Picture: Sign on Hotel du Marina Beach in Nouméa. "Opens from Monday to Saturday. From 9.00am to 5.00pm."
dimanche, août 5, 2012 (Sunday, August 5)
I, Thomas, went to Nouméa in August 2012. I was to participate in a two-week French language programme run by CREIPAC (Centre de Recontres et d’Echange Internationaux du Pacifique), an institute funded by the French government to help people in the Pacific learn the French language and a bit about the life of people in the territory by visiting places. I would be residing with a family to immerse myself in the language and the daily life of a typical family in Nouméa.I arrived in Brisbane in the afternoon – at about 6.00pm. I had to wait at the Airport until 8.00pm to board the flight to Nouméa.
I bought some papers, chocolates and a bottle of water to keep myself busy.
When it was getting close to 7.00pm, I decided to check in. I was a bit confused about where to go. After observing a group of people checking in, I decided to join them at row 8.
As soon as I joined the tail of the winding line, I heard people speaking French and I knew I was in the right place. A big man was giving out cards to be filled out - for immigration and checks - also spoke in French.
I got a card from the man and saw details about New Calédonia and knew I was in the right place.
When I checked in, I asked the slim, young lady who was serving - in English - if Cairns Airport was open in the night. (On my return trip, I would have to spend a night in Cairns before catching a flight to Port Moresby.)
The lady was speaking in very good French before I approached the counter. She then switched to speaking Australian English when I asked in English.
“I will check and let you know, that is, if you do not mind waiting around here for a few minutes,” she said.
“That’s okay. May be I can find out by emailing somebody,” I said.
“I will try to give you the information before you board the flight to Nouméa,” she said.
While waiting for the boarding call to be made beside the gate we were to board the Aircalin flight to Nouméa, I saw more passengers, mostly whites getting prepared to board.
There was at least a Solomon Islands family waiting there with one of their wantoks. I heard them speaking Pidgin.
Some women sitting some metres away from me were also chatting in French and giggling - a Wallisian and two Kanaks.
When the boarding call came, it was made in French first and then English – with an Australian accent.
Before I boarded the flight, one of the colleagues of the lady who served me earlier - who was now checking the boarding passes of passengers - saw my pass and asked if I was the one who enquired about Cairns Airport being open in the night.
When I said yes, she told me: “Sure, the Airport stays open.” I thanked her proceeded to board the Aircalin plane.
(Another thing that happened on my return trip assured me of the top-level service these airline companies offer their clients.)
When entering the plane, I was greeted nicely by the chief steward: “Bonsoir, monsieur (Good evening, Sir).”
While communicating, the air hostesses communicated both in French and English.
They used French to communicate with passengers, but if the passengers used English, they responded and communicated in English.
When the announcement was made and an air hostess spoke, her French was superb.
However, the English translation was had some traces of French accent.
“Mesdames et Messieurs …
“Ladies and gentlemen …” so the greetings were made by the hostess.
At 11.30pm, local time, we arrived at Tontouta Airport – which is 55 kilometres out of Nouméa.
After picking up my bag (a handbag with just clothes), I lined up with the rest of the passengers to be checked by the immigrations people.
When I presented my passport, the young policeman (an islander) doing the check, stopped and called over to another senior officer in another desk in French.
“PNG. Do they need a visa?”
“No.” The reply came.
The man stamped my passport and said: “Bien venue (Welcome).”
I was instructed in PNG by the person who organized the trip to go out of the main door and turn right.
There would be someone there with my name on a board.
Sure enough when I turned right, after exiting the terminal, a white woman was there with a board and my name on it. (There were other people there also with names on boards for other passengers who were on the flights coming in.)
I told the lady with my name on the board: “Je suis Thomas (I am Thomas).”
She greeted me and led me to her van. She worked for company that ran ferry services between Nouméa and Tontouta Airport.
I was surprised to find that the two passengers sharing the same row of seats with me on the Aircalin plane were in the van that I got in.
I said hellow and introduced myself.
The two were an Australian couple, Mark and Clare.
Mark is an anesthetist and Clare is a lawyer.
It also happened that they were here for a French language programme at CREIPAC and I said: “Possibly, we are here for the same thing.”
When classes began the next day, we found we were in fact in the same class.
(I spent the night atHotel du Marina Beach in Nouméa because it was quite late for my host family to pick me up. They lived a fair distance north from main Nouméa.)