Whats it all about . . .

My name is Rachel Talbot and from September 2011 to July 2012 I will be Volunteering for Project Trust, a charitable organization which sends young adults from 17-19yrs overseas to do charitable work in a range of projects. I raised 5000 pounds for this opportunity through a range of events and would like to thank everyone who donated! This year i will be working in a center for children with disabilities while immersing myself in all things Mauritian! Hopefully i can update here what i am up to, may not update religiously . . . Thanks for visiting :)

Sunday, 22 July 2012

It's the Final Countdown . . .

So Im into my last week of Mauritius. Its one of a long list of lasts. Last Sunday, last day on the beach, last ride of my bike, last day of work . . .

The night before my last day of work felt like Christmas eve, I was working as hard as an elf. Painting cards, baking cakes, buying presents.  I was excited to give them all my goodies but so sad thinking it would be the last time I would see most of the children. On the day, which was the last day of term, we had a big party with sega dances, songs and the boys break dancing. They pulled me up to swing my hips with the girls and at the end I stood up to say a few words in creole about how much I’d miss them all and what its meant to have met them all. We had a huge feast and lots of singing and dancing. I was determined to stay positive and enjoy myself on the last day and not let myself get down thinking about how much id miss being a part of CEDEM. The kids were delighted to get printed photos of themselves and they told me how they would keep them forever. The pleasure that lit up on their faces made a huge smile break out on mine.  As the end of school came and the kids were leaving I gave each of them a big hug and told them I’d never forget them. The sweetest part was from one of the mothers of one of the most disabled girls at the school who said at home she always asks “wheres Miss Rachelle?” and is constantly bringing up my name. I was so emotionally drained from the day but looking back I have really fond memories of it. Next week ill drop all my extra stuff at shelter. I can’t wait to see the looks on the girls faces when they see im leaving them 90% of my wardrobe, my straightners plus my ipod and everything else in between! Where as in my bag to come home my most valued things are a sega drum, one pair of jeans to my name and a bottle of rum. Happy days!

This weekend me and Helen also went scuba diving for the first time.A really amazing experience that we’d wanted to do for a long time! We were under the water for forty minutes at a depth of 14 metres. It was unreal being in the under water world spotting octopus, all kinds of colourfull fish and bright coral. I manged to bring a shell back up to the surface as a souvenir and It’s definitely not the last time I’ll be doing it!

I had a really nice weekend before staying at a teachers house out in one of the farming villages. Learning to Indian dance, write in hendi, watching bollywood films and be spoilt rotten with sooo much food. For an afternoon tea one day we had bread deep fried in batter. Its safe to say my extra chins are going to exceed the baggage allowance on my flight home! It was so nice to walk around the farm with her kids, seeing how almost everything edible grows in their garden. We picked passion fruit and bananas of the tree, dug up peanuts and peeled sugar cane with knifes to feast on. Her daughter, Ischika, also wrote out a Creole exam for me which was a lot of fun!

Its becoming so so real for leaving now. The other day I sold my bike to my favourite fruit seller in the market for 1000 ruppees. He says he’s going to strap on his fruit box (about the size of a television) and cycle it up to curepipe everyday!

It’s going to be surreal seeing all the family and friends once I go home. My brother who left for Australia on the same day as me is coming back next weekend too so it’ll be an even more special family reunion. it’ll be nice to see how everyone has changed over the year. I know I have picked up some funny habits like greeting people with two kisses on the cheek and crying “Ayoo mumma” when something goes wrong.

This week it’s hit home how much the level of poverty there still is in Mauritius. I was having a conversation with one of the teacher who told me that a good wage for a teacher to start off on here would be 10,000 rupees a month, about £250. I think about the job at home I had in the shop before I left and I was getting £500-£600 a month where as here a girl in the same shop would be lucky to get £60 a month. It doesn’t seem right to me that I was getting thrown all this money at such a young age where as families here have to make it work for food, rent, clothes on about a 5th of what I was getting. Where as what do I have to spend it on, clothes and nights out! When I get my first pay packet when I go home it will be a shock to be given all that money, I’ll have no Idea what to spend it on. She also told me that the poorest villages on the coast, where I could never go because it’s too dangerous, there are families of nine or ten kids, who have such a little food for themselves and their houses are mere shacks made of iron sheets. It’s given me a lot to think about and I hope that when I get back I’ll be a lot more aware of my spending and how easy life is for me back in the UK.

