Category Archives: Créole

Creole kids on carbon fiber: WHAT?

When I heard there was a “bike race” in the next town over, I knew it was something I had to check out.  The only other sporting events I’ve ever heard about in Reunion have all been somewhat absurd, for example the 150 mile jungle run from one side of the island to the other known as the “Grand Raid”.  I also have a poster hanging in my apartment advertising the 2010 Reunion Paragliding Championships.  I don’t even know how you compete in paragliding.

Anyways, I showed up to the scene of the alleged “bike race” with low expectations.  I knew there was a bike culture on the island, but I thought it was limited to the old geezers from mainland France who cycle around their second homes on the resort-lined west coast, creole high schoolers who ALL know how to ride through town busting wheelies, and bike-commuters, such as myself.  I was totally wrong.

Have you ever seen a road bike so tiny?  The helmet on this scout reads “Kiddy”.  WHAT IS HE DOING WITH A BETTER BIKE THAT ME?

Turns out the Reunionese take road racing pretty seriously.  There were events for kids of all ages.  I even ran into one of my students, a 6th grader, pedaling around after his race.  WHAT?

The most advanced category competed in a grueling 2h criterium around downtown Saint-Louis.  I had to restrain myself from jumping in.  It looked so intense and brought me back to my days wearing the Middlebury jersey at intercollegiate races on the East Coast.  Then again, considering the swaying palm trees, the warm sun, and the lack of freezing rain, this was anything but a New England road race.

On the subject of weather, I have been meaning to publish several drafts I’ve written, but I’m going to blame the fact that I haven’t gotten around to it on the weather.  February was BRUTALLY hot, and I just couldn’t be bothered to write anything.  Once the calendar flipped to March, it was like Mother Nature decided to just turn on a fan she had been hiding from us for months, and the island was invaded by nice, southerly breezes bringing in cooler, drier air.  At that point, it was too nice to stay inside.  So I ventured out again, and unfortunately for my blog, continued to abstain from writing.

Nonetheless, I find myself on vacation, yet again, and the extra time is affording me a moment to write again.

I am looking forward very much to a visit from my brother, mom, and dad next week.

Next project?  Get the volcano to start erupting again in time for their arrival.



Filed under Bikes, Créole

Joyeuses fêtes et bonne année 2011 zot tout!

“Zot tout” is Creole for “à tout”.  You see, my Creole is improving, word by word!

Joyeuses fêtes is plural for a reason.  Since I last wrote, Reunion has celebrated not one, not two, but three massive holidays: Christmas, New Years, and the one you may not have guessed, Fête Kaf on Dec 20 to commemorate the abolition of slavery on Reunion in 1848.

Here’s a brief and probably incoherent summary of the past two weeks in photos.

Jumping from these cliffs is a popular past-time.  A friend of mine just fractured a vertebrae doing it.  I was there for the phone call: “Mom, I’m alright, so don’t worry.  But… I broke a vertebrae today.”  She’s recovering and won’t jump from as high next time.

Pétanque is the bocce of the Francophone world, and some neighborhood dudes invited me to play a round during their Fete Kaf tournament.  I have not been invited back.

Christmas dinner German style: I celebrated Christmas with 5 Germans and an Austrian high in the mountains where the temperature differential from the balmy coast made us feel more Weihnachtlich.  It was probably still 70 degrees.

Our Advent Wreath, or one of its candles, suffered greatly from the Saint-Pierre sun.

A quick visit to the local turtle sanctuary in Saint-Leu.

Lychees are inseparable components of Christmas on Reunion.  Street corner vendors began selling them for upwards of 5 Euros per kg at the beginning of December with the first harvests of the season.  By the end of the month, you can get 2kg for 1Euro50.

Twin lychees, like these, are the object of an odd Creole tradition.  The person who finds the twin lychees chooses a partner to wager dares with.  Once the players have agreed on each other’s dares, each player grabs a lychee and breaks the pair.  The following day, the first player to shout “Philippine” at first sight of the other wins the game and is immune from his dare, while the loser must face up to his own.  I won the  game and spared myself from singing the French National Anthem in front of all my colleagues in the teacher’s lounge.

The road to Cilaos where I celebrated Christmas and hiked the Piton des Neiges, the highest point on the Indian Ocean, for New Year’s.  I had to go through this tunnel on my bike.

At the 10,069 ft  summit of the Piton des Neiges.  Not pictured: extremely heavy backpack.  Daytime high: 65 degrees F.  Night time low: 50 degrees F.

