Saturday, 31 October 2015

Day 31: All the things I didn't write

I had a plan for the series, and yet, I feel there are so many little things I didn't talk about, or not in details anyway.

I should have written about Mauritian food, the delicious meals I had the opportunity to share with my family,  and the local dishes I tasted like dholl puri, octopus curry and even hedgehog...

I should have shared more pictures about local life, or at least written a bit more about it and not just concentrate on places to visit.
Sega dancers at my brother in law's wedding

Local fisherman in Mahebourg

Yummy fruit juice stall in Port-Louis

Mahebourg's market
But on the whole I'm quite proud of what I've achieved. I've written everyday for a month (except yesterday but Halloween got in the way), and I've stuck to it. I hate failure so I really took this as a personal challenge. 

My only regret is that I focused so much on writing I haven't really read anything for the past 30 days. So I think November will be "reading" month. I will go trough the other bloggers who participated in the challenge and discover the stories they told.

One thing for sure, I'm taking a little break from the blog (I'm exhausted!) but I'll be back very soon with Irish stories! 

Friday, 30 October 2015

Day 30: The Dodo bird

This is what the Dodo may have looked like...

When I first asked Fabrice about the Dodo bird, one of most famous symbol of Mauritius, all he could tell me was: "They were birds that lived on the island, the Dutch came and killed them all"... A bit too short of an explanation don't you think?

The dodo is an extinct bird that was about 1 metre tall and may have weighed around 15kgs.  We think that it's flightless because there was enough food around the area and no predators on the island before humans invaded it.  Obviously, nobody still alive has ever seen a Dodo bird, and considering it became extinct by the 17th century the only proofs we have are drawing and paintings. 

So what happened? At the end of the sixteenth century, Dutch sailors took possession of Mauritius and started to hunt the bird. The introduction of domesticated animals and a rat invasion also provoked the early disappearance of the bird.

The dodo also became famous for its part in Alice in Wonderland, and is also prevalent in  popular culture, where it usually represents a symbol of extinction and desuetude. 
The extinction of  the Dodo has also called attention to the problem of human involvement in the disappearance of entire species.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Day 29: Popular Mauritian drinks

I couldn't do a series about Mauritius and not talk about Mauritians' favourite drinks. 

Phoenix is to Mauritius what Guinness is to Ireland: a national institution. It's a "golden lager" beer brewed in the country since the sixties and has an alcohol rating of 5%. I'm not a beer drinker, and yet, I like Phoenix. It's light, not too fizzy and it's just a perfect refreshment on a hot day (which incidentally happens a lot...).

65cl bottle. Perfect for sharing... or not!!

Rum is also very popular with locals. It's usually drank with coke and locals will tell you the perfect measure is two third Rum, one third coke. I personally do the opposite, but that's because I don't want to end up sick...

On my first trip to Mauritius, I discovered an unlikely sign of Ireland in the form of an energy drink: Malta Guinness. Yes, a non alcoholic Guinness. Needless to say my Irish friends weren't impressed! It's actually produced in Nigeria and exported to East Africa, Malaysia and the UK.

I didn't like it to be honest, but for Mauritians, it's like the equivalent of Lucozade!

Of course there are many more beverages to discover in Mauritius, like amazing cocktails, milk straight from the coconut, or Allouda which is a milk based drink with strawberry syrup and tukmaria seeds, a pure delish!

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Day 28: Sugar cane

Sugar cane is cultivated on more than 70 000 hectares of land in Mauritius. Most of the 600000 tons produced is exported to Europe, so next time you bake a cake with Demerara or Muscovado sugar, take a look at its origin, it could come from Mauritius...

When you are on top the hills, you can see the immensity of the fields. Sugar cane will pretty much be all around you.

On one of our trips, we had the opportunity to taste raw sugar, straight from the cane. You will know the plan is ripe when its base is dark red.

You have cut the cane in chunks and take off the outer layer. Then, just chew or suck on the strips to extract the sugary juice. 

