Mauritius… So Colorful but Colorblind

After one week of Mauritian discovery and cultural adventure, it is cristal clear: Mauritius is an amazing and colorful island with a rich cultural diversity and some kind of uniqueness that I have never seen before in any other place. An added value are the pristine beaches and the daily amazing sunsets, the taste of paradise tastes sweet. But what makes it all even greater is what I call the state of colorblindness in a world of abundant colors.

Mauritians have many different ancestors, religions, eat different food, have different skin colors, … But everyone seems to live happily together, and for a Westerner such peaceful multicultural society is almost a utopy, facing the daily media in Europe and elsewhere. But being here gives me faith and inner peace. Let me tell you why in this blog post…

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With the Anthropology students at the Botanic Garden

Thank God it was Friday! The last day of classes before the weekend! No, seriously!? It did absolutely not feel as if we had been in class for a week already, definetely because of the fieldtrip on Thursday. Today we were introduced to interviewing techniques and methodology in the morning session. After having had some theory in the temple, we went outside in pairs of two to practice our interviewing skills by recording eachothers conversations.

After doing this, we went back in the temple to listen to our records, and discuss the results. It was interesting to analyze some of the interviews, and notice how we could improve certain skills to avoid bias, but on the other hand I got a bit bored of it as well, as I already had a course in my university in Belgium on Qualitative Research Methods, in which I studied these methods into detail.

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During lunch we went to Deepah, the friendly girl with her streetfood tent on the coast, and grabbed some lunch there together with some students. It always a nice place to hang out, before heading to the beach. But today the weather was not too great, so we did not really have a beach day.

In the afternoon we watched a documentary, which is called “Secrets of the Tribe”, a movie about the field of anthropology which goes under the magnifying glass in a fiery investigation of the seminal research on Yanomami Indians. In the 1960s and ’70s, a steady stream of anthropologists filed into the Amazon Basin to observe this “virgin” society untouched by modern life. Thirty years later, the events surrounding this infiltration have become a scandalous tale of academic ethics and infighting. And especially/exactly that is what we discussed after watching it.

After class I met one of my first informants in the village and had a first informal interview with someone. My project is officially starting to get some shape! Quite exciting! Another hour later I had a meeting with my professor and one of the instructors to talk about the topic that I have chosen for my paper. The paper is the final assesment for this course, and will be handed in a few weeks after this course finishes, so basically I have to do my data collection and fieldwork now (read: interviewing etc.), and then write the ethnographic / scientific results about this research out once I am back at home. This is then evaluated in stead of having an exam.

But after those two meetings it was finally time for the weekend to begin! We had set up a plan to go out in Grande Baie, one of the most popular touristic areas in the surrounding area here! We had dinner in a quite fancy restaurant (La Pagode) for the first time with some of the students, which we really enjoyed! The prices were not even too bad or expensive comparing to Europe. And the Coconut Rum Punch tasted good!

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Enjoying dinner with Servia, Denmark, USA & Belgium

And around 10PM the Banana Beach Club opened, so our party night started! This beach bar is a well known place for its tropical natural setting and friendly atmosphere. There is a good mix of locals and tourists, so basically “the place to be” in this coastal town for live music and just chilling out. Nextdoor there a few other clubs like Zanzibar, Insomnia, OMG and Enfants Terribles, so there is plenty of party vibes to enjoy a late night out!

Apart from the enjoyable experience and many tropical cocktails I had, I also met some interesting informants here for my research project so basically Banana had it all for me!!! Great night, great drinks, and great people. What more do you need?! A few hours of sleep before another beautiful day I guess…

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Enjoying tropical vibes at Banana Beach Club

Saturday morning I met again with some of the students for a trip to the SSR Botanic Garden of Mauritius, located in the village of Pamplemousses. Therefore we had to take 2 public buses, one from Pointe aux Piments to Triolet, and one from Triolet to Pamplemousses. The buses here are so cheap, the total ride costed like +/- 50 rupees which is about 1.25 euros.