This last week of holiday will be filled with goodbyes, last minute shopping, packing and consuming as much Mauritian food as humanly possible! I can’t believe soon ill be back at home where seeing a white person outside my house I won’t just automatically think that they’re lost like here in the ghetto!

Au revoir for now, ill try and update one last time before ive settled back into Ullapool life . . .


Monday, 9 July 2012

June and leaving blues . . .

Since I last wrote I’ve been trying to explore as much of Mauritius and what it has to offer before I go! I went Parasailing on Ile aux Cerf, which is apparently the most beautiful part of the island, two little islands accessed by boat with a blue lagoon strip of water separating them. It was really breathtaking even in winter. We had a nice lunch on the Island and then were taken out to a pontoon to do Parasailing. It was amazing. To be so high up you can see over so much of the island and looking down at the crystal clear blue sea below – I would recommend it to anyone!!

We also went to the cinema last weekend to watch a typical Bollywood film. Something we hadn’t had the privileged yet of experiencing . . .  for my food for the film I got Ten rupee bags of peanuts and baguette fromage (cheese cake) which is like a deep fried dough – which five bags came to about a pound – compare that to paying ten pounds for some popcorn and coke at home! The film was unbelievably long – three hours with an interval in the middle! It was your typical mix of sing along songs, drama and colour. It was incredibly OTT but I’m glad I experienced it!

Last weekend I and Helen decided at last minute to head to the carnival that was going on at Flic en Flac beach. It was the first one in Mauritius and performers had come from all over the world so we thought it was a must do. Seems so did the rest of the island . . . We headed from Curepipe bus station at one o’clock, didn’t get to the beach (usually a 45 minute journey) until four o’clock. Our bus, full of rowdy Mauritians heading to the carnival, broke down twenty minutes into the journey so we had to wait in the baking hot sun for a replacement. Then the Traffic jam was insane, about a half hour away from the beach it started. After enduring it for well over two hours we weren’t too far from the beach, or so we thought. So like all the others on the bus we got off and headed towards the beach. Hundreds of Mauritians were flooding down the hill and taking shortcuts through the sugar cane. We couldn’t go through there without breaking off a cheeky bit of sugar cane and chewing on it as we walked, the best free snack! It satisfied us for the half an hour journey down to the beach!!

As we were heading down the hill with loads of singing dancing drinking Mauritians and tourists it was a really awesome festival feel – why did I have to have work the next day?! Once we got there we were just in time to watch the floats as they were leaving. They were so much fun, blaring out music, from all over the world, dancers from Brazil, Miss England and Chinese performers. My favorite was the steel drummers from La Reunion Island which you couldn’t help but dance to. There was a massive crowd up and down the street, some of the performers were even getting crushed. Apart from that it was a really good vibe, with the sun beating down it was the perfect day for it. I felt sorry for the poor guy in the Lion King float who had one a full body giraffe suit complete with two metre head who must have been baking in there swaying from side to side! 

After about an hour of watching the floats pass by me and Helen had to ask ourselves.  How on earth were we getting home?! The roads were jammed people were flooding in to Flic en Flac to have what was guaranteed to be a good night while families were flooding out desperate to get home before dark. There was suppose to be a public bus but we passed it stuck in traffic as we walked out of the beach. People had there heads stuck out the window gasping for air – no chance! Even if we got a taxi we would be hours stuck in a bottle jam trying to get out. So back up the hill we walked. Cue some seen out of an apocalyptic film as hundreds of men women and children flooded up the hill in search of refuge and hopefully a taxi at the Cascavelle shopping centre. As we climbed up that hill which seemed never ending, we met other volunteers, people we knew and made friends with tourists, all joined together in this desperate situation. Once we finally got to the shopping centre, we were desperate, tired and had blisters the size of grapes! Thankfully the first man we asked to point us in the direction of a taxi just said he would take us with his family as he was going our way home (sorry PT – shouldn’t really take lifts form strangers!) but we were desperate. So we hopped in the car and heading back to home! Dirty from the sugar plantations, tired form the walking but on a high from the fun carnival it was an adventure of a day J

