November 22, 2020
First, we want to thank you for coming back to read another blog post and for your ongoing love and support. Second, we want to let you know that it is our goal to be as honest as possible about our experiences (we are real people after all), so while most of what we share is good, there are also some struggles and hopefully a bit of humor along the way. Emily is the author of this post and will be the author of most, but Aaron will lend his voice too from time to time so stay tuned for that. Finally, this is in no way meant to paint a complete portrait of Mauritius. It is merely our experiences and reflections about our lives here. So, without further ado…
Anxious to get out of quarantine, we were awake by 5:30am on Saturday, November 7th, as the health workers banged on hotel doors, rousing guests to issue our final COVID tests. I woke the girls, and we were tested just before 6am. We were told that the test results would be back the same day, but it was unclear what time exactly we would be released. We spent the day repacking our things and lounging around, anxiously awaiting news. Finally around 5pm, they called and told us that all of our test results were negative (woohoo!) and that they would be by shortly to check our rooms for discharge. Aaron contacted Ashely, a colleague at Lighthouse School and also our landlord (more on that below), who was coordinating our pickup. We had our rooms checked and were ready to go by about 6pm, but we were still waiting on our ride. We finally left the hotel around 7pm. We rode with Ashely in his car, and he had contracted a mini-bus to haul all of our luggage. We arrived at the house around 7:30 and unloaded. By now it was almost dark. Ashley’s wife, Prishma, and their 7-year old son, Asher, were there to greet us. (Ashley and Prishma also have a two-year-old son.) Prishma works at Lighthouse as well, and they are among the Christian minority in Mauritians. They greeted us warmly and helped show us around our new home for the first time.
The house is located in the town of Fond du Sac, which is a small community of mostly Mauritians and largely Hindu. It is a growing community where we are told land values are going up, largely due to its close proximity to popular shopping centers and northern beaches, while also being only about 30 minutes from Mauritius’ capital, Port Louis. Our next-door neighbors are Mauritian. We haven’t met them yet, but we were told to be sure to keep our garbage in trash bags when we put it in the roadside bin so that it won’t smell because just on the other side of the wall from our trash bin is their Hindu shrine. So, we try to be respectful, and I have also warned the kids not to throw things over the wall or stand on the trash bin and try to talk to (read: yell at) the neighbors in that corner of the yard. On the other side of us is a half-finished building that no one seems to live or work in at the moment. The house diagonally across from us is inhabited by a French man. I met and spoke with him briefly one morning in French because he said his English was “no so good.” He was very friendly and told me to let him know if I needed anything. Across from us is a vacant lot, and behind us are more vacant lots that separate us from the next row of houses beyond. Just past the French man is a home site that is actively under construction, so the roar of construction equipment is almost constant most days. We had the opportunity to meet the couple who are building the new house. They were Mauritian and also very friendly. They told us that this was a good neighborhood and “tres tranquille,” which is a bit ironic given that the sound of construction on their home is the main thing making the street not tranquil at the moment. Ashley and his family also live in Fond du Sac, only a few minutes away.
The house has an open living, dining, and kitchen area on the lower level, along with a guest bedroom and a bathroom/laundry. The upper level has three additional bedrooms and three small bathrooms. There are large patio doors and windows throughout the house that we generally leave wide open during the day to catch the breeze since there is no air conditioning except for small wall units in two bedrooms. Our house, like most houses here, is surrounded by a tall fence/wall enclosure. We have been told many times that Mauritius is a very safe place, so it seems the wall is really more about privacy than security. Regardless, we have a large gate that we tend to keep locked unless we are going in and out.
During the ride from the hotel, Ashley explained that he built the house himself as an investment property since he and his family don’t have any savings or resources for retirement. He later told us that he spent all of his weekends and holidays for several years building the house and is happy to finally have someone living in it. Our living here will allow Ashley to pay back the bank loan that he had to borrow for the property and have extra income for his family. Therefore, we (and you) are helping Ashley and his family financially which is awesome! It wasn’t until later that we learned that Ashley not only built the house, but he also built several beautiful pieces of furniture in the house, most of which is made from reclaimed wood. The slideshow below shows some of his exceptional woodworking.
