Thursday, 23 June 2011

Bus Tale

I have so many bus stories. I think I've spent literally half my gap year on a bus.

Anyway. There are certain aspects of my life over here that no matter how annoying I've learnt you just have to accept.

Like the other day on the bus home from Pointe aux Sable. Any normal bus journey really. I handed 200r to the bus conductor to pay for both Charlie and I. He took my money, handed me our tickets and then continued down the aisle. But... wait a minute... 200r? This bus journey should only cost me... 50r. HMMMM. Now, sometimes the bus conductors don't have enough change at the time so return later - which is fine. But this bus conductor looked slightly... cheeky. I was immediately suspicious of him. I looked back at him probably with a somewhat confused expression. "Ok?" He asked. No... not really. I turned to Charlie, "Did he give me my change?". Apparently not... so I waited patiently with my purse still hoping that he would return in a moment with my change. Again, apparently not. Cheeky cheeky! So, Charlie asked for my change politely. And yes, 150r came my way with little fuss or bother... but a little bit of a cocky smile.

Funnily enough though, I didn't seem nearly as annoyed or angry as I should have been. A bus conductor just tried to cheat me out of more than 3 quid! Why is this not more serious!? I suppose I've learnt that naturally, there are some people who will take one look at me and see me as an opportunity to make some 'cheeky cash'. And why not? You know, I heard a story about some tourists in Port Louis who payed 1200r for three choux choux (a green vegetable - you don't get them in the UK). For one choux choux, usually we pay about 5r in Rose-Hill. But if tourists are really this stupid then of course people are going to try cheat them - it's just easy money! The attitude I suppose is "What is an extra 150r to a tourist? Is it money they're going to miss - no, probably not". But what people don't realise when they look at me is that of course - I'm not a tourist. And in some cases my monthly wage is less than theirs.

But I suppose this has just made me think about how people percieve me here - and how much I stand out as being 'different'. It's going to be strange returning to the UK and being able to 'fit into a crowd' of people so easily. No sticking out like a sore thumb. Or looking different. Just the same as everyone else. Is this something I'm looking forward to?? :S

Monday, 20 June 2011

Le Pouce

We're now in those last few crucial weeks. The expression 'make the most of your year' has been springing to mind more so lately. Which has made me think about all those 'little things' I MUST do before I leave. Funnily enough, we have 'A List'. It's quite long. Perhaps it would have been more sensible to gradually do everything. But others plans have nearly always been made at weekends, visiting friends, shopping, going to the beach. However, I think things have turned out for the best. I feel like I'm appreciating everything so much more now that I know my time is short. Maybe, that means I'll enjoy doing everything much more than I would have 2, 5 or 9 months ago.

Anyway, Charlie and I decided on Saturday, with only 6 weeks left, it was time to start doing 'The List'. We chose something perhaps a little out of my comfort zone to start with. Le Pouce (The Thumb). Mauritius is very mountainous and 'Le Pouce' is just one of many erratic looking mountains on the Island.

Lonely Planet - "After about 700m the path starts zigzagging steeply uphill. A 30 minute climb brings you out on a saddle, from where you get your first views over Port Louis. From there it takes another 20 minutes or so walking East along the ridge to reach the base of the thumb. Allow 1 hour for descent into Port Louis".

I don't know what I was expecting but the guide book really didn't do 'Le Pouce' much justice. It didn't say anywhere 'Friggin Amazing! Go Go Go!'. It has to be one of the most breathtaking views I have seen in my life. Charlie and I managed to reach the 'saddle' fairly quickly where we marveled at the vast, lush landscape opened infront of us. I felt as giddy as a school girl, hopping and dancing about! We took a lot of photos. But again, they don't seem to do the actual view much justice. 