Some of the things from Mauritius I’m going to miss

Just buying a ten rupee snack from the street. There is nowhere in UK where you can just pick something up for ten pence if you fancy something to graze on. Since freddos have gone up to fifteen pence or something ridiculous you can be bankrupt just buying some chocolate at home

Wearing flip flops 24/7 and not just using sunglasses as a fashion statement. Would it be optimistic to wear flip flops and sunnies coming off the plane at home?

Cycling to work in the morning when the sun is coming up. And hearing the old men in the ghetto calling out greetings every morning and asking for a turn on my bike.

Speaking in Creole (even in my accent is shoddy!) the appreciation form people when they know you’ve learnt their language is always gratifying.

On a Sunday there always being a group of old men sitting in the shade of a tree crouching in the dirt to play dominoes. I didn’t know there was even that many ways to win dominoes but they love it!
Sega music and the laid back reggae music

Going for long bus journeys across the country and looking out on the sugar plantations and palm trees and hills and always being taken aback by how beautiful it is here.

Greeting every kid in the morning and hearing their stories and having banter with them

Big warm hugs from Emeline when you’re freezing cold in the playground

Buying fresh fruit from the market for next to nothing. When there in season just getting a 24 pence pineapple chopping it up and eating it on the baloney in the sun.

Being completely isolated from everything that happening in the UK with no Television or newspapers.

Phoenix fresh beer. Mmmm.

And the things I’m looking forward to,

My mum’s home cooking,

Going to Belladrum Music festival with all the girls :D

Swapping winter here for summer in Scotland . . .

Giving my sisters a hug

Sleeping in my bed!

That’s me at nineteen days till I’m home. Just under a month. I know that some people go away to do just a   month of volunteering so I can’t help but feel grateful that I’ve had this whole year to experience my country and to make a real bond with the kids. I know i may never get the money to come out here again, i truly hope this is not true as it's like having a good friend and then cutting them off and never speaking to them again - unthinkable. means too much. But i know i have to go back home to bigger things, University.

Madame Rita just returned from a trip to Naples. she was so shocked by the level of poverty and the way in which children are treated there in the sex trade and sweat shops that she is planning on opening a shelter, like CEDEM, in a region of Naples. This has given me an idea to take a placement at the new shelter, once it opens. i can save the money while at university and go in University holidays. with the connection with Madame already in place it would be easy to set up. And in this way i could hear about the children in CEDEM from Madame. Seems PT gap years open doors :)

Now I’m focusing on getting all my souvenirs and presents for everyone – but what to get when you’ve been away for a year?!? Rum and everything plastered with the Dodo is a must.

See you all much sooner than you think!

Saturday, 30 June 2012

English week and Music day at CEDEM

Two of the worlds international languages are food, and music.
From the 17th to the 22nd of june we have the biggest event at school going. Forget the Olympics or the football, we had English week and Music day. The children were encouraged to speak English for the whole week, that lasted about ten minutes. Thursday was the national music day with concerts around the island to celebrate the vibrant music scene we have here in Mauritius. Each day at school we had a different theme of music/culture. Monday was “European”, Tuesday “Typique Seggae”, Wednesday “Indian” and Thursday “Chinese” then on Friday the big concert .I feel lucky that coming away from home to experience another culture I didn’t just get one culture to experience but ultimately three, Indian, Chinese and African/creole.

