The first day of school is always hectic and little anxiety provoking. But the first day back to school on a hybrid schedule after being in confinement and doing online schooling for the majority of the school year was all of that and more. Making sure we had the right kids going on the right days and knowing who was being picked up when and who was supposed to be meeting online when and then repeating this ever-changing process every day for the first week was enough of a challenge. Then add to the mix my integration into the secondary school and the month of July was a whirlwind! But let’s rewind a few months and remember where this all started…
In January as Aaron and all three kids started the new school year, I was left wondering, what about me? What is my role here? Surely God didn’t bring me halfway around the world to just stay at home alone. Over those first few months, I was challenged to trust, to have patience, and to let go of what I thought should be happening in order to accept what was happening and what may or may not happen. It was tough. And I began to think that maybe I was not meant to work at the school or even to be a counselor in Mauritius. Maybe I was brought here to do something else. Then in a flash, COVID hit (again), and suddenly I went from being home by myself to being home with the whole family. I became a full-time teacher, tutor, caregiver, and cook. This transition brought a different kind of stress. No longer was I searching for purpose, but instead I was hyper focused on a single purpose—to keep our family running and the children learning while Aaron worked to figure out how to teach his students online. It was a dramatic and unexpected shift that brought many challenges, but it also helped me appreciate my lack of obligations and commitments outside the home. Maybe there was a purpose in my waiting after all.
Despite my appreciation for the role I could play in our family, being home all of the time took a toll on us mentally and emotionally. But with June came a renewed sense of joy and hope. It helped that we were able to get away for a few days and have a change of venue. Being able to see the ocean again (even if technically we weren’t allowed on the beach) and explore the island a little more gave us a boost to keep going for the rest of the month. We also got newborn foster puppies, and who doesn’t love puppies?! We currently still have two puppies, Pumpkin and Bean, who we will take care of for a few more months until they are old enough to be sterilized and adopted. Aaron and I were also finally able to get vaccinated in June, which was a relief after several failed attempts.
Confinement definitely brought high points and low points, and while I was grateful for it, I was also grateful for the opportunity to join Aaron and the kids in their return to school. This too, however, came as a rapid change—and of course, it coincided with Aaron and all of the children having new school schedules as well. In a span of a week, I went from not knowing when or if I would be joining the Lighthouse secondary team to giving a professional development workshop and meeting with students on a weekly basis. It also meant learning a whole new system for how the school and the student care team operate. The logistics of keeping up with Microsoft Teams and learning how to find student schedules and how to schedule meetings with students was challenging enough, but then I realized that often I didn’t even know based on a student’s name whether they were male or female since so many of the names were unfamiliar to me. I was quite literally back IN school, trying to figure it all out.
The first day that I went to campus to meet with students, I admit I was nervous. What if I had lost my counseling touch after such a long hiatus? What if I couldn’t effectively build relationships with these students from other cultures? What if they just didn’t like me? What if I went to the wrong room? What if…what if…what if? As I prepared to meet with my first student, I took a deep breath and said a quick prayer—steadying myself to just be. Then they came. One by one they actually came. I met with only three students that first day, but as I packed up to leave, I felt full. This, I thought, is my purpose. I was meant to continue my work as a counselor, to sit with young people who are struggling, and to offer a glimmer of hope and healing where sometimes there is very little. During the month of July, I met with almost 20 students, some multiple times, and I still have a wait list of more to see. Even though these students are young, many have experienced grief, loss, trauma, and pain that is far beyond their years. There are others who struggle with anxiety and belonging, often feeling alone and like they have no one to talk to. Still others struggle with depression and thoughts of self-harm. Although my conversations with these students have been brief, they have moved me, some lingering in my thoughts well after the meeting.
When I think about it, it seems incredible that this has all happened in such a short amount of time. It is even more amazing when I consider that I really only have one partial day a week that I am able to be on campus due to the fact that at least one child is at home every day on the hybrid schedule. My “work” days usually involve dropping off Aaron and two kids at school early in the morning, returning home to supervise the third child during their online class, and then dropping that child at a friend’s house so that I can rush back to school in time for several 20 to 40-minute sessions with students before collecting my own children again at the end of the school day. I also zoom in for weekly care team meetings and complete scheduling, paperwork, and other administrative tasks from home. Through it all, I have been so thankful to be surrounded by a supportive group of colleagues and other moms who make it all possible. And even though it is hectic, I believe it’s worth it. My heart has always been with those who are struggling, and if I can positively impact the life of at least one student who is struggling, then to me, it’s worth all of it.
So as I write this and prepare to continue this hectic pace for the third and final trimester of the school year, I am encouraged and hopeful for the months to come. Turns out, I have been able to connect and build relationships despite differences in culture, despite limited time, despite being new at Lighthouse, despite it all. I love what I do, and I never cease to be humbled by the privilege I have as a counselor to be trusted with people’s most vulnerable thoughts, emotions, and experiences. It is an immense responsibility, but it is also a great honor and opportunity to know and love others. And in the end, that’s what it’s all about.
With peace, love, and gratitude until we meet again…
TeachBeyond Team Retreat:
During our trimester break at the beginning of August, we were able to go on a team retreat with the other family serving with TeachBeyond here in Mauritius. We went to Otentic, an eco-tent experience, where we enjoyed “glamping” in fancy tents, equipped with wooden floors, real mattresses, flush toilets, and hot showers. We also had authentic Mauritian meals prepared for us three times a day, so we weren’t exactly roughing it. During our stay we enjoyed kayaking, hiking, and a boat ride to Ile Aux Cerfs where we got to hang out at the beautiful, almost deserted beach. We also had the opportunity to connect virtually with TeachBeyond leadership. We are grateful to TeachBeyond for sponsoring this retreat for our team. It was a great opportunity to share with one another and get away for a brief holiday!
May marks the third month of round two of coronavirus in Mauritius, and our lives have continued largely unchanged. We remain at home most of the time, busy with online schooling and daily routines, although we have had the opportunity to go out on a few family excursions (photos below). Still, we remain mostly isolated from the new friends and acquaintances that we have made here due to coronavirus restrictions keeping schools, churches, and beaches closed. In this period of extended separation, I have felt prompted to look inward—as if I’ve been granted a carefully planned pause to assess the well-being of myself and our family.
As I reflect on our family, I recognize that although the time spent with our children during home learning has been challenging, it has also been truly a blessing to be able to interact more closely with them and to watch them grow and learn. Both of the younger two have started reading in the past few months. Kyler, being a grade ahead, is a bit more advanced in the words and sounds he is able to read than Eden, but it has been a joy to see both of them develop as beginning readers and writers. Meanwhile, Ezra has been blossoming in her French language skills as she absorbs French vocabulary and phrases with ease. I admire her courage and determination to learn, and I often overhear her challenging herself to respond to the teacher’s questions on Zoom only in French, rather than in English like many of her fellow foreign language learners. Getting to spend time with our children and to truly see their strengths and personalities has reminded me of the importance of paying attention to who our children are instead of who I imagine them to be. And although this phase of confinement has in some ways limited our external experiences, I am grateful for the ways in which it has reminded me to look more closely inward at our family and to see the beauty that surrounds me every day.
