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!