Hi there! Time for a new update! A few days of interesting Ethnography classes have passed by, but the needed leisure time has also been pretty amazing as well. No surprise right, I’m in Mauritius so…. Let’s inform you about some sweet sunsets, sensual sega and some spicy stuff!
Monday evening was my second evening, and I couldn’t wait to watch the sunset at the beach. And so I went home with my roommates after classes to take out ook little host family sister and walked down the road from the town to the beach. As soon as we sat down there and saw the golden rays of the sun falling down at the ocean, I realized: there is absolutely no other place in the world where I could possibly be feeling more blessed than I am feeling here right now. ❤
The glitter, the sky so bright and just a fluffy cloud, while the night fell slowly on the deserted seashore where we sat down. As I walked down over the rocks, a gentle breeze brushed paste me, while I inhaled and exhaled. No better meditation could help, and this fresh pollution-free air was the best! And then when the sun finally disappeared on the horizon, the moon and her stars appeared. Wouldn’t it be beautiful to live a little bit closer to nature, or appreciate it more than we are currently? I guess Mother Nature showed her power once again, and sunkissed me with her blessings…
Anyway, we had planned to go for dinner at a Chinese restaurant, but as soon as we arrived home our grandmother seemed to have cooked us dinner. There are really some cultural differences and language barriers which are causing communicational misunderstandings at certain times, but changing plans from one moment to the other, and easily accepting that, helps a lot to overcome these annoyances quite fast. And so we ate at home, saved some money, and enjoyed one of the most terrible dinners so far with leafs from the garden and rice. LOL.
And now that I started to complain: the food is vegetarian (as I mentioned before in the blog), but so it does not really have many proteins in it, and actually more carbs than anything else, so all the rice is not really filling. And so we went to have a cocktail in the bar outside in the evening. Just to fill our stomachs some more and do something nice after dark. It is actually interesting as well to see how life ends here at 6PM when the sun sets. Of course it might be also because it is a little bit dangerous to go out after dark, but in general people wake up here at 6AM and go to bed around 8 or 9 PM, which is absolutely not an option for a night owl night me! 😉
Barking dogs on the road to Home…
Tuesday it was time for our first ‘real’ class given by Dimitris Xygalatas, our professor. As this course is an introduction in Ethnographic Fieldwork, the session was about “What is ethnography?”. So maybe it’s interesting for you as a reader as well to summarize what is actually is, so you might be able to understand what I am studying here as well.
Ethnography is derived from the Greek words ‘ethnos’ (folk, people, nation) and ‘grapho’ (I write) and it means the study of people and cultures. An ethnographer researches cultural phenomena from an ’emic’ perspective, which is the point of view of the subject of your study. It means that you represent the culture of a group by writing about it, so an ethnographer basically wants to reflect the knowledge and the system of meanings in the lives of his subjects. Ethnography is, in that way, a branch of anthropology and its fieldwork.
Malinowski was the first and one of the most important 20th century ethnographers.
During the lunch break I had to go to another village, Triolet, which is the closest village nearby if you need an ATM or supermarkets for example. In my case, I needed to buy a local SIM-card, which I managed to get there. I now also have 3G on my iPhone so I am actually going online all the time, even in my house I can use the internet so I am very happy!!! I also got a very inexpensive package with unlimited Facebook on it so I am even more happy about that! Apparently this social network is extremely popular amongst Mauritians, and I have noticed that because many of them started to add me as a “friend”, even though I have just met them once and I cannot always remember their names…. Anyway, I also managed to go to a supermarket where I got to buy some fruits, and locally produced granola, so my stomach is finally happy as well and this shows off results in my visits at the toilet (you get what I mean, right!?). Rice and bananas haven’t been really succesful the last few days!