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The Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanic Garden (SSRBG) covers an area of about 37.5 hectares (which is impressive, and not just another botanic garden as you might have seen before). There are many many many attractions to find in terms of flora, but also fauna. The garden dates back from the French period: the domain was set up in 1736 by a French governor, Mahé de Labourdonnais.

A few years later, in 1767, the French Intendant Pierre Poivre (the creator of this garden) introduced new vegetables, fruits, flowers and spices from all over the world to the domain and that is why tourists like us can still visit the oldest botanic garden in the southern hemisphere. No wonder that this is one of the main attractions on the island, and Mauritians are  proud of it!

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One of the highlights of this park are the aquatic plants, which we could see through a walk in the garden. The most photographed flowers were probably the giant water lily (Victoria Amazonica), the sacred Indian lotus (Nelumbo Nucifera) and the different Nymphaea. But unfortunately it is “winter” in Mauritius now, and so there were not many flowers to be photographed.

By the way: Mauritius has only 2 seasons, a wet and a dry season. July is the dry season, but also the local winter with lower temperatures but less humidity and less rain, so actually a great time to visit the island!

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Every year the garden welcomes around 250.000 visitors, while there is an estimated amount of 1.000.000 tourists visiting the island on a yearly basis. That means that 1 out of 4 tourists visits this place, not to bad at all, I guess! (I got these numbers from a brochure, so I am not sure if they are so reliable, but anyway…) . We also rented a freelance guide who showed us around in this place, which we were not regretting at all! How else can you recognize beautiful plants and birds?

I was especially surprised and very happy to see something like a ‘Bambi’ (Disney deer… you know…). But there were also several aquatic animals like turtles, fish and eels. The most remarkable animal however was the Pteropus Niger, a type of bat which is apparently the only endemic mammal that Mauritius has, and we could just spot them hanging on the tree tops during day time.

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After a few hours of smelling, breathing and walking trough this wonderful piece of nature, we became hungry and moreover it started to rain. I guess we were lucky however to see this beautiful place in a few hours of time. We had lunch in a tourist place called “Café Viennese Waltz”, which was very lovely. They had some French crèpes and Austrian Sachertorte (chocolate cake) and delicious coffee, which we obviously enjoyed  a lot while hiding from the rain!

When it finally stopped raining, we headed back to the bus stop, but the bus did not want to come at all. We waited more than an hour to take a bus back from Pamplemousses to Triolet, but while we were waiting something beautiful happened. We met a Créole woman with her little daughter, and she was simply amazing! I could have adopted her! Enthousiastically as I am, I started to photograph her, and so did my friends. And before I realized it, her mother and I exchanged numbers and Facebook accounts to send the pictures to each other and so on. I got half of her life story and the whole history that goes along with it, and yes, in the mean time I am a friend richer in life. She even invited me to her sun’s communion in September, but unfortunately I am not here anymore by then.

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But what I mean with this story is just how amazing it is, how open people are here, how much more they talk with each other while waiting for the bus in the street, how much more social contact there is between people, and how cultural borders don’t seem to matter. I found that the Mauritian way of life, the mindset and mentality is a great one that we should take as an example in our Western societies. Even though every place has it’s own cultural conflicts that come along with diversity of course… I just feel that I can smile so much more here than at home!

I guess that the visit of the garden and this encounter was a very synchrone spiritual experience that made me realize simultaniously that Mauritius is both a very colorful island, but in the same time also colorblind, because people don’t seem to mind so much over skin color, they seem to focus on the positive things they have and be grateful for those, even though all the difficulties there might be. And that is what made me fall in love with this island. It is not the beaches that make this a paradise, but the culture, which I wish all of you from the bottom of my heart to experience one day as well! ❤

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So we’re different colours
And we’re different creeds
And different people have different needs

But I see your true colors
Shining through
And that’s why I love you
So don’t be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
Beautiful, like a rainbow

People are people
So why should it be
You and I should get along so awfully

(Creative Mix of Depeche Mode & Cyndi Lauper)

But back on my travelogue now… We finally did manage to get home, but by that time it was evening already though. So there were just a couple of hours left to work a bit on my project and relax while doing silly things at the computer, and then I had to get ready for the next activity. It is crazy how busy I am here! Every day is so occupied but I Love it!

