First of all, we have been told all along that he will get reimboursed for the forty+ euros a week that he has to spend to get to papaichton.  Finally someone took things into his own hands (that's what the meeting was about that made Becca miss some of her classes) and he will know within a week, hopefully, if he will be getting the money to be able to go to Papaichton. 

In the meantime, Cody took things a little into his own hands and walked to Papaichton one day to work.  He left at about 7 in the morning and started walking down the trail to Papaichton from Maripasoula.  It's a 35 km trail, or about 22 miles.  There are cars that go down the trail, so he didn't have to walk the whole way, but he did end up walking around 9 miles of it, and it took him about 4 and a half hours.  During the walk, though, he saw some awesome things.  There were flowers that were completely black, views that overlooked... well... nothing but rainforest, two parrots flying together like you see in the movies, a black bird with a really pretty song and a crest of red feathers on the top of its head that looked kinda like a rooster's, an ant that was about an inch long, and he heard so many noises it sounded pretty much exactly like the sound tracks of the rainforest on those cds that relax you. 

We've been here for a little over a month now, and so we can start to make some real friends.  Right now, for example, we're at another teacher's house using his internet and computer.  We spend less of our day inside, which is good because our tv (that only had one channel to begin with) hasn't worked for about three weeks now. 

We are also making friends with nature here.  There isn't a day that goes by when we don't eat a good number of things that we find or are given.  Bananas, star fruit, mini cherries, coconuts, greens, a multitude of fruits that don't exist in the states, and all the bugs that inevitably inhabit them.  Becca's been a trooper, dealing with the limited ability to go outside due to the mosquitoes, having to close all the doors in the house last night because of the bat, dealing with the red ants that burn when they sting and the black ants that have pinchers so big they actually draw blood, etc.  But the birds are beautiful, the lizards are really colorful (and sometimes huge), and we've actually seen a real live wild monkey. 

Other than that, we're just kinda settling in to the routine. We are learning the langauge as well as the history.  The history has apparently changed as of 50 years ago, because nothing really resembles what the books say the culture is like.  It's sad to say, but most of it has changed for the worst.  They do have internet since last year, but they also are given money for having babies which makes it the number one job of any girl over 13, the dancing and drumming has been reduced to clubs at the school, and it is no longer a culture that is in tune with nature and doesn't waste anything.  So there are still vestiges of what used to be an awesome culture, but for the most part school and governmental funding has pretty much ruined it :(  I say school because they get the same schooling as a French kid in Paris, which means it is not at all tailored to the culture here.  School goes until about 5 at night so they no longer learn how to build their pirogues (boats) or learn their oral history or anything like that.  To compound it, in order to go to high school all of the kids have to leave and go to one of the larger cities in French Guyana because there is no high school here, which also changes their culture. But, the people are still cool and really friendly, so it definitely has its positives. 

We are missing you all.  We are really gonna miss you for Thanksgiving, but we fully expect to be represented in all of your family gatherings by a ball with a picture of our faces on it.  I feel a contest coming on for the best picture of this happening.  Also, speaking of photos, this site/internet/country doesn't seem to want to let us upload pictures, so facebook will have to do for now. 

Wishing you all the best, and look forward to hearing from you as well!


Sunday, October 30, 2011

We've actually almost started for real! Almost. Take 2.

Hey everyone!

We are soooooo sorry that it has been so long, so we're going to try to make excuses for not being able to post in so long:
-Since our last post we have only had an iPod touch to work with, so it's kind of hard to write a blog post
-Internet wasn't widely available in Cayenne and we had to go to a bar to get wifi
-When we had to move out of the hotel we were staying in because we still weren't able to get housing in Maripa-soula, we moved into the program director's house.  We tried to write a post there, but something happened where...well it just didn't work
-THEN, we got housing and moved to Maripa-soula :-)  If you thought wifi was scarce in Cayenne, let me tell you something...
-We were finally able to use the school computers, but they had a security setting that wouldn't let us get on our blog.  Not to be discouraged, we wrote our blog and emailed it to ourselves, so that the next time we got internet without the security settings, we could just copy, paste, and share it with you all.
-Apparently blogger doesn't like it when you copy and paste into it, so we're typing the whole things over again

So all in all, don't feel like we've neglected you and only you.  It took us about a week from the time we got to Maripa-soula for us to let our parents know that we got here safely.

Anyway, we spent about two and a half weeks in Cayenne.  We were supposed to start working on October 1st, but our program director insisted that someone find us a place to stay, at least temporarily, in Maripa-soula before we got there.  Apparently the assistant from last year ended up sleeping in their version of a hostel in a hammock for a long time (months?).  It was great to get to know Cayenne, not really have any responsibilities, and on top of it, get paid for it!  We spent our nights going to jazz and traditional music concerts, eating from the food trucks that are all around the city, walking on the beach or attempting to body surf but really only succeeding in getting tossed around by the really rough sea.  Our mornings were usually filled with a walk, fruit collection from one of the many fruit trees, or sometimes, very rarely, taking care of some obligation like opening a bank account.  In the middle of the day, we mostly spent our time hiding from the intense heat.  It's so hot, in fact, we've made up a list of "you know it's hot when..."

