In 2001-02 I taught in a French lycée in Petit Bourg on the island of Guadeloupe as part of the Fulbright Teacher Exchange. My wife Suzy and I arrived August 16 and in the first few weeks we were getting settled in and I was meeting my colleagues and preparing to teach. On September 6 I had my acceuil (welcoming) with the students and parents. The teacher with whom I was doing the presentation arrived at the very last minute so, meanwhile, I had to “wing it” (en français) in front of this sea of students and parents. The local teacher finally arrived and she immediately sent me to track down some notebooks that were supposed to be distributed. I ended up climbing numerous stairs and the buildings were not air conditioned. When I arrived back home Suzy got a good laugh, as my shirt was entirely soaked through with humidity and perspiration.
Then 9/11 happened. I wrote in my journal:
“ Tuesday, Sept 11. I know this date will be branded in every American’s mind. I’ll always remember Nadine, one of the other English teachers, telling me that a plane had crashed into NYC and that I should go downstairs to the library and listen to the report on the radio. I called Suzy and told her to turn on the TV.
“Today was an incredibly tiring day: I teach six classes and then the news of the attentats at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. As I was on the road leaving the lycée I was honked at and asked to stop by Robert Fontes who, by coincidence, made the video of Petit Bourg that was my first real taste of Guadeloupe. He came over to my car and offered touching condolences, not only on his own behalf but on behalf of all the faculty/staff at the lycée.” (Which I still find emotional 20 years later).
“I’m overwhelmed by the incomprehensibility of it all and yet feel weirdly fortunate that I can observe the reaction in a foreign country.”
“Friday, Sept. 14
I’ve noticed since Tuesday that Suzy and I are cut off from the common grieving in the U.S. Liliane, Nicole and Yannick all called to offer condolences, as did Nadine on behalf of the school’s English Department. A French commentator said on the news last night that, even though Americans and the French might often see themselves a being quite different and are sometimes critical of one another, ‘nous avons les même valeurs,’ (we have the same values) and that strongly binds us. Maybe such bonds that exist in the world will be reinforced and it will be one of the positive things to come out of this sad, world-changing situation.”
Peter Bourque – Fulbright to France (Guadeloupe) 2001