This time of reflection has also made me more aware of my own thoughts and feelings—one of which is an old familiar feeling bubbling to the surface. The feeling has come on gradually and has been precipitated by several recent events that have served as reminders of how sadness and impermanence are an inevitable part of life. One such reminder came in a casual conversation with Mauritian friends as they talked about upcoming birthday and anniversary celebrations with their extended families. As they spoke, I smiled politely and listened, but in my core I felt it—the loss. While choosing to follow the road less traveled and pursue a calling to serve halfway around the world has many benefits and blessings, it also comes at a price. Part of that price is sacrificing time with family and loved ones who are not here with us. There are no holidays with extended family or birthday and anniversary celebrations with grandparents, aunts, and uncles. There are no spontaneous visits or traditional home-cooked meals (unless we make them ourselves). And while we certainly do our best to keep traditions in our immediate family and to develop new ones, sometimes it’s just not the same.
I can remember vividly how this feeling of loss hit me many years ago while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Chad. It was our second Thanksgiving away from the US. For our first, we were invited to the US Ambassador’s residence as newly sworn-in Peace Corps volunteers to celebrate the holiday. As you can imagine, the ambassador had a personal chef and access to most of the necessary ingredients to make a proper Thanksgiving dinner. We feasted, swam in the ambassador’s pool, and were invigorated by the excitement of the experience. The second Thanksgiving, a year into our service was a vastly different story. We were not granted permission to travel into the capital for the Thanksgiving celebration with the ambassador, and thus, we were left to spend the holiday on our own. With no electricity, cooking over a charcoal fire or a single propane burner was a process, so we certainly would not be having a proper Thanksgiving dinner or anything close to it. In fact, we rarely even ate meat unless we bought it already cooked from a market vendor. And rarest of all were potatoes. We could buy a variety of white sweet potatoes in Chad, but regular potatoes were hard to come by. So that Thanksgiving, as the weight of it all hit me and the loss washed over me, I remember lying on the cement floor of our mud brick house and sobbing as I moaned, “I just want mashed potatoes!”
It seems comical now to recall that story and to picture myself crying over mashed potatoes, but of course, it wasn’t just about potatoes. It was about everything those potatoes represented for me. It was about the loss of tradition, the loss of family, the loss of comfort, of normalcy. (Perhaps some of you have experienced similar emotions during the year-long pandemic.) While I haven’t had my mashed potatoes moment here yet, I recognize that familiar feeling stirring inside me as time ticks on. It’s like an old friend that is inextricably part of this experience. The irony is that when the time comes to leave this place, I will also mourn the loss of all that I have come to love about being in Mauritius.
Another reminder of loss has come in a more unexpected form. Our friend and landlord contacted us about a week ago and told us that even though he has not had the house we are living in on the market since we moved in, a persistent potential buyer contacted him about possibly purchasing it. In the course of our conversation, our landlord made it clear that he did not feel comfortable considering the sale without speaking to us first, and he assured us that he would not sell unless the buyer agreed to let us continue renting if we wanted to stay. Because he has become such a good friend to us, we were happy for him and the blessing a potential sale of the house could be for him. So, we offered our support and made sure we thoroughly cleaned and tidied the house for the best possible showing when the buyer came to look at it. But as people who just recently sold the only house our children have ever known and said goodbye to almost everything including our pets to move to the other side of the world, the thought of possibly having to move out of the house that has become our home and refuge in this foreign land was overwhelming. It was an unanticipated reminder of everything we had to leave behind to take this step forward. Ultimately, it was a reminder that growth and grief are undeniably intertwined. As of now, it is too early to know what the future will hold, but we remain prayerful that God will grant whatever is best for our landlord and his family and that we may find peace in whatever comes.
In the last week, we also learned that one of the TeachBeyond families who recently moved to Mauritius to serve at Lighthouse has decided to leave at the end of this school year in November or December. Their decision to go is personal and has nothing to do with the school, but it was yet another reminder of the impermanence of all things. In all of this, I have been reminded that things are just things and that all of life is temporary. Furthermore, as many of us have come to realize over the past year, it is easy to live under the illusion of permanence when our lives and relationships remain consistent and familiar. But when that consistency or familiarity is lost, whether to a pandemic or a move or anything else, we start to realize how much we rely on this illusion to help us feel safe and secure. It is only after the illusion is stripped away that we are forced to question—what do I cling to? And why?
These are tough questions that we must all face at some point in our lives. Letting go is hard, but if we never let go, we can never fully live. As I have pondered these questions over the past month, a few verses have come to mind. I have included them below, but the summary is this: May the peace of Christ be with you to assuage your fears, comfort your sorrows, and compel you to live a life of love, humility, and kindness. Until next time…
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. […]
18 Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. 19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
-Isaiah 43:1-2, 18-19
27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. – John 14:27
5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:5-8
7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. – 2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV)
8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4: 8-10
28 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. 29 He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. 30 They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven.
I am annoyed. No, I am offended as I tirelessly click through to yet another mediocre student response, this one even more underwhelming than the rest. The crease in my brow settles in as I process the wreckage of ideas clumped across the page. The time it will take to untangle the knots and provide a meaningful postmortem to the author will be more than he took to write it in the first place. After a string of unimaginative thinking and off-topic analysis, the toxic voice of frustration whispers to me, “You know you clearly explained this assignment! They all practiced the skills. These students just aren’t trying hard enough. In fact, this work is not just lazy, it’s downright disrespectful.”
Beneath my annoyance at my students, my true unhappiness is with myself. I know deep inside that student failures are ultimately teacher failures. It feels like their mediocrity on this one assignment is a painful reflection of my own mediocrity as a teacher. The truth is that a large part of my self-worth is tied up in doing well at my job. Of course, to be fair, some of the students’ work was truly insightful and interesting. And honestly there’s only so much you can expect from young teens. Not every assignment will reap thoughtful scholarship on par with that of serious-minded graduate students. Sometimes good enough is good enough.
But it is not good enough.
And so the very next class, the students rewrite. I explain what excellence should look like and that I expect it of them. It requires me to revise my lessons, conference with students outside of class, and regrade work. It requires the students to put in much greater effort, attention, and time. It takes days, but in the end, the students’ work is undeniably better overall. But was it the right decision?
The unrelenting drive to do better empowers us and gives us agency. It holds us accountable for being our best selves and pushes us to reach personal, academic, and professional heights that might otherwise be out of our reach. But it can also destroy our peace and exhaust us.