We spent probably an hour or two talking with Ashley and Prishma that first night, trying to take in all of the information they were giving us. Shortly after 9pm, we said goodbye and turned our attention to settling in for the night. Since our discharge from quarantine had occurred right at dinner time, the hotel had provided some boxed sandwiches and fruit which we finally sat down to eat. As we contemplated getting the children bathed and off to bed, we decided that we wanted to switch the beds in two of the bedrooms to better accommodate them. So we moved two twin beds and one (very heavy) queen bed in to opposite rooms, and finally settled the children into bed sometime after 10pm. By the time Aaron and I finally crawled into bed it was almost midnight, but we were finally home.
Our First Day of Freedom (November 8th)
After getting to bed so late the night before, it was an unwelcome experience to be woken at 5am by roosters crowing loudly and repeatedly. Nevertheless, we rolled over and tried to go back to sleep only to be woken again at 5:30 by the loud choking rumble of our neighbor trying unsuccessfully to start a diesel engine. Chugugugugugug! Chugugugugugug! (This is something that we have since learned happens daily, but not always first thing in the morning.) When it became clear that the neighbor was not going to give up, we got out of bed. The sun was already up, and there was no point trying to sleep through the noise. As I grumbled about why the neighbor was doing this so early, Aaron muttered suggestions to himself about how the neighbor might fix the problem—“maybe it’s the starter.”
By 6am the children were awake too, and we scrounged around for breakfast. Fortunately, some of the Lighthouse staff had gone shopping and supplied the house with a few basic items to get us started. We settled on yogurt and cornflakes with boxed UHT milk. (Fresh milk is hard to find here.) After breakfast we started unpacking and tried to get oriented to our new home while the children ran circles around the yard. By 7am the banging and pounding of a backhoe at the nearby construction site filled the air, a sound that continued for most of the day.
Around 10am, Ashley arrived with a rental agent and our new rental car, a Toyota Axio. There was some back and forth trying to understand the terms of the rental agreement. As Aaron signed papers, Ashley helped me install new SIM cards into our phones so that we would have cell service and temporary internet (by using our phones as hotspots) until home internet could be arranged. We have no idea how the terms of our cell service work, but at least we know we have internet for a month to start. When we finished logistics, Ashley offered to bring us lunch. We were starving and grateful when Ashley and Prishma returned around 11:30 with a rotisserie chicken, salad, grapes, baguette, and madelienes for dessert. They also brought a few other household supplies and coached us on the best places to shop for the items we would need immediately to help set up the house. They offered to go to the store with us, but since we would not all fit into one car and needed to practice driving anyway, we decided we would give it a go on our own.
Driving in Mauritius
Before I recount our first driving adventure, let me first quote the information on the U.S. Department of State’s website about driving in Mauritius: “Most roads are narrow and uneven, lack guardrails, and are bordered by deep ditches.” This is ALL true. Let me also add that in Mauritius they drive on the left side of the road, meaning that the driver’s side of the car is on the right, and most of the main roads have traffic circles instead of stoplights. There is also no shoulder on many of the country roads, so you only have a few inches between the line marking the edge of the road and a steep drop off. Furthermore, faster drivers frequently speed around slower drivers regardless of oncoming traffic or pedestrians. That said, let’s begin.
We strapped the car seat and booster seat we brought from the US into the back and loaded into the car around 12:30. We were all buckled and ready to go. Aaron was in the driver’s seat. We pulled out of our gate and drove the short distance to the main road. It was hard to see around the corners for oncoming traffic, but Aaron finally whipped the car out onto the main road. Almost immediately, he dropped off the left side of the road (remember…narrow roads with deep ditches). There was a large scrapping noise on the underside of the car, and Aaron swerved to direct the car back onto the road. We made it back on the road without incident and proceeded on, shaken but okay. I pulled up Google maps on my phone (the only way we know to get anywhere) to navigate our way to the store while holding my breath—and the door handle tightly. I soon learned that being a front seat passenger in Mauritius is terrifying (more terrifying than being the driver) because it appears that you are going to run off the road or run into whatever is close to the edge of the road at all times. When it was my turn to drive, I didn’t drive off the edge of the road, but did get honked at for turning in front of someone who had decided to swerve around me when I was stopped.