It won't come as a surprise, but it tastes really sweet! 

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Day 27: Breton connections

"Breton square" in Mauritius

Coming from a small village in Brittany, I was far from thinking that my place of birth would have some sort of connection with a tropical island twelve thousand miles away. 

To start with, the first governor of Mauritius, Mahe de la Bourdonnais, was Breton. Given the fact that many men from the region were in the marine, it's easy to understand how so many ended up on every corners of the world. I know we have a tradition of travelling, but I wasn't prepared for all the Breton connections I found in Mauritius over the years...

I went to a catholic school where there was a long tradition of missionary brothers. Every year, we were fundraising and sending school supplies to less fortunate countries, including Mauritius. Some of the catholic brothers from the Saint-Gabriel congregation even set up a school on the island, back in the eighties. They went there, built it from scratch and welcomed hundreds of young Mauritians to whom they gave an education. It was (and still is) a "vocational" school that concentrated on manual subjects like car maintenance, electronics, cooking, baking and so on. Their goal was also to train local teachers who would then take over the school and run it. 

On one of my trips, I discovered I had closer ties to that school and the catholic brothers than I thought.  
We were invited for a meal to my sister in law's brother that I briefly met before. We got talking a bit more in details about his job and his life in general. That's when he told us he went to Saint-Gabriel school and believe it or not, I personally knew one of his teacher from my old school! He was so grateful about the education he received that he kept in touch with one of the other teachers until he went back to Brittany to retire. I didn't know that particular person, but when I went back home, I asked my parents, and as it happened, he was a good friend of them! They gave him a message from his former student, and he still remembered him after all these years. My parents told me he was very happy to have news from him and Mauritius as he had very fond memories of the country.

When my parents came over a couple of years later, they also took the opportunity to visit Mahebourg's church because one of my mother's uncle used to be a priest in Mauritius in the sixties (I didn't even know about that story before!). She went into the church, looked for the oldest person there and just asked if she knew her uncle. Believe it or not, she said he was the priest who celebrated her sister's wedding!

On another occasion, we decided to have a drink in a local bar in the village we were staying. It wasn't really a coincidence because we read it in the touristic guide, but the bar was owned by a Breton guy. Of course, I started talking to him and he asked my where I was from. When I told him the name of my town, he said there was someone from the same place on the other side of the counter. I turned my head, and who was there? My neighbour!! Since then, he has settled in the country and even married a Mauritian girl.

One of my parent's friend also have a son who married a girl from Mauritius, so basically, in my home town, there are at least three families with Mauritian connections... and there are only 8000 inhabitants there...

I also went to a Breton crêperie in Port-Louis, owned by one of my cousin's friend (who also married a Mauritian guy!), I spent an afternoon on a catamaran that was named "Le Bretagne" (Brittany in French), and in Flic-en-Flac, there is square that is called "Place des bretons" (Breton's square).

Talk about small world!

Monday, 26 October 2015

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Day 25: Interview with Pascal

Five years ago, on one of our holidays, I decided to talk to different people about their life in Mauritius. At that stage, I had seen pretty much everything the country had to offer in terms of tourism, so I wanted to dig a bit deeper and meet locals. I could have interviewed my family  but as it turned out, their friends were more interested in sharing stories...  
That's how I got to interview Pascal, a good friend of my father in law. 

What's your name ?
Pascal Ramsamy

And do you know where your ancestors come from?
My grandmother was from Madagascar and my grandfather from Pondichery

Do you know how your ancestors arrived in Mauritius?
What I was told is that the African and Malagasy came as slaves.    
The Indian side (Pondichery included), it was more like a "job offer". They were told that if  they came, and they would find gold under the rocks...

What do you do in life, do you work?
I try to survive by making others survive

You're gonna have to explain that!
My father was a bricklayer, and he was a bit violent. My mother left him, and she went to America. I was placed in a shelter managed by Father Julien Lourdes. I stayed there for 13 years.
He taught me what it is to be human. I've always lived like this. Even if life is not always easy [he was homeless for a while], he has always told me not to feel sorry for myself, to try and help others; and by helping them, I help myself.