Well, so Saturday night, the Summer School students were invited by the people of the  Maha Kali Mata Mandir Temple where we are having our classes each day. They made us a whole local dinner at someone’s place so that was a very nice experience and opportunity to finally also meet all the temple members. We were offered to eat a favourite Mauritian dish: briyani (or briani). It is a rice dish made with beef, chicken, fish, mutton or vegetables (as well as yoghurt, saffron and spicies) that originates from Muslim Mauritians. The local Hindus are vegi/vegan so they eat it of course only with the vegetables, and most importantly: you have to eat it with your hands! Well, that was quite an experience as well! And oh yes, the entire dish is served on a banana leaf, or in our case here… Something that looked like a banana leaf!

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Going local! Eating Briyani with the Hindus

Note: in the picture you can see me eating with my left hand, but that was actually a cultural mistake (which I of course realized too late!). One isn’t supposed to use his left hand to eat food because the left hand is considered unclean, just as they believe in India. And also the muslims have their reasons for not using the left hand. I think – to be honest – that the main reason is that you cannot use your left hand because the people here don’t use toilet paper, you know… But I’ve bought some, fair enough! 😉

And to end our Saturday night in Peace & Love, we went to the only place that was open in town to have a last bear or wine before heading back home to sleep… Played some ‘never have I ever’ and ‘most likely to’ and other silly games of which I am going to spare you all embarassing details! 😛

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Drinks with the students in the village

Time for Sunday, a new day in paradise! After a slowly morning of showering and work on the computer, and a relaxing lunch near the beach, I decided to explore some more of the surrounding area to make use of my free time today. Together with the American girls and another student, we walked to Trou aux Biches, which is around 30 minutes walking along the beach northwards from where we are located. It was a great walk and extremely relaxing to walk barefoot over the soft sand of iddylic beaches that did not seem to come to an end.

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Walking from Pointe aux Piments to Trou aux Biches

By the time we reached Trou aux Biches, a lovely touristy town I finally got myself an ice cream! That did not happen until today in Mauritius! Me happy! But what made me more happy was sitting down at the beach and walking around in the village on a Sunday and seeing all these locals having a great family quality time together, picknicking at the beach or near the sea. Those are the moments that you are at the beach and you bring a book to read, but then you realize: I should just lay down and observe what is surrounding me, so much more interesting than a fiction story!

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After spending a few hours on the lovely beaches of Trou aux Biches, I called up one of the informants for my research project, and I managed to get a meeting the same night in the same location. So I met the woman who was so friendly to pick me up right at the beach and invited me to come over at the house. And after an hour and a half of interviewing and chatting for a little bit longer, her husband even offered to bring me back home by car to Pointe aux Piments. Well, that was rather a necesity than a friendly offer in the same time, because apparently public bus services stop to run after 6.30PM in the evening, so I would not have gotten a bus back anyway! But again: great people here, never a problem!

I had dinner at my host family and talked about my daily experiences in Mauritius, and went to back very satisfied with this lovely weekend. Ready for bed and a new week with new adventures! Curious about those? Well, then keep following the blog!

Greeting from paradise!

x Julie x

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The lovely beach at Trou aux Biches

Happy Field Trippin’ in Mauritius!