When we arrived at the first shopping plaza, there was some confusion about where and how to park. When we finally pulled into a parking spot and turned off the engine, we all breathed a sign of relief. We had made it—at least to the first stop. Shopping was relatively easy, but when we returned to our small sedan with several large items (ironing board, drying rack, trashcan, laundry basket, etc.), we realized that we would have to squeeze a few things on top of the kids in the back seat to get them home. Our large purchases also made it necessary to go home to unload before returning back to the same shopping plaza to buy some groceries. By the time we had finished grocery shopping, we were all tired and hungry. I must admit that this is where we caved and did the most American of American things… we went to McDonalds. Thinking we would be quick, we opted to go through the drive thru. Due to the majority Hindu population, the only sandwiches prominently displayed on the menu board were chicken, but on the reverse side of the drive-thru menu was a small selection of beef burgers. Aaron first attempted to order in French. This resulted in total confusion by us and the person taking the order even after trying to go through it multiple times, so he finally just asked to speak to someone in English. A moment later, someone else’s voice came through the speaker, and he ordered in English. We pulled around to the window and paid for our order. We had to wait a bit for our food to arrive, and we joked (although possibly not a joke) that they had to fire up the beef grill to make our food. Although it was not quite the same as McDonlads in the States, it was still good to have some comfort food to take the edge off navigating in this new place.
From there we still needed to drive to the school before dark so that Aaron would be able to find his way there the next morning. I pulled up Google maps again, and we were off. We managed to find our way there with little difficulty. As we turned to go home, it was getting late. Back home, we were about to start giving children baths and getting them ready for bed when the director of the school, Mrs. Dalais, called and asked if she could stop by briefly to say hello and welcome us to the island. She arrived a little while later with treats for the children. We talked for a half hour or so before saying goodnight. Finally, we got the kids to bed. As we rolled into bed ourselves around 10:30pm, there was still many uncertainties looming, but there was also a sense of accomplishment. We had made it through our first day of freedom and survived!
The Longest Day Ever (November 9th)
The next morning I was awake at 5:30am again, this time by a pack of dogs barking. By 6am I got up and decided to hard boil some eggs for breakfast. Everyone else got up shortly after, and I fed the children breakfast while Aaron got ready for his first day at Lighthouse School.
By 7:15am, Aaron was out the door (later than he should have been), leaving me and the kids at home to continue setting up the house. I took a moment to orient myself and to decide what needed to happen first. Laundry. We had two weeks worth of dirty laundry for five people, so I decided I might as well get started.
I went to the washing machine and looked at it. Nothing was the same as in the U.S. I filled it with clothes and pressed the power button. Nothing. I realized there was an on/off switch on the wall outlet, so I flipped the switch to “on” and pressed the power button again. I had lights on the control panel. Great! Now before I could figure out how to start the machine, I needed detergent. I grabbed the bottle of laundry detergent that someone was kind enough to purchase and have in the house ready for us. I looked at the instructions. French. Ok, no problem, I can read French well enough. “For regular loads use 50ml.” Fifty millileters…ok, how much is fifty millileters? I looked at the cap. No lines, no markings to tell me how much to use, so I Googled it. Fifty millileters is about a ¼ cup. I looked at the cap again. Sure—that looks like about ¼ cup. I filled the cap and managed to find the little pullout compartment for the detergent. Done. Now to start the machine. I looked at all the options. Normal load…cold…water level. Water level? I pressed the button and scrolled through the options. 12 liters, 24 liters, etc. I had no idea about liters, so just picked something in the middle and pressed start. The machine did a “CLUNK.” I looked at it confused. It clunked again. I thought, “Maybe it just takes a minute to get going,” and I walked to the other room for a minute. I came back. CLUNK. No water, no washing, just clunking. I investigated further and realized that there was a water valve at the wall that had to be turned on for the water to run into the machine. I turned the valve. Finally water. I waited to see how much water filled the machine based on the amount of liters I chose. Not enough. I pressed the pause button and increased the number of liters. More water ran. Still not enough. I paused the machine again and increased the water level again. Not enough. I went through this process at least three or four times before I realized that a full load of laundry needs the highest water level. I also noticed that there didn’t seem to be enough detergent, so I just added another cap full. Why not? I finally walked away.
There is no dryer in the house (and you don’t really need one when there is an almost constant breeze and sun), so next I went about setting up the drying rack that we had purchased the day before. It looked simple, but as I unwrapped the packaging, I realized that there were extra pieces I was supposed to attach. I looked at the instructions. There was a black and white drawing and instructions in Chinese (or some other language with characters that I had no chance of reading). I looked at the pictures and eventually managed to get it setup properly. I walked back downstairs feeling exhausted. I looked at the clock. 8:30am. How is it only 8:30 in the morning?
