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Archive for December, 2015

I have a lot of Christmases under my belt.

There were those when I was a kid and followed my mom’s tree-decorating dictates demanding tinsel was to be strung one … strand … at …a … time, then collected in the same fashion when the holiday finished, put away carefully, then stored for the next year. (I swear she was still using some 1958 tinsel in 2010!)

The years my first batch of children were little were at times fraught, but we always had a tree with gifts under it and Santa always did his midnight visit. We’d open gifts and such, then go to Grandma’s house for the feast that never varied. (Okay, once it varied; mom made orange jello-mold salad with carrots instead of green jello-mold salad with the alternating pineapple slice/cherry pattern we’d grown up with. She never heard the end of it … nor did she ever again try that sketchy menu change.)

When those kids were older, money was less an issue and the house was much bigger, so the tree was a sixteen-footer and decked to the halls. Gifts were more lavish and home was the gathering place for relatives from near and far. My brothers played basketball in my living room, the turkey was huge and the table could sit 25.

One Christmas found me in Australia with a family that wasn’t mine, but was still family and lovely. It was my first ‘Summer Christmas’ and a pool party was a novel idea in my mind that took a bit of adjusting to, but there were laughs and fun … and the fire to roast chestnuts was a barbecue. I had my first Pavlova that year and I heartily recommend that addition to the traditional meal no matter where you are.

Christmas in England encouraged every Dickensian fantasy I’d ever had, and my daughter’s decision to spend the holiday with me over the pond made it pretty perfect. We were introduced to crackers and crowns and the weather gave us a bit more perspective on poor old Bob Cratchit’s issues with coal.

By the time the holiday rolled around in Seychelles I was accustomed to the Beach Christmas concept and surrounded by friends. Christmas gatherings were huge affairs attended by people from many countries speaking often up to 10 languages, all bringing their own flavors in food, traditions and entertainment. One year we had Shetland Island folk songs played on mandolin and fiddle by an authentic Shetland Islander, and a fabulously funny game of euphemisms … another word for the male member, the sex act, etc. … which allowed submissions from any language.

Once Sam and Cj joined the family Christmas was again about kids.The tree went up, the house draped in various sorts of holiday tat, gifts went under the tree. We’d host a party Christmas eve, then trot up to Gay’s for what had become the traditional food Bacchanal with participation of people from all over the world. The last time this happened was 2 years ago and the festivities of the Eve and the Day included folks with roots in Seychelles, England, Kenya, South Africa, the USA, Scotland, Sri Lanka, Germany, Australia, Ireland, Italy, and probably a few I’m not recalling.

Last year I was back in England to celebrate with the kids in their home-from-home. To say there was a bittersweetness to it would be an understatement, but the ‘sweet’ was very and the ‘bitter’ was easily swallowed. To Cj’s disappointment, it didn’t snow, but it was cold enough to warrant extra coal on the fire. The circle of family had expanded wonderfully and embraced all.

Yes, so many Christmases under my belt.

This one, however …

For the first time in my life I am alone for Christmas. I have already watched the 1951 version (my fav) of “A Christmas Carol” AND “It’s a Wonderful Life” as tradition dictates, but must admit that big a dose of the ‘spirit’ didn’t help much.

Yeah, yeah … I know there are a load of songs on being alone for Christmas, but listening to any of them is not on my to-do list. I’m at loose ends, confounded, stuck between I-don’t-give-a-shit and bawling.

But I’m a grownup, FFS, fully aware that for millions of people this is just another day, and millions of others haven’t one-tenth-of-one-percent of what I have to be grateful and happy for.

Thanks to the age we live in, I will Skype with my kids on Christmas Day … a gift beyond measure! I can take a bottle of wine to the beach and toast the holiday, the ocean, the sky above me and the Earth beneath my feet … and be thankful. I can reflect on Christmas Past, ponder the years, remember those who are no longer reachable by technology, and I can set my focus for the positives.

And I will do all those things. But today, the day before Christmas Eve, I’m indulging in a bit of some whine in the sun. (Poor me. What a bummer. If wishes were horses I’d be elsewhere. Etc., etc., etc. ad nauseam.)

Wishing everyone a Happy Christmas filled with love and food and making merry. I will raise a glass to all with love and hope and to Christmas Yet To Come!

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Sunset feet

One of the things …

Having received requests to work my way toward the 50 things about Seychelles I sounded off about in a recent post, I’ve found time today … after scrubbing mold off kitchen walls, jettisoning a bunch of items I’d not bothered to look at in years, cleaning tenrec dens, picking up after poopy dogs and feeding the birds … to add another 10 to the list.