You know it's hot when...
...a house only has cold water faucets.  After all, why would you want to add to the heat?
...you turn on the cold water faucet and think for the first 10 seconds that you turned on the "please burn me" faucet because the water has been heated by the sun.
...you're as wet getting in the shower as you are getting out.
...bugs seek refuge in your house from the heat, not the cold.
...80 degree air conditioning gives you goose bumps.  Any colder feels like winter in Antarctica.
...all schools and businesses are closed from 1-4.
...chocolate is sold exclusively from fridges.
...their version of a hostel has no walls.
...a good number of the buildings have an opening between the roof and the top of the walls, so they are open all year round.
...hammocks are the preferred napping place.
...it doesn't matter what color your skin is, you carry an umbrella everywhere to protect yourself from the sun.
...you arrive dripping with sweat no mater where you go.
...you see someone on tv wearing pants or long sleeves and think, "what is wrong with them????"
...acceptable work attire is as little clothing as possible.
...bathing suits, or just plain old naked, is acceptable street wear.

please feel free to comment and add to the list :-)

Then we got the news that we would in fact be going to Maripa-soula.  They found us a place to stay and we got on the plane two days after we got the news- arriving on the 13th of October.  Not bad, only two weeks after we were supposed to have started work.  And, to show you exactly where we are, we turn once again to www.googlemaps.com.  Put in these coordinates: 3.643238,-54.033088

As you can see, the College Gran Man Difou is really close by.  That is the middle school that we both work at and it takes about 5 minutes to walk there, and that isn't even the closest one to our house.  One of Becca's schools is a one minute walk from our house.  Yep.  One minute.  And that's taking into account the fact that we walk slowly here to avoid overheating.  You may have noticed a sort of field right to the north of our house.  That is where all the neighborhood kids play soccer whenever they have a spare second.  (EDIT: we realized that in fact, it's not all the neighborhood kids.  Rather, they are the kids of one family that lives next door that has enough kids to form their own soccer team.  Literally.  There are 12 of them.  And almost every family is relatively close in size).  Oh that's another thing- the concept of a lawn as your property doesn't really exist.  People just walk through your lawn if it's the shortest way to where you're going.  And it really does cut down on walking time, and when it's so hot out, the less amount of time you are outside the better.  We live on the first floor of that house, and it's got a really big kitchen, a living/dining room, a bedroom, and a toilet and shower.

Here everything is good but very different.  If you just appeared here you would never know that you were in South America.  Most of the people that live here are descendants of slaves that revolted soon after they were brought to Guiana from all over in Africa.  Everyone that doesn't fit this description (except for us) is French as was assigned to a position here (teachers or nurses mostly).  They had time to pick up some of the English language before they revolted, so their language called "aluku" sometimes closely resembles English.  However, much of what they do and eat more closely resembles their traditional cultures in Africa,  There are also pockets of Brasilians and other pockets of native peoples, so it's a pretty interesting cultural mix.  To add to that mix, directly across the river (which you can take a pirogue ride across for free) there are a bunch of Chinese people that have built shops specifically for the people from Maripa-soula.  They do this because they can't build stores here in French Guiana but they can attract customers to come across to Suriname because their prices are much cheaper.

Cody has also gone to the village of Papaichton, which takes about an hour in a pirogue (which is at its origin a dug-out canoe).  It was really awesome because it is the dry season, meaning that the driver had to do some pretty awesome manoeuvres with his 15 foot pirogue to get around the rocks in the river.  As for animals seen so far, sadly no monkeys (yet).  Many, many lizards and bugs, a beautiful frog that secretes a milky substance that burns you and blinds you and will jump on you if it feels threatened, a beautiful snake that looked exactly like a green vine, so many beautiful butterflies and moths we can't even count (or photograph most of the time), a fairly large spider (the size of your average mouse, although no tarantulas yet), someone we know saw a sloth, a rhino beetle the size of Cody's fist, and one of the most absolutely strangest bugs we or anyone here that we asked about has ever seen.  Pictures to come.