I dropped down on the sofa as the kids ran circles around the house, one minute playing peacefully and the next arguing with one another over toys or the rules of a made-up game. I regrouped and set about the next task of continuing to unpack and organize. It was soon time to hang the laundry out to dry, so I trekked back downstairs to the washing machine and then back up the stairs again to the drying rack on the second story balcony where the breeze was best. It took at least 20 minutes to hang everything. I continued to feel exhausted, but I kept pushing on, cleaning this and sorting that. The kids were now running around outside, and it started to sprinkle. One of them came and asked me if it was okay for them to play in the rain. I absent mindedly said it was fine and went back to what I was doing. Then it hit me—the laundry!! So I sprinted back upstairs and pulled the drying rack in closer to the house so that the laundry wouldn’t get more wet as I was trying to dry it. Luckily it was just a passing sprinkle, so no harm done.
Now it was 10:45am, and I was so tired that I thought I wasn’t going to make it the rest of the day. I decided to make a cup of tea. Maybe the caffeine would help. Without an electric kettle (which everyone uses here to make hot beverages) and no microwave, I put a pot of water on the stove to boil. “I only need a little,” I thought as I put a small amount of water in the bottom of the pot and set it on the gas stove.
By this time I had also decided that I should go ahead and start another load of laundry before lunch in hopes that the first load would be dry enough after lunch for me to hang it out to dry. So I went to the washing machine again and began the process (much faster now) of putting in another load of laundry. I was lost in thought and messing with this and that after loading the washing machine, when I remembered—there’s a pot on the stove!! I ran to the kitchen. Most of the water had boiled away, but luckily the pot had not started burning yet. I made my cup of tea, but it was too hot to drink so I left it to sit for a bit while I continued my work. By now the kids were hungry, and I was too, so I began figuring out what we could have for lunch. We had found a small jar of peanut butter at the store the day before, so peanut butter sandwiches and fruit for everyone. After cleaning up from lunch, I checked the first load of laundry. Not dry. So I found a place to string up the clothesline we had bought as a backup and began hanging the second load of laundry. An hour later it was 12:30pm. How is it only 12:30?
I spent the rest of the afternoon continuing to clean, unpack, and organize things in our new home while intermittently managing disputes between the children. Having noticed that there was a lawn sprinkler in the yard, I decided to let the kids have some fun by playing in the sprinkler. I found the outdoor hose and dragged it over to the sprinkler, but there was no nozzle on the hose to attach to the sprinkler. The hose looked like it had been cut off on the end. Trying to make it work, I shoved the cut hose end onto the sprinkler. The kids were excited and put on their swimsuits. They ran to the sprinkler and waited for me to turn on the water. I turned it on. The sprinkler sprayed only for a moment before the hose popped off. I turned the water off, reattached the hose, and tried again. The hose popped off again. Not wanting to ruin the children’s excitement, I went inside and found one of the zip ties we had used to secure our packing crates during our flights. I attached the hose and this time secured it with a zip tie. I turned the water on, and it worked! The kids ran circles around the sprinkler until two minutes later the hose popped off again. That was it; the sprinkler was done. Taking it in stride, the kids pulled off their swimsuits and put on their dry clothes again. So much for trying to entertain them. (Side Note: We also don’t have a TV yet, so they are doing remarkably well considering they are left strictly to their imaginations and the few toys and books we brought with us.)
By 2:30pm I was done; I couldn’t do anymore. I looked at the cup of tea that I had made earlier and forgot to drink, now cold. I took a sip, and frustrated, I dumped the rest down the drain. I collapsed on the sofa. The noise of heavy trucks and machinery rumbled through the open doors and windows from a nearby construction site. The noise (and associated dust) had started early in the morning and continued much of the day. I told myself that it would only be another hour or so before Aaron got home as I mindlessly scrolled on my phone. It was hot, and I was sweaty and tired. I was also tired of dealing with the ongoing sibling squabbles and worried about the little ones who had fallen multiple times on the stairs—being unaccustomed to having stairs at home.
