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I'm just a stressed-out-perfectionist-not-so-average-cupcake-making-graduate-student-from-Kansas trying to find my place in this world.
Current Adventure: Interning for the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in Washington, D.C.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Spring Break?

Mauritius: Semester at Sea’s “Spring Break”—the European “Hawaii”—the “most beautiful place in the world.” For me, Mauritius was very underwhelming and not like this at all. Of course, the beaches were absolutely gorgeous, but the rest of the island was definitely not what I expected. I knew that Mauritius was a third world country, but I guess I still expected it to be blue water, white sand, and coconut trees all around. It wasn’t. There were tin shacks everywhere. Many people on the island live without access to electricity or running water. The streets and market places are littered with garbage, sewage, and rotting and overripe fruits and vegetables. The streets are unbelievably crowded. All sorts of strange smells were present. Yet, if you walked only half a mile towards the beaches, there were (only) 5-star resorts, an upscale shopping mall, and restaurants where an entrée costs most than the monthly salary of a Mauritian teacher. I guess I was just expecting paradise, and when I got there I just found real people who live and work and survive in a real environment where hardships still exist and life goes on despite the tourists sitting on the beach, drinking their pina coladas as the sun goes down.

We arrived in Port Louis, Mauritius bright and early on Thursday morning. The customs officials boarded the ship as soon as we docked and they informed us that they were requiring each of the 900+ passengers on our ship to file through with our passports to get our entry visas. Fortunately, after the first 100 people, they decided that that “random sampling” of students, life long learners, faculty, and staff was enough and we were all free to disembark the ship. Mackenzie, Carren, and I got of the ship quickly and boarded a water taxi (an old motor boat that ferries people from the port to the center of the city). It was not a very far ride, but if we would have walked, it would have taken almost an hour. We were first on a quest to find an ATM so that we could get Mauritian Rupees (the exchange rate was 30 rupees to $1USD). The walk was not difficult, but there is a lot of traffic, and since they drive on the opposite side of the road than we do, we had to be paying pretty close attention to where we were walking. We met a taxi driver named Isshaud who agreed to drive us around the north end of the island to all of the places that he deemed worthy of seeing during our short stay and then we would end at the beach. He was a fabulous guide. He took us to the infamous Jummah Mosque, several different cathedrals and Hindu temples, the Mauritian citadel, and the post office. Since we only had 2 days on the island, we were pressed for time to get our postcards and stamps.

Isshaud took us to Grand Baie beach. It was very small, but it was perfect for what we had in mind: laying in the sun and reading. We did go swimming for a bit (so far I’ve swum in the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Indian Ocean), but we spent most of our time soaking up the sun. We ate lunch at a Chinese/Mauritian restaurant. It was so delicious—I had some sort of shrimp over rice covered in a red sauce with coconut and pineapple.

The three of us made it back to Port Louis a little after 7:00PM. We headed to Namaste, a really nice Indian/Mauritian restaurant. It was amazing. Mine was very spicy though and ended up giving me a very bad stomach ache. I thought that I would make it out of Africa without ever getting sick from the food, but since Mauritius is still technically Africa, I failed. Lame. Maybe I can escape all of Asia (south, southeast, and east) without getting sick?

Mackenzie has an Iphone that can make calls via Skype to US-based cell phones and landlines. We found a wifi hotspot, so we were able to spend a few minutes calling home before we headed back to the ship for a few hours sleep.

Friday morning I had to be up with the sun because I was on a Semester at Sea service trip to Terre De Paix Children’s Shelter in Albion. Only 6 students showed up; I guess the rest were too hungover from their one night of “spring break.” The drive to the children’s shelter was not too far, but it took us an hour and a half because we were going right in the middle of rush hour.

Terre De Paix serves children who have been removed from their homes because of abuse.  It is not an orphanage, like we were told prior to going there. The children are all in foster care, but this foster care is not run by the state. Although the education system in Mauritius is “free,” at least 20% of the kids there are not in school because their parents cannot afford to buy the books and uniform. The classes are so big that 1/3 of the students who are in school fail out by age 12. The rest fail out by the time that they are 15. Terre De Paix is also classified as a “special school” and they try to keep the “problem” children in school and learning. They do a series of workshops that help kids with their creativity and expressing themselves, as well as teaching them the regular subject in small groups of 6-8 students and in their language, Creole. That is one of the biggest problems is that school in Mauritius is taught in either French or English, which most of the children don’t speak so they become disengaged at an early age from the classroom.

We were able to go to several of these different workshops. I made a mask out of papier-mâché with the 5th graders, learned a Creole poem with the 6th graders, and learned about agriculture in Mauritius with the 3rd graders during my day there.
Here is the Creole poem that I was taught:

Si pena ou, pena nou
Si pena nou, pena ou
Ou se nou, nou se ou
Ou ou ou
Nou nou nou

It basically means that without other people, I cannot become a person.

We were also able to go to the day care/preschool that Terre De Paix runs. It was the most beautiful, state of the art preschool/day care I have ever seen. It was just built with money donated from the EU and it was amazing. Everything there is run off of solar panels and with water collected during rain. There are bright fun murals everywhere. They have little walled gazebos surrounding the main building where the kids learn to play instruments, play with paint, etc. All the little kids were gone on a field trip, but the babies were there so we got to see them for a while. This day care is free and is only for the poor women who can’t afford any help, especially single women who have been the victims of sexual assault or whose boyfriends have left them when they became pregnant (a huge problem in Mauritius). Soon, Terre De Paix will be building a new building for the older children, which they are very excited about.

I brought another one of the One World Futbols that one of the professors brought onboard with him. They are indestructible soccer balls made out of the croc shoe material. They are named after the song by Sting, One World. The children were SO excited for this soccer ball, and they even knew the song and sang it for us.

After we left the children’s shelter, Mackenzie, Carren, and I headed for some good Indian/Mauritian lunch. It was delicious! We got a HUGE tray of naan, different curries, rice, some veggies, and a bottle of water for less than $4 USD, AND I didn’t get sick from it. It was a much better deal than the night before. We found a little grocery store down one of the side streets, so we bought some snacks for our 6-day crossing of the Indian Ocean to India, and then we grabbed a water taxi, and headed back to the ship.

Apparently, most Semester at Sea students just stayed in villas and drank the whole time—so much so that Mauritius has asked Semester at Sea to never port there again. I was so embarrassed to be in any way associated with these people. Most of them are just treating this as a “booze cruise” or a party around the world, which is ridiculous. But then again, these are probably the students whose parents are paying for the trip and the ones who have daddy’s credit card to foot the bill. We did not even have our post-port reflection groups last night like we usually do after a port because so many of the students were still drunk, and the administration was going crazy trying to figure out how to deal with them all. More than 100 Semester at Sea students got “dock time” for not being back to the ship on time—this means that they’ll have to stay on the ship while everyone gets off in India. For every 15 minutes you are late, you get 3 hours of dock time. However, according to a lot of professors who have been on Semester at Sea, India is a big wake up call for the students. Hopefully that happens because these kids are getting ridiculous.

I really did like Mauritius despite the fact that it was so different than I expected. I enjoyed the day at the children’s shelter and our R&R day at the beach. I wish we could have had at least one more day there, so that we could have had time to make it a little further into the island. We only have four more days until we are in India—let the second half of the trip begin! ☺

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