February 25, 2021
As I pondered the past month, I realized that there is a familiar pattern to life and to finding balance no matter the circumstances. It is a pattern that includes a time of joining in or getting involved with the people and circumstances that surround you, followed by a time of getting out or taking a break from those same people and circumstances that surround you. This ebb and flow of engaging and withdrawing is familiar, perhaps because it’s like breathing. We breathe in; we breathe out. It is a rhythm that is natural, instinctual, and necessary to sustain our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Sometimes we want and need to pour into others’ lives and relationships, and sometimes we need to pause to decompress and renew ourselves. It is yet another example of how in everything there is a season, a balance that must be maintained so that we can live out our purpose and potential. Thus, this month, we will recap some of the ways that we have breathed in the culture and people that surround us and some of the ways that we have breathed out and taken time to just connect with ourselves and our own family.
Welcoming Baby Elya
The most significant breath in came in the form of an invitation to a baby welcoming celebration. We met the grandparents of the newborn, Ragini and Nishan, at Mr. Ashley’s home church which they attend regularly. At the end of a church meeting in late January, they surprised us by inviting our family to join Ashley, Prishma, and about 60-70 family members and other invited guests at the party. We were told that this is a tradition in Mauritius to hold a celebration about a month after a baby is born, where the child is introduced to extended family and friends, and the name of the child is made public. Gifts are also given for the baby. The traditional colors of this event are red and white, so you will see in the photos that we did our best to dress accordingly. We arrived around 5pm, and the evening began with traditional Mauritian snacks—gateau piment, samoussas, half moons, and a punch drink—as we waited for all of the guests to arrive. An hour or two later, the celebration began for baby Elya with music. Because Ragini and Nishan are Christians, they wanted the celebration to include Christian songs and a message of blessing from Ashley for the baby. After Ashley’s blessing came the main course of traditional briyani, a rice dish with chicken, potatoes, and spices. Briyani is normally eaten by hand and ours was served on paper (in place of real) banana leaves. When everyone had had their fill, the party continued with sweet treats and people taking turns greeting the baby and family. We decided to leave around 9pm since our children were becoming very tired, but I image the party continued for at least another hour without us. Despite the late night, we were honored to have been invited and given the opportunity to share in Ragini and Nishan’s joy as they welcomed baby Elya.
Teaching at Lighthouse
Aaron has also been breathing in deeply with his classes at Lighthouse. He has been working hard to learn about his students and about how they learn or are used to learning. With five classes all at different grade levels, he has his work cut out for him. The workload has been a challenge, but he reports that his students are generally good-natured and positive. While some classes are engaged and eager to learn, others are quieter and more reluctant to engage. As such, Aaron is trying to find the right balance for each class of fun, engaging activities that provide an “easy win” and activities that are more challenging to build critical thinking skills. Finding the right balance is necessary for maintaining student buy-in and keeping them interested in learning. Another positive is that the students at Lighthouse are conditioned to do a lot of writing since the Cambridge curriculum focuses more heavily on writing than the American curriculum; however, the caliber of that writing often needs improvement. Like many students in this age range, Aaron’s students often struggle to develop and express their ideas with maturity and depth of thought. Furthermore, even though all of Aaron’s classes are considered “English as a first language,” for many of his students English is not their first language even though they possess a relative fluency in English. Thus, Aaron is trying to push them and to mature their thinking to think in new, interesting, and critical ways. In order to do this, he has developed units around larger themes, such as justice, and encouraged students to use the texts they read in class to explore these themes deeper. For example, he might ask students how a text relates to the idea of justice in a larger context or what their opinions are related to whether a given situation is fair or unfair and why. Although he may be stretching his students beyond what they are used to, there are some indications that the students value Aaron as a teacher. One student said that Aaron was his favorite teacher, and other students have taken to hanging out in Aaron’s classroom during their free recreation period to study, read, or play chess—perhaps in part because of Aaron’s steadfast presence in the classroom. All in all, it is a steep learning curve for Aaron and his students, but he is doing his best to meet them where they are and explore new ways to help them excel.
I have also found my own way to breath in by offering to help provide children’s activities at Ashley’s home church. Until recently there had been nothing planned for the children, so they often spent the meeting running around and playing with toys. As you can imagine, this made it challenging at times to focus on the adult Bible study. So, I volunteered to help Prishma provide programming for the children. I was in charge of the first week, and I decided to teach about the Lord’s prayer. When we arrived that night and I told Ashley what I was planning to do, he grinned and said that he was planning to cover the same scripture with the adults! (We had not discussed it ahead of time.) There were about 13 children in attendance that night ranging in age from about 2 to 10, and we met in a small bedroom. I had gone in thinking that most of the children would speak English, since they learn it at school, but to my surprise there was a group of children who had come from the nearby town of Triolet, who did not speak English. Luckily they seemed to understand French and the oldest boy in the group, who was very engaged and attentive, was extremely patient with me as I read the story from the children’s Bible in English and then did my best to translate sentence by sentence to French. All in all, I think they got the point, but next time I’ll go prepared with my French Bible just in case! Aside from learning about the Lord’s prayer, we also sang several songs, some in English and some in French, and did some coloring pages. I even made a coloring page out of The Lord’s Prayer song by Mark Miller and gave my best attempt at teach the song to the children as a way for them to remember the Lord’s prayer. (Thanks to the Vancils at FBC Greensboro for the inspiration!) The experience definitely stretched me, but I enjoyed it and look forward to continuing with the children in the future.