On Monday I was wearing a typical English dress, a silk creamy dress you would of worn to a wedding three sizes too big . . . and we waltzed to Adele and did karaoke to Michael Jackson. We had old classic games such as musical chairs and ‘danse sur la journal’ where the couples had to dance on a piece of paper which kept being folded and getting smaller. All the kids dressed up in dresses and suits and looked very daper to say the least J

On Tuesday I was kitted out in a full sega outfit, a full length billowing skirt patterned with yellow and blue flowers and a shirt with extra yellow ruffles. We dqanced to the' Maravanne' rattle and ‘Ravanne’ drum and unluckily one of the kids got my horrific dancing recorded on camera . . .  I’ve resigned myself to the fact that us foreigners can’t swing our hips like the creole girls from here, it just isn’t in our genes. but i gave it a shot an dhad a lot of fun! We had groups of sega singers and some of the kids did solos. Here is a taster of some of the sega songs that are popular right now . http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jO7XzPKLDk

 I have absoloutly no idea who is number One in the Uk charts right now but I can sing you every word to the sega hits over here!

Wednesday brought Indian culture. I was dressed in one of the teachers saris which I still don’t know how they wrapped around me! As pretty as It was I won’t be swapping to full time saris anytime soon – I don’t know how the women move around to cook and clean and going to the toilet is a nightmare!! We danced Bhojpuri which is a type of Indian exclusive to Mauritius that was created here. I just followed the other teachers and threw in a typical pat the dog while screwing the light bulb move and ripped off some moves I’d seen in bend it like beckham. . . after the demsonstration we had a little disco where I ended up hitching up my sai doing the highland fling for the kids to copy!

On Thursday I was dressed up in some funky Chinese cut off trousers and a red silk waistcoat. We did thai chee with the kids ( I had to change out of my trousers as I was in danger of ripping them!) and we practiced for the big concert the next day!

Unfortunately the big sega artist who had been booked to play on Friday cancelled at the last minute but we had another acoustic band come in to save the day “One destiny”. The day was set up kind of like a stars in disguise with different acts from the kids. Kids did hits from Bollywood films, some hip hop with awesome break dancing and lots of girls doing sega dance routines. It still surprises me how here it is one of the only places where the kids of the country actually like listening to the traditional music of their country and not just bland dance songs from america.  Us teachers did a number – a Scottish dance which I choreographed and we practice in one day!! I mixed in highland dancing with ceilidh dancing and pretty much everything in between. Most of the teachers were tired out from all the jumping about but they all enjoyed doing it – it was nice to be in a kilt dancing aogn to some bagpipes! We had a school disco after. As much as I would of loved to gone on the dance floor and messed about with the kids I kept having to remind myself I was a teacher and was supervising cleaning up and getting food and drink for the visitors! All the kids dressed up again had a really good time though and it was a great day to top off a fantastic week J

Sunday, 17 June 2012



Having been here for eight months I'm completely in a routine and my jobs and day to day tasks are second nature, but heres what I'm giggling at that couldn't be more different from my school days:

1.       Here, if you’re off school for sunburn, you would be met with a sympathetic nod and understanding.  At home you’d get “waaa you total spoon!”
2.       For lunch you’d get Macaroni cheese with a bit of salt to liven it up.  Here, “what did you bring in for your lunch today Ahmed? A chili sandwich, hmmm? Just green chilis in some bread?” Now that’s what I call a packed lunch - hats off to these kids.
3.       Language slip ups are so much funnier; to the question “how are you?” a student wrote “I am tinky, thank you”.  I don’t even know what she was trying to say . . .
4.       When there is sun in the playground the kids dive for the shade while I’m starfished on the grass, soaking up the Vitamin D
5.       Surely I wasn’t this cheeky in school: there was a boy sleeping on his arms in class so I gently woke him up and handed him a book.  He looked at me in surprise, then gratefully said “Merci Miss Rachelle” and used it as a pillow!
6.       At home it’s not like you’re playing Russian roulette every time you go in the toilet: “will there be tissue, will there not?”
7.       Sometimes it will just start with someone tapping on a desk or a chair but then, before you know it, the girls are singing traditional Sega while swinging their hips around and dancing. Never seen someone just whip out a set of bagpipes in the classroom and others burst into the Highland fling!

