Saturday, 11 December 2010

A Taste of Tamil...

Katie, Charlie and I arrived at Curepipe Botanical Gardens on Sunday afternoon. We had been in Curepipe that morning.  All the shops and cafes close at 1pm. Mauritius is a little lifeless on a Sunday – how annoying.  We decided it would be the perfect time to visit the Botanical Gardens! However, what we thought was going to be an afternoon of chilling, lying on the grass, having a wee wander turned into something a little more eventful. On arriving at the Botanical Gardens we were greeted with the sound of rhythmically beating drums. Being the curious volunteers we are, we followed the sound eagerly! It seemed the music was also on the move, so we sped up in anticipation! Once we had caught up with the mysterious drumming we discovered that there was some sort of Religious Ceremony taking place in the gardens. At first we decided to watch from a distance. We weren’t sure whether our presence would be an intrusion or disrespectful. We sat under a tree and peered over. Some Indian music began to hum out of a megaphone on the back of a truck and then two interesting men made their entrance. On their back, arms and chest were intricately decorated needles and metal spikes arranged in decorative patterns. At first, I didn’t even think how they stayed in place. It wasn’t until later that I realised they had been stabbed into the skin! Eeek!
We attracted some attention sitting under our tree. We stand out a little...  We were encouraged to go and ‘take a closer look’. There, we witnessed the ceremony. A man was kneeling infront of the small statue depicting the image of his god. Standing at each side of him were the two ‘interesting men’ holding a yellow sheet draped over him. Under the sheet a man worked, piercing the needles and spikes into his skin. He kneeled, eyes closed, slightly pursing his lips as if he was in a trance. When the needles on his back were finished he rose. The drums began to beat dramatically!  He danced holding a stick of bamboo with leaves bunched together on one section. It was almost like he was trying to psyche himself for the next half of the torture! Ow!! There was a small fire burning in a metal plate. He picked the plate up, dipped his fingers in the ash and flicked them towards peoples’ faces. He then placed a dot on their foreheads. After, he settled back in front of the small statue and hooks were pierced into his chest and then small limes and onions were hung from the hooks. I'm still not sure if they had any purpose! Again, he rose and began to dance, but this time he jingled! It turned out there were small bells on the hooks!
We were quite shocked/intrigued about the whole thing, so we asked some friendly people standing next to us about the purpose of the Ceremony. They explained that we were witnessing a Tamil Ceremony. The men we were seeing had sacrificed their pain to the gods as a prayer for sick loved ones, family and friends etc. But then… the worst part happened... As if it wasn’t bad enough watching them pierce the needles into their backs, arms and chest! One woman began to dance (a little crazily – it almost seemed like she was possessed). She collapsed and was supported while she knelt infront of the statue and a man pierced a needle through her tongue! Ow Ow Owwww! At this point I started to feel more than a little squeamish! Needles were then stabbed through the other men’s tongues and people gathered to sing and pray infront of the statue.
After Tamil Ceremony - Curepipe
And then things calmed down a little and a man came up to us and offered us a drink. We were all a little worried when we looked at it – it didn’t look very appetising, a little like bland looking jelly. But it was good! Nothing unusual or strange! Thank goodness! We were then invited to walk back to Curepipe with everyone! Gradually everyone dispersed. The ‘needle men’ walked ahead, taking it in turns to carry a tower of flowers, banana leaves etc. on their head and a bowl of incensed fire. The walk took us about 25 minutes and every so often the men would stop and dance (one with a massive machete!).
We decided not to continue watching the ceremony. Apparently, they were about to walk on fire or shoes of nails (we were slightly confused with the translations). Plus, we had to catch the bus home – very inconvenient how the buses stop at 7!
So, my first Tamil Religious Ceremony! It was a little shocking… but overall we were really glad that we stayed to watch! I wouldn’t recommend it for the squeamish though... Ha! 

