Repatriation 101

Although the blog has ended and I thought I’d signed off, the reality is our adventure is not really over. Returning home has been more of an adventure then we previously believed it to be. It’s been one month since we arrived and it’s been non stop with Christmas and all it’s excitement, the readjustment and the adaptation to this ‘new’ life. I swear the tag line for this period is everything familiar is strange. Let’s review;

The weather

It’s the most obvious. We have had a drastic swing in temperature. When we left New Caledonia it was full fledged summer. Hot and more hot was the daily forecast. Although we prepared a bit ahead, I purchased snowsuits, hats, mittens, boots for the kids back in October online, we’ve spent lots of time buying more winter gear and getting used to getting dressed and undressed for the cold weather. Seth has become a pro and I have to remind myself daily he has never done this before. We have had new challenges such as getting your thumb in the mitten and where is your hat with Theo. And, I’ve come to realize that it’s near impossible to buy snowpants for women in January?!? Overall I’d say it’s been less cold than I expected but that I become colder faster than previously. 

Groceries

When we arrived in New Cal buying groceries was ultimately the hardest adjustment. The lack of fresh produce and choice was astounding. Now, I find myself lost in the cracker isle. Yup, there is a whole isle devoted to crackers. I’ve gone from a choice of 3 to 300. I find myself staring at the selections and thinking seriously, how do people decide and is this really necessary? Don’t get me wrong, I’m still grinning from ear to ear in the produce section, its just the choice that sometimes gets me. Add to this that our kids are asking for their favourite meals which I am know trying to adapt to Canadian ingredients we’ve had a few fails. After not being able to find yellow curry paste nor coconut cream at any of the grocery stores my attempt at the kids favourite ‘yellow rice’ was an epic fail. I’ve since found coconut cream and my stash of yellow curry paste has arrived in the freight so we are set for a second attempt. We’ve had to also spend time finding similar to New Cal standards for the kids, yogurt that they are familiar with, the crunchy granola bars etc. Overall, it hasn’t been bad but just another unexpected adjustment.

Fast Food

When we came home on vacation it was the mad rush to have all our favourites, it was a couple weeks of badness and then we knew it was back to having none. But everyday it is staring me in the face. There is no question why North Americans are alarmingly overweight, the convenience and availability of fast food is astounding. Even the kids are asking for McDonald’s, Pizza and Tim Hortons (the Timbiscuits aka Timbits as Seth calls them) Keeping it as a treat is definitely become a goal. 

Hours of the day

In our previous Canadian life we went to bed around 10 or 11 and woke up at 6:30/7. Once in New Cal that shifted to waking at 5/5:30 and going to bed at 8/8:30. Our day ran closer to the sun. Here I am amazed that everyone is sleeping later and going to bed later. In general I find we are sleeping less. Another adjustment is the hours that businesses are open. Nothing seems to open before 9 or 10am but everything stays open late. It’s a far cry from Roes’ 5am to 6:30pm!  But is it so nice to be able to go to a store in the evening! 

Driving

I’m driving in the dark again! Lol. My last 4 years were spent driving in sunlight and avoiding the roads at dark. It was dangerous because the roads were so narrow and the amount of drinking and driving. Last evening we returned home from a road trip after dark, gasp! I laughed as Keith and discussed the adjustment and the kids asked us why it was so dark in the car. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining about this life nor am I am regretting our decision. Life at the moment is pretty awesome. Watching the pure joy on the boys’ faces as they went sliding for the first time was incredible. Introducing them to a Canadian childhood has been exciting and fun. Having Christmas with almost our entire family was everything I had dreamt of for the last 4 years. The amount of love shown by our family and friends has been lovely. And, there is nothing better than watching the faces of the four grandparents as the kids run to them with open arms calling their names. It’s everything we wanted and more. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you can come home, you just might find it strange and not always familiar and you may miss things from your temporary home that you never dreamed of and I guess that’s an unexpected part of the adventure. Well I better go, it’s 5am but here that means I can go back to sleep for a bit! 

30 things I love…

30 days until we go and I’m thinking of all the things I love about this place. So here goes in no particular order;

  1. Baguette 
  2. Butter with sel de guérande 
  3. The weather
  4. Turquoise water
  5. Snorkelling 
  6. Schweppes Passion 
  7. Colourful clothing
  8. Flip flops all year long
  9. École Téari 
  10. Fresh Piña coladas 
  11. Bananas (North America that’s not what bananas really taste like)
  12. Tony from Case au Froid
  13. Using my clothesline everyday 
  14. French architecture 
  15. The rustle of palm trees
  16. Birds chirping in the morning 
  17. Nounou 
  18. Kylie’s yoga on Thursday 
  19. Weekend sieste
  20. The 5 minute Doctor’s office wait
  21. Champagne 
  22. Sheraton weekends
  23. Shrimp
  24. Coffee with the girls
  25. Cheese, all the cheese
  26. Morning coffee on the patio
  27. Lychees 
  28. Flamboyant trees
  29. Geckos 
  30. All my friends

Îlot Maître 

From the beginning we knew we wanted to go to Îlot Maître to hotel l’Escapade. The hotel has overwater bungalows and it looked so cool. Insert a 14 month old, then a baby and suddenly Theo was a toddler too. The idea seemed to be out of reach with two small children. Add to the fact that the price tag per night is quite high and we resolved ourselves that we were not going to get to ever go. 

