Firstly, I've come up with a vaguely comprehensive list of 'basic necessities' unavailable in Mauritius:
3. iTunes (I cheat by using an American debit card)
4. nbc.com, abctv.com, etc
5. Televised American football (don't worry, I'm keeping up with the Crimson Tide and the Saints online. I'm also naturally keeping track of the Green Wave, but it gets hard to focus on my computer screen through my TEARS!) (Still though, ROLL WAVE!)
6. Barbecued Shrimp/ Pralines/ Fried Green Tomatoes
7. My parents
8. Bruff (Tulane dining hall)
9. PJ's coffee
Secondly, I've bought swim goggles and can be found any day of the week at the beach of Flic en Flac, swimming stupidly around, gazing in amazement at exotic marine life, and stepping on sea urchins. Oh, that's important. As far as I can tell, they're aren't really jelly fish in Mauritius, but the beaches are inundated with sea urchins that are little and black and hide under plants. They are absolutely no fun to step on. Dad says that they are good to eat. Does anyone know how to say, 'barbecued sea urchin' in Creole? I'm also slowly developing a tan. Woah, I know. Don't get too excited- there's only so dark you can go when you start out as white as a bleached sugar cookie. Does anyone know how to say 'melanin deficiency' in Creole?
Speaking of Creole, I've started to learn a bit of the local language (as much as I can get anyone to teach me). I've obviously started by learning the phrases that I predict I will use the most. Mo envi dormi (I want to sleep) Mo pou manze (I'm going to eat) Mo pa touriste (I'm not a tourist). etc. I also obviously know the cuss words.
And speaking of melanin deficiency, allow me to reflect about the 'study' part of my study abroad. As previously mentioned, I have four courses this semester. They are: Disadvantaged Populations and Intercultural Social Work, the Mauritian Economy I, 20th Century American Literature, and the Sociology of Migration. Each of them is defying expectations as the semester goes on. Oh, and since when is it October (well, nearly).
I'd like to discuss primarily the social work class. As I said, it is composed mainly of professionals in the field of social work: the vast majority are married, most have children, more than half are women, and none of them are white. Recent discussions about racism and sexism, therefore, have been particularly enlightening. An anecdote: last Wednesday I was headed to class by bus. It was early morning. I was cranky. I waited for my first bus, as I do every morning, on the beach. This was very nice, except that it was cold (read: it was in no way cold, but it was windy and I longed for a sweater). The first bus ride was uneventful enough, punctuated by my most recent iPod playlist and bouts of snoozing. I arrived in Quatre Bornes to change buses as per normal, and then things went horribly awry. I waited for my next bus for much longer than normal, to start with. Then, when one finally did arrive, a curious thing happened.
Mauritians don't really have a culture of lining up. They, from what I can gather, prefer to push. As a bus approaches, therefore, a huddle of people pushes its way towards the door and waits to be waved on by the controller (the ticket guy on each bus). In this particular huddle, I found myself near the back of the crowd but not last. The bus-goers from the bus got off of it, and the huddle was allowed to enter. The bus was certainly not empty, but it was by no means the fullest bust that I've ridden in Mauritius; it was probably 'standing room only,' but I've ridden buses that were 'standing-on-top-of-at-least-four-other-people-and-their-groceries room only.' In any event, it got to be my turn to board the bus, and three Mauritians were standing behind me (read, lightly shoving me) waiting to get on. At this point, much to my confusion, the controller of the bus put his arm out to restrain me and let the Mauritians on. Once they were aboard, the controller proceeded to close the door in my face. I was astounded. Nearby school children seemed to be gasping in unison (Oh, No he didn't!). Rather than belligerently banging on the side of the bus or shouting obscenities in Creole (as I am now totally capable of doing) and being extremely cranky and late by this point, I carried my wounded foreigner self to the next taxi stand and took a cab to school. Yeah, I was that guy.
I arrived in social work class to find a discussion of racism. We were separated into groups to discuss the topic in Mauritius. I always feel bad at group discussion time, because my presence forces the other members of my group to speak in English or French, rather than Creole. Anyway, my group got to talking. The general consensus was that white people, even in Mauritius, tend to be the perpetrators of most racism and the benefactors of the accompanying discrimination. Fresh off of my morning experience, though, and still quite cranky, I reminded them rather sternly about reverse racism. Let me say that I can't be certain that my race kept me off of the bus- it wasn't my gender, because the Mauritians that were let on instead of me were male. It could have been classism or anti-tourist sentiment, but both of those are related to racism anyway. It could simply have been that the controller thought I looked funny. I don't care- I was perturbed and I was very passionately calling it racism! Yes, in hindsight, I realize how a cup of coffee or possibly some candy could have easily quelled my resentment, and that my impassioned exposition was probably more the result of not enough sleep or caffeine than any great moral injustice. I had, after all, easily been able to afford the taxi (equivalent of $5.50 US) and got to school faster and with my personal space intact. Yeah, I know I sound whiney. But you would, too, if you didn't get coffee in the morning.
That being said, the concept of reverse racism had apparently never occurred to many of my classmates. I told them my morning bus story, and they were surprised and amused. When group time ended, my group told the professor that I had a story for the class. Great. A white guy who'd been held off of a bus that morning gets to recount his experience with reverse racism to a room full of non-white adult-aged full-fledged social workers. They were sympathetic, but the roomed burst into laughter more than once during my story-telling. I wasn't the least bit offended by their insensitivity- by this time I had realized that it all was really very funny. One classmate even suggested that I write an angry letter to that particular bus company.
This story is indicative of a major feeling I get in class. Most of my courses (by my own design) concern racism and race relations. Even the American Lit class is about race. It just never occurred to me that I would be studying racism as part of an oft-resented minority and surrounded by the differently-ethnic and differently-religious descendants of slaves and indentured laborers brought to this island by my 'European Brethren' to toil in the sugar cane fields. I'm also a gender minority, as my courses are filled with and taught by women. Not that I at all feel disadvantaged- in fact, I find my minority statuses to be terribly amusing to both me and my classmates/professors. I guess the difference is awareness. I said in class today, "When I'm walking down a street in the USA, it never occurs to me that I'm white. Why would it? But I find that in Mauritius, I'm almost always conscious of it." I'm not claiming to know how American minorities feel at all, it's just a different thing to notice.
Spotted: Mauritians on my bus this afternoon opening windows even though it was 'cold' and raining. I looked around for the reason why: a woman was changing her baby's diaper on the bus. I opened my window.
PS- I've started receiving America mail. Remember how I rented a post office box? Well, mail addressed to my PO box has been mysteriously and regularly delivered to my door. In order for this to occur, the Mauritian post man must look up in his paper work my home address and walk all the way to deliver (read: stick it in my front gate) the letter. It seems like it'd be much easier just to drop it in the slot. Right?