I'm just going to comment a little bit on landscape here - and how varied it is. On top of 'Le Pouce', it was basically grass land with lots of green plants and an open area (no trees) which meant we could basically see spectacular views 360o. Descending, it almost became rainforest like, the trees hanging over us and blocking out the sunlight. It was tropical, wet and lush green. There was a hot sticky heat, it must be torturous in summer. And then at the base, near Port Louis it almost became African Savannah. A dry heat, yellowish grass which rattled in the wind and trees which I half-expected to see a Cheetah lazily dangling in. 

But I suppose all this has just reminded me how varied and diverse things are in Mauritius. This time I'm talking about climate and landscape. But the same goes for many other aspects of life here. For example, religion. I could literally walk down one street and see a Tamil and Hindu Temple, Mosque and Christian Church. I've seen and experienced a very diverse way of life. And in any other country, I wouldn't of had the opportunity to experience this 'little bit of everything' that Mauritius is. I'm going to miss this variation and difference in my life.

Anyway, the first of many outings on 'The List' - complete. Hopefully I'll have many more to report.

Thursday, 16 June 2011


I suppose something that has become very obvious to me this year is the difference in mannerisms. There are some things which I've come to realise are very specific to the UK, European Culture. And people here just really don't understand them... But as well as this, there are some mannerisms which I've discovered are very specific to Mauritian/French Culture and I probably can never hope to fully understand.

First there are the fairly innocent ones. No one seems to understand the meaning behind "X x x" at the end of a text or card. It honestly never occurred to me that this would confuse people. It's just naturally something most of us do in the UK. I suppose the Mauritian equivalent is "Gros Bisous" (Big Kiss). Nevertheless it is extremely amusing when people ask me about the 'peculiar X x x' at the end of my last text - "Is some of the text missing?".

On a different end of the spectrum. We discovered early on in our year that there is a big difference in the meaning behind simple hand gestures here. For example the simple 'go away' wave* in the UK means completely the oppsoite here - 'come here' wave*. You can only imagine the confusion this caused us at first, "What? You want us to come? Yes? No? Make up your mind!".

Then there are the slightly more annoying ones... It's seems that in the UK we are quite anal about the 'queue system' - and I'm very grateful for that. In Mauritius, when it comes to queues, the attitude is very "ME FIRST". I've got my elbowing and shoving techniques down - yes, it can get violent. But otherwise, you're always last. Which can have disasterous consequences if the next bus doesn't come for another 20minutes! I'm just worried about going back to the UK and everytime the bus arrives running at it like a screaming Viking prepared for battle. And then everyone will look at me like, "What the hell is she doing!?".

And then there are the ones which are generally quite nice. Like the oh so lovely 'bisous'. So, in Mauritius there's a French influence which explains the language and 'bisous'. The 'bisous' is something I've really learnt to like. At first it seemed quite awkward kissing a person on both cheeks as a greeting and farewell. But it's very friendly, polite and final. Whereas in the UK we have, the awkward wave, the awkward hug and of course the awkward, "So, I'll see you later!". However, what can make the 'bisous' slightly awkward is when a child tries to purposfully lick you on the face everytime you drop your gaurd (just one of many normal occurences at SOS Children's Kindergarten) - thanks Surya.

Surya, looking quite innocent.

Nap Time!

What do you think of when someone says 'Nap Time'. Well, I think of sleepy children rubbing their eyes, dozing on their mother's lap, sleeping with their mouths hanging open etc. However, at the SOS Children's Kindergarten I've seen another picture. How about giggling, children putting their feet in their mouth and chatting at 100 miles an hour? These kids just never seem to tire. But, I know, this is normal. And there really is no point in getting a child to sleep when they're clearly not tired. However, SOS Children's Village really don't seem to understand this logic... Despite the fact NONE of the children will sleep, they're forced to lie down for 45minutes and be quiet. Hmmmm... 

Inevitably some of the more disruptive kids are moved to desks so they won't distract the other 'sleeping' children. I try to focus on these kids and find ways to amuse them! For example, drawing on the board, doing some work with them, tickling! etc.