What else is making me laugh at school:
A new rather amusing nickname the kids made up for me, “Blanche Neige” A.K.A “Snow White”, and I thought I was tanning!
Here none of the kids in my school have heard of the Second World War. So when the teacher was explaining there was a bad man called Hitler who wanted the whole world to look a certain way. “White Skin, Blue Eyes, oh wait, pretty much exactly how Rachelle looks . . .” cue lots of kids turning in their seats to look at me like I was responsible for the first world war . . .

I can’t believe I have only five weeks left at work :( It has been the toughest most challenging test I’ve been put to, and by far the hardest job I've ever had but maybe that’s not saying much as I’ve on had summer jobs in shops . . . but I feel like I’ve really thrown myself into it. At times it was been tough dealing with the tantrums of the girls in shelter or the fights breaking out between children with behavior problems, but I couldn’t be more sad to leave them! Having to deal with teenagers with difficult backgrounds who are in that moody stage of they're life makes you have to act a lot older than you are, when you're not even sure you're past that moody teenager stage in your life! they are like my younger sisters, its hard not to become fiercely protective of them! on top of that caring for the children with dissabilities who are the same age as you if not older, it truly puts your life in perspective. how much you can achieve, how you owe it to yourself to push yourself. but also how rewarding it can feel to help others!

Next week we have English Week and also Music week. Cue lots of excitement and dressing up in silly costumes. Each day we are having a different theme, English, Indian, Chinese and traditional Creole. I’m planning on throwing some ceilidh dancing in there for fun, kilts at the ready! J We also have a Creole singer coming as a surprise for the kids on the Friday, but I won’t say anymore as its top secret . . . even I’m excited!!

Only forty more days till my flight . . . hmmm my visa is valid to September however, how tempting . . .


Sunday, 10 June 2012

Pils caravan

In my last blog I mentioned a motor caravan which runs at night, offering information and HIV tests for sex workers and drug takers in the main districts of Mauritius.  This is run by the charity Prévention Information Lutte contre le Sida (PILS) and two weeks ago I got the opportunity to go out with the caravan for the first time.  I found the experience really interesting;  we travelled from Quatre Borne to Rosehill (both commercial towns on the west side of the island, not somewhere which tourist usually visit) stopping at various hot spots.  The drivers of the van obviously knew and were friends with most of the prostitutes and part of their job is to stop and chat to as many as they can while handing out condoms etc.   At our first stop one of the older prostitutes agreed to take an HIV test which thankfully came back negative;  I found it incredible that it took simply ten minutes to complete the test – a quick pin-prick to the finger, a short wait and that’s it.  It almost felt too brief for something potentially that deadly!

The driver of the caravan bluntly told me that some of the women that we met that night would also die that night - just the harsh reality of their circumstances L.  I met prostitutes of all different ages and genders.  Some were a lot older than I expected and some were sadly quite young, in some cases younger than me.  I have to admit that I really enjoyed talking to the transvestites – they were such fun, calling me “sugar” in broken English and telling me funny stories in creole about being picked up by men who thought they were girls and the resulting surprise when all was revealed! We had one incident of a man coming up to ask for a clean needle but the caravan wasn’t at liberty to hand out those sorts of things, I found it quite disarming how openly they  were about what they do. It was a subject that hit close to home as many of the girls placed in the shelter at CEDEM have had parents who were drug abusers or prostitutes, and I can appreciate how hard it must be to have to do that work to scrape by with children at home.