Take for example a young woman I’ll call Erica. Erica is a natural and aware reader. She recently explained to me that she was finishing a book in spite of its insipid characters because she found the narrative arc intriguing. Erica is insightful, quick to smile, and presents as easygoing and competent. She also misses a day of school almost every week because the combined pressures of her school life and home life make her feel like she cannot function. Despite her academic abilities, she feels crushed by the course load and expectations of school. Earlier this year, I noticed a painting she had done for art class. It was the face of a woman, turned slightly and wearing an indistinct expression. The work was rendered in purples and blacks, the background fractured.
Erica is not alone. There are plenty of students in the middle and upper grades that have felt themselves crushed by the drive (or push) for excellence. These students’ struggles often remain invisible until they publicly panic over a lower-than-expected grade or are found crying outside of a classroom. Some just give up, certain that they won’t be able to live up to the standard of excellence that others expect of them, or that they secretly hope for themselves.
I empathize with these students. My own need to achieve some elusive form of professional excellence has resulted in years of long, focused days at work and nights, weekends, and summers dedicated to improving my presentation, behavior management, lessons, and units. Family, hobbies, and sleep are all sacrificed to this pursuit. Contentment is traded for stress. And yet there is never a breakthrough moment, never a point where I can stop and say, “I made it!” That’s the trap of chasing your best. You never achieve excellence; you can only pursue it. Because you can… Always. Do. Better.
So why not let good enough be good enough? A colleague friend at a previous school was skilled at this. Work didn’t stress him because he set firm boundaries on his time. He arrived on time and he left on time. Grading happened during school hours and his lessons and units stayed consistent from year to year, cutting planning to a minimum. His experience and natural, easy control of a class made him better than the average teacher, but he never had to be the best. Students liked and respected him, and because he knew how to let good enough be good enough, his students weren’t stressed either. He had balance.
But just as striving for the best has its costs, so too does giving up the struggle. I was recently considering easing my expectations for one of my classes. A good number had struggled to put in the effort and produce the quality of work required to meet expectations. Several “A” students found themselves with unflattering grades. Asking a lot of students runs the risk of producing resentment in some. Sensing a growing discontent among the students, I decided it was time to let good enough be good enough. Perhaps I had been unrealistic in my expectations, but the decision to abandon those expectations left me dejected. As I walked to my classroom, mind made up, a young man from that class stopped me to compliment my teaching. What did he like about it? The expectations.
Reflecting on this young man, I noticed something I had overlooked and discounted before. Each time I refused to credit his incomplete work, noted where otherwise good work could be better, or demanded more effort, he worked to meet those expectations. And he was not alone. Most of the class had slowly begun to put in more effort and turn in better work. While I was working on giving up on excellence, they were working on living up to excellence. The cost of letting go would be their success.
I never relaxed the expectations for that group. Of my five classes, they now have the second highest average grade. I envy people like my colleague who can find personal balance and contentment in their work. However, when it comes to school, good enough never feels good enough, not when doing just a little bit better might yield a better result. But I wonder, at the end of this endless pursuit, will I be glad for it? I can’t say.
It was Saturday, March 6th when we first heard rumblings of four cases of coronavirus in the community. A press release was sent out saying that contact tracing was being conducted and that anyone who went to a church service in Curepipe on Sunday, February 28 needed to remain in isolation, call a hotline, and be tested. Because Curepipe is 45 kilometers south of us and we had not been in that area, we did not think much of it. So on Sunday, March 7th we went to our church as usual and stopped by the grocery store on the way home. As soon as we pulled into the store parking lot, we noticed that it was packed. Still, we did not think a lot of it because the stores can sometimes be busy on the weekends when people are off work to do their shopping. Then, as we approached the entrance, we noticed a line of people with carts waiting to get into the store. Not understanding what was happening or why there was a line, we went on into the store. There were people everywhere and long lines at every checkout counter. An eerie feeling was in the air, like everyone else knew something that we did not. The children became restless, and not wanting to wrestle with them in the long checkout lines, I took them outside while Aaron waited in line. It was only after weaving our way back through the crowds and out of the store that I became aware that the line of people waiting to get into the store (which we had unknowingly cut) stretched all the way around the exterior length of the supermarket. The adjoining restaurants that would normally be open were closed, and there was a palpable tension in the silence of everyone waiting.
By late afternoon, the announcement came that schools would be closed March 8th, 9th, and 10th following the identification of two children who tested positive for coronavirus. With this announcement, it became clear why there were such long lines at the grocery store. People were afraid. But they weren’t afraid of coronavirus. Instead, they were afraid of starving if a total lockdown was imposed like the one that occurred in Mauritius in March 2020. At that time, when coronavirus was new and this small island with limited resources had no protocols yet in place for quarantine or testing, the government imposed a total lockdown without warning. Everything was shutdown immediately, including grocery stores, and people were restricted to their homes. This went on for eight weeks. Eight weeks without being able to buy food or leave the house. We have been told that people were literally starving or sneaking food to their neighbors if they had any to spare. Thus, everyone was worried and trying to prepare even though nothing was closed at that time except schools, and only for three days.
March 11th and 12th were public holidays, and the schools would be closed those days anyway, so initially we were hopeful that maybe this would simply be a week-long break, and we would be back to school the following Monday. On March 8th, there were only 10 positive cases identified after contact tracing and more than 750 PCR tests. On March 9th, there were 15 positive cases, and the announcement came that a total lockdown would be imposed for one day, Wednesday, March 10th, followed by a period of confinement lasting from March 11th to March 25th. During this confinement, we would be restricted from going out without the proper work permit (which we don’t have), with the exception of being able to go to the grocery store, pharmacy, gas station, or bank on the two days a week designated by our last name. All other businesses, restaurants, public transportation, and schools were to remain closed. With this announcement came a general increase in dread and anxiety. Still, no one knew whether the government would change course and decide to implement an extended total lockdown. As Aaron and I sat looking out from our balcony that night, we could see that the streets were empty except for a lone police car with lights flashing patrolling for anyone violating the lockdown while an eerie stillness filled the air.
After the announcement of these new restrictions, I thought it wise to go to the grocery store on our next designated day, Friday, to stock up on a few extra supplies in case a total lockdown was imposed. I was not sure what to expect when I went out, but I noticed an abnormal lack of vehicles on the road. When I turned into the parking lot of the store, police officers were pulling cars over at random to check IDs and make sure that no one was there without it being their proper day. I found a parking space easily and walked to the store entrance. I was not surprised to see a line waiting to get into the store, but I was surprised as I followed that line around the front of the supermarket, and down the entire length of adjoining shops and restaurants and then doubling back on itself again. I finally found the end of the line and settled in for a long wait. As I waited, I observed my fellow shoppers and pondered the scene. Most people were alone, silently waiting and moving a few steps forward every couple of minutes as the line progressed. Others were with a friend or family member, but they all just waited. While I could see the look of fatigue and sometimes surprise on the faces of newcomers joining the end of the line, no one said anything. And with the exception of a few ex-patriots who struck up a conversation in line ahead of me, most people remained silent. I thought how odd this scene was when contrasted to what I imagine a similar scene would look like in the States. I imagined that in the US people would be grumbling and complaining about how outrageous it was that they had to wait so long to get into the store and how at least one or two outspoken people would be voicing their opinions loudly in anger or trying to push to the front of the line. But here, everyone just waited.