Saturday, 4 December 2010

A Brief Update on Namaste

Geraldine and Me at Namaste
Alexandra, a physiotherapist has started working at Namaste. She comes in two days a week and works mainly with the younger children who have Cerebral Palsy. Katie and I sit in on the sessions. We’re learning some physiotherapy! We continue the exercises while Alexandra is elsewhere. I’m finding it really interesting. I’m learning a lot. The kids are bed ridden and they lie in the same position all day. Imagine doing this for your whole life. I’ve seen dislocations, malformations. Some of the girls even struggle just to open their curled fingers. It’s really upsetting to see, especially when you know it could all have been prevented - just by doing some simple exercises a couple of times a day! Many of the kids haven’t had any treatment before, so the damage has been done. The exercises are painful… to emphasis this, one of the boys, who NEVER speaks (sometimes he sings Séga) cried, “Ayyyyyye-aye-aye!” when Alexandra was straightening his legs. And Rocha cries her lungs out!

The Girls' Home in Albion
Katie and I have started working at the Boys’ Home in Roches Brunes! We go once a week. In the morning we watch and assist with physiotherapy, and in the afternoon we spend some time with the other boys. They’re a lively bunch! They certainly like their hugs and kisses, “bisous!”. However, as loving and affectionate as they can be, they’re certainly more challenging than the girls. A little violent sometimes… For example, Katie and I are now well aware of Jean Noel’s potentially dangerous temper tantrums. On one of our first visits he was having a bit of a hissy fit. Katie was defending all the breakable objects in the room while Jean Noel tried his best to evade her. When his original strategy of trying to push past her didn’t work he had to change tactics. So he bit her… and then he bit her again. I on the other hand, was sitting down with a small child on my lap only a few feet away. Jean Noel decided to divert his attention to the other volunteer… And I, very stupidly, completely unaware that he had just bitten Katie, decided to offer him a supportive hug. Jean Noel knew just how to deal with this. He then took a chunk out of my arm also! Luckily for me, my little prince charming (the little boy sitting on my lap) came to the rescue! Ha! He hopped off my lap, held my hand gently and guided me over to a member of staff. He then frantically pointed at my big bite mark, which was turning slightly purple, and finger pointed to Jean Noel – who then started to look a little innocent. Now, whenever we’re left alone with Jean Noel a staff member will not so subtly instruct him, “Don’t bite the volunteers!”.  Katie and I had big bruises for a while after that – our battle scars!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Breaking the Ice

So, before last night we had only briefly met our neighbours, having exchanged no more than a few words and open-ended invitations. We needed a master plan to break the ice… so we made cake - lots and lots of chocolate cake. And that’s how it all started. First we went round to ‘The Banana Lady.’
You may be wondering why she is called Banana Lady. Well, Katie met her walking home one day. They stopped and had a wee conversation – she doesn’t speak English. Katie told her in French, “We have just moved in!” and then pointed eagerly to our house. The next day she dropped off a pressie – you guessed it, bananas. Alas, Banana Lady came into our lives. So, Katie and I wandered on round to her house the other night with homemade chocolate cake close at hand. Katie (who’s French is much better than mine) explained the cake was for her. She gratefully accepted it and then off we went to do the next errand. We should probably find out her name though, and then we wouldn’t have to call her Banana Lady…

Margaret and Rosemary live just a little bit more down the road from us. We briefly spoke to Margaret one afternoon. We were very surprised to find an English name in Mauritius! She told us about her father who had a love for the royal family - hence why she is called Margaret. Margaret and Rosemary invited us in after accepting our slices of cake. We had a long chat mainly about food and how we wanted to learn to make rotis; our first attempt didn’t go well, they more resembled biscuits; cyclones, particularly cyclone Carole in the 60’s which saw Mauritius left in ruins; our work and living in the UK. Katie was very pleased to be offered a Cappuccino. She hates Mauritian coffee so she’s barely had any coffee since she got here! We left Margaret and Rosemary later that night. They have invited us round for dinner one day. We hope they will teach us how to cook!