Hiking Le Pouce
When we take in so much, especially things that are new or challenging, sometimes we need to find ways to breath out and let go of the stress. One way I had the opportunity to do this recently was to join a few Lighthouse friends on a hike to the top of Le Pouce. There are many mountains in Mauritius that rise quickly from flat ground to jagged peaks, and hiking in Mauritius often means going straight up and straight down these mountains. This hike was no different. Le Pouce–literally translated, “the thumb”–rises to an elevation of 812 meters (2664 ft) and is the third highest peak in Mauritius. It is located in central Mauritius, in the Moka region just south of Port Louis. The hike started at the base of the mountain in a sugar cane field and ended at the top. The reason it is called “the thumb” is because there is a flat, grassy plateau near the top of the mountain just before you make the final ascent to the peak. This gives the appearance of the flat part of the thumb before the end sticks up, like a “thumbs up.” (Side Note: There are wild monkeys that live on this grassy plateau.) From the upper plateau, the rest of the climb involves actually climbing up rocks to get to the summit. Needless to say, by the time we got to the top I was sweaty, dirty, and tired, but the cool breezes, the sense of accomplishment, and the view from the summit were worth it. From the top of Le Pouce, we could see from one side of the island to the other, the whole of Mauritius in one gorgeous panoramic view. The slideshow below gives you a glimpse of the views, but as with most things, it doesn’t compare to actually being there.
Another opportunity to breath out as a family came when we decided to take a day for a road trip. There was no clear destination in mind. The goal was simply to take the coastal road from the north around the east side of the island to explore and see what new things we could discover. At first the kids whined saying that it would be boring to just ride in the car. I assured them that if they were bored, they could just stay in the car when we found something exciting to look at since it would probably be too boring to get out. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before we found our first stop, and no one stayed in the car. We explored many beaches (they are all different), investigated volcanic rock, found seashells, climbed trees and rocks, played on a playground, and observed crabs and fish. We saw churches and temples, cows and boats, monuments, and rolling sugar cane fields. We drove on a few dirt roads and many narrow roads, often having to stop or dodge around oncoming cars or motorcycles. It was certainly a grand adventure, described by one very excited child as, “The best day ever!”
To finish our journey, I was determined to find a new place to eat, something different, something local. I was beginning to give up hope when I caught sight of a roadside vendor selling kebab with a flashing open sign. “There,” I said, “Stop here!” A rare parking space presented itself across the street and we parked. We walked up to the open store front counter that had a few plastic tables and stools out front. There was a line of people waiting—which is always a good sign if you are looking for the best street food. As is typical at these places, there was no menu or explanation of how to order. So we just waited and watched. There was a meat kebab roasting on a spit. (Just to be clear, this is not the same as a kebab on a skewer with chucks of meat and vegetables, which is called a “brochette” here.) Periodically, the cook would shave some meat from the kebab, dice it up with some mixture of vegetables and spices, put it in a baguette to make a sandwich, and top it off with sauces. (I imagine this is the Mauritian version of a Philly cheesesteak.) It soon became clear that the only thing we needed to do to order was tell them how many sandwiches we wanted. We also had the option of piment (hot sauce) or no piment. We waited probably 30 minutes to get our sandwiches because of the line, but they were delicious, and it was a perfect end to our day of exploring!
Other News and Photos:
A New Car
In other news, we have made the decision to purchase a vehicle. The decision was primarily financial, since the cost of our monthly car rental was a huge chunk of our monthly budget. The vehicle is a 2012 Nissan Qashqai that we purchased from a parent at Lighthouse. It is much more practical than the Toyota sedan we were renting because it has optional third row seating in case we ever need to transport anyone in addition to our family of five and the higher chassis makes it better suited for the sometimes rough terrain here. Our hope is that we will be able to resell it in the future to recoup the some of the cost, while also not having a monthly rental fee in the interim. We will still be a one-car family, but we are thankful to be fortunate enough to make the purchase.
Chinese New Year
Friday, February 12th, was Chinese New Year, which is celebrated widely in Mauritius due to the large proportion of Sino-Mauritians whose families originally came from China as indentured servants. We witnessed some of the festivities at a local shopping center where the Chinese lions and a dragon went from store to store collecting “red pockets” or gifts from the store owners. The festivities also included traditional Chinese drums, dancing, and martial arts displays. Scroll through the slideshow below to see photos!
Until next time…with peace, love, and gratitude from Mauritius!