Time for an update again! This time I write about Thursday, when we were finally leaving the village of Pointe-aux-Piments for a first field trip with the Ethnographic Summer School to visit some museums and to explore the capital. I was looking forward a lot to this trip as I was curious to see the rest of the island. We did – of course – not manage to see a lot of the island in one day, but we did visit L’Aventure du Sucre and Aapravasi Ghat, an immigration depot. We also visited the capital of Mauritius, Port Louis, which was very nice. Read more about it bellow!

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Group Picture – Ethnographic Field School 2015 – Mauritius

Visiting a Sugar Museum might sound like a rather irrelevant thing, but sugar cane is in fact all over Mauritius, and it has turned the sugar industry into Mauritius first source of revenue for centuries. L’Aventure du Sucre is now a museum but it is the former Beau Plan sugar factory, and according to Lonely Planet it is one of the best museums on the island. In my opinion, it is also one of the bigger museums I have seen so far, or at least way bigger than I expected to see on the island. It did not only tell the history of this sugar industry in great detail, but it also covered a lot of history of Mauritius, the slavery, the rum trade and much more! It was therefore quite necessary to walk around there for a couple of hours before heading to the next stop on our itinerary for the day.

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A Nice & Interacting Sugar Museum in Pamplemousses!

At the end of the visit we were able to taste some of the 15 different varieties of unrefined sugar, and two of them were apparently invented in Mauritius. And last but not least, we could do some rum tasting as well, and tried 6 types of different rums, which was the perfect end for this visit. After all, for a museum it was not too boring and I kind of enjoyed this because of the interactivity and so on.

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Rum Tasting at L’Aventure du Sucre, Mauritius

Time to continue our trip! The next stop was the Aapravasi Ghat, which is an Immigration Depot in Port Louis. In this building complex half a million of Indian indentured labourers passed through to be transported to the plantations throughout the British Empire (1849-1923). So it was actually a place used for Slavery under the British Colony. This large-scale migration is probably one of the main reasons why 68% of the current total Mauritian population is of Indian Ancestry. So I guess this also explains why we – as Anthropology students – had to visit this site of important reference for the local history and cultural identity.

I must say this was a rather boring place, where we were not even allowed to take pictures, and were we could not really see many interesting things according to my opinion, but hey… this ‘unspeakable’ named museum was recognized by UNESCO and declared a World Heritage Site in 2006, so I guess I am missing something here! 😉

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Immigrant registration at the Aapravasi Ghat

By the time we finished our guided tour in “the museum of which I cannot pronounce the name”, it was finally time for FREE TIME and lunch in Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius.

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“La Corderie” Street Market in Port Louis, Mauritius

We started with a strawl around Port Louis Market,also known as Bazaar Port Louis. It was obvious immediately that here you could find local products, cheap clothing, and local spices at the best prices, if you manage to bargain enough of course! I did not really buy anything, but I enjoyed photographic, looking around and seeing the amazing mix of cultures, religions, ethnic groups and so on huzzling and buzzling here all together. The vibrant city life was again something else than what I had seen in the village of Pointe-aux-Piments for the last few days.

On the other hand I feel also that the more you travel, the more all these markets are becoming a bit similar and boring when it comes to the products they are offering. However, I keep questioning myself about all this unuseful things that are being sold on markets and in shops in such cities. How can I explain this… Well, let me say that if I would come to live here, I would probably not be able to find out where to buy which products, because it seems like everyone is selling pretty much the same products, and in the same time I feel like the things I might need are not available anywhere. Does that makes sense? Probably not! Whatever… 😉

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Locals Selling & Buying at the Streets of Port Louis

Enough Hustle & Bustle for the moment. We were actually starving! We had some Samosas (pastries which are stuffed with vegetables) and Gateaux Piments (chili cakes) on the road already, but now we were looking for a proper meal. Me and another student went to Chinatown, the Chinese quarter of the city to look for a little restaurant where we could find some nice food. Mission Accomplished, and no, we did not get sick afterwards! By the way, Chinatown is absolutely one of the nicest and most colourful parts of the city!