Since an election happens … again … in a couple of days, and since I’m sick to death of politics both here and abroad, it’s good to focus for a while on the weirdly mundane for a while.

So, here are some aspects of life for people in Seychelles that may seem a bit odd to inhabitants of other places, but are completely normal here …

12190030_10208223474013724_3256839163126993599_n1) We know our bananas. There are many varieties that grow here, and everyone can spot the difference between gabo, fig and San Jacques. We have big bananas, tiny bananas, sweet bananas and bananas for frying, yellow bananas, red bananas and green bananas. They are picked green, because we all know the aphorism:

Q:  How do you know when your      bananas are ready to be picked?          A:  They’re gone!

We have a bazillion uses for bananas. A regime (what a whole, huge bunch is called here) can contain anywhere from a dozen to a multitudinous slew of individual fruits attached, and all go ripe within days of each other. ‘No waste, no want’ being a dictate, putting all to good use is no small feat. From the usual banana bread to the more exotic katkat banann and banann ladob to cream pie to chips to ice cream topping, there are many options. A ripe regime inspires no little visiting, either, as we share out what we have, knowing full well it will come back to us bountifully in no time.

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Rhino beetles are cute!

 

2) We don’t mind critters. One cannot live in Seychelles for long without developing a tolerance, often even an affection for the small creatures who share our homes. Bugs and lizards are ubiquitous, so getting used to seeing them is a must. Skinks and geckos are quite entertaining, as is watching visitors go crazy at their presence.

I have been asked on occasion to write informational inserts for in-room packets for hotels because the panicked phrase, “There are BABY CROCODILES climbing the walls in my room!”, has been heard by those manning the night desk far too often.

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Awww … baby gecko!

I’m still no fan of big spiders and ants are a pain, but I’ve developed a fondness for rhinoceros beetles and stick insects and an appreciation for the skill of mason wasps.

3) We sometimes even share critters. My tenrecs love crunchy bugs and juicy worms, so I have been known to ask for donations from friends. Gay has a compost heap that is full of worms … which reminds me; I need to get up to her place and see if she has enough now to spare a dozen.

4) We organize our complaints. Service isn’t always what it should be, so after a spate of crappy Internet or an erratic electricity supply friends put their heads together and coordinate gripes.

5) We talk about death. Our own deaths, to be exact. Since most of us expats have little-to-no family, no next-of-kin, within a few thousand miles, planning for our eventual demise is just part of what friends do. Our out-of-country connections are shared, as well as the details on what we want done with our empty husks.

6) We obey the laws … sometimes. Seychelles has as many laws as anywhere, but some do seem to be more like suggestions. For example, it is illegal to park on double yellow lines, to overtake on a solid white line, to use a phone while driving, yet every shop along the road has cars and trucks parked on double yellows, any drive at the speed limit will have you passed in no-passing areas by dozens of cars, trucks and busses, and it seems every other driver has a phone stuck to his ear. It is also illegal to have tinted windows on a car. (Who was that? Don’t know … the windows were tinted.) Legislation was passed a few years ago banning building on mountaintops, but that apparently does not apply if you happen to own one of the United Arab Emirates.

7) We entertain other peoples’ visitors. No one visits Seychelles for a weekend; even a week is far too short a time for many. It takes a couple of days to get here from most places, so 10 days is routinely calculated as the minimum stay. That’s great, most of the time. Since this place is so very different, very few guests are up to getting out and about on their own. For working people, this can put quite a strain on their time. Then, of course, there are the difficult guests … grumpy parents, that weird uncle, the school friend you dropped who is just dying to see you again since you live so close to a beach. Sure, you could book them into a hotel, but you won’t.

No worries. Your friends here will pick up a lot of the slack, because we know you’ll be there for us when guests-from-hell send flight details and a long to-do-on-holiday list.

8) We are casual. Although I’m sure there are people here who own formalwear, and perhaps even dress to the nines from time-to-time, but for most in Seychelles dressing up is more a matter of putting on your best long trousers, preferably jeans. There was a private school headmaster who kicked off holy hell by insisting teachers not wear jeans to work, his days in England giving a bias that saw denim as too devil-may-care laid-back and loosey-goosey for an institution of learning. Little did he realize that most here would wear their ‘good’ jeans to have tea with the Queen.

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Sparky in her harness …

9) We leave empty and come back full. Going overseas is a big deal for anyone anywhere, but when traveling to big places from a small place it’s not just a holiday … it’s a shopping trip. Packing is easy, as our big suitcase contains only our smaller suitcases on the way out. And it’s not only ourselves we shop for. Nope. The suitcase within a suitcase within a suitcase is sure to have at least three lists of stuff to get for friends. Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to have blood sugar monitoring sticks, batteries, print cartridges, flip flops, flea drops, tenrec halters, tequila, clothing, dog collars, a toilet seat and many, many other items delivered to me by friends returning from a vacation abroad. It’s a courtesy we acknowledge and value highly.

