Category Archives: Hmmm that’s odd

Just how far away is Reunion Island? Actually, it depends.

Of the many daily frustrations encountered by expats living in faraway places, none is more absolutely appallingly confoundingly bizarre as the mystery of international mail.

In the US, we are all used to the rites and rituals of collecting and sending personal mail.  It’s relatively simple.  Lick the envelope, slap a first class stamp on it, drop it in the mailbox, and it will be in the hands of your addressee in a matter of a couple days.

With some minor differences, the postal system in Reunion is the same.  Yet, don’t forget that Reunion is part of France, so strikes, nonsensical business hours, and general capriciousness are all fair game for unexpected delays.  Refer to this December post for evidence.

But what happens when the two systems collide, when they are forced to interact with each other,  dare I say, cooperate on deliveries between them?  This is the aforementioned “mystery of international mail”.

Here are some examples of my correspondence with the outside world via post. (All mail from Reunion goes through Paris.)

REUNION –> MAINLAND FRANCE takes under a week.

VERMONT –> REUNION takes 2 weeks for letters and packages of all shapes and sizes.

REUNION –> VERMONT normally takes 2-4 weeks for postcards, or 6 weeks if you are a very important acceptance letter to a summer employer.

INDIANA –> REUNION takes 3 weeks for letters, 5 for packages containing Christmas gifts.

REUNION –> INDIANA averages 2-5 weeks for postcards and letters.

PERU –> REUNION took only 14 days.

REUNION –> PERU took just under a month.

REUNION –> YEMEN never made it.

These are the curious little inconsistencies that make mail an ongoing adventure.  But don’t we have to wonder where exactly our mail goes when it “goes” across oceans?  Why do some things inevitably take weeks longer to get somewhere?  What differentiates a speedy letter from a lethargic one?  And what happens to mail just never shows up?

In general, I have it good.  Friends of mine in other parts of the world have long since given up on mail to or from their respective countries.

Right at this moment however, French postal workers are on strike citing discontent with the “general dehumanization” of their service.  Sorry, but get over yourselves.  I think we can all agree that the mail is still a very “human” process.  If there were fewer humans involved (especially French ones), our mail might actually get places efficiently.

No offence, Alex Blair.  I’m talking more about France than the US.

Anyhow, here’s a song to remind us of all the humans in postal uniforms around the world.  The song is about the guy on the Mafate route in the interior of the island where there are no roads and villages are accessible only on foot.  Warning, French/Creole ahead.

One last little curiousity this topic reminded me of: Saint Expedit, the patron saint of Reunion.  I promise it’s related to mail.

According to Wikipedia:

Saint Expédit has a significant folk following on the French island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean. Stories about the origin of his veneration there follow the typical formula: a mysterious parcel marked with expedit arrived as an aid to instill pious virtues in the people.[5] However, another version of the story maintains that Expédit acquired his name through his expeditious help in placing vengeful curses. Decapitated statues of the saint are often found, the defacement inflicted in anger for a request not carried out or in order to break an existing curse.[5]

Road-side altars dedicated to Saint Expédit can be as small as a box containing a small statue of the saint, or as large as a hut, containing multiple statues, candles, and flowers. In all cases, these altars are painted a bright red.[5] Also common are ex-votos thanking Saint Expédit for wishes granted and favors received.

In Réunion, the cult of Saint Expédit takes the form of a syncretic cult, mixing Roman Catholicism with other beliefs from Madagascar or India. Saint Expédit is a popular saint, revered by Reunionnais regardless of age or religion. It is difficult to say how many people visit the island’s ubiquitous altars, since the worship of Saint Expédit is considered taboo – people do not generally visit the altars in the open.[citation needed] Even so, the altars are widespread on the island and obviously well-tended.

Apparently they were unfamiliar with “expedited” mail.

And that, my friends, is how far away Reunion Island is (from both the rest of the world and from rationality) but I still love it.


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Nous, on aime le Country

It all started on Saturday afternoon as I was sitting along the seafront watching a group of Tahitian dancers (think Hawai’ian) rehearse for a show, when out of nowhere, an old Creole couple walked past me in full cowboy attire.  We’re talking the boots, the hats, the leather, the real deal.  Creole cowboy and creole cowgirl, strolling the boardwalk.  Later that night it all made sense.

