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!