The kids don't really see me as a teacher (or someone who they respect in that way). I'm more of a 'fun adult'. But, I really like this. I wouldn't have it any other way. However, it does create problems when it comes to that time of day where I'm left alone for maybe 2-5minutes... NAP TIME. A certain nervousness will creep over me. I know I can't control them... and they know it too. It's like they can smell my fear! So then the class will erupt into chatter and noise! Usually at this point I am helplessly flustering around the classroom waving my arms about, "Silence! Arret!". When this doesn't work I change tactics... something to get their attention. I start shouting at them in English. And then I think, "Well, that was a mistake." They find it hilarious and usually all burst out in harmony, "Be quiet! Be quiet! BE QUIET!". But, I've learnt to look on the brighter side... at least I got their attention.

At some point the teacher will come back in and take control of the class - I'm baffled. And then all is calm again.

Class 5 - Mr Clifford

Weather etc.

It's Winter again. Several months ago, on my arrival in Mauritius I wrote in my diary, "The perfect temperature - not too hot, not too cold".

It seems that this time I'm experiencing the Mauritian Winter in a slightly different way... Quite often, especially in the evening and early morning, I'm freezing! At the beginning of the year I bought a duvet for my bed. More as a home comfort than to actually keep me warm. I was seriously questioning my logic when I slept with it at the foot of my bed for most of summer - if I slept with it over me it was likely to kill me. But now I sleep with it tightly wrapped around me! So cosy! Anyway, yes, the Winter can be rather cold. I think I may struggle with climate change on my return to Scotland.

But really, I'm not complaining. The cold is a nice change to the burning sun. And I would rather be too cold, than too hot anyday. Plus, with the change of weather I've been able to change my daily wardrobe - slightly. For the first time ever (in Mauritius) I wore full leg leans and a hoodie to work! - Shock, Horror. And, as well, I'm more frequently wearing leggings, cardigans, trainers etc. I forgot how comfortable all these clothes are!

A Mauritian Winter... still quite sunny.
But, I suppose all this change in weather, sleeping arrangements and clothes - ha! - has made me think about some stuff. Like, coping with change. It's strange to think that 20oc is now my version of 'cold' when several months ago I would have been boiling!

However, it's not only this but other things too, like I really used to drink so much water. Maybe 2-3 litres a day - Katie was always gobsmacked. And now, I just really don't feel the need to. My body doesn't 'scream' at me the same way it would in January/February. I'm probably drinking the same amount I would in Scotland or less...

And this one especially annoys me, but no matter how hard I try I can't seem to sleep in much passed 9am. I used to love lazy mornings in bed where I would doze until about 11/12am before making an appearance out of my room. But now, the sun slowly creeps into my room early (6ish) and my body just naturally wakes up. My biological clock has changed. Gr!

To round up, our bodies adapt in order to cope with change. And this is just something that has become that much more obvious to me since starting my life in Mauritius.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011


So, I've done it again. Something else I've learnt about myself this year - I can't seem to commit myself to diaries or blogs. Therefore, inevitably, my New Year's Resolution of keeping my blog up to date has failed.

Anyway, just thought I would add a small blog entry to let everyone know my thoughts on... Coming Home! It's only 6 weeks now. I can barely believe how fast this year has passed. I now know why Project Trust encourage a year away. It seems that these past few months I've had the opportunity to do and see things (which I'll write about in other blogs!) which I wouldn't have been able to at the beginning of my gap year.

It's funny how much I've surprised myself. I'm a little worried about coming home. I can 'kind of' remember a brief talk on Isle of Coll for Training some 10months ago about 'Culture Shock'. What was strange to me (at the time) was the fact that most volunteers experience more severe 'Culture Shock' on their return home. Well, you can probably imagine what I was thinking.... "NAHHHHH :S" - haha! 