Fast forward to a month ago. Keith arrived home from work and announced, “I really want to go to Îlot Maître!” He had checked that we could indeed bring children, that we could indeed stay in an overwater bungalow. I guess the push of it’s now or never really gives you that extra nudge sometimes! So we decided on one night in Noumea at the Chateau Royale ( the first place we ever stayed) and then the next day we would take the ferry to Îlot Maître. We decided on mid October. Mid October came and Keith was suffering from a cold and the weather looked dreary. We decided that we would reschedule to this past weekend. I must say I was disappointed but I hoped that we had made the right call. 

So, Friday, we loaded up in our little Toyota (the Kia has already been sold) and headed for our last trip to the capital. The road, as usual was long, narrow and filled with terrible drivers, but, we arrived at noon. Seth requested Pizza & Pasta and I must admit I had memories of our first days there eating with him as a just one year old. I voted, why not and we headed for pizza. We then walked around Anse Vata picking up souvenirs and just letting the kids run in front of the Hilton. Then we headed to our hotel to check in and enjoy the pool. The weather was glorious without a cloud in the sky. We ordered drinks from the pool bar, a round of apple juice and a beer. We enjoyed watching the people on the beach, splashing in the pool and the warm pacific temperatures. 

The Chateau Royale pool

Saturday morning we decided to stroll over to the Faré Palm Beach for breakfast outside. It was another glorious day and we chatted about how it would be many months until we could eat outside again. We giggled about how Seth is more Caledonian then Canadian. He drinks chocolat (hot chocolate) for breakfast, thinks Nutella is the best condiment, thinks cheez whiz is gross. He drinks water out of wine glasses at all meals out and says bon apetit before we eat. We took our time and walked around Anse Vata. I must admit, it was making me teary eyed. Thinking of our first days there, remembering the days spent in Noumea. After my trip down memory lane we headed back to the hotel to pack up for the next adventure. We caught the ferry at Port Morselle to Îlot Maître. The ride was about 20 minutes and it was windy. The kids loved the ride and I loved the vantage point of looking back on Noumea. We arrived at Îlot Maître at noon and the kids wanted to swim immediately. So we swam and grabbed a leisurely lunch outside before we got our key for our bungalow. 

Breakfast

Seth is ready on the ferry

 

The bungalows are so nice, the lagoon is that aqua that you can only see here, the water is crystal clear and you can see fish, coral and turtles. It was pretty impressive. We decided that snorkelling was first on the agenda. There were people in the water everywhere and We wanted to join in the fun. I got in the water first, Keith was adjusting his flippers behind me when I saw something striped break the surface of the water. I asked Keith, “Is that a tricot rayé?” His response was “Yup”. At that point I was frozen with fear. Tricot Rayés are a poisonous water snake. They can kill you. The last time some one was killed by one was in the 1970s. But let me tell you, I didn’t want to be the first case in 45 years, 30 days before I left. Keith climbed the stairs up trying to find something to shoo him away with. In the meantime the tricot decided that he was going up the stairs as well. So, there I was stuck in the water, tricot on the stairs and Keith on the patio. That’s when I saw his buddy arrive. Luckily, the snake fell off the stairs and I swam as fast as a 6 month pregnant woman could to the stairs and sprinted up them. I am sure most people would have laughed at us. But, I was scared. We enjoyed the rest of the afternoon at the pool and then enjoyed our supper. The next morning we decided we were silly. There were about 50 people snorkelling all the time! On the way back from breakfast we saw what I have been waiting to see for four years, a turtle!! I was definitely more excited than anyone but everyone was pretty excited. We watched him swim leisurely with the fish from the walkway. Later that afternoon after more swimming, a tour of the island to watch the kitesurfers and taking 75 more pictures it was time to catch our ferry back. Again, I had a heavy heart. Would I remember the colour of the water, the feel of the blazing hot sun or the lay of the land? After reaching the port we got in our car and headed up the RT1 again. It was with a full heart. I was so happy we finally went to Îlot Maître and happy this four year adventure has happened. A little sadness saying goodbye to beautiful Noumea. Until we meet again!