I have been told that part of the reason Mauritius has had a more successful response to coronavirus is because it is a collectivist culture. This means that people are more inclined to think in terms of community or what is best for the larger goal or group as opposed to being individualistic and focusing primarily on autonomy and individual rights or goals. As I stood in that line waiting to get into the store, I couldn’t help but think that this was a perfect example of collectivism. No one wanted to be in that line or wait that long, but everyone knew that it was a necessary precaution, and I would also like to think that we all understood that every person in that line was just trying to provide for their families—making no one’s wants or needs more relevant or pressing than anyone else’s. By the time I reached the entrance, I had waited more than an hour to get into the store. And even then, there was a sense of calm in the store. It was not overcrowded, and I was impressed that within a day or two the store had clearly delineated a one-way system for the checkout counters and workers wove seamlessly among the shoppers restocking shelves and making sure that everyone could get what they needed. It was a beautiful display of everyone seemingly working together, or at least cooperating, toward the common good. By the time Aaron went grocery shopping the following Friday, the lines were gone, but they are still checking IDs and requiring masks and temperature checks, the latter of which has been standard protocol for the past year even when the island was considered covid-free.
Monday, March 15th, marked the first official day of online learning for Lighthouse, although optional assignments were available during the initial school closure the previous week. The start of online classes brought a whirlwind of changes in our house. First, it meant that Aaron, who had planned his upcoming units and instruction for in-person classes, had to quickly adjust and figure out how to adapt the material to an online format. It also has meant that he is locked away in a room for eight hours a day for synchronous instruction and then spends nights preparing and grading. For me, it has meant that my new full-time job is managing schedules, zoom meetings, and schoolwork for three children. My typical “school” day starts around 8am and goes until 4pm during which time I alternate between helping each child individually with their work and making sure that everyone gets logged in to the right meetings at the right times. The first few days were a bit overwhelming, and I had flashbacks of the disaster that online learning was for us last March in the US. At that time, Aaron and I were both working full-time jobs that had to be managed online, and frankly, we didn’t have the time, energy, or flexibility to fully support our own children’s learning. It is a predicament that I know many working parents have found themselves in over the past year. As such, our youngest two (both in preschool at the time) just stopped learning, and our school-aged child did the bare minimum to get by until the end of the school year last May.
Having had that experience, I am thankful for the blessing that not having a job outside of the home has been right now. It has given me the time, energy, and flexibility to devote to helping them continue to learn and grow academically, which is especially important given that the younger two are both at critical points in developing pre-reading and reading skills. I can also see how each child benefits from and enjoys the individualized attention, which has helped foster positive relationships. For now, we have settled into a routine, and the children are mostly cooperative about coming to do schoolwork when it is their turn and being patient when it is not. We are all restless and miss being able to go out, enjoy the beaches, and explore. We also miss being able to see our new friends, classmates, and colleagues, but we are grateful to have a comfortable home, food, health, and devices that allow for continued learning and connection online.
The current confinement restrictions have been extended until at least March 31st, after which the first phase of reopening is set to commence. In this phase, some businesses and restaurants will be allowed to reopen for takeout and delivery. Schools, however, will remain closed for the foreseeable future, and we will still only be allowed to go out two days a week. In addition to the confinement restrictions that have been put in place, the government also initially closed the airport to all incoming traffic (it has since reopened) and quarantined off several towns where the majority of the outbreak clusters occurred. They have labeled this area the ‘Red Zone,’ and it is forbidden for anyone to travel in or out of these restricted zones without proper authorization. To date, there have been 268 positive cases identified since the onset of the community outbreak on March 5th. Twenty-nine of those are considered recovered at this stage, while 239 remain active. It is interesting to note that 220 of those cases were identified through contact tracing, and 35 were identified in quarantine centers. Health workers have also administered thousands of PCR tests in the past few weeks in the contact tracing process, a process that was developed initially to combat—and ultimately eliminate—malaria on the island.
This recent lockdown has also dealt another blow to Mauritius’ already struggling economy, which has suffered from the lack of tourism over the past year. Mauritius had just begun rolling out its public vaccination campaign on March 8th and had hoped to reopen borders when the vaccination rate reached 60% among the general public. During the initial days of school closure, Lighthouse was encouraging staff to try to get vaccinated; however, the vaccination process is not without challenges. Aaron went on March 9th, the day assigned according to our last name, to get a vaccine at the nearest hospital. After waiting for three hours and barely making it to the front of the line before closing, he was told that he could not be vaccinated there because he was an ex-patriot, which apparently is not true according to other ex-patriots who were able to receive vaccines at other hospitals and clinics. The next day the vaccination campaign was temporarily suspended, and it is now being reorganized. Further complicating vaccine distribution is that fact that at least one hospital was temporarily closed this week for sanitization following an outbreak of coronavirus among the staff. As such, none of our family has been vaccinated, and it is unclear when we might be able to receive a vaccine.
Regardless of the challenges and what may seem to be a strict response to only a few cases, we remain grateful. The death toll from coronavirus in Mauritius is 10—only 10 since the onset of the pandemic a year ago, and the island was basically covid-free for the past nine months or more. When I look at this in comparison to the almost 550,000 lives lost in the United States, there is no comparison. Even if you calculate the number of deaths by percentage of the overall population for each country, Mauritius’ death rate due to coronavirus is far below that of the US. And I must admit that this has all been a bit disorienting, like a strange déjà vu, re-experiencing the onset of a pandemic but different. Different rules, different culture, different protocols, but strangely familiar. As we adjust to yet another new normal, we remain positive, hopeful, grateful. Which reminds me, a friend recently commented that they had come to appreciate my “positive spin on things.” To be honest, this comment caught me off guard. Of all things, I have never thought of myself as a “positive” person—hopeful, perhaps, but not positive. Reflecting on this, I realized that, for me, it has nothing to do with positivity and everything to do with choosing my response. As holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” We may not always be able to choose our circumstances. But we can always choose our response. And that, I believe, makes all the difference.
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!
