Tuesday, September 6, 2011

First Impressions...

I met several of the girls from the EAP program at the airport in Bordeaux.  We split a taxi to the address that the program had sent to us.  
There had to be some mistake:  we drove through a series of sagging, graffitied buildings and a rough camp of rvs and camper vans.  The taxi driver left us at Village 3, a tall white building with blue Pantone paint chip shutters.  Inside, we were greeted by Joelle, who handed us keys, told us to keep our doors bolted at all times, and then informed us that there was no elevator.  Up the stairs we went, hauling 50lb. backs up six flights. (We're on the 4th floor, but here in France, there's level 0, and a rez-de-chaussée that's not counted at all.) 
At the top of the building, we were met with a long, dark hall, it's walls stained with shmutz, and swinging doors halfway down that seemed suited to pushing gurnies.  This pysch ward is lined with doors, leading into dark rooms.  The beds are rough black iron frames, with a mat, a waterproof cover, and a packaged set of itchy sheets, reminiscent of the coverings on headrests in airplanes.  The rooms were once painted all different shades of pastels, but the grime and cracks on the wall make it difficult to appreciate.  Laying in bed, I try to make the best of the situation, but no matter how hard I look, the crack does not resemble a rabbit, or any other shape I recognize.  On the back wall, behind a carpet-covered cupboard, there's a suspiciously stained sink, and a deteriorating plastic medicine cabinet. 
There are no refrigerators, microwaves, or any way to keep or prepare food.  It's 20 minutes in any direction to a grocery store.  Getting breakfast before class at 8:30 is impossible, nothing's open that early.  People have been eating pain au chocolate out of packages....Quelle horreur
I know that you can't judge things based on first impressions, but it's hard.  This was a harsh welcome to a school year in France.
Outside Village 3.

The view of the library from our window.

An entrance for Village 3.
When it rains.
I share my bedroom with pigeons.

Trying to eat dinner.

While most of us spend the nights fending off the black clouds of mosquitoes that live in our rooms (on day one I had 15+ bites covering my face), one of the girls in our group was not so lucky.  Her room was broken into by a man and she was strangled in an attempt to escape.  Though she is alright now, this event has been very hard on the group.
I know things will look up, and that our living situations will improve, but it's hard to stay cheery in such dismal circumstances.