Friday, June 24

Defining Mauritius

Although we used to make fun of our madarassa teacher for coming from such a small island, Mauritius isn't that small really - a quick Google pegs it at around 2000 sq km, with London weighing in at 1500 or so. In contrast that other island I talk about at times, The Isle of Man, is a tiny 500 sq km. Compared to that place Mauritius doesn't have the small island mentality I expected it to, but this could be to do with the fact that it's an independent state rather than one of many in a federation (for example). It's as much it's own land and country as anywhere else I've been to this year.

Nevertheless I struggle to define the character of place. It's certainly Africa in terms of geography and climate, but then the Indian influence is very obvious too - unlike other parts of the continent like South Africa and, I presume, Kenya, this is clearly and primarily brown land and has been for a while. This is confirmed both by the visible signs - the shops, the food (which as usual will get its own post) and of course, the appearance of the people - but also by the prevailing culture of the land.

Bollywood and Zee can be found in most places, people dress and act as Indians and general attitudes seem to be rooted in that of the subcontinent too. Homes are largely communal, and family structure appear more traditional than modern. That's not to say the place is backwards - far from it; high value is placed on things like education and professionalism, but they just don't seem to throw out their cultural identities in the process. Mauritians are definitely more brown than their counterparts are in the UK or South Africa, and yet they also manage to reconcile this with living in a modern and western dominated world.

Even if we accept that Mauritius is more Indian than African, there is still lots left to confuse a visitor. The main language spoken seems to be Mauritian Creole, something that is even more confusing (but just as pleasant) to listen to as the French it was based on. Luckily for us, English was spoken by everyone too, although I did have to dust off my Urdu for some of the older people I met.

Me being me, I have to comment quickly about the talent here. In short all levels are well represented everywhere you go, although I will say there are more hotties than otherwise. But more interesting than the actual numbers is is how effortless it all appears for them; for whatever reason this isn't a place where people need to wear lots of make-up or designer gear. My theory is that you don't need to try looking good if you're happy and content, and if that's the case, well then there seems to be a lot of happy and content girls in Mauritius.

Even though I still don't know what makes a developing country a developing country, in terms of literacy and apparent poverty Mauritius appears to hold high enough standards to be seen as a comfortable place to live in. The quality of things like electricity and communications are all decent enough, although some places do seem to struggle a bit with water; but I guess that that's more of a geographical issue than a political or economic one.

Roads, streets and buildings are relatively well developed, and I certainly feel safe walking around, although to be fair we do have our own car and aren't really using any public transport. Similarly I don't feel at all out of place walking around as a stranger - in fact some of our party are often assumed to be native! All in all it's very homely, and reminds me a lot of my trips back to Karachi.

The vast majority of the 1.2 million people who live in Mauritius are Hindu, but apparently Muslims make up around 15-20% (depending on who you ask), which is large enough for Islam to permeate society. So we have halal food almost everywhere (and if not, knowledge of the requirement itself is known) and adhan ringing in public during prayer times.

Mosques are plentiful, although only because it seems that even Mauritius isn't immune from sectarian splits in its Islamic community. Still, the impressive central Jummah Mosque was filled with people of all backgrounds. I forget the exact age of the mosque (there is an older on in Mauritius apparently), but it was one of those typically Indian influenced ones, you know with an airy courtyard and open air whudu khana leading into the smaller, yet just as grand main prayer area at the front. Viewing it's imposing and obvious style from the outside it becomes clear how much a place Muslims have here.

It's claimed that the people here live in peace and harmony, but whether that is because the Muslims don't assert themselves I don't know. What is clear is that it's a nice and comfortable place for a Muslim to live, as is. There is also a Chinese influence on the island, although in my specific experience that was only restricted to a couple of restaurants we went to.

So yes, I guess my only real observation of Mauritius is that of the striking mish-mash of different cultures and backgrounds both from within (the Indian) and outside (the western vibe). But unlike in other places which have the same initial components, it's mostly the good things which have been emphasised in the everyday running of the island as a result.

I would say that most people I meet seem happy and content so in terms of well-being Mauritius is quite a wealthy place. I will qualify this post by saying I've not been here for that long and so may have only been sufficiently exposed to both the geographically and socially affluent side of Mauritius. But still based on what I did see I rank Mauritius as one of the nicest places I've visited in which to live, and well up there with Singapore and Canada.

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