As we wrap up the end of our third month in Mauritius, it is hard to believe that we have been here a quarter of a year already. In this time, we have gotten settled in our new house, learned a bit more about the island and its culture, and met a lot of new friends who have become our “island family.” This island family has continued to grow as more new families have come to join the Lighthouse staff. One family, the Palmers (who we mentioned previously), arrived from the U.S. a few weeks ago and were just released from quarantine on January 23rd. They, like us, will be serving through TeachBeyond. Another family, the Mulerts, arrived at the end of December and have also just been approved to join TeachBeyond. The Mulerts are American but are coming from a previous post in Malaysia. Thus, in the past month, our TeachBeyond team has grown exponentially, and we are now a group of six adults and 9 children! We hosted our first team gathering on January 28th where we officially greeted the new arrivals and enjoyed some tacos and time together.
The most significant event of the past month has been the start of the 2021 school year at Lighthouse, which officially began for students on January 14th. For Aaron, the start of the new school year brought much stress and anxiety about understanding the new curriculum and formalizing plans and preparations. For all of the children, it brought eager anticipation and excitement since none of them have set foot in a classroom for almost a year (with the exception of Ezra going to Lighthouse for a week and a half at the end of the 2020 school year). But for me, the new school brought a sense of dread, a heaviness, as I wondered—what is my purpose here?
The question of purpose is one that has been rolling around in my head for some time, knowing that the day would come when the house would be empty, and I would be forced to face the uncertainty that lies ahead. In all of this, I have studied; I have explored options; I have pondered my own thoughts and feeling. And I have also prayed. I have prayed for patience, which is not one of my strongest virtues. I have prayed for guidance to know the best way to use my time and talents. I have prayed that a door would be opened wide so that I would know clearly what I am supposed to be doing here. I have told myself to wait and to not take matters into my own hands by rushing to do something just for the sake of being busy and have tried to be patient and trust that a path will be made clear according to His purposes. And yet, here I am still waiting and wondering, what is my purpose here?
Initially I thought there would be a position for me in some capacity at the school. And while there still may be (and they would love to have me), the logistics have proven much more difficult than we anticipated. Essentially the school did not budget for another counselor at this time, and although I am happy to work for free due to the generosity of our partners, I cannot technically work as a professional in Mauritius without an occupation permit. And the process of getting a self-employed occupation permit to act as an independent contractor is quite lengthy and expensive. This leaves me in the position of essentially needing an employer for a permit if I am going to operate as a professional counselor.
While pondering this, I have questioned why it is so hard to not be doing something. And while many might think that this is an issue of professional work being tied to feelings of worth or identity, I have concluded that this is not true for me. I know that I have worth and value in who I am—in just being a presence here—with or without professional work, and I know that I have done and am capable of doing many things apart from counseling. So what is it? I have searched myself and the best answer I have found is that this longing for purpose is about what fuels me, what fulfills me, what renews me. I don’t mind the routine day-to-day tasks, but that’s not what fuels me. Instead, I thrive when I am pushed and challenged, and I am a better person when I am doing something for someone outside of myself and my family. Jesus never said stay where you are and be comfortable. Instead, He said go….“go and do likewise,” go and have mercy, go and be a servant, go and feed the hungry, go and love your neighbor as yourself. I am eager to go. But for now I am being told to wait, to be still.
“Being still and doing nothing are two very different things.” -Mr. Han, Karate Kid (2010)
In the meantime, I have tried to adhere to a principle that I established many years ago, which is to say ‘yes’ to every opportunity to connect. This doesn’t mean saying yes to everything. But it does mean saying yes to opportunities that match my values, intentions, and goals. By saying yes to opportunities to volunteer, meet with people, or to take on a role (like TeachBeyond Team Lead or class parent for one of the kid’s classes), I have made many connections. These connections have led to friendships and many candid conversations in which others have voluntarily shared their personal struggles with me. At times I have been caught off guard by these disclosures, wondering why I, a person they barely know, am the person they chose to disclose to. Nonetheless, I listen, I acknowledge their struggle, and I try to offer whatever support I can.
On more than one occasion, the other person has asked me to pray with them. This, too, has caught me off guard because I don’t think anyone ever asked me to pray with them in the United States. Sure, I had people ask me to pray for them but never to pray with them. It always causes me to have a slight feeling of panic. What if I say the wrong thing? What if my prayer isn’t good enough? What if I don’t have the right words or know all of the church lingo to make the prayer sound good?
In fact, I have always struggled with prayer. Regardless of the many scriptures that reference prayer, life experience has proved that some prayers are answered (in the way we want) and some are not. Some of my greatest joys in life have been answered prayers (or what I wanted) and some of my greatest sorrows have been unanswered prayers (or NOT what I wanted). And while I know it is tempting to create rose-colored stories about God’s plan or find reasons behind answered prayers or unanswered prayers, I choose not to go down that road. Instead, I choose to say that God is God and I am not. I may never understand the grand plan. It may never make sense to me. Sometimes we hurt. Sometimes things are hard. And that is okay. I have decided to accept not knowing and to do my best love and serve and trust in something that is far beyond my comprehension.
“You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results.” –Mahatma Gandhi
Despite my reservations about prayer, I pray. Despite my panic when someone asks me to pray with them, I pray. Because ultimately, it is not about me or my feelings or opinions. It is about God. And in the case of someone asking me to pray with them, it is about showing love to them and hopefully helping to comfort them in the way that they need in that moment.
So, maybe my path is not yet completely clear. Maybe I don’t have a specific “job” to do. But, upon reflection, I do have a purpose. That purpose is the same one we all have, which is to love others and to do good works in whatever capacity the opportunity presents itself. Some days that will look different than others, but in the end, this is what really matters.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” –Ephesians 2:10
Merry Christmas everyone, and happy New Year. As I write, we are well into summer break, which feels like a strange time to celebrate the holidays. While I miss those cold, cozy winter days, the rest of the family is quite contented that they can go to the beach which, to be honest, is a pretty solid trade.
Over the past two months we have learned a lot about our new home, its norms, and its social makeup, and we have been thinking a lot about the topic of belonging. Anyone who has ever changed schools as a kid is familiar with the question, where do I belong here? It’s a question that many of the students at Lighthouse have had to wrestle with. One engaging young man explained that by the time he was fourteen, he and his younger brother had lived in three different (and very distant) countries. He has found belonging by doing what the new kid in any good teen drama does, engaging with and becoming part of the community. Of course, this requires some vulnerability and invites a bit of awkwardness, but the payoff is that you get a seat at the table and, maybe, you expand your world view to encompass new people and ways of being.
New kids that we are, we are also engaging with our community, including the town where we live, Fond du Sac. Fond du Sac (literally “Bottom of the Bag”) is a small town in the north of the island made up of painted cement houses and shops grown around with palm and mango trees. It is home to Mauritians of all walks of life, and as far as we can tell our family and the retired French man across the street are the only expatriates within its borders. One way we engage with this community is simply by being present as much as our introverted natures will allow. For instance, early one Sunday morning a few weeks ago, we decided to venture out to Fond du Sac’s weekly market.