But I can totally understand now. When I left the UK, I knew I would be coming home in a year. I knew that my friends, my family and everything else would still be there by the time I finished my year out. But leaving Mauritius, I really don't know when I'm going to be coming back. I've built up friendships, a home, a work routine. Will I be able to come back in 5 years time and just fit back in??

I don't know. But what I do know, is that I'm coming back. Definitely :) Whether it be for a couple of weeks next year. Or a few years... 

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The Chagossians and SOS Children's Village

Estelle pulling a slightly funny/scary face
So, I'm now counting down my last few months in Mauritius! Eeeek! Recently I've been a bit crazy trying to organise myself and work for the remaining time! I've started teaching at the Chagossian Centre in Pointe aux Sables with Charlie. We share a class of 20 pupils of varying ages (11-19 years old). I like it a lot and it can be lots of fun but I've learnt the success of a lesson rests heavily on lesson preparation! It can be quite difficult to teach a class with such varying levels. Sometimes it feel so unfair on the older ones as we have to try and balance out the level of the work. It's often far too easy for them! But then again some of the work is far too difficult for some of younger ones! So Charlie and I are going to split up the class to try and combat this problem! Some of them have exams in a few weeks aswell so hopefully we're going to go to the Chagossian Centre more often to help them.
As well as all this I've started working at an SOS Children's Village in Beau Bassin. So, SOS Children's Village is quite a well known worldwide charity. I'll try and describe it! So basically it's like a village where there are several houses arranged around a courtyard. In the houses live several children who for whatever reason have been placed in the care of the village by the CDA (Child Development Agency). In the houses the children live with an SOS Mother (sort of an adopted Mother) and they basically live as close to a normal family life as possible. Which is really nice. You can totally see the benefits to them. A lot of the children are very close to their SOS Mother. So, at the moment I'm working with a Social Worker in the village. I'm helping to write Child Development Reports. I sit with the Social Worker, the SOS Mother and the Child and take notes while the Social Worker interviews them. It's very interesting and the experience will be very beneficial for my Child Nursing I think! As well as this, I play with the kids in the village and I'm going to start working at the Kindergarten they have! I went to the beach with them before the holidays and had lots of fun!
And I'm still working at Namaste also a couple of days a week. I'm really enjoying the varied work at the moment. Everyday is different and new and I love this! My gap year is just getting better and better!

Friday, 11 March 2011

A wee Namaste Update

So there have been some changes to my work at Namaste now. After the New Year things seemed to fall into place and Katie and I have started teaching in the afternoons. There are two quite capable girls - Geraldine, 10 years old and Yasmina, 14 years old. They are very keen to learn. I mainly work with Geraldine. Geraldine hasn't been to school in over two years. I teach her English. I may have mentioned this before, but all the school curriculum in Mauritius is in English. Yet, Mauritius is a French/Kreol speaking country. It doesn't make a lot of sense. Anyway, her English was quite limited before our wee afternoon lessons started. But now she knows the alphabet, colours, some facial features and various other vocab which she's learnt from books - like 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar'!
It's a bit of a puzzle the story behind Geraldine. Since arriving in Mauritius over 6 months ago it's become quite apparent that Geraldine has no mental or physical handicap... yet, she's living in a home for mental and physically handicapped girls? What Katie and I have learnt is that there is an extreme shortage of homes and places of safety for children in Mauritius. Which inevitably results in some of the unlucky ones being placed in homes unsuitable to their needs. It's really very sad to see.
Katie and little Sebastien
Though Geraldine comes across as a very happy little girl. She is well taken care of at Namaste. In some of the homes in Mauritius children live in far worse conditions. She often comes to us for cuddles and kisses. She has a little trouble with her speech - and can't pronouce my name correctly "Keeeeeeloeee!" (very cute). And causes a little mischief at the home. She lives to wind one of the older girls up, Jenny. Who will then chase her round the house with Geraldine screaming at the top of her lungs!
It's going to be hard to say goodbye. She has all of a sudden realised that we're not going to be here forever... everyday she asks us, "Are you coming tomorrow?". And now she's started to ask us, "Are you coming in January, February, March??". And every time we tell her, we go home in August or yes, we're coming tomorrow. But still she asks. When the day comes that we have to say "No, we're not coming tomorrow" it's going to be heartbreaking. But on the brighter side, hopefully there will be volunteers at Namaste next year! And they can carry on the work we left off. Nick our Desk Officer from PT is coming to visit soon so we shall see!
That's all for now!

