Category Archives: On strike

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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Filed under Hmmm that's odd, On strike

“I am le tired…”

From today’s newspaper:

Le courrier ne sera pas distribué aujourd’hui. A l’appel de FO, les postiers de Saint-Pierre ont décidé de faire jouer leur droit de retrait pour protester contre leurs conditions de travail. Ils dénoncent les nuisances occasionnées par les travaux à la Poste de Saint-Pierre. A savoir : beaucoup de poussière et de bruit. N’ayant pas eu de réponse de la part de leur direction, ils ont donc décidé de ne pas distribuer le courrier ce matin.

Or in English, “No mail will be distributed today.  At the request of the worker’s union, post office employees of Saint-Pierre have decided to take the day off in protest against their working conditions.  They are complaining of the occasional nuissances caused by construction at the Post Office of Saint-Pierre.  Read: lots of dust and noise.  Having had no response from their supervisors, they have therefore decided not to distribute the mail this morning.”


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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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Filed under At school, Hmmm that's odd, On strike

A tale of two activists

Sunday was October 10, 2010 (10/10/10) and the organization, founded by Middlebury scholar in residence Bill McKibben, declared an international day of action for the environment.  Sure enough, there happened to be a community project in Saint Pierre organized by an American and former Greenpeace volunteer.  About a dozen of us got together and cleaned up the city beach.  Here’s what we found:

Altogether, there were more than 7,000 events held in 188 countries for the global work party.  I couldn’t believe Reunion was one of them.

To contrast the 350 Day of Action, October 12 has been declared a national day of rallies and protests against a retirement reform bill being pushed through the French Senate.  I attended the local “grève” (strike/rally) in Saint Pierre with about 700 loud, spirited labor union members.

The French LOVE their grèves.  For instance, the largest port in France (Marseille) has been on “grève” for over a week, meaning almost no ships have been allowed to load or unload their cargo.  Many stores have had shortages of goods, and the ship traffic around Marseille is a mess.

5,000 miles away in Saint Pierre, the demonstrators are asking for retirement benefits starting at age 60.  The reform currently going through the Senate aims to push that age back from 65 to 67.  They might be asking for too much.  Considering all the social assistance available to residents of this country, their demand is absurd.  Even I, for instance, will be receiving over 150 Euro a month from the government in housing assistance.  Whatever, parades are fun.  There should be more parades in the world.  (10/14 Edit: I misunderstood.  It is currently at 60 and will be pushed back to 62.  Their demand makes more sense now.)

No news on the volcano.

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Filed under Holidays, On strike