Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Where in the Hell is Mauritius?

The people that design schwag for Belize should really expand their
market to the little island of Mauritius.

They say that god created mauritius, and then he created heaven. I
wasn't really around at that time so I can't vouch, but after spending
a few days there, I can comment on it's uniqueness. I'll be honest ...
when I first saw the itinerary I had to look at a map to see that
where it is -- east of Madagascar. Aside from it's picturesque beaches
-- and by picturesque, I literally mean the ones that are turned into
the photos you stare up while getting a root canal -- it is also quite
notable in terms of its culture. In fact, I was surprised to suddenly
be tapped into such a hodgepodge. On the surface, the idea of so many
cultures fusing together seems as novel as the food it creates, indian
dishes with malay spices, for example. But when you throw Hindus,
Muslims, Christians, Catholics, and even Jews onto an island in the
African continent that isn't really a part of the African continent,
the question of identity comes into full fruition.

I spent the first two days in an area called Trou Aux Biches, mainly
because I read it is one of the two best areas for diving. The other
is a place further down the shore called Flic-en-flac, which I knew
would be littered with inebriated students. I traveled with my friends
John Becker and Sue Fan, and our youngest professor who clocks in at
29. I was at first given warning that he was accidentally invited --
since my first (and Sue's) impression of him was an annoying ex-frat
boy who would probably be assumed as my bedmate. To my surprise, and
I'll admit it --- there are many more layers beneath the "I went to
Duke law school" image he for some reason had thrown on at the
beginning of the voyage like a pair of leopard slippers. It's all an
ersatz, for he's delightfully complicated, and nothing short of smart
--- though I suspect his hands would indeed shake if we came into
contact with a foosball table.

I was able to visit various women's shelters and microlending
facilities via Semester at Sea --- which was fascinating, but the real
highlight of Mauritius was the Maha Shivarati festival.

We just so happened to be there during this festival, which is the largest Hindu festival of its kind outside of India. Pilgrims all across the island leave their homes via foot and make their way to Grand-Bassin, a sacred lake on the southern end -- and according to its devotees, was created when God accidentally spilled a drip on his way to creating the Ganges.

In town, we saw hundreds of pilgrims that were covered in body sacrifice -- most of them had metallic leaves hanging from their skin and spears through their lips. Then on the morning of our last day there, at 0430 AM, we hired a driver and headed out across the island to the lake itself. There was a foggy mist spilling off of the water like a block of dry ice, which made for an even more ethereal experience. We spent the first hour gawking and not sure whether or not it was appropriate to take photos of the praying pilgrims -- until I randomly made friends with a man who soon vouched to become my husband, then we were set. He took us through the entire ritual process, from offering food sacrifice to receiving face paint. Now I can go to bed at night knowing that I am saved. And potentially married.

As I write this blog, we are floating down the Saigon River next to
small boats carrying sand ...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Would you be able to inform the shelters in Mauritius about the first ever World Conference of Women's Shelters? Our webpage is . Thanks.