Watching every firework show around the island burst and flash simultaneously from it’s highest mountain was one of the greatest New Year’s Eve spectacles I’ve ever seen, only made better by a coinciding meteor shower and the sunrise over the neighboring volcano (see eruption posts from October).

The shadow cast by the Piton des Neiges onto the tropical haze below on a brisk, 45 degrees F New Year’s morning.  All things considered, it was still probably the warmest New Years of my life.

Island fever is setting in, so I’m leaving Reunion for three weeks starting Jan 4th.  (Although I’m only jumping from one island to another right next door.)  I’ll be in Madagascar, the Comoros, and Mayotte until the end of January, so best wishes for 2011, and I’ll be back (on the blog) in February!


Filed under At four in the morning, Créole, EXTREME, Holidays

Anon fer!

Front page news this week on Reunion: “The Threat of Cheap Rice!”  The regional significance of rice can not be underestimated.  In Madagascar, as much as 85% of the population is employed in the agricultural and fishing industries, meaning that the price of rice is one of the strongest indicators of the health of the local economy.  And indeed, rice is the PB&J of Malagasy cuisine, from which Reunionese Creole food is strongly inspired.  Although Madagascar produces enough rice to feed the entire island and still export abroad, Malagasy rice is generally considered higher quality and gets a better price on the international market, meaning that one of the biggest rice producing regions in the world actually exports most of its harvest and has to import lower quality rice from Asia (typically India or Cambodia) needed to feed its population.  With strong historical, cultural, and economic ties between Reunion and Madagascar, the “Threat of Cheap Rice” is a big deal here.

So, on the topic of rice, what is Reunionese Creole food like?  The “baguette” is of course the ubiquitous bread of French breakfasts, covered with a jam or nutella spread, and is likewise a staple of Reunionese mornings.  Possible substitutes might be “pain au chocolat” or breakfast cereals like we have in the states.

Come lunchtime, the whole island shuts down for two hours to allow school children, shopkeepers, and whoever else to go home and eat as a family.  Literally nothing is open for business between noon and two in the afternoon, except of course, the snack bars and bakeries, which must make a killing.  A quick lunch might be a sandwich constructed from a baguette, with “crudités” (a bunch of veggies and maybe a hard boiled egg) or the infamous “américain”, which comes in many varieties, but always features French fries in the sandwich itself with cheese melted on top.  Snack bars on Reunion are known for their mini-dumplings, known as “bouchons”, and deep-fried samoussas, filled with cheese, ham, crab, or tuna.  The bouchon américain sandwich is sinfully delicious, but your life expectancy decreases correspondingly for each one you eat.

Since most kids eat lunch at home during their two hour break in the middle of the day, school lunch isn’t very popular.  Here’s the “cafeteria” at one of my middle schools.  Note the characteristic Creole student.

A heartier Creole lunch will look the same as a Creole dinner, which is one of only two basic dishes: a “carri” (like a curry) or a “rougaille” (spicy sauce from a pepper, garlic, ginger, onion, and tomato base) served over rice with chicken or vegetables, and with “graines” (beans) on the side.  Portions are generous, maybe even gluttonous.  “Piment” (spicy pepper salsa) is added to literally everything.  I had a mango salad yesterday with piment, and honestly, all I could taste was the piment.  It’s overpowering, but you just gotta do it.  Bouchon américain sandwich with piment is the crème de la crème of cheap Creole lunches.

Here’s a simple recipe from my Creole Phrasebook for a “rougaille saucisse” (sausage rougaille) if you want to give it a try.

Take five fresh pork sausages and drop them in a deep saucepan filled with water, and leave it covered on the stovetop.  Once the water reaches a boil, remove the lid and occasionally poke the sausages to let the grease and fat escape from the meat.  Keep an eye on the sausages while preparing your spices: if you have a mortar, reduce some spicy green peppers of your choice (picture the ones in the little jars at Steak and Shake), some peeled ginger, two cloves of garlic, and some salt, or just mash it all up on a cutting board (that’s what I did).  Leave some space on the cutting board to slice two onions lengthwise and to finely dice three ripe tomatoes.  You should notice that there’s not much water left with your sausage, which is a good sign.  Once the sausages begin to brown, take them out of the saucepan and slice them into round segments, which you will drop right back into the saucepan with a spoonful of oil.  Now add your spices, well mixed, and a branch of fresh thyme, keeping the sausages moving so as to avoid burning them.  Next add the onions with another half spoonful of oil, if necessary.  Last come the tomatoes and a little bit of water if needed to ensure that your sauce doesn’t dry up.  Recover the saucepan and let it cook on medium heat.  As soon as the tomatoes appear done, the meal is ready to be served over white rice or couscous with beans or lentils on the side.

