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Six months already?

Six and a half months ago, J and I stepped off the plane onto the tarmac of the Dzaoudzi airport in Mayotte. It was a bright morning; it was a hot morning; there were zebus--who serve, along with itinerant goats, as lawnmowers on this lush island--grazing along the runway. A group of Mahorais women were playing instruments that sound like a cross between rain-sticks and rhythmic clapping, and families were greeting loved ones with necklaces of fragrant jasmine and colorful bougainvilleas.

We were worried about being stopped by customs and having to pay exorbitant taxes on all our belongings less than a year old, but J's future colleagues were there to walk us past that danger and out of the kiln-like hangar into the open air of our new home.

Little by little, we've settled into our house and new life, and our cats have long lost the dilated-pupil, slobbery drugged-out look. They still aren't completely comfortable here (they actually put on their winter fur, poor things), and they don't go out on the prowl like they did in Sancerre, but like us, they are growing accustomed to the noises and new smells. I'll let you know when I can handle with aplomb and not one shred of aggravation being awoken at six o'clock of a Sunday morning by the sound of blaring music or an angry hammer.

J is loving life here. He has been assigned to the boat brigade, the job he wanted all along, and has taken up a new hobby: spearfishing, which keeps the freezer well-stocked. I teach English, sporadically, and have lots of free time for my own pursuits. On J's days off, we've gone whale-watching, fishing, swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, and hiking around crater lakes and amongst cinnamon, clove, and ylang-ylang groves. We eaten our weight in fresh mangos, pineapples, papayas, coconuts, and delicious tiny bananas. The lagoon waters have plenty of calamari, octopuses, and fish for the taking. We've also stuffed ourselves on grilled chicken wings, zebu brochettes, fried manioc and breadfruit, coconut chicken with huge helpings of rice from street vendors. The two of us can eat (and get full) on €6; you just can't be too worried about hygiene.

But island life isn't all cheap local food, palm trees, sandy beaches, and turquoise waters.

Life is frequently doing without our creature comforts: electricity (argh! all my hoarded, frozen food!!! {luckily, I have yet to lose everything}), phone (no Internet!! How will I ever survive?!), satellite (only annoying when you were already watching something good or were planning to watch something shortly. Nonetheless, everything *does* get shown a billion times), WATER (needs no explanation, but just take it one step further and think "unflushed toilets...heat"). With all the rain, we could get a big barrel and collect the runoff for toilet flushing, etc, but I hate mosquitoes too much to give them a free spawning basin.

It is also not being able to find what you want when you want it in the supermarkets because i) they just don't stock it or ii) the boat hasn't arrived with it yet and won't be arriving for another two months. It is also not being able to *afford* what you want in the supermarket because your staple back home has just been relagated to luxury status.

Small aggravations, you say? Well, you're right. Learn to do without is a good motto.

Life here is also humidity, and humidity spells mold. No, really it does humidity = m-o-l-d. If you don't wear something at least once every week, preferably twice a week, it not only starts stinking of mildew, it sprouts fungus. It doesn't matter if your clothes are folded and put away in a drawer or on a hanger on an open-air clothes rack. Mayotte's climate is hell for all things leather. Food left open too long molds: cookies, bread...even my cocoa powder has molded. But I can't get a good-tasting sourdough starter going for my life.

Have I mentioned that life here is humidity? Trust me, it is. And with the heat, that means it is hard to sleep, hard to find energy--that's why the Mahorais (women in particular) lie on their porches or in their market stalls or on the floors of their small shops while waiting for customers.

Speaking of humidity--because we were, weren't we?--since it is the rainy season, I spend a ridiculous amount of time emptying the pots, pans, and buckets that catch water from the leaks on our back terrace. We've even had a leak over our couch and one over the stove; fortunately, those two don't drip with every rain. In addition to the roof leakage, there is a problem with runoff by the outer wall of our bedroom, so water has seeped into the concrete, hence our bedroom reeks permanently of mildew. Thank the Lord we are not homeowners here.

Someone in France asked J the other day if we had made many Mahorais friends, and the sad truth of that is no. The reasons are multiple, but one of the biggest ones--for me--is for a want of trying. I'm not a very social person. I like my privacy; I love my me time, and I'm selfish with it. Because of that, I don't tend to foster friendships, especially with people I fear will be invasive of my time. And, because of cultural differences and because of my perspective (anyone is suspect of being a time leech!), the Mahorais tend to be what I would term, without any hesitation, very invasive. Actually, for the most part, it is just friendliness, but I'm an ogre, remember? For the part that isn't friendliness, it smacks distinctly of mooching. Apologies aren't really necessary, but NO, I will NOT pay your €500 water bill. I AM sorry you don't have water, but I just can't do that.

I detest feeling like I'm always being evaluated for what I can give, how much I have in my house. And I hate that *I* am forced into a position that makes *me* evaluate others on how much I think they are trying to use me. Such a hateful cycle. I would like to pretend that it doesn't exist, that we can all be equal and approach each other on equal footing, but it hasn't been my experience to date. I don't mean to turn this into a rant on this subject, but it makes me question what value we put on our help versus our means of giving help. Frex, I've met some Mahorais who've given me gifts that are perhaps small, but in terms of what they possess, the gift is generous. So, to these people, I feel inclined to be generous, too, but then they keep asking for more and more, and I don't mind giving. I mind wondering where it will end and once started if it *can* end.

Anyhow, all this to do a bit of a sum up (recording memories for myself, really) and to say that, yes, life here is good, but it isn't all golden. And, on the flip side, yes, there are inconveniences and discomforts but, on the whole, having this experience *is* golden, and I'm happy to be here.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go sip a fruit cocktail under a coconut tree and contemplate the waving waters... Not really, but that sounds a lot better than "I'm going to go clean my house."

Because you see, my little children, no matter where you go, where you live, with or without palm trees and sandy beaches, there will always be ups and downs, adventure and mundaneness beneath the blue, blue sky; so paint your pictures as rosy as you can, but don't forget a little shading and shadow to keep them from being big pink blobs. The inevitable other side of that is, "It's okay to go easy on the black."

*hops off memory-making box and skips to the beach for a swim to the sink full of dishes*

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Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
secritcrush
Feb. 28th, 2007 01:22 pm (UTC)
Fascinating post - I've been reading your adventures with much interest.
mnfaure
Feb. 28th, 2007 02:07 pm (UTC)
Thank you. I have so many things that I want to say, to remember, to think about, but the humidity just saps them out of me. Still, for my own memories, I'd like to be a bit more serious about recording them.

Back when I was a wee sprout, I could remember so many things clearly and word for word. Sadly to say that capacity is fading. Must do something about it.
kmkibble75
Mar. 1st, 2007 02:48 am (UTC)
I'm envious of the interest your life has... seriously, this makes me want to move to Mayotte. Not because it sounds glamorous, but just so different and vivid.
mnfaure
Mar. 1st, 2007 07:40 am (UTC)
Yes, living here will definitely force you to think about why you are the way you are, society, accepted values, why you believe what you believe...if you take the time to do it and be open to it. And that, to my mind, makes life all the more vivid.

As to different, yes, it is very different, on so many levels. I'm going to blog about a few differences later on.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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