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.