Banana Lady (number 2). Another neighbour whose name we don’t know! You have no idea how guilty we feel about this. But it’s so difficult to remember, and even worse asking again after having spoken to her a couple of times. Most Mauritian names are very new and unusual to us so it’s incredibly difficult to remember. Charlie has gotten into the habit of writing down names to ensure she remembers. Might take a leaf from her book. Anyway, Banana Lady (number 2) invited us in. We went into her living room to find her son sleeping on a bed. He quickly woke up and looked very embarrassed, frantically rubbing at his eyes! We had a wee chat with the whole family (whose English was very good). The TV was on and we all had a little chuckle together when an Indian man came on wearing a Sari. Her son looked again very embarrassed. Banana Lady has the Internet! She said we could use it whenever we wanted. In emergency situations this will be very good! She has also invited us round for dinner one night. I think she is keen for us all to become friends with her sons, one of them has a fascination with England. On leaving she gave us another huge bunch of bananas. They had millions! I’ve never seen so many bananas! Now we feel obliged to make her some more cake!

Saturday 13th November

Suzelle lives down the road and has a crazy dog that barks and chews the wire fence (as if he’s imagining gnawing at our arms) while we walk past. Charlie was at work today as it’s the school holidays. So Katie and I decided we would go into Rose-Hill to find some lunch – rotis. We met Suzelle on our way in her garden. She then invited us in for lunch! We had rotis with cheese and butter. They were so good! We had another long chat. Apparently she cleans all day on Saturdays. We were there for an hour and a half… I hope we didn’t take too much of her cleaning time up. Also, she has a son who used to go to University in the UK. At the moment he is in California studying for a PHD in computer science. He won a scholarship over there. We’ve found that many Mauritians go abroad to study. Mainly in the UK and France. Suzelle has invited us to her mother’s house in Beau Bassin one weekend to pick Litchis which are coming into season soon. 


A lot of the Mauritian population is Hindu, so Diwali is an important holiday. It is the festival of light, celebrating the triumph of good over evil (or so we were told). It was quite funny. We weren’t quite sure what Diwali was… so we asked Yogesh who is one of our Hindu Mauritian friends. He had trouble explaining it… he seemed to be cracking under the pressure, so quickly passed the question on to his cousin who gave us a fuller explanation. It takes place in either October or November and this year it was on the 5th of November. Katie, Charlie and I had been invited to spend Diwali with Yogesh and his family. So after work we got the bus to the south of the island, Mahébourg. It gets dark quite quickly, at around 6.30 every evening, so we were able to appreciate the light shows and fireworks! Hindu families put up long lines of brightly coloured lights, which stretch out over their houses. They were beautiful! There were also lots of fireworks that people would set off at the side of the road and would arch over the bus! Maybe not the safest fireworks display I’ve ever been to…but all we had to pay was the bus fare.

Once we arrived in Mahébourg we went to meet Yogesh’s family. They were very welcoming and we joined them to eat some Indian sweets! Diwali is about sharing and giving so many Hindus make Indian sweets and give them to their neighbours. So we munched and then Yogesh’s mum had prepared us some dinner, so we munched some more!

Mauritius isn’t the liveliest of places at night (due to buses stopping at about 8pm) but Diwali was definitely an exception. Many families gathered and walked around town viewing the light displays on people’s houses. Some were VERY impressive.

The Joys of Mauritian Transport

We live on buses. Luckily they’re quite cheap. Katie and I each pay 24 rupees (almost a 50pence) each way, to and from Namaste everyday. There’s no air conditioning so all the windows slide open. It’s like a big wind machine! I’m always so conscious of my hair flying about everywhere if it’s not tied up!

Mauritian buses run on Africa time, which is one of the most frustrating feelings. There’s no timetable so you have absolutely no idea when they are going to show up. You could be waiting little or no time! Which is incredibly annoying, especially if you have somewhere to be! The locals seem to have these weird intuitions about what time the buses will come. They’ll gather at the bus stop at exactly the right time. I’m so jealous.

Mauritian bus drivers also drive very fast and overtake at the most inappropriate and reckless of times. The buses are incredibly old and they’re obviously not built for speed. We were told quite an amusing story the other day about a bus catching fire. The driver was going too fast and there had been some accumulating friction in the engine, which is why it inevitably caught fire! Apparently the driver didn’t notice at first. Luckily his attention eventually diverted and he smashed the glass fire extinguisher box before spraying the foam everywhere! I hope he learnt a lesson that day… Probably not…