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We have great sky!

10) We look at the sky … a lot. Views here are big, wide and impressive, and unlike in more confined spaces we have a big chunk of sky over us. By day, we watch clouds move around and can see rain coming from miles away. By night, the distance between Seychelles and mega-cities allows the stars in the southern sky to shine and twinkle by the thousands. We know the season by the placement of Venus and are known to stay up all night for meteor showers. The moon in all its phases is as familiar as the 6 o’clock news is to those who live indoors most evenings, and an eclipse is an event bigger … and more entertaining … than the Superbowl.

So … that’s now 20 things about Seychelles, and many more have come to mind while putting these down. More to come. Don’t touch that dial. Film at 11.

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62006441If I felt more industrious this Sunday afternoon, I could easily list at least 50 things about this country that could come as revelations to newcomers and visitors, but it’s a lovely day and I’ve already put in time feeding birds, cleaning tenrec dens and picking up dog poop.

Funnily enough, the fact that people living here deal with such mundane things startles some who assume days on these lovely islands simply must be passed in sun-soaking, wallowing in the warm sea and strolling down sandy shores as birds sing and clouds drift overhead.

If only.

I’ve written before about the Disneyland mentality of some visitors and how annoying it can be when assumptions are made that we here are responsible for the weather and have nothing more important to do than make a holiday perfect, and new residents can be almost as exasperating in their giddiness at actually living in paradise.

“My toilet is broken. Do you know a plumber who’ll come out on a Sunday night?”

“I’ve been looking all over for authentic pork pies. Where can I find some?”

“The power’s gone out! What do I do?”

(The answers are, 1) No, 2) Yes. In England, 3) Hand wash the dishes … in the dark)

So … in an effort to help some stumble the Seychelles path (Watch out for potholes!) as they learn to negotiate their way around, here are 10 things to know about the country and the people who live here:

1) We don’t go to the beach nearly as much as you think. Often we choose to stay home, indoors, and do exciting things like laundry.

2) There are virtually no addresses. Although roads do have names, house numbers exist in only a very few areas, so if you are invited to visit someone’s home be prepared to take directions. You may want to write these down, as they’re complicated. For example: Turn left at the shop with half a mannequin by the door (a right turn will put you in the sea), drive up the road, pass the 5-to-10 guys sitting on a rock under a mango tree drinking, then look for a dirt track to the right just after the place where the road is white from squished breadfruit, etc.. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to be going along a trail of spilled paint … which is helpful.

3)  When we do decide some beach time should happen, choosing a beach is done by committee. Not just any beach will do, even though they are all lovely, so much consideration goes into the choice. Micro-climate has us calling people who live on the other side or up north or down south to check if it’s raining. If it’s rough on the east coast, perhaps it’s calm on the west. If we’re bringing kids, the shallow or inside-the-reef options are taken into account. If snorkeling is desired, we all have our fav spots. If it’s a Sunday and we don’t want our meditative communing with nature disturbed by picnickers with a generator hooked to fridge-sized speakers blasting crap music to distortion … well … we know where to avoid.

4)  We use the airport as a pee stop.

5)  We swap entertainment … books, movies, TV shows … so if you have any, share.

6)  We are annoyed when there are more than 10 people on a beach.

7)  We get really excited by new products. This isn’t quite as big a thing these days, so we hardly ever, now, call all our friends when we find mushrooms or nice cheese in a shop, nor do we tend (as much) to buy up the whole stock of whatever to share out or hoard. We do, however, continue to be right chuffed at discoveries of rare or never-to-have-been-available-in-Seychelles items, and given how much shopping we do when overseas, it’s a given that there are a lot of things that fit the category.

8)  We ALWAYS have candles.

9)  People are as recognized by the number plates on their cars as they are by their faces. Driving someone else’s car can introduce you to a whole load of people you’ve never seen before. (And it is amazing how many people you’ve never seen before on this tiny island.)

10) Mahé is 17 miles long … Praslin and La Digue even smaller … yet the idea of driving to the far end of the island takes almost as much contemplation and preparation as a plane ride of 12,000 miles. I live in the south and get to Beau Vallon (in the north), on average, once every 2 years or so. Friends in the north visit me about as often. Meeting up in town used to happen, but that was before Victoria became a traffic and parking nightmare and options outside that hellish perimeter were available.

So … that’s it for today. Hope it helps.

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