Tricot Rayé

My turtle

We came here as 3 we leave as 4.5!

Oh how it’s changed 

All this talk about moving has us reflecting back on the beginning and how so much has changed in Koné since we arrived. I thought it might be fun to do a little then and now comparison. It might be interesting for friends that have previously left the island. 

Grocery shopping 

Whenever we arrived I found grocery shopping such a challenge. Most days there were very few fruits and vegetables. We usually could get our standard apples, pears, carrots and potatoes. There were 3 stores; Le Centre, Roes and Leader Price. I spent most days travelling to all three to try and buy groceries. Well, today is much easier and I can’t explain to newbies how easy groceries are now (don’t get me wrong, its still tough) In the first month we were here Discount opened. I remember people being so excited. It was wasted on me. It was big, it had more selection and they started getting in things on a regular basis. English cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, red onion, seasonal fruit and grapes. This new store brought up the standard as everyone tried to compete. Leader Price upped their game with Tuesday produce delivery day which had more often than not fresh lettuce!! As another year passed it only got better. Roes could be counted on for bananas and fresh herbs, Mainland Cheese (think cheddar, mozzarella and Swiss) Le Centre upped its butcher counter and now sells more variety of meat. You still need to go Wednesday for pork, Thursday for chicken etc but it’s still much improved.  Discount opened a Bio row of products and we also saw a health food store open. A second bakery opened in town with whole bunch of types of bread, as well as pasteries. This past week Leader Price moved to its brand new location and its huge. And I imagine it’s causing a few ruffled feathers since I see Discount employees there copying down prices. 

General Shopping 

If you needed anything other than groceries it usually meant a trip to Noumea. I’d keep a running list of wants in Noumea. Sporting goods, food, appliances, furniture, toys etc. And I never went to Noumea without asking the  gang if there were any wants. About 2 years ago Decathalon opened in Noumea. It’s a huge sporting store with everything you can imagine from camping gear to tennis gear to equestrian gear. In the past year, Koné has gotten; Darty, a home appliance store chain, Mr Bricolage, a home improvement store, Stop Affaires, a clothing, sports & homewares store and Fly, kind of like the French IKEA. There is a kitchen store, a shoe store and a laundromat. When they opened I heard so many people say, we don’t need to go to Noumea anymore! 

Restaurants

In the beginning we only ever ate out in Noumea. And we still probably only eat out once every 8 weeks or less. It’s a good habit that I know will be hard to keep up after we leave. Four years ago there were the three hotel restaurants; La Nea, Koniambo and Hibiscus. All serving generally the same food. There was one pizza place and L’Escale. All of the restaurants only opened after 6:30pm. Not ideal for feeding children under 5. But, that’s the French way, and who am I to judge their culture. Since the beginning we have had an influx of new options; Mamma Mia, an Italian restaurant, a Chinese restaurant in the mall, and most recently The Stone Grill. Add to that the new Food truck area in Pouembout with three food trucks, including the red kebab truck ( yummy!!) on Wednesday there is an ice cream truck at the Aire de Repos and as always Tania’s rotisserie chicken truck. Rumour has it McDonalds has purchased land but who knows is that is true. 

Green Acre Subdivision 

When we moved here Green Acre was THE  place. It had the biggest houses and yards and it housed basically only the expat community. If you wanted a house in Green Acre then good luck! Eventually a few houses became available and now there are even empty houses!! As the expat community shrinks, the subdivision now houses people from all places of work. It’s much quieter. We used to have play groups with 20 kids now we have 4 not in school. 
The community in general

General changes in the community include two more hairdressers, a new large OPT building being built, a fishing and baby store, two caves aux vins, a large building being built in the only parking lot in ‘downtown’ The hospital and cinema are being built. The new college and another pharmacy have opened in Pouembout and of course the pool is open. 

The changes really are drastic and empty fields are now filled with houses. You can buy curtain rods, towels, muffin tins, and plastic storage containers. For those that have never been here it sounds pretty basic but that was life at the beginning of our four years here. In a way I am happy that we experienced the beginning. It made me more flexible in cooking, less reliant on what we knew and much more open to trying different things. It’s been fun to live in a community that is always growing, changing and developing. It’s made us also much more patient. Sometimes you have to wait. The ‘I see it, I want it, I get it attitude’ can’t exist here and sometimes waiting for things let’s us realize two things, first, that you appreciate things more when you’ve waited. And secondly, sometimes waiting makes you realize that you really didn’t want or need that item. It was just a fleet idea. In any case, life has forever changed in Koné and for us. I’d love to see what the future holds for Koné. 