And of course I was late for the afternoon class, because I had to take the bus home and put my stuff in the fridge and walk back to the temple where we have classes and so on… So I guess I am really “going native” when it comes to time management. 😉
The afternoon session was about “Diversity in Mauritius”, with guest lectures by Mauritians. As you might not know, Mauritius has a very diverse population, with religions ranging from Christians to Buddhists to Muslims to Hinduists, so basically a little bit (or actually very much) of everything. It is extremely extraordinary how peaceful cultures and religions live together here on the island. In the street you can see a moslim girl with a scarve on her head, a hindu man with a turban, and at the same time Western girls going to the discotheque, without any problem (and that last one would be us of course).
Only one thing is a real taboo, and that is talking about religion itself at home. You should not discuss religion, and maybe that is exactly the key to this peacefulness? Whether it is all this easy as it seems and is represented, is a question that I ask myself a lot, because what if a Hindu wants to marry a Muslim, or a Christian wants to marry a Buddhist? Would it then all still be easy and OK? These were one of the points discussed in our session.
A muslim girl talking about religious diversity in Mauritius
After this guest lecture me and some other students felt like hanging around a little bit at the beach, but the weather wasn’t really that great so we decided to go shell collecting, which is a very rewarding activity on the beach here, with many many many beautiful shells and coral stuff to be found.
But you are probably wondering like, what?! Not such a great weather…?? Well, it is “winter” here now, with temperatures around 25°C and sometimes it gets cloudy and sometimes it rains a bit. But it does feel a little bit cold for a tropical island, so believe it or not! Winter exists in paradise as well…
Anyhow, another proof of the hard life and much work that an anthropologist has to do, I guess. Now you will definetely not believe me anymore! But I did actually talk to some locals that night to discuss my research project, and see how I can get it started, but again… Not for too long, because we were all expected at the Lagoustine Restuarant in the village to have dinner and a Sega Night, a ‘special dance session’ organised by our professor to show us the traditional dance and music of Mauritius.
‘The Sega’ is a typical dance which originated from Madagascar and the mainland of Africa. It is characterized by the ritual music, the sensual dance and the colorful clothing. It is pretty much the musical expression of the Mauritian Way of Life: happiness, smiles, joy and liveliness!
Sega could also be seen as the dance of the poor, because it was originally sung by men and danced by women who had been slaves. They creates this as a form of expression and protest to remain their soul and sensivity to music. Nowadays you can hear many Sega influences in the local pop and reggea music, and Sega itself has become not only a dance which is performed in many hotels, but also a folksong which has integrated itself within the broader framework of Mauritian folklore.
It was a very nice experience, and for me personally a bit comparable to the Garifuna dancing in Central America and the Caribbean where you also have Créoles performing the same kind of cultural dance and music. We continued until the late hours, playing music on the beach and drinking wines and wines and more wines…. 😉
Créole Mauritians performing Sega Music & Dance
After a short night of sleep it was time for class again. With a cold shower, it was actually not that big problem to wake up so ready was I again for a new class. It was Wednesday when Peter, one of the instructors gave us a session about Ethnographic Research Methods, and participant observation in particularly. I will not go into detail about this, because unless you are an ethnographer/anthropologist this will probably don’t ring a bell at all!
My research topic is starting to get a shape, and my idea was received with much enthousiasm by the professor so I am very motivated to start doing some research and fieldwork. The only big matter will be the lack of time and access to do it all this fast (I am here only for 3 weeks).