What do you do then if you say you're trying to help others? I see you already gave us some guavas [we got a whole bucket!], it's nice!
That's not helping!

Maybe, but thanks to you we'll have something to eat tonight!
What I'm really trying to do is help everyone. We look after sports in the community, young kids who are not attending school, young kids who go to school but can't afford private lessons...

And where do you do that?
There is a community centre. We have to give some of our time.

So is it voluntary?
Yes, I try to make a small contribution to the lives of others.

But do you work? Do you earn some money?
I am working. First, when José [my father in-law] has a few jobs I go with him, if not I'll do the odd jobs here and there...

But it's not easy, it's more like  day to day survival.. And even if you say you don't feel sorry for yourself, does it not make you unhappy?
I'm not unhappy, I am rather optimistic. I have a dream

And what is it?
My dream is to one day find my son

So you have a son? Where is he?
In Cannes

Do you have any contact with him?
No, his mother cut off all contact when he was one year old. I have tried but she doesn't want to see me.

What's his name ?

So you know his first name, does he have your surname?
No, because he was born in France, so he has his mother's name.

Because in France with a name and a surname you can find someone quite easily
Even if I can't approach him or speak to him, I just want to see him.

Do you think you will manage to find him?
Oh yes I will. I will go to France, even if I have to swim!

It's gonna take a long time because the flight already lasts 12 hours!!
And then I will go to Brittany

How did you hear about Brittany?
José told me about the friendly Breton people

Ah, that's when he came to my parents' house.
I watch TV, and Brittany looks like a beautiful place

Thank you. In fact, if I asked you to talk to me, it's also because after coming here several times and visiting all the tourist places, I really wanted to meet the people.
You want to know Mauritius from the inside, right?

Yes that's it
Not the postcard

That's because often, all that tourists see is the beach, palm trees etc, and that's a bit sad
But you see, Mauritians, when they speak about France,  it's only Paris! They don't know Marseille, la Canebière... They don't even know that Joseph Wresinski created an organisation to defend human rights. He is the founder of "ATD Fourth World".

Yes, I know his name
And Father"Julien Lourdes" is a Jesuit who welcomed underprivileged children. He is much closer to God than the Pope. He listens to Bob Marley, he was in Madagascar, he had some accidents, he has scars. But he's very charismatic

Is he your role model?
I was in a Mauritian state school. But he told me what it is to be educated. One can be intelligent but stupid.
I was in school until  form 5 (5th year). I wanted to go until the final exam [Leaving cert] but I was told "No, it's not worth it"

Who told you that?
My father. He said I should be a policeman. I said to him: "no, I hate the police." I could not do that. If we take 1000 policemen, 997 are like that: they beat people up, accuse you of all sorts of things, try to make you confess to something you haven't done...

Does this have to do with the fact that you are Creole / Catholic, a minority, and that the police can discriminate this part of the population?
The problem is that the majority of the police force is Hindu.

Yes that's what I was getting at...
In Mauritius, everyone protects his own community

The problem is that there is 70% Hindu
And they control everything

They are the wealthiest ones, and  have the most power?
I've never seen in France a religious movement interfering in police business

In France Church and state are separate
It's different here. Religious groups control politics

Okay, but  does that mean that in fact, Hindus control the  whole country?
Exactly. Only once, but with a special agreement, we had a non-Hindu minister. Hindus don't want to vote for Beranger [Former creole prime minister]. Yet he is good and he works well.

You say that Hindus don't want to vote for a creole or a white candidate. Yet, all we hear about Mauritius is that it's multicultural, everyone gets along, everybody lives in harmony...
That's the postcard! but hey, it doesn't mean that you can't have friends who are Hindus or other religions. Among ourselves, we're good. It's the political leaders. Between the people it's alright. You are Muslim, Tamil, Hindu, creole, you're Mauritian. But the government, no.