When Aaron got home around 3:30pm, he shared excitedly about his day while I tried to listen and not ruin the conversation by recounting the challenges I had had that day. It had become abundantly clear to me that the hardest challenge for me was going to be staying home—at least for now.
I made dinner using the ingredients we had available, some familiar, some not. No one liked it, including me, but Aaron dutifully ate a whole plate full, being generally less picky than the rest of us. We finally got the kids to bed and settled in bed ourselves around 10pm. What seemed like the LONGEST DAY EVER was finally done. And good news, the next day I was getting out!
Our First Visit to Lighthouse
Although Aaron had gone to school on Monday, Tuesday (November 10th) was the first time that the children and I visited the school. Aaron led us to the administration building where we met the head of the primary school, Mrs. Akehurst. We had corresponded with her prior to moving to Mauritius, and she was as friendly and kind in-person as she had been in our previous correspondence. We introduced ourselves and followed Mrs. Akehurst on a tour of the primary school. We started with the Reception classes (Pre-K) where Eden will be starting in January. Our children, however, were far too distracted by the large playground to pay any attention. “Can we play on the playground?” they begged. “Sure,” said Mrs. Akehurst, and they were off. It was wonderful to see them running and climbing and playing with other children after not being allowed on playgrounds and living in relative isolation (like most of the U.S.) for the past 7 months due to COVID restrictions. They were clearly loving it!
Playtime was brief, however, as our tour continued to the Grade 1 (Kindergarten) classrooms where Kyler will start in January. From there we moved past the other class buildings, meeting many Lighthouse staff members along the way who all smiled and greeted us warmly. Then we came to the Grade 3 (2nd grade) classrooms where Ezra would be finishing out this school year. There are two classes for each grade, and in the first classroom they were just finishing up a pizza party, so Ezra was offered a slice of pizza. She seemed interested but changed her mind when she saw that it was chicken and mushroom pizza! (Beef and pork are limited here.) We continued on to the other Grade 3 classroom which is where Ezra would be attending. There were only about 6 or 8 students in the classroom at the time because they were in the middle of going to and from the restrooms. Ezra looked nervous as we circled the room. Then Mrs. Akehurst called the students to attention and introduced Ezra as a new student. She then asked, “Who wants to be her friend?” Without pause, every hand in the room shot up! They were all jumping up and down excited to be Ezra’s new friend! I don’t usually cry easily, but this immediately brought tears to my eyes. So much so, that I had to slip my sunglasses back over my eyes even though we were indoors so that Ezra would not see my reaction and become concerned that something was wrong. I could see her eyes getting a little watery too, and I knew that this moment had had as much of an impact on her as it had on me. Everyone fears that their child will be excluded or made to feel different somehow, and it was as if this moment calmed all of those fears for all of us. From that point on, the rest of the tour was a blur.
After finishing the tour, we had some time to wait before Aaron would be ready to leave so we decided to return to the playground. The Reception students were out playing. Almost immediately, little children encircled us. One outspoken little girl asked me if she could play with Ezra, and soon Ezra had a whole swarm of preschoolers chasing her around the playground. Meanwhile, Kyler was busy climbing and exploring, while Eden was playing on the swings. At one point, Eden also had a group of children running along behind her as she kicked the soccer ball from one side of the playground to the other. It was as if these children had literally never met a stranger.
The next day, Wednesday, Ezra had her first day of school. When I picked her up at the end of the day, she couldn’t stop talking about it and how she had so many new friends! Every day, it seems, she has come home excited about something that happened that day. She will only go a week and a half before the end of this school year, but we are glad she has had the opportunity to get acquainted so that the start of the new school year in January will be easy for her. Kyler and Eden have also been inspired by her enthusiasm and keep asking when they get to go to school!
More about Lighthouse
Lighthouse has a total enrollment of between 400-500 students. The campus is divided with secondary classrooms on one side and primary classrooms on the other. There are open play areas and a large, open-air pavilion in the center where lunch is served daily, and the children gather for worship assemblies. Despite having multiple buildings, the school is quickly outgrowing the classroom space available, especially in the secondary school.
Aaron has settled in well at the school and is thankful that we were able to arrive before the end of this school year so that he could acclimate to the school environment before starting the new school year in January. Because we were only here for the last two weeks of school, Aaron did not have his own classes. Instead, he has had the opportunity to work with other teachers, cover classes when there was a teacher shortage, and learn about the curriculum. This time has also provided him with the opportunity to become acquainted with the secondary students that he will be teaching next year in his Grades 8-12 English classes. There is only one other English teacher at the secondary level, Mr. Bruno, and he is grateful that Aaron will be there next year to help carry the load.