After having lunch at the street tent where we are regular customers by now, we also brought our daily visit to the local beach during lunch break, and be back ready for classes at two o’clock. Did I mention already that we have our classes at a local Hindu Temple?! It is a very different and interesting location to have your classes I guess, and it is very hospitable of the villagers to put the temple available for our use, I think. The only compromise we have to make in return, is behave according to the Hindu rules: so no food and drinks in the temple, and always cover your body enough, so no short shorts and short tops… Guess I did pack my suitcase a little bit inappropriate for this trip, but anyway! 😛
A capture of daily life and Ethnography classes at the temple
In the afternoon a Professor named Satyendra Peerthum of the University of Port Louis (the capital of Mauritius) came to speak to us about slavery and Mauritian history. Or in his own – read: more complicated words – : “Slavery, Maroonage, Indenture and Vagrancy in Colonial Mauritius”. I guess this title explains at once what it was all about, so I don’t have to explain it to you anymore. No, seriously, this was just a few hours about Mauritian history, which is basically the colonization of the Dutch, the French and the British, and some slavery in between. Very interesting, though but if you are interested in the details, read another blog! 😉
After class I went again to the beach – yep, can’t get enough! – but it started to rain quite heavily so we were forced to shelter in the nearby located hotel (Le Récif), so we were like… Okay then, let’s have a drink here and watch sunset while it rains. The prices where eventually not too expensive, just the same as we would pay for a drink in Europe, so it was a nice experience. And the rain was fast forgotten!
Having an After-Class drink while wathcing the sunset in a fancy hotel
Me, Emily and Francesca (my American roommates) walked back home for dinner at our host family as it was becoming late. When we arrived, our grand mother wanted to teach us how to cook Créole / Hindu food, and so we did! We made something that I would refer to as Indian ‘Naan’-bread for those who know that, but here they call it ‘Faratha’. This is similar to Indian paratha – a flat bread eaten with curry. It has a buttery, doughy but delicious structure. You can find them a lot here at the street stalls as well, but you should not eat them as a Mexican tortilla as I did in the beginning! 😛
“Grandma” (yepp, that’s how we still call her) also prepared some spicy stuff so we could enjoy eating with our hands again, and I must say: her food is getting better everyday. I actually start to like and appreciate her cooking skills very much! Or maybe I am just getting very hungry?!
Grandma teaching me how to prepare a typical Mauritian dish
But hey, haven’t you noticed something?! I mean… If you take a look at this picture at the bar, and this picture at home. Don’t you think it is EXTREMELY different, with different being an underestimated word to define it. I personally think that Mauritius is one of the few countries that I have seen so far where the diversity between ‘the poor’ and ‘the rich’, ‘the tourist’ and ‘the local’ is so big. You can have the most upscale tourist resort located at just two minutes walking from a ‘normal Mauritian house’, such as the one where my family lives. And nobody seems to be minding a lot about it.
I do actually feel a little bit weird about it, questioning myself whether the locals don’t feel bad because they cannot afford these things, and whether the tourists might be feeling too superior to come out of their hotels, because many of them don’t seem to leave the beach to discover the ‘real’ Mauritius. But then at the same time I guess the locals have a certain spiritual wisdom which is again transcending this ‘culture of materialism’ which is obviously not (the only) key to happiness and success (for them). So again and again: who is most happy? One who paid a lot for a week in paradise but has a ‘poor’ spiritual life, or one who is financially poor but has a big smile on his face everyday and real friends who do not care about him wearing expensive clothes, driving a certain brand of car, and going to a certain destination to spend his holiday.
Maybe for them – our Others – every day is a holiday, as in a Holy Day. And again that teaches me a lesson in life by reflecting it upon myself: MONEY DOES NOT BUY HAPPINESS, LOVE, PEACE NOR SUCCESS. Or something like… If you do what you like, you’ll never work a day in your life. Guess I am heading in the right direction!
Nanny’s Naan Bread with Spicy Stuff!
And by the way: the result of our cooking night! Don’t you think this 10 rupee dish looks just as amazing as a 500 rupee dish at the hotel, especially overthinking all this? I feel so blessed being here, eating this, being able to smell and taste and experience Mauritius in a way that is not just about having a different experience than tourists most likely have, but in a way that I am out of my comfortzone, feeling confronted with myself by having others as a mirror and being able to wonder about the wonder of my existance, and to philosophize every day again about my personal way of life.
Or as my host family would say:
… Namasté …
x Julie x