But why?
It's divide and conquer. Look at Fabrice, he's Irish, not Mauritian.

But he is Mauritian!
No he's Irish first, then Mauritian

I'm also Irish then!

You're gonna have to explain...
In Mauritius, he's Irish first, then Mauritian

But why ?
Because when he comes, he brings Euros. He doesn't bring 1 rupee, he brings 45 rupees [1 euro equivalent]. And Mauritians, they tend to take those who come from outside as "white".

I understand, but it's a preconceived idea that Mauritians have
No, it's  the politicians who planted that idea into our heads

What do you mean ?
I'll give you an example. I'll do my studies in England. The state pays for my studies. Why? Because I was the best in my class. Because I went to the "Royal College of Curepipe", an elite school. Well ,I'm in the UK, studying law, and I become a lawyer. But I don't go back to Mauritius. When I return 20 years later, I come back with pounds, not with rupees. So I am not eligible. I need to become a member of a political party to get my abilities recognized.

It's crazy to think they put ideas like that in people's heads. For example, we live in Ireland. We don't "survive", but we are not rich. When we want to come to Mauritius we have to save for at least six months. Last year I spoke with a beach salesman. When I told him that I lived in Ireland, he immediately said "ah but why don't you buy a house here". I understand better where it comes from...

When a Mauritian worked in France say, for 30 years, when he returns he will be taxed because he brings euros. Anyone from outside brings foreign currencies.

Is that why they try to get foreigners to buy houses at exorbitant prices?

Earlier on, we were talking about multicultural nation, but for you, what does it mean to be Mauritian? What does it represent?
No culture, no nationality, only Mauritian

But Mauritian is a nationality
No. Mauritians have no nationality, they have nothing. Mauritians are Australian, Canadian, French, American, Mozambican, Indian, Arabic, Chagossian, Chinese...

What you mean is that Mauritius is only made of people who were brought into the country?
Reunion island was the same, people were brought there. They are not Réunion "Creole" or "Malagasy".  They are a group. You can't find that in Mauritius. For example, I watch football.  Egyptians came to play here. Muslims came from Port Louis with the Egyptian flag. Yet they are Mauritian. A team from India came. All Hindus were there with the Indian flag.

But look,  recently it was the national holiday and everyone put the Mauritian flag on their house.
Now that's bullshit. The only time I saw Mauritian pride is when Stéphane Buckland was at the Olympics. That day, we were all Mauritian in front of our TV. It's the same when it's the "Island Games".

Sometimes I feel like Mauritians who leave abroad have more national pride
This is because they are far away, and Mauritius seems like a paradise

On a more cheerful note of, can you tell me what do you like about Mauritius.
Solidarity for others. For example, Radio 1 asked five million rupees to build homes for people in difficulty. They managed to get 17 million!

Even when people don't have anything they still give?
There was a lady who came, she said she saved 10 rupees on her daily shop. Even when we  have nothing, we will try to help others. We can fight for a good cause.

What's your favorite place in Mauritius?
In the woods, anywhere. I can breathe there. The beach is reserved for a certain...elite.

Really ?
Yes, in front of the hotels, it's for tourists, the beaches in front of villas is for those who live there...

Let me ask you a question. What do you think of Mauritians?

I find them very generous and they are always smiling
Like the postcard !!??

Yes but that's actually true!
But you haven't seen everything behind the postcard...

I think I have  experienced a little bit more than the average tourists who don't leave their hotel. But to see everything, I would have to live here.
No, you shouldn't see everything

It's good to know so you have less preconceived ideas, but in another way...

It can make one feel guilty...
You feel guilty for living in wealth when others are in poverty and try to survive? But no, that's not it. You are the one who tries to survive. For me, "wealth" is just sitting, eating rice with a curry. There are others who can't even eat but spend 6000  rupees into other things...
Mauritius is still a paradise. It has everything except money. With a little cooperation and humanism we will go far.

I went back to Mauritius 3 years after this conversation with Pascal, sadly I learned he died a few months before. He never got to find his son.