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Lunch at a local restaurant

Well, after lunch we walked some more, but now towards the harbour, which is the more modern part of Port Louis. Here you can find “Le Caudan Waterfront“, which is a commercial development in the city. They are many (more expensive, European priced) shops, banking facilities, casinos, cinemas, restaurants, a marina and of course also a five star hotel, which is called “Le Labourdonnais”. It is obvious to me that this development has been created for the many cruise passengers that arrive here nowadays, but it is also a smart way to get some extra economic flows into Port Louis, I guess. But it still stays funny and a little bit ‘special’ how different areas in the city are so different from each other, while going smoothly over in each other without any problems, so it seems…

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View over the Caudan Waterfront, Port Louis

After that walk along the Caudan waterfront, it was time to head back. It had been a quite busy day after all. Home sweet home back to the host family, but not to sit down and relax. That very same evening it was time to meet my first informant for my research topic, and I have also done some work on my laptop after dark! I am not going to tell you what it is about at this moment, but maybe when my project is finished, I will publish some blog post about the results. We’ll see about that later! 😉

P.S.: Our ‘Nanny’ (grand mother) got herself a hot water gas boiler installed, so we can now actually shower at her place! No need to run to the neighbors anymore and no ice cold water anymore. Can my day be happier?! #feelingblessed

I’ll write more soon! x x x

Besitos, Julie!

Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue And the dreams that you dare to dream Really do come true

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Port Louis 

Settling into Mauri…What?!

Waww, I have only been here for a few days and so much has happened already! I feel like a cameleon, adapting smoothly to my environment. So: where to start?!

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It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives.

It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin

Sunday I arrived and I got to know my host mother a bit. She speaks some French but mostly Créole and it is obviously not always obvious what she is trying to say. She is very nice and kind, but also a little bit possessive in her own unique hospitable way, as she is cooking dinner and makes me eat whatever she likes. She made me eat the weirdest things, fortunately she is Hindu so I am not supposed to eat meat (lucky vegetarian I am!).

I was very happy to meet my fellow roommates after a few hours of being drawned into a little culture shock, having no internet, no phone, no toilet, no shower and so on. Emily is an American student who is staying at “grandma’s place” (as she calls it) as well, and Francesca is also an American student who is staying in the house next door, where I go to shower and use the internet. The house next door belongs to the children of ‘Grandma’.

Where I stay there is no bathroom at all, unless you consider the open air sink as a bathroom. So I have to walk through a garden and knock at the other houses door, which is not really a problem actually. But not really a luxury either! :p In the shower I got company of Mom and Daughter Cockroach, so yes… I have already made some friends here, and built up a reputation as murderer!

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Going out to get some streetfood with my roommates

But enough about the house and the weirdest food being served there, I am here for Ethnographic Fieldwork, not for wishing I was at the beach all day! And dear friends, I hope you don’t keep thinking that that is (the only thing) what I am doing here. Anthropologists do have a hard life! 😉

Because as fast as I arrived in the house, so fast was I gone again. After a terrible too sweet and pink drink that I was offered to drink as a way of welcoming me into the family, I was invited at a Knife-Walking ritual in the village of Pointe-aux-Piments. So I did not even have time to put my luggage down and check my room, as my host father and I were already gone again.

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Colorful Hindus in Pointe-aux-Piments

The ritual was exactly what it sounded like: people were literally walking over knifes, while playing music, burning essence sticks, while suffering and so on. I had never seen a ritual like this before – and I am not expecting to see many of these again in my life – and I was also not really understanding much about it either. The only thing that is for sure that is they sacrifice theirselves for their religion (Hinduism). I was told that before the ceremony those people were praying and fasting for several days, and during the ceremony partcipents would then envoken their godess whilst making a sacrifice. Walking over the swords appears to be a very meaningful and extreme ritual for hindus, in which they are seeking to prove their piety by withstanding their pain.