It was our first trip to the market, which is held in the center of town. Vendors were set up along the sidewalks and in stalls off the main road with an array of bright vegetables, fruit, and other goods. Sellers called out prices and varieties, and people crowded through in a businesslike manner, asking prices and buying. Traffic weaved around the parked cars and crossing pedestrians with the occasional beeping of horns. And in the middle of it all there we were herding our kids through the throng. Clearly, we were the only people foolhardy enough to bring their entire family to the market. We didn’t know what we wanted, and we didn’t know what prices were fair and when or if to haggle. (As an aside, I have found that people are pretty fair. On a recent trip to a local hardware shop, the guy haggled his own prices down for me as I was attempting to pay his original asking price which was written on the tool. And honestly, most transaction don’t require negotiations.)
A good number of eyes noticed us as we moved through, conspicuous as a group of rodeo clowns blithely attending a Japanese business lunch. But people just went about their business, as did we. We got some vegetables and bread; no one was run over; it was a success.
These experiences of being out of place and stumbling through something new are part and parcel of being in a new culture. They can be exciting, illuminating, frustrating, and embarrassing, and they are more often than not at least a little uncomfortable. Yet these are also the experiences that help us grow as people. They are opportunities to learn a language or dialect, become culturally competent, practice patience and humility, and learn new and amazing things about the world and the people in it. Most importantly, though, these experiences help us expand our sense of community, to shift the us/them divide so that people who were once “them” are now “us.”
That old enemy, comfort
In the wise, unattributed words of Pinterest, “A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.” The option to expand our community of belonging is available to us all. And while the opportunity to connect with new and different people and cultures, to earn a place at new tables, is always there, the lure of the familiar and the option to opt out of the discomfort of the unfamiliar is a current that pulls us away from such opportunities and back to the safety and comfort of the things and experiences we are used to.
One of the reasons we chose overseas service was to break away from the current of the familiar, but it flows here too. You see, it is quite easy to be comfortable as an expatriate in Mauritius, which makes sense seeing as this is a nation whose primary economic pillar is tourism. The siren call of the comfortable, the familiar, is almost everywhere. While there are countless local shops and restaurants, there are also places that feel much more familiar: large grocery stores, malls, KFC, Mc Donald’s (of course), and Pizza Hut, all with parking lots, clearly displayed prices, and signs in French and English. English and French speakers can also be spared the discomfort of stumbling through a new language because, though Mauritian Creole is the primary language spoken over the entire island, most people also speak fluent French and at least comprehensible English. It’s not uncommon for expatriate English or French speakers to live in Mauritius for years or decades without speaking anything other than their native languages. This isn’t a moral failing, of course, but it does represent a missed opportunity.
We are trying to be intentional about pushing back against the lure of the familiar, especially when it comes to community. Being on a small island, we have found that the different pieces of our social quilt (work, school, church) which – in the States – might only touch on the edges greatly overlap here. This overlapped quilt of people can feel cozy, especially because so many people in this ready-made community – and this is key – are a lot like us. Many are expatriates who primarily speak English and who are accustomed to western cultural norms. To make sure our social circle remains expansive, we try to be present in our local community, and we rely on our Mauritian friends to help root us here and connect us with people and places that are unfamiliar to us. The friends we rely on the most are Ashley and Prishma, a couple who work at Lighthouse and also live in Fond du Sac.
Ashley and Prishma have two boys close in age to our children, and they take an active role in Fond du Sac, especially with their neighbors. Ashley is a well of positive energy. He is known by everybody and always has visions of what is possible. Prishma is kind and discerning. Ashley has said that if he is the head of the family, then Prishma is the neck. They live not far from us and have regularly helped us be a part of things through the events and get-togethers that they hold. We have attended church at their home, been a part of the annual Christmas block party that they organize for the neighborhood kids and families, and helped Ashley deliver food to residents in need. (See photos and details below.) When you are new in a place, you can do a lot by just getting out there, but man does it help to know somebody on the inside.
As we learn and grow here, we hope to continue saying yes to the opportunities that allow us to weave the thread of our lives in with the varied threads of those all around us. And we are grateful for the opportunity to do things that might be a little out of our comfort zones.
And now, a parting anecdote.
A Fond du Sac Christmas
It was five in the afternoon, and I was in charge of corn hole. This made sense, seeing as corn hole is a quintessentially American game, and we were the only Americans around. In fact, we were the only non-Mauritians around. We were helping our friends and colleagues, Ashley and Prishma, with their annual Christmas block party for the neighborhood kids and families in their area of Fond du Sac. I was running corn hole; Emily was helping serve food and had cooked two hot-ticket items folks couldn’t get enough of: pigs in a blanket and chocolate chip cookies.
“Okay everybody, here are the rules,” I attempted to explain in French to the crowd of 12- to 14-year-olds in front of me. They smiled vaguely as I endeavored to instruct them on the finer points of the game (points I had recently researched on Google), and I found myself becoming progressively louder and more animated in an unsuccessful bid to buttress my unclear communication. Soon enough the bean bags were soaring, and it was immediately evident that despite the polite smiles and affirmations, no one had really understood me. Score keeping was a wash, we settled for taking turns tossing the bags. Then the younger kids arrived, and the process repeated. Across the way, Emily regarded the goings-on of my station with a look of pitying amusement. When a few of the younger boys made no pretense of aiming for the boards and started chucking beanbags like Nolan Ryan fastballs, I began to wonder if it was culturally appropriate to yell at other people’s kids but thought better of it since it probably wouldn’t make a good first impression. The solution was to have only one corn hole board behind which I stood, overseeing the gentle tossing and calm collection of the beanbags.
Later, having abandoned my station, I watched with a feeling of vindication as Prishma attempted to corral the same set of energetic youngsters who had, in my absence, decide to return for more corn hole. “Aren’t you supposed to be running that?” Emily asked.
Despite the lapses in communication, however, we all had a great time. Kids and adults competed in sack races, musical chairs, and balloon popping – all the classics. Ezra won a seizure-inducing fidget spinner for coming in first in her sack race. Kyler won a pen. The girls made at least one new friend. There was plenty of food, and at the end of the event, the neighborhood kids got presents.
On the way back home that evening we discussed the afternoon’s events. The kids loved the games and the sweets. Emily’s concerns about no one liking her American snacks were assuaged, and I enjoyed getting to work with the kids, though the communication was a bit difficult. “Yeah,” Ezra chimed in, “but all the kids speak English!”
“What?” said I with the air of a man who just realized he had been feverishly trying to stay afloat in waist-deep water.
*Note:Every year Lighthouse School collects shoeboxes with gifts to give to children for Christmas, but rather than doing this with an international organization, they collect and distribute the boxes to children within Mauritius. For the past 7 or 8 years, Ashley and Prishma have been hosting this event in Fond du Sac to celebrate Christmas and to share some of these gifts with the neighborhood children. It is just one small way for Ashley and his family, who are well-known as Christians in their predominantly Hindu community, to share God’s love and help bring the community together. This year there were about 40-50 children present, along with various family members, making a total gathering of about 100 people.