So far we haven't been doing much.  We worked for approximately a week.  Cody worked for three and a half days.  And now there is Toussaint vacation, which will end November 3rd.  To fill up the rest of the time here we have been figuring out how to feed ourselves with the strange and sometimes questionable foods.  We've also been reading, watching the kids play soccer, walking, collecting more fruit...basically the same stuff we did in Cayenne.  We have been trying to find that churches that speak French here (there are some in Portugese, some in Aluku, and some in French, so it's not always easy).  Speaking of church, we have also volunteered with an organization called Gospel for Asia, which is mainly focused on sending native missionaries to evangelize in their own countries, rather than having Americans go and have the added expenses of plane tickets, language and culture courses, and in general a higher cost of living.  They are currently trying to open up their sponsoring market in French speaking Canada, so about once a week we are getting a letter or some sort of text that we translate and then send it back to them.  In other language news, we have started learning aluku :-)

Another favorite past time of ours is getting inondated with household appliances and other items from teh people here.  So far we have been given: A t.v. with antannae (but that only gets on channel- but it has news, Friends, 30 Rock, the world championship of rugby, and some movies, so we're happy), a fan, pillows and bed sheets, utensils and pots, papayas and plantanes, strawberry wafers, coca-cola, sponges and dishwashing soap, meals, roach spray, housing in Papaichton, and probably some other stuff that we are forgetting.

So all in all, things are going well.  We got an email a few days ago saying that we needed to return to Cayenne for two days of training for the assistants working in the elementary schools, so after a long day at the aerodrome in Maripa-soula yesterday, and a rather turbulent flight, we got back to Cayenne yesterday night.  We will be staying here for a week, so we will try to get another post with some pictures up before we leave again for Maripa-soula.  Miss you all, and hope to hear what is going on with you guys too!


(aka Teeny and Tall, as we have also been dubbed.  Cody would like to clarify- he is Tall, and Becca is Teeny)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

One week in and still going strong

Salut tout le monde!  We've been in FG for about a week now, and it's still really really hot.  Definitely getting more used to it, but still- really really hot.  We thought you might like to see some pictures of what we've been seeing every day, so here ya go!

During our stay in Cayenne, we have been living at la maison de l'education.  This is the view from on of the windows in our room.  It's really great that they've been housing us for free, but the place itself is kind of far from the center of town, the kitchen is rather basic (read: none of the appliances, the stove, oven, microwave, absolutely nothing works), and our room is kind of dark (again, read: our one light doesn't work)

Here's a view from the front of the building we're staying in with the other assistants


Really beautiful beach is about a five minute walk from the house. Feels like bathwater!

Don't know if you can see it or not, but there's a really tiny, almost see-through, creepy looking crab in this photo.

Place des Palmistes

So as I mentioned, it's really really hot.  Luckily, we do have air condition in our room at la maison de l'education.  It has been so hot though, that we have been keeping our air conditioning between 26 and 28 degrees celsius.  I'll wait for those of you who are mathematically inclined to do the conversion to fahrenheit youselves....(or you could keep reading)

Yeah.  So our air conditioning stays within a few degrees of 80.  All the time.  And it feels like heaven on Earth it's so much colder than outside.  We actually have woken up shivering because 80 has started feeling cold.

Speaking of planes...

We will hopefully be traveling to Maripasoula (our placement for the 7 months) sometime in the near future.   Actually, we thought we were supposed to be there today, because today is when our contract officially starts.  However, the plane tickets are reserved a few days in advance, so we can't just go to the airport the day of and buy our tickets.  Also, our director doesn't want to send us until he's secured us a place to stay, at least temporarily, which hasn't happened yet.  He also doesn't want to send us on a weekend.  That being said, we might be in Cayenne for another week or so at this rate!

We also find out that Cody's second placement- Papaïchton- is currently about 2 hours away from Maripasoula by pirogue on the river, because it's the dry season and the river is quite low.  It also costs 40 euros round trip, so between the money and the time, we are hoping his hours work our so that he doesn't have to make the trip too often.

Alright everyone, sorry there's nothing too exciting.  We've just been hanging out in Cayenne and enjoying it while we can :)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Bam: Started (for realsies)

Hey everyone :)
So this is the day that we've been waiting for. The plane rides in were really long as expected and we were so glad to be sleeping in a cool room.

Here is a list of our first impressions:
- Oh snap they weren't kidding about the heat and humidity (little did we know that it was the coolest part of the day)
- wow, those cats do not like each other
- well, we're in south America so we shouldn't worry about our conact being a little late to pick us up
- hmm. 40 minutes is alot to be late. Maybe we should try to call. And wow, that complete stranger just helped us out for 15 minutes using her phone and calling people and asking others if they knew where the place was that we were supposed to be going.
- you sweat sitting in the shade
- lizards like cabinets

Today we have free so we're just walking around getting familiar with the people and culture, as well as sweating like a fat kid loves cake.

Pictures hopefully to come when we get settled in more :)


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bam: Started (kinda)

I'll start with a disclaimer.  The monkey thing will probably not happen.  Sorry to disappoint you.  Becca was kind enough to point out that it was a terrible idea.