Some things I don’t like about the buses…

Mauritians can be incredibly impatient. When the bus arrives at the last stop, everyone will rush to the front to get off. So often, no one will let me out and I’ll be last to get off the bus regardless of the fact that I was only two rows from the front.
Also, many people like to sit on the aisle seats (I’m not sure why…) and when others get on the bus they don’t move and expect people to shimmy past them to the window seat! This has happened to me a couple of times… I’ve always been tempted to stick my bum out in their face just to annoy them…

We’ve had a little trouble with some of the bus conductors. They think that because we’re foreigners we don’t care if we’re given the correct change or not. We do care! So often we find ourselves double checking change and the prices on our tickets. We’ve been ripped off a few times and it is so annoying. One time, on our way to Flic en Flac a bus driver short-changed us by 20 rupees! Katie was absolutely fuming. She may have subconsciously given the conductor some death stares…

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Ingrid's Visit

Ingrid the Director of Project Trust arrived on the 29th October for a visit. All the Mauritian volunteers gathered for the first time in a few weeks to Flic en Flac where we met with Ingrid and went out for lunch. Of course, only after Katie and I were an hour late! Public transport is such a drama over here! We hit an old man while were reversing round a corner and sent him flying. Luckily, he seemed ok. Some locals helped him to his feet and gave him his shoes back (which came off during the flying motion). Then some locals came over to the bus and began to rant at the bus driver in very fast Creole. The bus driver was clearly very annoyed. It seemed like he was trying to defend himself. Then he just drove off! He didn’t even get out to check if the man was ok! It was a little shocking really… Katie and I just stared at each other open mouthed for a while…

So after eating out, (which was quite a treat) we just sat on the beach and chatted.  Surprisingly we’ve barely been to the beach.  There doesn’t seem to be enough time! We’re busy almost every weekend. And again, because of the joys of public transport it’s such a hassle for us to get anywhere in good time. It’s only the beginning of summer, so it’s not terribly hot. It’s a comfortable heat. We’ve adapted to the weather. I’m now wearing a hoodie at nighttime and I’m even though it’s like 24 degrees I’m still cold sometimes! We’ll probably go to the beach more in the summer. Although, I think I’ve been slightly put off. We’ve been told that there are big sharks in Mauritius… and that shark attacks are quite common! Eeeek! Apparently there was a fisherman recently who had his arm bitten off while a shark was trying to capsize his boat! Katie and Charlie don’t quite believe it.

Ingrid came to visit Namaste on the Thursday 4th November. At the moment, our project at Namaste is not very structured. But, Ingrid, Katie and I had a meeting with Jean Alain (who is the Director of Namaste). He has some good ideas of how we can use our time. A physiotherapist has just started there. She is going to be coming to the girl’s home weekly on a Monday. She’ll be working mainly with the girls who have Cerebral Palsy – Valentina, Alicia, Rocha and Mimi. Katie and I will sit in on the sessions and then continue the physiotherapy while she is not working. We’ve spent quite a lot of time with Alicia since we arrived at Namaste.; she is 5 years old and she is blind. However, we have discovered that her movement isn’t as restricted as the other girls. She is able to sit on our knee, she can bounce and she can support her own weight when we stand her on her legs (she just needs some help with balance). The physiotherapy sessions should make a big difference! I’m looking forward to seeing the results! 

Saturday, 25 September 2010


Katie and I moved into our house this week! We’re living in Rose Hill which is a 35 minute bus ride from work - which isn’t too bad. We tried to find somewhere in Albion, but it’s very expensive. We couldn’t find anything for our 6,000 rupees a month budget – which is around 120 pounds.
Using our connections with the Soroptomists we’re renting a house from Mrs Dinon (who is one of the founding members of the Mauritius Soroptomists). The house is at the bottom of her garden and her daughter lived there for a couple of months.  

The house has three bedrooms, (one of them has turned into our phone room – we have a house phone!!) three bathrooms, a kitchen, a living area, a dining area and a garden. We also have a washing machine! Our first day at the house turned into one big cleaning operation. We started in the kitchen. It took us all afternoon. We found ant grave yards and lizard poo. It DEFINITELY needed a spring clean. Then we sweeped and mopped all the floors!

The second day we tackled our bedrooms and the bathrooms. So, the house is almost all clean now!

The House
Pashmina’s and material are really cheap over here – about 3 pounds. I’d like to buy some to put up on my walls and brighten the place up a bit. I don’t think we’re allowed to paint.