Summary of Other Recent Happenings:
Christmas Ornaments…Bringing Neighbors Together
As many of you know from Facebook, our children have made friends with the 7-year old Mauritian boy next door. It all started when they began climbing on the trash bin and looking over the fence where our neighbors have their Hindu shrine despite us telling them not to. They discovered Laknish, a friendly, bright-eyed boy who speaks English and was eager to play. They developed all kinds of over-the-fence games like passing the ball and hide-and-seek. Then one Friday evening Laknish found a ladder. As you can imagine, this took the play to another level. They played until dinnertime, and after dinner, we went outside to paint some salt dough Christmas ornaments we had baked earlier. We were just getting started when Laknish’s head popped up over the fence. He looked longingly at our painting, so I asked if he wanted to join us. He initially said no and that his parents wouldn’t let him. The kids insisted that he could “just go ask.” He disappeared for few minutes. Then the children started exclaiming, “He’s coming! He’s coming!” We looked over and sure enough Laknish and his father, Sanjay, were walking over to our gate. We welcomed them in, and as I helped Laknish get setup with a paintbrush and ornaments, Aaron began a conversation with Sanjay. After the ornaments were painted the kids played together until well after dark while Aaron and Sanjay talked, both in broken French. Aaron said later that he doubted either of them understood more than half of the conversation. Nonetheless, we enjoyed being able to share together and visit with our new neighbors. When I asked Laknish if his family had a Christmas tree, he said they didn’t but he was still excited to be able to take his ornaments home to celebrate la fête de noël.
Experiencing Our First Baptism at the Beach
We witnessed our first baptism on November 29th as two teenage girls from our local church were baptized. When I commented that I had never seen a beach baptism, I was met with a puzzled look and the response, “I’ve never not seen a beach baptism.” It was interesting to witness the small group of church members gathered on the beach while other beach goers swam and looked on curiously. I thought it must be an odd thing for people of other faiths to see this strange group of people singing and praying on the beach after someone was dunked in the water. But what a blessing it is to be in a place where different faiths can co-exist openly and (for the most part) peacefully with one another.
The Central Market and an Economy in Decline
In early December, we had to make a trip to Mauritius’ capital, Port Louis, to pick up the family’s residency permits. While there, we decided to explore the city’s Central Market. The market is divided into sections depending on what is sold. The section that sold local produce, spices, and prepared foods was bustling. Obviously many Mauritians shopped there. But the section of the market that sold tourist items was almost deserted. Many stalls were closed and the vendors that were open implored us to look in their stalls, offering to lower prices without us asking in an effort to get us to buy something—anything. Although we did not go intending to buy anything, we allowed each of the children to pick one item as an early Christmas present in order to provide some small support for these local vendors who were obviously feeling the impacts of the lack of tourism. We see and hear this same story all over Mauritius. Places that normally would be overrun with tourists are empty as an economy built largely on tourism crumbles. Families are struggling, and with strict quarantine measures still in place and no clear end to the pandemic, the situation is likely to only get worse.
Ashley’s Home Church
One Friday, December 11th, we were invited to join Ashley and Prishma (our Mauritian friends/colleagues) for the final meeting of the year of the small church group that they host in their home. We had previously expressed our desire to be more involved in the Mauritian community, so we were grateful for the invitation. We arrived “like Americans” on time around 6:30pm and then waited an hour or more while the rest of the attendees slowly arrived. The largest group arrived together on a bus from another local village. All total there were about 35 adults and children gathered for the church meeting (all Mauritian except us), which was conducted in Creole. Luckily Creole is close enough to French that we were able to follow along with most of what was happening. We sang and prayed together, after which someone shared a message. The meeting concluded with the invitation to pray with anyone who requested prayers, to which several people responded and were prayed for individually. The meeting was followed by a meal of traditional Mauritian roti (roh-tee) and desserts. Ashley and Prishma had also purchased Christmas gifts for all of the children in attendance, including our own, which is just one example of their generosity.
Holmes Annual (first in Mauritius) Christmas Cookie Decorating
It is an annual holiday tradition in our home to bake and decorate Christmas cookies, usually with extended family. We have maintained this tradition for the past 10 years or more, and we thought it would be fun this year to invite all of our new friends to join us. So, on December 18th, we hosted a Christmas cookie party, complete with homemade (very melty) icing and other holiday snacks. We had roughly 40 people join us in our home for this event, and we enjoyed being able to connect and share the joy of the season with everyone. All of the children in attendance were especially happy to eat loads and loads of sugar while running circles around the yard, and our family was glad to be able to share our tradition with our new friends!
Visiting Those in Need
After learning about my background working with mental health and homelessness, I was invited by a friend to go with her to visit a domestic violence shelter for women and children that Community Baptist Church helps support through regular donations. The goal was to deliver Christmas gifts for the children and to spend some time visiting with the women at the shelter. The language barrier made this visit challenging, but I was grateful to have the opportunity nonetheless to meet some of the women and children at the shelter. We also stopped by a children’s home to drop off some Christmas gifts. Due to the lack of an established foster care system, many children who cannot stay with their families end up in these large homes with many other children. Both places provided a glimpse into some of the needs of the community and possible ways to volunteer and serve. On another occasion, Aaron had the opportunity to go with Ashley to deliver grocery boxes to individuals in need. These boxes were made with donations collected at Lighthouse as another small way to share God’s love in the community.
Christmas Program at CBC
Our local church, Community Baptist Church, held a Christmas Carols service on the evening of Sunday, December 20th. Children had the opportunity to participate in the service by dressing as angels, wise men, or shepherds, and the story of Jesus’ birth was told through carols and scripture. The packed service concluded with the lighting of candles, and it was a wonderful way to get into the feeling of the Christmas season.
Right now it is high 80s or 90s everyday so it doesn’t feel much like Christmas, but we made the most of it anyway. On Christmas Eve, we went to our favorite local beach. We have been told that normally the beaches would be swarming with tourists this time of year; however, as you can see from the photo, we had the beach mostly to ourselves. We also visited Triolet, a nearby town, on Christmas Even night. During the Christmas season, the shops stay open late, and it was nice to just be able to walk and browse in the local shops despite being stared at most of the time. It was obvious that not many expatriates venture into the local towns, but we got a photo with “Santa” which was totally worth it! We also had fun making many of our own decorations this year and just spending time together.
Exploring Our New Home
During this time off, we have also been able to get out and explore some of our beautiful and exciting new home. See more below including our visit to Black River Gorges National Park. You will notice we finally gave up on shoes after slipping and sliding in the mud down and back up the mountain!
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).