In his working with students, Aaron has observed that the secondary students appear to be equally as friendly and accepting of their peers as the primary students. He has said that the skeptic in him is curious to see if he notices anything different next year when he has more time to observe but after helping chaperone a recent field trip, he commented that the trip was actually quite relaxing because he didn’t have to worry about any of the students fighting or misbehaving. Aaron also commented after his first day that you cannot tell who is Mauritian just by looking at them. The school has students (and staff) from all over the world, but the majority are Mauritian. That said, while the majority of Mauritians appear to be of Indian descent, there are also Mauritians of European descent, Asian descent, and African descent, so there is really no way to know who is or isn’t Mauritian—much like in the United States.
On the last day of school (November 20th), the children and I had the privilege of being invited to the end-of-year staff luncheon. It was an unexpected invitation as I had just driven to the school to pick up Ezra from early release and to drop off some paperwork. While I was in the administration building, the school director, Mrs. Dalais, walked by and invited us to stay for the lunch. I have to admit that I felt a little caught off guard and didn’t feel like I was dressed appropriately or prepared mentally for the unexpected social interaction. But I knew it would be rude to refuse the invitation, so we stayed. While it was a bit awkward at first meeting so many new faces, my feelings quickly changed when we all sat down together under the pavilion to start the luncheon. They began by giving the staff the opportunity to share what they were grateful for about the past school year. One by one staff members stood up at random to say thank you and to offer praise and words of encouragement to one another for their various gifts and contributions to the school. It was something unlike I had ever experienced in any workplace, ever. Although Aaron had been at the school these past few weeks, I had not, and it soon became clear that Lighthouse really does strive to cultivate an environment of love, acceptance, gratitude, and grace not only with the students but also with the staff. Perhaps it is just the culture of the school to be accepting, or perhaps it has to do with Mauritian culture in general. Whatever the reason, Lighthouse is a place where you can feel the love—and that is a beautiful thing.
As in many warm climates, the separation between outside and inside is minimal in Mauritius and much of life is lived in the natural environment. The landscape here is as diverse as the people, and we have heard that each part of the island has its own unique beauty. It is not uncommon to be driving along and catch a glimpse of an awesome view that then disappears before you have time to take a photo. There are clear-water beaches, mountains that look like something from a Dr. Suess book, and fields and fields of sugarcane. There are palm trees with coconuts, fruit trees (mango, papaya, banana), flowering plants, and orchards of lychee fruit. There are lizards, snails, and birds of every color, and giant fruit bats that come out at night along with our friendly geckos. The geckos are a mainstay in Mauritian houses, and they are welcome companions since they come out in the evening to eat the bugs in the house. One average we have at least four or five that we can see downstairs nightly, and probably more that we don’t see. There is one little baby gecko that likes to come out as we read to the children before bed. We joke that he likes to listen to the stories too! Mauritius is also home to many dogs, some strays and some with owners. And chicken and the rooster roam freely in vacant lots. Check out the slideshow below to see some of the nature we’ve discovered.
Interesting fact: Geckos are one of the few lizards that can make noise. I experienced this as I was trying to go to sleep one night and heard a strange chirping noise in our bedroom.
Community and Culture
From Wednesday (November 11th) on, things have started to fall into a sense of routine and normalcy. Aaron and I have been welcomed whole-heartedly by other staff and acquaintance of Lighthouse—people of various nationalities and countries of origin. One of them, Maegan, offered to go shopping with me at the local Super U store to help me figure out where to find everything I needed. We also had the opportunity to have lunch with Maegan and her husband, Blake, who are from the U.S., on Sunday and learned a lot of helpful information about life in Mauritius. On Saturday, we were invited to Mrs. Akehurst’s house where we met her husband and children and a few other Lighthouse staff. Mrs. Akehurst and her family are from Canada, and there were others from the UK and Zambia. We have also had other people reach out to us and either visit or send messages. It has been great to feel like we are part of a community here already.