Some funny things about the house...

- Katie and I were leaving the house the other night. We switched off all the lights and there’s a glow in the dark crucified Jesus on the wall! It was a little freaky...
- One of the bathrooms (the one with the hot water!) isn’t in use at the moment… There’s a wasp nest inside the shower… I was just having my shower the other day starkers and they all started to buzz and swarm about everywhere. I ran away screaming loudly (not before grabbing a towel).
- There are mosquitoes everywhere. The house is right next to a river. And they start to come out at 3 o’clock. I have been eaten alive… they seem to like my ankles...

Anyway! I have an address now! Letters would be really nice!
    8 Eliacin Francois Street,

And my phone number is 454 3781 (not including the area code for Mauritius... whatever it may be :S)


So we’ve been on the island for a month now. Much exploring has been done! I’m just going to tell you a little bit about all the places that Katie and I have visited!

Port Louis

Port Louis is the capital of Mauritius. It’s on the West coast of the Island. It’s a very diverse city. You have the traditional markets, stalls and Hawkers! But then along side it all are the high rise buildings, the harbour and English pubs…

The markets are amazing. You can buy literally anything! Unfortunately, there is no such thing as leisurely shopping. You can’t just stop and have a little look. There’s a stream of people who are constantly moving. You end up being the annoying tourist, having a ‘wee potter’ who won’t get out of the way. You have to be quite careful! A lot of people will put prices up because you’re the ‘rich’ foreigner. But, you just have to say “I’m a volunteer, I’m living and working in Mauritius and I HAVE NO MONEY!” Katie and I haven’t bought anything at the markets yet, mainly because we’re worried we’ll be ripped off. Most people speak French, so it can be a little difficult to negotiate.  But once our French has improved we'll definitely go to the markets more!

The food courts in Port Louis are really cool as well! There’s one which is right in the middle of the markets. You go in, and people just shout at you! And whistle! And click! They do anything to get your attention! Going in for the first was very intimidating! But once you know where you’re going and what you want you’re sorted! You can get roti’s in the food market which are an Indian style flat bread. (Mauritian’s like to eat them as far as I know!). They are rolled up with a mixture of curries and chilli inside them. They’re really nice + cheap! (Only 10 rupees each which is 20p!).

I’ve also explored the meat market with the other volunteers. It was horrible. Imagine walking through the worst slaughter house and x10. I only went into the Pig house (because after that I couldn’t take any more). There were the skinned heads of pigs hanging on hooks, guts lying everywhere and there were cockroaches all over the floor. It was so dirty and it stank! Basically… I won’t be buying any meat from there any time soon. Some other volunteers went into the Goat house but most came out gagging. (I’m glad I didn’t go in there).

The harbour is really different. It’s been well developed in the last few years. There’s a few hotels, pubs and restaurants and shopping centres. It’s much quieter than the markets but not as exciting I feel. It’s nice if you want to get away from the busyness and just chill! We went to an English pub the other afternoon. A home away from home... sort of!

The South of the Island

Last weekend, Katie and I spent with Bryonny and her family. Bryonny lives in Black River which is to the South coast of the island. We had a really nice weekend. She took us for a long scenic drive with her two kids Troy and Kira (I’ve going to upload some picture of them!). So, we headed towards Chamarel making stops on the way to take in some of the scenery. That day we saw a completely different Mauritius. Lots of green green green and green! It resembled jungle! And this is what all of Mauritius looked like at one point - until the land was felled for sugar cane and townships etc. I’ve got some amazing photos which I’m uploading! We also visited the ‘Seven Coloured Sands’ which is a ‘seven coloured sand geological site created by volcanic rock’. They had Giant Tortoises! And yes, they are MASSIVE! You were allowed to stroke them, they were so friendly! Apparently they are strong enough to walk (very slowly) with a person sitting on their back! You can do this at another park in Mauritius and get your photo taken. Katie and I will have to do that one day!
Anyway! It was a very good day! It was great to see a new part of the island!

The East Coast of the Island

Katie and I have briefly seen the East coast, but not enough for me to write a blog on! We spent last weekend at Heidi’s in-laws beach house on the East coast. It was beautiful!