Friday, 4 March 2011

The Kindness of Strangers

I'm very glad that from time to time I'm still pleasantly surprised by the absolute kindness of some Mauritian Strangers. I've been here over 6 months now and had a thought that maybe I should start documenting this stuff... Here is just one days worth of kindness that I've experienced in Mauritius.

Charlie and I spent a lovely Saturday together last weekend. Much of it shopping in Rose-Hill. We've recently discovered the 'Turidard' (I'm really not sure how to spell that!). The most gorgeous, comfy indian clothing. I managed to pick up some material in Port Louis which I have taken to the tailor to be fitted! I just popped by to see how he was getting on, it's looking wonderful! I'm so excited! Anyway, we happened to be in Rose-Hill searching for some material for Charlie. In one shop we met a lovely woman. Seeing Charlie was getting a little flustered (we couldn't find a turidard she liked) she invited us to sit down and took a can of pear juice and some nuts out of the side drawer of her desk, offering them to us. We sat with her, had a chat, met her son and 20 minutes later she was insisting we call her Mama Maurice. I think she felt sorry for the fact we're so young and living by ourselves without a mother to support us from close by - I miss you mum. Many Mauritians are completely bewildered when we tell them we're only 18!! Eek! How embarrasing! I've been having some trouble with learning Creole - a much bigger task than I had anticiapted. Mama Maurice was very understanding and kindly offered to teach me! She said, "You come and help me in the shop and I will teach you Creole!". Unfortunatly my spare time is limited. And I don't think I will be able to. But she's always going to be there for a chat! Charlie and I will visit again soon no doubt.

Eventually, we did find some material for Charlie in a shop close by. But we walked away from the shop not just with Charlie's material but with a "petit cadeau" - 3 free Saris!!! The shop assisant insisted that we take them! We would be doing him a favour, they were old and he couldn't sell them! Charlie and I hurried home afterwards and tried on our "petit cadeau". They are massive! Hanging of our waists! But very comfy! We had a ball of a time prancing around the house in our saris sagging behind us! Ha!

After we walked home. There is a small housing estate near to where we live. Often there are children playing in the yard. We always say hello, but have never stopped to speak to them. On this particular day Charlie and I had the time to have a wee chat with them - very sweet kids. Later that day they arrived at our doorsteps with a lime for each of us - which no doubt they picked from the tree at the end of the road shh! So we invited them in for a drink and then took them to the river at the back of the house where you can swim! They were loving it, plunging into the water and splashing about everywhere! They enjoyed themselves so much that they asked if they could come round again on Saturday. Charlie and I have decided we will go to the housing estate to visit them. I want to teach them how to play rounders! Should be lots of fun!

Friday, 25 February 2011

Some recent antics...

After the Christmas period we decided we should definitely get out more (a New Years Resolution). It seems our life is becoming about work, work, work... and more work. Probably sounds familiar to some of you? Haha! Katie and I decided we would fulfill this resolution by going to the beach in Albion a couple of days a week after work. A great way to cool down - it is so hot at the minute. So we were at the beach about a month ago. And I managed to step on a Sea Urchin... It was rather sore... but nothing much could be done. I just have some lovely little black dimples on the sole of my right foot now - my little memoir of afternoons spent in the sea in Delicious Mauritius! But we did also make a new friend that day. A certain local called Bruno. He's currently studying Interior Architecture at an Australian University and was home for a few weeks. He has unfortunately returned to Australia quite recently. But Katie, Charlie and I still keep in contact with him. Anyway, he suggested we have a little expedition to the Lighthouse in Albion (the only Lighthouse on the whole of the Island). Katie and I were very pleased he suggested this as it happens to be the Lighthouse which every single day we pass on the bus, and every single day we say, "we really have to go and have a look at that lighthouse one day...". But being the disorganised bunch we are, we hadn't got round to it yet. And probably wouldn't have.