Saturday (November 14th) was also Diwali, one of the most important Hindu festivals, also called the Festival of Lights. The festival revolves around the triumph good over evil, purity over impurity, and light over darkness. We weren’t quite sure what to expect since at least half of the population in Mauritius is Hindu. We had been told that people put strings of lights on their houses to celebrate (like Christmas lights). They also make sweet treats to share with friends and family. So, we were pleasantly delighted as we drove home from Mrs. Akehurst’s house Saturday night to see lots of brilliant light displays. What we weren’t expecting were the fireworks! It was actually a bit scary to be driving through these small towns at night because on either side of the narrow two-lane roads, people were setting off firecrackers and fireworks of various sizes. More than once I thought for sure something was going to hit our car, but we made it home safely. The fireworks continued well into the night, cracking and banging all around our house. The following afternoon (Sunday), we decided to go to the beach so that we could finally stick our toes in the Indian Ocean. We went to the popular Mont Choisy Beach. We had been warned that it might be crowded because of people celebrating Diwali, and it was. There were tents all along the beach, and families were gathered barbecuing and playing music and swimming. It was like everyone was having their family reunion at the beach!
(To learn more about Diwali celebrations in Mauritius, here is a video taken in Triolet, which is a town not far from where we live. Click HERE)
On Sunday (November 15th), we went to church for the first time in Mauritius. There are only a few English-speaking churches here, and the one closest to us is called Community Baptist Church. It is interesting that we travelled halfway around the world and ended up at another Baptist church! It is an international church with Christians from all over the world, but they worship in mostly familiar ways. There were classes for the children and tea time after the service. Many other non-Mauritian staff from Lighthouse also go to this church; however, some have found other church homes. We would like to explore some other options just to experience different places of worship, but for now, it is good to have a place to land.
On that note, everyone keeps asking us how we are getting settled in Mauritius. In truth, having lived and traveled in various other countries, Aaron and I have been surprised at how much we have NOT had trouble getting settled—at least not yet. I’m sure we will experience culture shock and dysphoria at some point, but in terms of navigating life here now, we are doing okay. There are lots of differences and things still to figure out, but there are also lots of things that are familiar. After speaking with other non-Mauritians, I think our French language skills have probably helped make the transition a little smoother for us. All Mauritians speak Kreole; most speak French, and many speak English. So, if we run into someone who doesn’t speak English, we can almost always default to French and get our point across. Also, half of the products in the store are labeled in English and half in French, so knowing the French words for things helps us know what we are actually buying. When we lived in Chad, no one spoke English and shopping involved an open-air market with no labels and vendors who spoke almost exclusively Arabic. So by comparison, this isn’t so bad!
Mauritius is an interesting place somewhere between developed and developing as a nation. There appears to be an odd juxtaposition between these two worlds. There are large shopping centers and malls where you can buy almost anything you would want or need—if you can afford it, but there are also local shops and roadside vendors selling produce and “street” food. The Mauritians tell us not to bother with the local shops and to go to the mall, but we want to be able to experience life fully in this place and to not be set apart from the Mauritian people. They seem surprised when we say that we want to experience local food and culture. I suspect that this may be partially due to the large ex-patriot population here—many of whom come for the beaches and prefer high-end amenities. Furthermore, most ex-pats are unapologetic about these preferences. There are also huge mansions, far larger than our house, in gated communities with pools and security guards just down the road from unfinished cement block houses with dirt courtyards and outdoor showers. The income disparities here are striking, even among Mauritians, and we are struggling to understanding our place in this social landscape.
As we prepared to come to Mauritius, we had to unencumber ourselves. We let go of our home and our possessions and many other things that were familiar to us. This process wasn’t easy, and it came with many feelings of grief and loss, partially because we were so entangled by all of those things. But it was only by going through this process of letting go that we realized how these things that were supposed to make us feel rooted and safe only served to encumber us and keep is from living freely.
We finally pared down our belongings to three suitcases per person. While fifteen pieces of luggage seems like a lot, in the grand scheme of a family, a house, and a lifetime, it’s not much. And yet, Jesus told his disciples to “take nothing” when he sent them out into the world. I’m not sure we are that brave, but at the same time we have had to ask ourselves whether we really want to become encumbered again after working so hard to let everything go. So, as we continue to settle into life and find our place here, our goal is to remain unencumbered by the things that weigh us down and instead to “be rich in good deeds” so that we may “take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
With peace, love, and gratitude until next time…