It was a really interesting night;  I learned a lot about a subject that I had not really dealt with before and I can see how much great work PILS does.  Through the rapport they have built up with the sex workers, I can see they really care and it’s good that they offer unconditional, non-judgemental friendship to people whose circumstances and lifestyle is pretty bleak.  If you would like to know more about the charity, here is a link to their website, http://www.pils.mu/ - it is in French though.  I hope to go out with the caravan again shortly.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The Happenings April 2012

Despite being adamant the last time I wrote that I would keep more up to date, I’ve left it far too long to write the next installment of this blog!  Bear with me and my lack of application while I fill you in on what’s been happening recently

I spent the Easter holidays working with the shelter girls upstairs in CEDEM. Unfortunately for atheist me, Easter here means the end of Lent, the Resurrection and a lot of church events - not the heaps of chocolate eggs I was hoping for! Thankfully the rota at the shelter was kind to me and I got my first 4 days off since Christmas so I had a well deserved fourteen hours’ sleep and then did some sightseeing with Helen.

One of the girls turned eighteen during the holidays, the first resident to do so since I’ve been here.   That meant she was legally allowed to leave the shelter and her mother and little brother came to collect her the very next day.  She was so excited to go but couldn’t stop herself from becoming tearful when it came time to leave.  If I’m completely honest, I was clutching onto one of the other girls having a little sob too.  On an outing to the beach once, this girl had shown me where she used to live and I was completely shocked; the house was entirely made of tin with the dirt yard covered in broken glass and, old bits of machinery. I couldn’t have pictured a more desperate place to grow up. Thankfully she was going to her family’s new house on the other side of the island. She also will have no contact with her father or older brother who makes me feel relived as they were the reason she was taken into the shelter in the first place.

With the departure of an old face, we also had the welcoming back of another.  Once term started again Miss Sandrine told us that three new girls would be starting in the college. They were shelter girls from the notorious OYC (apparently the shelter where troublesome and unruly girls are sent to live). These were Elodie, Annabelle and Priscilla. The latter was a former resident of CEDEM shelter who had originally come when she was seven years old but had had to be sent to OYC after incidents at CEDEM and disagreements with Madame Rita.  Of course this got all the other shelter residents really excited and they started behaving pretty badly to impress each other and the new girls - such a fun first week back … I actually find Priscilla very mature and easy to talk to; at seventeen she only has one year of shelter left.  I’m also enjoying getting to know the other girls too;  Elodie has a laugh that is even funnier than the joke!

In my last blog I wrote about Anastasia, the shelter girl I was tutoring before she went to India to have the operation on her legs. She has been and come back since I last wrote, having been in India for about a month.  On the day of her operation we all held a vigil at the school and sent positive thoughts Anastasia’s way.  Her recovery has been swift and it was fantastic to hear that she had stood for the first time.  She’s now back and living in the other shelter but I see her at school.  She is so skinny after her operation but she’s happy and encouraged to walk everywhere with her supports on her legs so she can build up her muscles.  It’s awesome to have her back.

The return back to school after the Easter break also meant back to the special needs pupils – how I’ve missed their little ways and eccentricities!  Unfortunately Fazial, the autistic boy who was obsessed with feet as gone back to his native country, Dubai, so my tootsies are feeling pretty neglected!  Now, however, I have a new table where I help the pupils with their work, getting them organized for lunch, etc.  One of my favorites is Emmeline who is just gorgeous – very dark, voluptuously beautiful but so timid.  However she has such an infectious giggle that I can’t help but smile when I’m around her.  Then there’s Luv who also is just so cheery and a little cheeky and loves to try his English out on me. Unfortunately he had an epileptic fit in the playground the other day - too much sun and running about. It was heartbreaking for the other teachers and me when we could do nothing but wait it out while it was clear he was in so much distress!

The school has suggested that I have a ‘Scotland’ day before I leave so the kids have an idea of my culture. It’s a little bit of excitement and I’m already planning the mince and tatties, kilt wearing, ceilidh dancing escapades! I tried to make tablet the other day in preparation . . . came out resembling sand and then set so hard that we were in danger of cracking a tooth at every bite – need more practice! If anyone has any more ideas for activities on the day or materials or even an easy tablet recipe (!!) would be much appreciated.