Also something worth mentioning about...

The Weather

There are loads of mini climates. It tends to be much hotter and dry on the coast. The further inland you go the colder and wetter it is. But it’s far from a subtle difference. For instance, I was in Floreal this morning. It was freezing – probably as cold as Scotland! I slept cocooned in my duvet! Then we got the bus into Port Louis and it got very hot… very quickly. Port Louis is about a 20km from Floreal and there wasn’t a cloud in sight! I had a pair of jeans and my hoodie on! You end up being dressed completely wrong for the day!

The People

Mauritian’s are very very friendly. Katie and I have found ourselves getting French lessons while waiting for the bus, and through Heidi we’ve met many lovely people! They’re so kind. We spent last weekend with Bryonny, this weekend we are house sitting for one of Bryonny’s friends and in a couple of weeks we are spending the weekend at Jeanine’s.
Lots of Mauritians go to study in the UK so many know it quite well! Some even know where Aberdeen is! My taxi man lived in Aberdeen for 7 years! It’s such a small world!

Starting at Namaste

Katie and I have finally started at Namaste! We’ve worked two days so far. The first day was a bit of a struggle. We weren’t initially planning on going in, so we didn’t go very well prepared. The girls only recently moved into the home, so their toys haven’t yet been moved from their previous home near Quatre Bornes (which is where the Namaste boys are now accommodated). Considering our lack of resources, the day went quite well. The girls love to sing and dance! So at first we were singing songs and making up dances to go with them! Thank goodness Katie did Brownies back home! Then, we played in the garden. We made a mini house, garden and dolls out of sticks, leaves and pegs. It was funny! Then we were running seriously short on ideas. With the language barrier it was difficult to try and initiate a game. But they understood tag! So the rest of the afternoon we ran around the garden chasing each other! Then we started the three hour journey home (at that time we were living in Floreal).

The second day was much more organised! We brought along paper, crayons, bubbles and a ball to Namaste. At first we got the bubbles out! The girls loved these! They went a bit bubble mad and managed to finish them quite quickly, but we topped them up (thanks to fairy liquid and water). It was funny watching them chase the bubbles, pop them and run about screaming! Then, we got out the paper and crayons which kept them busy for ages! We drew pictures, they coloured them in and they scribbled! In the afternoon, we played with the ball (once Jennifer decided to share it). One thing Katie and I have learned – we have to make it clear when something is to share with everyone at the home. When we gave Jennifer the ball in the morning she thought it belonged to ‘her’ when actually, it was to share between everyone. She carried that ball around all morning and refused to give it to anyone! She managed to get herself into a little trouble with Geraldine who began to hit her with sticks…
We need to learn the Creole for ‘to share!’.

Anyway! Katie and I are hopefully getting some funding from the Soroptomists for arts and crafts and play mats! Hopefully this means we will have loads of things to do with the kids in the future!

Monday, 13 September 2010

First Impressions of Namaste

Katie and I visited Namaste early last week. We've discovered a few changes have gone on! Namaste has been split into two - the girls centre in Albion and the boys centre near Quatre Bornes. We will be working at the girls centre for the year! Dissapointingly we haven't started at Namaste yet! We haven't found accomodation in Albion. So, it's a little difficult for us to travel to and from work as Heidi's house is in Floreal. Hopefully we'll be starting very soon though!

Albion is on the West Coast of Mauritius, inbetween Flic en Flac and Port Louis. It's considerably quiet and less touristy than areas such as Flic en Flac and Black River. There has been talk of building this and that hotel but it remains a nice little beach town!

So, stepping into Namste! It's a very happy place! The girls were all bright and happy with big smiles! They're all very well taken care of. Just walking around the home, Katie and I were coming up with some things that we can do. The garden is a mess, so we were thinking we could take it on as a project. Get some chickens, maybe a rabbit and get the kids involved!
Someting we've realised is Namaste offers us a lot of freedom. It's up to us to create a successful project! Eeek!

Aswell! Katie and I attended a Soroptomists meeting (who are involved with fundraising for Namaste). We'll be a contact point for them in terms of Namaste's needs!

Really looking forward to starting work. I hope Katie and I can make some contribution!