Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Our first French strike

On our first weekend in our apartment, there was a protest, or a “manifest” as they are called. Since we live in the center of town, we are at the center of such activity. It seemed so French and protesty, even if we couldn’t understand what it was about. Something about “doits,” rights. Okay, duh.

The trams were disrupted for a bit due to the manifest. I only found this out when I was waiting at the tram and heard an announcement. I could understand that, due to the protests, there was something going on with the tram I wanted, but I couldn’t understand the part where it said what was going on. It sounded like the trams were running somewhere else, but where? I thought of calling off my trip, but instead called Carina who told me where to go to catch the tram. Just glad I was on my way out, not stranded somewhere trying to get back home!

By the time I was ready to come home, all was back to normal.

That was French protest experience number one.

Via Carina, we had also heard about a potential nationwide general strike that was scheduled to take place on Tuesday. I’m sure news of this was all around on signs, in conversations, on the radio, and on the TV, but none of it registered with us. Wooosh. On Friday, there was a note sent home in three languages from Kadin’s school saying the school would be closed on Tuesday due to the strike. We needed to sign off saying that we understood. Okay, that was clear. We understand.

They don’t have snow days here, instead they have strike days. Each individual employee decides whether they want to participate in the strike or not, so schools don’t know who will be there and who won’t. At higher levels of school it seems that school mostly goes on but some teachers just don’t show up so there are more gaps. Schools for younger kids might close if enough staff will be out, which I guess was the case with Kadin’s school.

So Kadin got another bonus weekend (he always has Wed off), and Monday was the last day I needed to pick him up for lunch. He'll have Tuesday and Wednesday off and then, starting Thursday, stay all day for the first time. It had actually worked out to be a nice, gentle, gradual immersion for him.

By Tuesday, in addition to manifest, we learned the word grève for strike or grievence. Now that I know these words, I hear them all the time on the radio. In fact, it now seems the world is full of protests and strikes!

It had rained Monday night and continued to rain on Tuesday. Greg was going to go to the university on Tuesday but heard an announcement at the tram stop that the tram would soon stop running and he wasn’t sure how he would get home, so he decided to work at home instead.

Meanwhile, Rees and I walked to the nearby grocery store and it was having a flood. There was water dripping everywhere from the ceiling, which was strange since the store is under a 5-story building and it hadn’t rained all that much. Still, the store was open and people just walked around, or through, the huge puddles while clerks patiently restocked shelves.

Wading out of the store, my cell phone rang and it was Carina who lives on the street with the tram saying the strikers had stopped the tram and it was getting exciting. She and Sam were heading out to see what there was to see. I told her we were wading through the grocery store and would call her back in about 15 minutes to meet her on the street (after we had unloaded our groceries).

We all suited up in rain gear and headed out to see what was up. There were tons of people out and about and waiting around with an air of expectation. I tried to call Carina but her phone was off. It was almost like there was going to be a parade. There were people lined up with signs and music playing waiting to march, but nothing was moving, just dense crowds of expectant people.

We headed towards Carina’s street, which seemed to be where the action was happening. It was only a block north of our apartment, but it took us a long time to get anywhere through the crowds. At the corner, I checked that we were all together. Greg was thinking he would go home. I told Rees and Kadin to stay close and follow me. It occurred to me that we should have a plan B if we got separated, but we had not gone far and the obvious plan would be to just go back to the apartment. I was at the corner and Greg was heading back to the apartment. Carina’s place was just around the corner and I wanted to check if she was there. If she wasn’t there, I was ready to head home too as the rain was starting to pick up.

I rang her bell and she answered. So she buzzed me in and I turned around to let Rees and Kadin in and…they weren’t behind me. I held the door and after a moment I saw Rees in the crowd and called him over. We had only been to Carina’s door once before when she wasn’t home, so I didn’t think the kids would remember which nondescript wooden door she lived behind.

“Rees, where’s Kadin?”

“I don’t know.”

Shoot. I couldn’t go in, but I didn’t want to shut the door either. Rees turned around to retrace our steps to the corner. He came back. No luck. Meanwhile, Sam came down to see why we hadn’t come up. I told him to tell his mother we had just lost Kadin.

Rees headed the other way to see if Kadin had somehow gotten ahead.

I didn’t want to leave my post in case Kadin walked by and since that was the only place Rees knew to find me.

Soon Carina appeared with her umbrella (her cell phone had stopped working for some reason). She and Sam headed out after Rees to see what they could find. I called Greg on his phone to tell him Kadin was lost. He had just gotten back to the apartment so could confirm Kadin wasn’t there. Greg would retrace his steps looking for Kadin and come back to Carina’s to help. Basically Rees, Carina, and Sam had gone one way and Greg was coming up the other.

Gosh. We really weren’t far, but the crowds were so thick and it was raining hard and everyone was wearing hooded jackets and had umbrellas. Even if on a normal day Kadin would know where to go, it would be so easy for him to get disoriented in this crowd and with the rain. And he didn’t know his way around yet at all. Maybe he thought he was following me but it was another person in a black jacket? How in the world would we ever find him? One small, confused boy who didn't speak the language in a mass of humanity.

Greg arrived and had not seen Kadin. Yikes.

Then Rees came back from the other direction. He hadn’t found him either.

Suddenly a dark blur came out of the crowd and threw itself into my arms. Kadin! He was crying and with some people we did not know. They smiled and nodded and looked concerned. I didn’t know how to explain, but they could see how relieved we all were. Hallelujah!

I still couldn’t call Carina, but eventually she and Sam also came out of the crowd.

Greg returned home and Rees and Kadin and I went up into the refuge of Carina’s apartment. There were computer games…and legos!

Carina and I had bowls of tea in the kitchen while the boys played. Soon the march outside started and the crowds thinned.

Kadin stayed with his friend and I took Rees home for lunch because that afternoon he had his 4ème étage (8th grade) orientation at school. We walked past cars backed up in the alleyways all the way home. It was gridlock. These people would not be going anywhere soon.

Luckily, it’s easy for us to walk to Rees’s school. Since we hadn’t heard otherwise, we assumed the orientation was still on.

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