As I mentioned in my last post, I spent six weeks as a summer program leader in Guadeloupe for VISIONS Service Adventures. It was great! The work was very intense and often stressful, but it was worth it to experience a new and special place alongside a great group of staff and participants.
(Bilan is the French word for assessment or report and in Guadeloupe it also referred to our group debriefing and sharing session, held every other day.)
Read on for more pictures and words!
It was a summer of new experiences. Aside from a trip to Belize when I was thirteen, I’d never been to the Caribbean before. Guadeloupe is part of the ‘DOM-TOM’ — France’s overseas departments and territories. I had just spent seven months in the southwest of France, but Guadeloupe is very different. Almost everyone speaks both French and Creole fluently, and we learned Creole expressions regularly — pa ni pwoblem!, the catch-all phrase, like the Aussie no worries!, or ka ou fé? ça va?
Guadeloupe is tropical, and that means wonderful fruit, excellent beaches, lots of sun, amazing scenery, and a very relaxed way of life. On a small island far from any supermarkets, we lived among goats, chickens, fruit trees, and other elements of Guadeloupean life. There were fruits we knew, like mango and passion fruit, and ones we didn’t, like corossol (soursop) and pomme malacca (Malay Apple). The fruits were fresh and overabundant, so Pierrette made juice of mango, guava, and corossol.
Our island had one main road, two towns, five small ports for fishing boats and one dock for ferries, three hiking trails, and two or three frequented beaches. Hiking into the steep, uninhabited center of the island, one comes across wild fruits, goats, and spectacular views over the neighboring islands and the sea. There are a couple of bars, two or three restaurants, a library, police station, fire station, city hall, two internet cafés, small corner stores, and about 1,000 residents. People know when they see us that the saison des Américains (American season) is here, and they smile and say Bonjour on the street. It’s hot, so, like most of the locals, we end our workday around noon — although we begin work only around 7am, not 5 or 6, like they do. (I’ll post separately about our service projects.)
We were lucky to have a great group of kids participating in the program. They were smart, upbeat, and outgoing, and quickly made friends among the local kids and teenagers. They had lots of opportunities to speak French, both in these informal interactions and in the context of worksites, internships, and dinner stays with families on the island. They got to experience local music, particularly through our in-house band Melody Vice, and local food. Thanks to the great group, the summer went very well.
Work was tough! To be clear, it wasn’t bad, but it was a lot of responsibility and stress. We had to deal with a lot of complications and unexpected difficulties in order to make the summer as fun and seamless as possible. In part, it felt like being the parent to 25 children, with all the accompanying issues: lost passports, illness, injuries, general mayhem. The logistics were the hardest part, living as we were on an isolated small island, doing business in French, and working with unfamiliar systems and limited resources. As the carpenter I struggled constantly to get tools and materials ordered and delivered on time, to coordinate drivers and other support, and to keep our projects on track.
We worked hard, made some mistakes, and found local friends who could help us, and in the end the summer was very successful. Our two toughest projects, the carpentry project and the mural, both made great progress. When it rained, or when the schedule unexpectedly changed, we found other things to do, and the kids were very positive about it.