Apparently, there is a thriving American country music dance scene on Reunion.  Who would have guessed?  And, Saturday night was their big event, gathering what seemed like several dozen authentically dressed cowboys and cowgirls from around the island to dosido and holler “yeehaw!” on the Saint-Pierre beach.  Stumbling across this spectacle with two other American assistants, we were like bees to honey, but honey in a place none of us in our right minds would have ever expected to find it.  Songs like Cotton Eye Joe, God Bless Texas, and Mountain Mama cast some kind of patriotic spell on us that we couldn’t break even we tried.  Our red, white, and blue came out pretty strong.  There was just something overwhelmingly illogical about the whole thing that was too good to be true.

Here’s a toast to America (with the Reunionese cola “COT American” no less).

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Nos hivers sont vos étés

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You know the feeling when you’re camping and the ground beneath your tent isn’t quite flat?  And you feel like you and your sleeping bag are slowing sliding down the slope, and by the time you wake up, everyone has inevitably formed a pile at the bottom?   Or when you’re playing put-put and the hole is at the top of a slope and no matter how hard you hit it, it’s always much steeper than you anticipate and the ball rolls right back to your feet?

I have come to the conclusion that living on Réunion is something like these sensations.

Last Friday, my housemate drove me up to Saint Paul about a third of the way around the island going clockwise, which, on the coastal highway, is more like making an extremely long right hand turn.  Anways, during the drive, the geography of the island finally hit me.  With enormous mountains in the center of the island, it’s nothing but one big, long slope all the way down to the coast.  And there’s this wierd disequilibrium about living on a slope that I hadn’t really picked up on.  Everything is always tilted downward, downward towards the sea.  It’s as if you’re constantly fighting the force of gravity to stay where you are, like you have to lean into it or hold on tighter to the railing.  And like the slanted put-put hole, I feel like I’m never going to make it up the hill on my bike to teach at my highest school.  But once the bell rings and it’s time to leave, I come screaming down the mountain and end up right where I started, practically without turning a pedal.  Repatriating to the flattest place in the world (central IN)  might be overwhelmingly destabilizing once I’m used to the slanted life.

At least I don’t feel upside down, which I totally am, being in the southern hemisphere (see paréo below Im using as a curtain in my room).  That would be a lot more problematic.

Nos hivers sont vos étés = Our winters are your summers / Nos étés sont vos hivers = Our summers are your winters


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Two funny observations about Reunionese Coca-Cola:  First off, a can of Coke will always be served with a straw.  Secondly, the can is actually weighted heavier at the bottom so that once finished, you feel like you still have more.  This inevitably leads to taking out the straw and craning your neck back to try to get out those imaginary last drops.  Honestly, it is really tricky.  The cans are so heavy and in just the right way such that you are always set up for a disappointing last sip.  Not cool.

Most of France is still on strike, by the way.  When I arrived at my high school for work on Friday morning, it became clear that something was not right.  The Creole dance party at the gate at 7am was the first indication.  Then we realized that the students had broken into the school and destroyed half the locks on the classroom doors with glue.  They continued to dance and generally make a lot of noise all morning, that is, until the headmaster came out to make an announcement: Saturday school – yes, they go to school on Saturdays here – is canceled because of their raucous behavior.  No one apprehended.  No detentions.  No official response from the administration concerning the vandalism besides giving them an extra long weekend.  (Monday is a national holiday called “Toussaint” – All Saint’s Day).  Imagine that happening at Noblesville High School?  Probably not.

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Midnight Dollar Menu

With a lot of international media talking about global currency competition, I thought I would mention a little known fact about the Euro.  Due to Reunion’s location two time zones east of Europe, it was the first place where the Euro officially became legal tender.  The story goes that the former mayor of the capital city, Saint Denis, was therefore the first person in the world to make a purchase with the Euro.  And what did he buy? A bag of lychees from a local market at 12:01 AM.  Lychee season hasn’t started yet so I can’t comment on whether I agree with his decision to make his historic purchase a bag of them.

Also a little known secret, Reunion is pictured on the Euro currency.  On the reverse side of all the bills, they show a map of Europe.  Along the bottom left, they also show the four overseas departments of France in the little boxes: French Guyana on the left, Guadeloupe on top, Martinique in the middle, and LA REUNION on the bottom.

Now you know.

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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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