Long overdue 

I’ve been avoiding the blog. I’m sorry. Life has been getting in the way. We are expecting Baby 3, or should I say baby boy 3 in a few months and let me say the first 20 weeks have been hard on this momma. Now that the sickness has ended, things are much easier. In August, we were to Canada for the first time in two years. It was a long overdue visit with family and friends. In September,  we celebrated Seth’s 5th birthday with an all out Star Wars party and now we are preparing for our big move back to Canada. Can you believe how fast four years goes? Neither can I! It’s bitter sweet. On one hand we are excited about the next adventure and what lies ahead for our family but at the same time leaving our friends here will be hard. These are friends that have been our family on the island. We’ve spent holidays with them, experienced lots of firsts and supported each other during our island life. I’m trying not to think about goodbyes yet. 

With less than 60 days it also puts the pressure on to do all those last minute things that we have been putting off for 4 years. This past weekend we went camping again at Bora Bora beach. It was gorgeous as usual. Floating in the water I tried to memorize that view, the colour of the water and the feeling of the sun. I wondered, will I be able to remember it in 3 months, 3 years or even 30? 

Bora Bora Beach

Left on the list are countries we won’t make it to, Ouvéa, Îlot Maître and the overwater bungalows, a last weekend at the Sheraton resort. Along with Keith still working & Seth still at school it will be impossible to squeeze it all in but you know us, we will definitely try! 

Daddy & Theo


Then there is the inevitable buying of winter clothes, four years in flip flops and shorts seems so much easier these days. Neither of boys have experienced snow. I imagine it will be exciting but at the same  cold. On the flip side, we get to spend our first Christmas in four years with family. It’s pretty exciting for all of us. 


So while we plan and prepare to leave, we are trying to find that balance of still living here while preparing for a life on the other side of the world. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes not so easy. When I think of it, this whole experience reminds  me of a school year. In September, everything is fresh and new. You don’t know your students but you are excited and ready for the challenge. By Christmas you have settled into the routine. You have a handle on who everyone is and the year is shaping up. Now, we are in what I like to think of as May. The class is getting a bit ratty, you’ve used all the markers. You know all the students well and are sad about the end of the school year, but, you know you have arrived at the end. It’s time for summer vacation and you are excited about the summer. Maybe, this comparison only makes sense if you are an educator. But, its the best comparison I can think of to describe it. 

So, I will try and keep the blog a little more active. I’m hoping the time left will have lots of great moments to add to the many we have already made. So until next time! 

Photo credits: T. O’Connell

2 years waiting

Two years ago we travelled to Canada with our then 7 week old and almost 3 year old. We were there most of the summer and when we left we said, we won’t be back for 16 months. It seemed like it would be long but we knew we wanted to take advantage of the chance to travel and we only had a little time left. Fast forward 2 years. In the 2 years since our last visit we have travelled New Zealand twice, Bali, Perth, Australia, Melbourne, Australia and Vanuatu. We were also extended a full year and experienced our fourth Christmas away from home. It’s been unbelievable. I’ve looked at the pictures many times and thought, did we really get to do all that? So, this year when we had to decide whether we would go home for a visit or travel more it was a tough decision. Like many expat families you struggle with missing family and friends but, at the same time knowing your time on the assignment is ticking away. We discussed back and forth the two options. More travel was tempting, with only 10 months left in New Caledonia but the feeling of missing home was starting to grow deeper and deeper. So, after much debate it was decided that a trip home to Bathurst was required. 

Now,  as the days on our calendar are ticked off we all are growing more and more excited. When you sign up for an adventure away from home you know you will miss your family and friends. The beginning is tough, but, as time passes you get used to FaceTime visits, Facebook news from home and missed parties, birthdays and events. I never imagined that I wouldn’t see my Dad for a period of 2 full years. I look at people’s children and think, wow! How’d they get so big? You wonder if the memories in your head are the same or will things have changed? 

As the days go by we take the time to remind of the kids of the beach, the sandbars, all the people, sometimes their names. We remind Seth that this was the place he was born and tell him stories of where he lived and where Nanny & Ampy live, Grammie & Grampy live. It’s fun to reminisce about all our great memories of home. And, we are reminded that home for our children is here, not Canada. New Caledonia and this great adventure may have shaped them as individuals more than us. Only time will tell. 

We make lists of the food we want to eat, people we want to see, chores we have to do. Time at the dentist, optometrist, and of course hair dresser! You wonder if you can squeeze it all in? And how much weight you’ll gain eating your way through a sea of Danny Burgers, poutines, lobster, crab, scallops, fresh berries, fresh spinach, bagels, English muffins, all dressed chips, ginger ale and donairs. Mmmmmm!
So, while the ‘cold’ winter nights continue in the island we will dream of the warm and long summer days that await us. I hope everyone is as excited as we are!!  Only a few more sleeps!!