In my last blog I wrote about the catamaran trip which I would be going on for my birthday. .  A few months too late!  Well we did eventually go, together with our PT country representative’s son, some of his friends and Helen’s brother.   It would probably have been a lot more enjoyable if the weather hadn’t been choppy and I got sea sick for the second time in my live. Vomiting into a plastic bag while Daisy vomited into another plastic bag beside me was not the best of memories!  . But, apart from that, the rest of the day was bliss, particularly discovering a perfect deserted island :D

While Helen’s brother was here (he had hired a car), we took the chance to visit the horse racing track, Champ de Mars, on the weekend which is a pretty big thing here.  It was a lot of fun to get dressed up and pretend we were part of polite society.  We decided to pool our money to bet on each race, 10 rupees each (about 20p) - heyy big spenders!   However we lost on every race and, in desperation, our choice of bet became more and more outrageous - our favorite color that the jockey was wearing, which horse went to the toilet last . . . By the time of the last race, most of the others had given up, calling it all a fool’s game.  However, Helen, her brother and I upped the ante, bet 25 rupees each on the final race … and won!  From the way we jumped up and down and yelled, you’d have been forgiven for thinking that we’d won thousands of pounds, not 250 rupees (almost £5).  It was enough for a celebratory McFlurry for each of us on the way home to finish a most enjoyable day.

Since I last wrote I have been on some more nights out in the north with new friends we’ve met on the beach and around the island. Going out three weekends in a row was my record here! how the times have changed . . . we also had a wine tasting night at the High commissioners residences which was a lot of fun brushing shoulders with the rich and powerful of Mauritius high society. And there were even some people from Scotland which tugged at my heart strings.

So I’m on holiday this week at last! Taking the time to relax and do some more exploring – Mauritius is so tiny it doesn’t take very long! On Friday I can say that I will be coming home next month!! Not to sound too much like a Project Trust lecture but I really am feeling the craziest range of emotions. One minute I’ll be jumping about thinking about seeing everyone at home then the next I’ll be sniveling to myself because I won’t be able to Apollo noodles (my favorite snack) anymore! One thing I know for sure. I CAN’T WAIT to have fresh milk again (powered milk for a year does not cut it) and having that first Irn Bru will be fantastic . . .

The weather here is horrific at the moment. Last night I had to wear a onezie fleece and woolly socks to bed and I still had to brace myself to get out of bed in the morning. Winter has really hit! Or maybe just Curepipe because we live up high where it’s as temperamental as Scotland. While everyone at home is sunbathing and firing up the BBQs. You all should be very smug indeed.

I’ll try update again before I’m back in Scotland – I’ll barely have any time left! Can’t believe how fast the time is going – it really does fly when you’re having the time of your life :D 

Peace and love.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

second half of 2012 post, yeah theres more . . .

My Desk Officer from Project Trust, Nick Rowland, visited us 2 weeks ago. He stayed with us at our flat for three nights and visited each of our projects. He literally travelled straight from the airport to my school and watched while I taught Anastasia before I showed him around the school. I felt it was a really successful visit and Daisy, Freya and Helens all thought their visits went well too which is great. On the Thursday of the week Nick was with us, we attended a cocktail party at the High Commission to which local dignitaries and representatives from many NGO’s in Mauritius who might, potentially, take PT volunteers next year, were invited. It was a really successful evening with lots of contacts and relationships established. Before Nick left, we all had a really enjoyable day out, visiting parts of the island that we hadn’t been to yet. It was so good to see someone from home and, next time I see him will be when I go back to Coll in August for our 3-day debriefing course.

Mahashivaratree was next festival in the calendar. This is the pilgrimage walk which the Hindus, from all round the island, take part in. They trek towards a huge 108 metre high statue of their God, Shiva, which is situated in Grand Bassin on the south of the island and some travel for up to four days before they arrive! I stayed with a teacher friend from school the night before and walked to and from the statue with her family a distance of about 11km each way. We all had to wear white and I thought this was because of a religious requirement but, apparently, it was just so that people didn’t get run over! On the road to Grand Bassin there were Hindus who had already done the walk, manning stalls of food and drink, handing out free faratas and juice to the rest of us pilgrims. On arrival at Grand Bassin, my friend’s family performed their prayers and sacrificed half of the specially taken food, while sharing the other half with total strangers. They encouraged me to take part in the prayer with them which I thought was really encouraging. The only other non-Hindus I spotted during the pilgrimage were a French lady and a Chinese man! After three prayers, we spotted a sacred cow which we were told we could touch. It seemed absurd to me that the people were so enthusiastic about seeing and touching this cow when we have hundreds of the things in fields back at home!

