I have recently returned from a séjour linguistique in New Caledonia at CREIPAC (Centre de Rencontres et d'Echanges Internationaux du Pacific (Centre for Meetings and International Exchanges in the Pacific).I attended an intensive two week French language course and revelled in the atmosphere of Noumea...it's intrinsic "Frenchness" and it's Melanesian, Pacific Island colour.
|The Coat of Arms of New Caledonia|
Some background on New Caledonia. It is one of Australia’s nearest neighbours, located 1,470 kilometres northeast of Brisbane. It comprises the island of Grande Terre (where the capital, Noumea, is situated), the four Loyalty Islands (Ouvea, Lifou, Tiga and Maré), the Belep archipelago, the Isle of Pines and some remote islands. Some 250,000 people live in New Caledonia. Approximately 44 per cent are indigenous (‘Kanak’).
|CREIPAC...in the old convict area of Nouville, Noumea (photo LP)|
The President of the French Republic is New Caledonia’s Head of State. The French State is represented in New Caledonia by a High Commissioner.
The Noumea Accord (1998) and consequent Organic Law (May 1999) provide the constitutional framework under which New Caledonia is governed and define its institutions. The Accord and Organic Law also define New Caledonia's relations with France and set out a timetable for New Caledonia to assume responsibility for most areas of government. From 2014, the Congress will have the opportunity (if agreed to by a 3/5 majority) to hold up to three referenda on whether New Caledonia should assume the final sovereign powers (justice, public order, defence, monetary and foreign affairs) and become fully independent. If a date has not been proposed by Congress within four years (ie by 2018), then the Noumea Accord commits France to conduct the referendum.
In the centre of the city of Noumea, le Musée de Ville (photo LP)
Thanks in large part to the nickel industry and French transfers, New Caledonians enjoy a GDP per capita that is slightly higher than New Zealand’s. There is a significant disparity in wealth distribution, made more painful for some by the high cost of living owing to heavy market protection (favouring local and European goods).
(Sources: The Australian Government and Wikiepedia)
The Kanak Women's Choir on market day (photo LP)
The population is very heavily slanted toward the Kanaks in the city; there is unfortunately massive unemployment and the problem of alcohol consumption is obvious. The supermarkets are, by law, unable to sell alcohol after noon on Friday and Saturday, and all day on Sunday.
Due to the time constraints of my course I was unable to venture out of Noumea. But as I navigated between my hotel in Anse Vata and CREIPAC in Nouville via the local bus service I was able to absorb a lot of the colour and culture of the city.
Downtown Noumea (photo LP)
I found the people to be very pleasant and gentle and more than happy to assist me with my French converersation; I had a regular bus ride with an old man after visiting the nearby Carrefour supermarket and he would kindly correct my mistakes…always with a twinkle in his eye. When I went to the market each Saturday I would take my place at La Buvette du Marché for my morning café au lait and chat with the owner about the local coffee variety, Leroy, which was so admired by President Chirac that he would have the beans flown to Paris especially for his morning coffee…well, that is the legend!
The course was an intense four hours a morning and then in the afternoon badly needed homework; and for me to improve to the standard of my fellow students a great deal of reading of children’s books and listening to French television while relaxing…very little time was spent on the nearby island, Ile aux Canards, so close to my hotel…but so remote, because I reminded myself daily, as I gazed out longingly at it’s white sand and azure waters, that I was there to improve my French and the snorkling would have to wait for the weekend.
Ille aux Canards, a 5 minute water taxi ride from my hotel (photo LP)
My fellow students were all women, from Australia and New Zealand, and some of them were making return visits to CREIPAC. Unlike most of them, I was not billeted with a local family; I enjoy my independence too much. The result was that I did not speak French as much as they did, obviously, but I tried to make up the deficit by chatting to the woman from whom I bought my morning coffee on the way to the bus, to the maid who cleaned my room…and my fellow travellers.
After all the hard work...a Certificate!
I revelled in being able to buy so many wonderful French products in the supermarkets. My hotel was an all-suite self catering one and so I could indulge my passion for cooking. I did give in and buy some canned products, which I had actually tried during my visit to France last October...and thoroughly enjoyed.
The same lovely salt and butter which I had in Brittany last October (photo LP)
While I had been lamenting the fact that I would not be visiting France or Switzerland this year, I have found a little piece of France, with the rhythm of the Pacific right on my doorstep. Je vais revenir.
I will return...there remains so much to see (photo LP)