“What’s your name again?” the guide asked.
“How could you forget such an important name!?” said another lady in the group. Her skin was creased by the sand and sun. Her age spots on her body and her wrinkles around her eyes and mouth were soft with the humid air that is characteristic of the island. A small, black dot in between her eyebrows that seemed permanent made me think she could be Buddhist.
“You know the history of your name, right?” she asked rather persistently.
“Sure, I do!” I remarked. That’s pretty much all I say to people here so far. “Oui, oui!” Unless I have something really profound to say that I can express with the small sampling of vocabulary terms and French structures that I know.
“Jacob waited 14 years to marry Rachel. That’s a hell of a long time! She was very special! First, he got the wrong wife and then he worked another seven years to make sure he got what he wanted.” She recounted the story vigorously and I tried to catch all the words that flowed effortlessly out of her mouth. As I translated her words from French to English and Spanish in my head, I couldn’t help but love this language that I hope to one day be able to speak more fluidly.
I’d never thought about this particular story in relation to my own life before. Since I don’t really consider myself a part of any religious faith at the moment, I rarely revert back to the Christianity that I grew up with. This story, however, made me pause and take some time to think about what this tale meant for me at this point in my life.
Feel free to read the story yourself if you wish. In all honesty, Genesis is quite an interesting book of the Bible. It’s super action-packed and contains myriad of themes that come up later in the bible that are interesting to process. Genesis 29 (random side note: I am a Gemini and my birthday is on the 29th as well), is the story of Rachel and Jacob (although I think the account centers mostly on Jacob because you already know that woman in the bible are not very well represented). The long and short of the story is that Jacob falls in love with his cousin, Rachel, at first site. As she is watching her sheep (yes, she was a shepherd) he happened by and, voilà.
Jacob asks Rachel’s father, Laban, if he could marry her and Laban told him he would have to work for seven years for the marriage price. Jacob accepted and after seven years he was tricked into marrying Rachel’s sister, Leah (who was supposedly less beautiful). In the morning, after sleeping with Leah, he realized that the woman beside him was in fact Leah, not Rachel, and he was quite upset. Laban assured Jacob that marrying the eldest girl first was best and told Jacob that he would have to work another seven years to have Rachel. Which, of course, Jacob agreed to. (At this point you are probably thinking, WTF? Don’t feel too sorry for Jacob, however; because he has his way of doing things and I really think he was a schemer. Everything works out to his favor in the end). After the second marriage Rachel was barren (a rather distasteful, yet biblical word, all the same) and it took her a long time to get pregnant. She finally did but of course she wanted more kids. She died while conceiving her second child, Benjamin. As she was saying her last words she wanted her child to be named Ben-Oni which means something like “son of my trouble” and instead Jacob named him Benjamin “song of my right hand.”
I think I would like to reflect on the beginning part of this story: Rachel’s life as a shepherd. She wandered with the sheep every day, I would presume, if not the sheep would get lost and killed. At this moment in my life I feel like a wanderer, I’m not sure how long I’ll be wandering, but it’s nice to find assurance in the fact that wandering can be part of one’s profession and meaning in this short life of ours: for me this comes alongside assisting those that may need guidance and fostering learning along the way. It’s nice to know that I can be an educator and at the same time find my own way in this world.
Since coming to Guadeloupe that’s what I have felt. I sense that my wanderlust is largely pertinent to my life right now and can be combined rather well with goals of mine. At this moment in time I’m focusing on 1) learning French, 2) becoming more decided on knowing exactly what I would like to be doing professionally: should teaching be my career focus? and 3) writing (mostly as a creative outlet, but also for wellbeing and a clarity of mind). Of course, among these goals I want to be able to experience a new culture and develop personally alongside new friends (and old ones, always!) and experiences and activities that will help me grow.
So far the majority of Guadeloupian people are very kind yet forthright. The lady I currently live with, a nurse at one of the schools I teach at, has been super sweet. She is patient with my rudimentary French, shares her culture with me regularly through different activities (like hiking) and different traditional dishes (the fish and the avocados…oh my god!)
I have noticed some very interesting differences in myself even after the first couple of weeks of my stay here. These differences in myself, I believe, serve to highlight the aspects of Guadeloupian culture that I have observed and have experienced thus far.
-It seems as though here I am hardly ever stressed or nervous. Even when I’m trying to communicate something that I have no idea how to say or express I find a way. My heart doesn’t start racing, I don’t start sweating buckets, I don’t blush…etc. It’s rather nice. There is a creole saying here: Pa ni pwoblem which is widely used and means, “there’s no problem” or “no hay problema” and I have really embraced this phrase and it has been my motto for the last few weeks.
-Related to the above comment: everything on the island happens rather slowly…paperwork and other tramites for my visa have been a chore. Finding housing, getting situated, learning of my school schedule, public transit…etc. It has been yet another exercise in patience and going with the flow.
-As a newcomer here it is wonderful the way that most of the Guadeloupian people try to make you feel at home! It makes me think of the U.S. and the large amount of immigrant communities we have. After experiencing such a warm welcome here by the majority of people I can’t help but think that in the U.S. this mindset is totally different. We are not a welcoming people. Instead we try to think of hurdles people must jump and focus on the differences that keep us apart.
-There are many more aspects of life here that I would like to expound on, but for now, let’s leave it at that! Bonne journée à toutes et à tous!