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Walking over Knifes… A quite unsual religious practice in Mauritius!

Monday it was time to go to school at 9AM… Dimitris Xygalatas, the Summer School professor, an anthropologist who is very experienced in doing research on extreme rituals in Mauritius, opened the course by overviewing all practical concerns and reviewing the syllabus. I got to meet all the other students. We are with 18 students, coming from different countries such as Denmark, United States, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Peru, Servia and Belgium (which is represented by myself). After introducing ourselves, our field of study (we come from different degrees in social sciences, varying from Bachelors to Masters levels), the instructors also presented themselves. Apart from Dimitris, there are a few other instructors as well, who are basically research assistants or connections of Dimitris who are also researching within Mauritius. So we are a group of +/- 25 persons.

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Having classes at the beach. This is The Life!

So what is this “Ethnographic Field School” all about?

Well, the course will “provide empirical training in ethnographic fieldwork through immersion into the field and engaging in qualitative as well as quantitative field studies involving a variety of methods such as participant-observation, interviews, surveys, and behavioral and biometric measures. The course also examines key methodological, epistemological, and ethical issues pertaining to the study of culture and working with human subjects. Furthermore, it involves a series of field trips and lectures on Mauritius, its diverse culture, and its fascinating history”, as it is mentioned in the syllabus.

So: again, we did not come here for 3 weeks of paradise and sunbathing, but we came to experience “the real Mauritius” (even though you can start questioning that, if you think about being a large group of Western students living closely to each other for the next few weeks).
After that first general session in the morning, we had our first lunch break and everyone was excited to get to know each other better, to overcome to culture shock and make some new friends. We decided to explore the coastal area of Pointe-aux-Piments (the village were we stay), and so we discovered our first beach at only 5 minutes walking from the classroom, which is actually located nearby a fancy hotel: Récif Attitude Hotel*** (about €90 per night for a standard room, which is kind of affordable for a paradise island!)

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Getting to know each other at the beach of Pointe-aux-Piments

Well, I have to admit… It is kind of paradise here, right? And I guess not many of you reading this have lunch breaks as I am having here. So God bless the life I lead, and thank God for this amazing opportunity! But to all good things come to an end, quite fast, because lunch break was “only 2 hours” and then it was time again to return to the afternoon class. The only thing that I could think of, was that this might become an extreme ritual that people must start to practice every day and everywhere, lol.

This session an introduction about Mauritius and its culture was on the schedule, but as smart as Dimitris is (yes, we can actually call our professor here by his first name!), he started with a little quiz to test our knowledge about Mauritius, or in other words: did we read enough, and prepare ourselves well for this course? I spare you the answer to be honest… Woops! 😉

Funny facts you might like to know about Mauritius:

  • Did you know that Mauritius is about the size of Luxemburg?
  • Did you know that Mauritius has no official language? (But English and French are taught at school)
  • Did you know that the tallest mountain on the island is about 800 meters high?
  • Did you know that Charles Darwin has written not only about the Galapagos Islands (which I visited last year), but also about the flora and fauna of Mauritius?
  • Did you know that there is actually a town called Pamplemousses (grapefruit) in Mauritius?

But… maybe most important, do you actually know where in the world Mauritius is located? I bet most of you readers don’t, which is actually not really a problem (because I also did not know it very well before I heard about this course and looked it up). The most important is that you know that it is NOT “one of those French islands in the Caribbean”, but that is actually “one of those islands in the Indian Ocean, near Madagascar and La Réunion”. Or to be more specific… here’s a map:

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Enough educational stuff for today! Unless you really want to know more interesting facts about this island, then you should look at this nicely written article! Tomorrow I’ll write about more interesting facts, but more important: my interesting life and experiences here, a Sega dance night and much more fun!

A big kiss for all of those who are so great to keep following me!

You’re the best! Thank you for all the support!

x x With Love x x

Julie

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