Anon fer! (Bon appétit in Créole).  Sorry if my translation is not very kitchen-friendly.

Here’s how mine turned out.

Being on the ocean, we have become friends with some local fishmongers who sell all sorts of things from the sea.  So far we have prepared swordfish and shark at home.

One final image I’ve been waiting to add for awhile.  PIRATE!!! (Note the name of his boat: Jesus sauve = Jesus saves, so maybe not a pirate).



Filed under At school, Créole, Cuisine, Pirates

Mount Rushmore à la Réunion

Here’s the graffiti I had referenced earlier.  It shows the five main ethnic groups that have gradually intermixed (in a process I have learned is called ‘métissage’) to create the Créole identity on Réunion.  The caption “Nout nation” probably translates to “notre nation”, meaning “our nation”, comprised of “Kafs” (or Cafre in correct French) from mainland Africa and Madagascaar, “Chinois” from China, “Zarabs” (les Arabes) from the Muslim world, “Zoreys” (les Oreilles – “the ears” – I can’t remember why they are called that) from mainland France, and the “Malabar” from southern India.

And today the power went out at my teacher’s house, so I hopped on a bus to go into town and what do you know, there’s a Créole music festival going on by the beach!  I had some sweet videos I wanted to upload, but they aren’t working.  A still will have to do for now.  Imagine lots of drums and shouting.


Filed under Créole

La dodo lé la

Everyone’s heard the story of the Dodo bird and how it  met an unfortunate end, but few people know where it once lived.  Ta da! It was a native bird of the Mascarene Archipelago, including Reunion Island and neighboring Mauritius and Rogrigues Islands.

What better way to celebrate an extinct species than name a beer after it?  Thus you drink “Dodo” in the bars and cafes on Reunion, advertised on every wall with the colorful slogan “La dodo lé la” (“the dodo is good”).  It is brewed by a company called Bourbon, which is not trying to fool you by calling its beer a kind of whiskey, but rather using the original name of the island from its early colonial days (Bourbon Island, named after the Bourbon family of France).

Now you know!

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Filed under Créole, Hmmm that's odd

You see how the Reunionese are?

Reunion is a very diverse place.  I will leave it at that until a later post.  But basically, you have people who were born here and people who were born in France.  Those born on the island likely grow up speaking the local Creole language, which is phonetically very close to French but altogether unintelligible to French speakers.  Before I got here, I was under the impression Creole would be easy to understand.  But nope, not really at all.  And to make that very clear, I had my first interaction with Creole speakers today on my way to the beach.

On my way down the mountain on my new bike, I came across a group of young local guys about my age standing idly on the side of the road.  They also had bikes.  They seemed to notice me from a distance, and I could tell they were going to say something to me.  I prepared to ignore them, not knowing what they were up to, but then one of them shouted something that I understood to mean “hey do you have a bike pump?”  I did!  Pulling over, I noticed a flat tire and quickly offered over my pump.  The dudes seemed pretty amicable and kept saying things to me, but I explained to them in French that I had no idea what they were saying.  It was pretty funny and we all laughed, and they were apparently shy to speak in French so the conversation didn’t get very far.  Meanwhile, one of them had taken off the bike tire, located the puncture in the tube, and begun tying a tourniquet on each side of the leak with a shoe lace to keep the air from escaping when he pumped it back up.  Of all the flat tires I’ve come across, not once did it occur to me to patch it up with a shoelace.  One of them noticed how impressed I was and said something to the effect of  “Check it out, you see how the Reunionese are? We can fiddle around with anything and make it work.”  And in no time they were back on their bikes, and I was back on mine.

Sorry, I just lost my train of thought.  There are roosters crowing outside my window right now, which is making me really angry because they’ve been waking me up at 5AM every day, and now they must have figured out that 10PM is when I’m about to go to sleep so they can begin bothering me then too.

Something about Creole.  Yeah, it’s a funny language.  I’ve heard one of my middle schools is really “tough” and when I pressed further to find out what that meant, the teacher said “they speak only Creole.”  Considering most kids here haven’t really learned much English by middle school, I can’t wait to see how we’re going to communicate with each other.

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Filed under Créole