One boring, average afternoon as I was coming home, full of plans to go to the gym then an early night, I spotted random, odd groups of people walking along the street, literally covered in multi-coloured dust! Had the Skittles rainbow exploded, I wondered? I didn’t have a clue what was going on so, when I made it back to the house, I inquired of my landlady in Creole what it all signified. She burst out laughing (something that rarely happens from a women who makes us clean our flat religiously!) and explained that this was another Indian festival called Holly. She told me to stick around and, once the festivities were kicking off at her house downstairs from our flat, she would call me down. ‘Ah,’ I thought, ‘who needs the gym’ and started to charge my camera for what would probably be a far more entertaining evening. Half an hour later I heard Mrs Gobin yelling ‘RACHELLE, RACHELLE VIENS!’ so I grabbed my camera and hurried down the stairs to her house below. However, just as soon as I reached the last
step, I was what can only be described as attacked! Ten or fifteen Hindu women and children, each looking unbelievably menacing with streaks of different colours all over their faces, advanced on me! They smeared my face with coloured dust, all over my hair, bits in my mouth, clarting my clothes and a little girl even pulled out my trousers and stuffed some down my pants. Once I had got over the shock, I couldn’t stop myself laughing hysterically! When the women had decided I was sufficiently covered, we all went into Mrs Gobin’s house for a few rums (oh dear huuuge measures again!) and some Indian dancing to a drum that my landlady just brought out of nowhere and then immensely enjoyed banging on! (I was learning more and more about her today.) For the rest of the evening, we travelled from house to house and rang door bells of friends. As they came to the door we smeared them all over with dust so I went from being the attacked to being the attackee. Rubbing multicoloured dust all over a stranger’s face is highly enjoyable - it reminded me of Mischief Night before Halloween when the local children would go around the village, pranking people, ringing doorbells, egging doors and running away. Except, this time, I was with a bunch of more than seventy, hyperactive Hindu women and, wherever we went, we didn’t run away afterwards but got invited in for a rum at every house! Who knew that being dedicated to a religion could be so much fun! By the end of the evening, Mrs Gobin and I were walking home, arm in arm, (her a little worse for wear) and feeling as if, that night, I had learnt a lot culturally and also how much fun my landlady was!

I’m in a state of disbelief that the half way mark of my stay here in Mauritius has been and gone! I know it sound s clichéd but the past six months has gone so, so fast! I’ve had so much fun already, seen so much, done so much, experienced so much. And I’ve got another five months to go. I don’t want to waste a second of it so I have been trying to organise more activities to fit into my spare time. We still have a lot of the island left to see so I hope to do a lot of travelling during my last few weeks (as well as topping up on a year’s worth of tanning which I never got to do while I was in the classroom!). While Nick from PT was here, we visited potential projects for volunteers next year. Among them was a school for the blind which I really enjoyed visiting and hope to get involved with in my spare time. I’m also continuing to help out at the animal shelter on the weekends. In Port Louis I visited a company which is called Pils which raises awareness on HIV/AIDS. They use a van to travel around at night educating prostitutes and drug takers (Mauritius has the fourth highest number of heroin injectors in the world) and I hope to get involved in outreach field work in this soon.

I’m so looking forward to seeing all my family and friends when I get home and finally having one of my mum’s roast dinners! But there’s a big part of me that can’t imagine leaving as Mauritius has truly become home - the beaches, the kids, the ghetto, the dodgy water, the overfriendly strangers, even the cockroaches!

Hope everyone is happy and well at home; I will write again soon and not leave it three months this time...