VISIT FROM PROJECT TRUST
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!
HALF WAY MARK
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...