In other news, tomorrow we start our voyage.  It will take us from Owego at about 10 a.m. to Binghamton.  After a stop off at the dentist, we will then go to Syracuse to catch a bus.  This bus will take us to Philly where we will spend the night with our good friend McDee, after which we will fly to Miami.  Then to Puerto Rico.  That might sounds like fun but then you realize that we have yet to go to the Dominican Republic.  Then to Guadeloupe, Martinique, and finally, Cayenne, French Guiana, arriving at about ten at night on the 25th.  No need to dust off your calculators: 60 hours of traveling/layovers  The only route that way more direct was to go to Paris, then to Cayenne.  Doesn't matter what we do, sore butts will be a sure result of this trip.

But it is worth saying that in order for us to even get to this sitting marathon, we've had to get through another type of marathon- that of paperwork.  Now the French Bureaucracy (FB)  tends to like paperwork and tend to take plenty of breaks- to eat baguettes, of course- before they return the paperwork to you.  In addition, life in South America (SA) tends to run more slowly.  For all you math minded people, that gives us FB+SA=ARRRGGGGGGG.  Seriously- look it up.

For example, the application for this job was sent in November, and you get notified if you're hired in May.  Also, we had to have something called an "arrêté de nomination" in the mail to get our visas.  This paperwork was sent to them in March, and we then had to sign up for a visa appointment in NYC about two months in advance but had to cancel because we didn't have the arrêté.  After asking someone, we finally found out that our arrêtés were in fact NOT coming in the mail, but they were sent straight to NYC.  Then we went, applied, and went back again a week later to pick up our visas.

But we didn't only have problems on the France end of things.  We had to get our birth certificates translated by a certified translator.  It took about a week to translate the twenty words on a birth certificate, that apparently Becca and I were unable to translate ourselves, even though we both just graduated with a degree in French.  $50 later, the lady forgot to send us the hard copies of the translations, and then, she forgot to put my name on it.  Probably couldn't find the French word for Cody.  For our vaccinations, of which we need proof to get into the country, we had an equally difficult time.  After playing phone tag with the vaccination clinic, Becca spend literally (and those of you that know me know that I don't say literally unless I really mean it) ten minutes on the phone trying to convince the woman that French Guiana did indeed exist and what vaccinations we needed to go there.  Then, when there, we had a wrong prescription as well as having to remind them to give us our paperwork, and then remind them that they needed to fill it out.  We got to pay them $70 for their services.

We are writing this not to vent or to make you feel sorry for us, but rather for the comedic value.  So, thanks to everyone who has made this possible.  Seriously, we are grateful for everything.  We have proven our desire to go through with this by jumping through all the hoops, and we are hoping it will pay off.  And, this way, anyone reading this, thinking about doing this same program in the future, will be able to read ahead and see if it is all worth it or not :)

And thinking about it, what would we do with a monkey after our seven months are up?


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

10 Days to Go!!!

Hey errybody.

So as most of you know, we are leaving for the little country of French Guiana in ten days to go teach English for seven months.  We hope to be able to keep up this blog during our time there so that you all can keep up with our goings-ons at your leisure.  We've been hired by the French government to teach English in middle schools, and through this program we could have been placed anywhere in France.  We chose French Guiana :)

So those are the basics.  Most may not know the details about the city/town/village/hut that we are going to, because quite frankly there's nothing on wikipedia.  So, we will be teaching in Maripasoula and Papaïchton, French Guiana.  We will wait for you to look it up on Google Maps...

Ok as you have seen, they are very sparsely populated areas on the interior of the country, in clearings of the Amazon Rainforest only separated from the country of Suriname by the Maroni River.  We have found out via an undisclosed informant more details about the area, and hope at this point we are somewhat well prepared for this awaiting adventure.  We'll spend about a week in Cayenne- the capital- for orientation during which time we will get used to the culture, food, and the heat and humidity, and then all the English assistants will disperse to their respective assignments throughout the country.

Our place is remote: we will either take a small (as in, 8 passengers or so) plane or (the way awesomer option) a four-day boat ride up the Maroni River to get there.  Once there, we may be spending some nights in their version of a hostel- a canopy under which you hitch your hammock.  From there, we need to find ourselves a place to stay, which will most likely be a single story, wooden apartment-type building.  We may get a pet monkey.  Probably actually most likely get one.

Given its remoteness, we don't know if or how often there is internet connection.  To avoid looking like the rich targets of theft, we are not bringing any computers, ipods, or other modern "necessities." Therefore, this could possibly be our last post for seven months, too, in which case we will update you all with snail mail when we get back.  Hopefully, to avoid overtaxing the snails, we will be able to update from a McDonalds or more likely our schools fairly regularly.  So, be looking forward to many pictures of Cody running off into the Amazon and Becca running away from the Amazon, as well as pictures of exotic bugs, people, and customs :)

Please comment, letting us know what you would like to hear about, or just to say hey and let us know whats going on in your lives, too!

Becca and Cody