Fifty-nine hours. That’s roughly how long it took from the time we left for the airport on Thursday to the time we reached our quarantine hotel room on Saturday night. Fifty-nine hours without a proper night’s sleep or regular meals or the routines that normally provide comfort and stability. It was indeed a grand adventure, especially since none of our children had ever been on a plane before, much less three planes in a few days. We had spent months preparing and packing, and it seemed almost surreal to finally be on our way.
The first flight was short and easy. We arrived in Washington, DC, about 4:30pm Thursday with no issues. Our luggage also arrived, which was a blessing since we had to claim all of it and then recheck in DC in order to switch airlines. We had to wait an hour or two before we could check-in for the next flight, during which the children ran circles around the mostly empty terminal. So far, so good.
By the time we were checked-in again and through security for the next flight it was getting late, almost 8pm, and we were hungry. We exited the train that brought us from the terminal, consulted the concourse map, and made our selection. We started walking and noticed that the first restaurant was closed. We kept walking—closed, closed—they were all closed. Beginning to fear that we would be making a meal of the snacks in our backpacks, we pressed on and finally found a lone Wendy’s open, apparently the only restaurant open in the DC airport at 8pm at night. It wasn’t our first choice since we had eaten Wendy’s for lunch on the way to the airport, but we were grateful to have anything at that point. Finally fed, we prepared for the next leg of our journey, the thirteen hour flight from DC to Dubai.
We thought they would sleep. Surely after trudging through multiple airports and staying up way past their bedtime, the children would be tired enough to fall asleep. Or so we thought. Instead, as we boarded the Emirates flight to Dubai, it became obvious that they were so impressed by the in-flight entertainment system that they were not going to go to sleep willingly. We allowed them to watch movies and play games for a while as we adjusted to the flight. Finally we decided at about 11:30pm (US time) that we needed to turn off the entertainment and try to force them to sleep. We had just gotten everyone settled when the flight attendants started coming down the aisle with the first meal. So, they were up again to eat—or to refuse to eat, and then we went through the process of settling everyone again. Everyone slept off and on throughout the flight, but nothing solid. Our last meal on the flight was breakfast, which seemed to make sense after flying through the night, except that we arrived in Dubai at 7pm (Dubai time) which was a bit disorienting.
By the time we arrived in Dubai, the jet lag was starting to set in. Our next plane didn’t depart until 9 o’clock in the morning, leaving us with nearly fourteen hours to wait and no idea what to do with it. So, we did the only thing you can do in a situation like this—we made the best of it! We did our best to find ways to entertain the kids, like making use of the terminal playground, reading, playing games, coloring, and of course, riding every escalator and moving sidewalk they could find. Aaron and Kyler were also able to sleep, and Eden slept for a few hours after being wrestled through her protestations that she wasn’t sleepy. Sleep, however, eluded Emily and Ezra, and eventually we all watched the Dubai sunrise and finally prepared for one last flight.
Despite the excitement of the final leg of our journey, it was by far the most difficult. The Boeing 777 to Mauritius was crowded, and most of the passengers seemed stressed and exhausted likely because they, like us, had traveled from elsewhere to Dubai in order to catch one of the few flights available to Mauritius. We drifted blearily between waking and sleeping for most of the 6 hour flight. The in-flight meal came around 2pm (Mauritius time) but none of the children ate, and by the time we were circling Mauritius preparing to land, they were fast asleep despite our best efforts to rouse them. The realization that we were finally reaching our destination after months of preparation was beginning to set in, and a rainbow appeared among the cloud above the island as if to reassure us that this was where we were meant to be. It only lasted a moment, but it was an overwhelming reminder of God’s love and the love that everyone has shown us along the way.
The children stumbled sleepily off the plane, too groggy to be excited. I paused to take a photo of them with the mountains in the background, but no one was smiling. It didn’t take long for them to wake up enough to start complaining. Luckily only one child collapsed on the floor while the others just hung heavily on our arms as we waited in line for immigration. When we finally reached the immigration counter, we were initially told that we would not be allowed to enter unless we had proof of, or bought, a return ticket home. We explained our situation and presented the papers the school had provided for us showing Aaron’s “in-principle” occupation permit, but the immigration officer seemed skeptical and had to call his supervisor. Eventually, they let us go, but not until the whole line of people behind us had already been processed. From immigration we proceeded to the health checkpoint where we had to (again) provide documentation of our negative COVID tests and then be tested once more. Finally, we reached the baggage claim where we collected all of our luggage and loaded it onto trucks to be transported to the hotel. We then boarded a bus full of other passengers who were going to our same hotel for quarantine and eventually set off. We had arrived at the airport around 3:45pm and finally left around 5:45pm. By now, the children had received snacks and their excitement had returned!
It soon became clear that our caravan of buses had a police escort. At each roundabout along the way, the police blocked incoming traffic so that the three buses would not have to stop. It wasn’t clear whether the police were trying to expedite our transport or ensure that no one got off the bus. Regardless, the cross island drive from the airport in the south to our hotel in the north which should have taken about an hour, took nearly two hours due to the buses getting lost and having to turn around several times. Furthermore, being in the last bus we had to wait for the passengers in the two buses ahead of us to unload and be checked-in at the hotel before we were allowed off the bus. Nonetheless, we were grateful. Grateful to finally be here, and grateful for the beauty of this place that became immediately evident as we drove across the country. By the time we unloaded and were waiting in the parking lot to be checked-in, it was after 8pm and the sun had already set. But as the children dug for seashells in the flowerbeds and ran joyfully around the parking lot, a cool breeze blew, and it became clear that this was one of those moments. A moment to savor and cherish as precious and magical. A moment that would never come again but that marked the culmination of so many hopes and prayers and the beginning of a new adventure.
We finally crawled into bed around 11:30pm. Visions of the journey replayed and then the thought came. Fifty-nine hours is nothing—nothing in the course of a lifetime. And whatever discomfort or challenges came during those fifty-nine hours were worth it. After all, it is often those moments, those hours, of discomfort that shape and define us—for better or worse. Now, as we complete our quarantine, we continue to try to take things as they come one day at a time. We are fortunate to be surrounded by beautiful views and a hotel staff who have been very generous and accommodating. They even provided board games for the kids and one room (we had to book two to accommodate our whole family) with an outdoor Jacuzzi for the children to “swim” in since we are not allowed to go to the beach or pool. We have taken to rising early with the sun around 5:30 or 6am, which means that bedtime has also gotten earlier. We reserve some time in the mornings for schoolwork, but the rest of the day is basically free time. The hotel provides three meals a day, so we are well taken care of. With that, the children are learning to try new foods and have come to love having French baguette with every meal. Aaron and I have also had the opportunity to brush up on our rusty French language skills since most of the staff default to French, although they usually also speak and understand English if needed. We are looking forward to the next steps and getting settled into our house after we leave quarantine. Until next time…