Albion Lighthouse happens to be placed on very picturesque cliffside at Belle Vue (close to Albion) overlooking the deep blue choppy sea. I suppose there's not much point in describing the actually lighthouse itself as most of you can probably guess - red and white stripes... rather tall... flashing light etc. I'd never been in a lighthouse before. It was quite a treck to get to the top. A neat little spiral ran up the edge with three floors breaking between. On the first floor there was a massive light (which I was surprised about as I thought there would only be one at the top). But apparently this is the case in most Lighthouses but it's often too small a light to see (Bruno's observation - not very sure myself...). So we climbed to the top and a step ladder led up to the final platform. We snuck through a little side door (Katie and I both banging our heads on the way out) and we were outside! Katie has a great fear of heights... so she wasn't too comfortable at the top of this massive Lighthouse. But she was very brave! And shimmied around keeping her back pressed against the wall. The views were spectacular. At one side we had the clear blue sea for miles and miles with the sun getting ready to set on the horizon. While the other side Mauritius' mountains spanned infront of your eyes with lots of green green green! Very beautiful. I can see why people would say Mauritius is Paradise.

Afterwards we decided it would appropriate to go for a little swim/dive around Monkey Mountain (as it's known by the locals). Monkey Mountain is a steep cliffside - maybe two or three times the height of my house in Scotland. It's where many of the locals will go to satisfy a want for an extreme adrenaline rush I suppose... Or maybe a quick death. I definitely wouldn't jump from the top. But there is a very deep, large pool of water at the bottom, quite sheltered from the currents of the sea. It's very safe to swim there. We climbed to the bottom and made our way up the rocky slope about a 1/4 of the way - plenty for me. And then jumped! I've never jumped from such a great height before! It was so exciting! As you plunged into the water you felt like all the air had been kicked out of your lungs! Haha! Such an exhilarating feeling! Ludovic (one of Bruno's friends who came with us) and I jumped a few times while Katie and Bruno were quite happy just to swim in the pool at the bottom.

So that's one of our little days out. Will write another blog entry quite soon!

Thursday, 24 February 2011

The Chagossians

Sorry for the serious lack of blogging recently! Disaster has struck - Charlie's laptop may be broken. I haven't been able to write any since and all the blogs I was working on are temporarily inaccessible! Eeek!
I've been working at Namaste for over 5 months now! I'm feeling like I need a change and something a little more challenging. So I went to a meeting in Pointe aux Sables yesterday to meet Olivier Bancoult - the leading man of the Chagossians! I'm going to be teaching at their education centre hopefully within the next couple of weeks! Exciting stuff!

I’m not sure if you know the story behind the Chagossians so here’s a little explanation. The Chagossians are a large community from the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean. They were exiled from their home in the 1960’s because Britain- who at the time ‘owned’ the islands sold them to the U.S. so they could set up a military base there. One day a ship came to take all of them away- shooting all of their dogs and leaving their homes behind. They arrived in Mauritius as foreigners without jobs, money or homes and were given very, very minimal compensation for it. Olivier Bancoult, the son of a man who was exiled, has taken on the cause and campaigns insanely hard to raise awareness of their struggle and also to try and get the government to allow them to return to their motherland. This is not seeming likely- especially as recently it has been suggested that a ‘nature reserve’ should be set up around the islands which would mean that it would become an impossibility for the Chagossians to return. Many are poor and live in slums, drug and alcohol misuse is a big problem too- but Bancoult believes that community and education can work together to try and solve this.