Friday, July 31, 2009
What a day. At 17:00, I was despondent.
I woke up this morning knowing that I had to arrange for a large quantity of money to be transferred from America into the purse of a nice Sino-Mauritian woman so that I could secure my (hopefully) apartment. Well, it quickly became evident that this would not be possible.
As soon as I woke, I showered and went to see Priyam, my Mauritian banker. She is absolutely wonderful and is, without a doubt, my favorite Mauritian. In any event, in spite of all of her scheming, I was still unable to transfer funds from my American bank to my Mauritian bank. I needed this money in order to secure my aforementioned (hopefully) permanent address. The irony of this situation is that the bank is demanding a local permanent address from me to activate my account. I need an activated local bank account in order to secure a local permanent address. I'm sure you can see my dilemma. In any event, Priyam told me that she would do her best to argue my case. She had me write a letter to the bank manager (read: Priyam wrote a letter to the bank manager which I then transcribed into my own handwriting and signed). Anyway, my un-activated Mauritian bank account is in danger of complete cancellation should I not acquire a permanent address before Monday. This has thus far proven to be a major roadblock, but Priyam and I are working feverishly.
I was feeling defeated after my morning, and I needed to see something wonderful and touristy to raise my spirits. I decided to go to Flic-en-Flac, a beach town on the West coast of the island. Also, in light of my newfound appreciation for Mauritian buses, I opted to attempt to reach my destination via bus. I found out, much too late, that buses don't go to beaches; tourists go to beaches.
I was unable to find a direct bus from Port Louis to Flic-en-Flac, so I decided instead to take a bus to another major town inland and make a connection. The town is known as Curepipe (you can flickr it, but in my experience, it's not worth it). I arrived at Curepipe almost an hour after having departed Port Louis, even though I boarded the "Express" bus. Let me say that "express" here does not necessarily mean less stops along the route. From what I can gather, it instead means that drivers accelerate to (even more) perilous velocities in between stops, and then heartily apply (questionable) brakes at each stop.
Upon arriving at Curepipe, I managed to find the stand where the buses for Flic-en-Flac should depart. I waited over an hour. None arrived. Discouraged, I went into a supermarket to buy myself a bottle of Coca-Cola. Concerning supermarkets, let me say that most Westerners in Mauritius prefer them. I say this because every time I enter one, I am greeted with the knowing glances of other Westerners. These glances, from what I can gather, are meant to mean, "I know we should be shopping at the open-air local market yards (or meters) away, but this is so easy and convenient and there's no haggling and- look!- a chocolate bar!" Anyway, I bought the Coke, returned to the bus station, and defeatedly waited on a bus back to Port Louis. While I was waiting, an interesting young fellow approached me. He stood next to me for some time. His hand then drifted to my back pocket which was, lucky for me, sealed shut with velcro. As soon as I felt his hand try to unseal said velcro, I shot him a death glance, swatted his hand away, and looked around for any of the numerous security officers at the bus stop. In two seconds, the man had gone. Man is generous- he was probably between the ages of 11 and 14.
Anyway, I boarded the bus back to Port Louis. Some hours later, and after a conversation with my father, I went down to the hotel bar for a drink. Little did I know that Friday nights in Mauritius generally mean karaoke. I considered leaving the bar immediately as soon as this was brought to my attention. My open beer bottle kept me in the bar just long enough for me to catch the eye of a 64-year-old French diplomat. I know his exact age because he did not look 64, and I made him show me his (diplomatic) passport. We discussed world affairs for almost two hours. He doesn't hate America, he claims, but he does hate recent American foreign policy. I took pot shots at France. Remember WWII and Vichy? How about WWI? Vietnam? Vietnam was probably not the best topic of conversation, for, as I learned later, this monsieur had been in the service of France and in Saigon when the USA airlifted its people out at the conclusion of the conflict. He was a very smart man. We spoke exclusively in French, so he was obviously at an advantage, but he did tell me that my French was good and destined to improve living in Mauritius. He bought me a few drinks.
Right as he was leaving, the karaoke began. This first song played was "Sweet Home Alabama." I was obviously ecstatic. I took out my Alabama driver's license and showed it to anyone who would look. Apparently, the rest of the world thinks that Alabama is a name, not one of the United States. I naturally corrected them.
While on the subject of names, the Mauritians (and the French) call me 'Christian,' because Miles is too difficult for them to pronounce (Christian being my middle name, and a very good one at that). They, of course, pronounce it krees-tee- (nasal)ahn. Anyway, I like my name(s) and my experiences at the hotel bar reaffirmed my faith in myself and in Mauritius. This is all going to work out- I'm determined.
Spotted: Mauritian man selling (and wearing) camouflage Confederate flag hats. Also, a swastika being used by a Hindu man as an honest Hindu symbol.
[Note: I'll post pictures as soon as I manage to find a voltage converter for my camera. It's dead. And plugging it in with only an adaptor would fry it. This could take some time, as I have much more pressing matters to deal with. I appreciate your patience]
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Well. As aforementioned, today I looked at a few apartments. In doing so, not only did I (hopefully) secure a permanent residence, I also gained more exposure to public transportation. And seemingly benevolent Sino-Mauritian women.
First off, it is relevant to explain that Mauritian buses are not operated by a single government entity. They are, rather, operated by numerous companies and corporations- some of which are partially government supported. Furthermore, one might also think a great deal about the origins of buses currently in use when faced with the prospect of boarding one. Today, when en route from Port Louis (the capital) (flickr it) to Ebene (what will be [hopefully] my permanent residence) I rode a bus that was painted a bright blue color with multicolored striping. Across its side it bore the words "Soviet Airways." Hmm. Other buses are different colors and bear different inscriptions. Some say, "Beautiful." Others say, "Blue Bird" (in French). Some more have the words, "Paradise Island Tours," plastered across them. Most are decorated by beads and/or Christmas lights on the inside by the driver's cabin. ALL spew terrible black smoke. Apparently, the Mauritian infrastructure has yet to evolve to the level of Boston, MA and other American cities I've visited who have air-conditioned buses that run on clean-burning cooking oil. Ah. Speaking of- air-conditioning is a fairly new phenomenon in Mauritian mass transit. I would estimate that one out of every six buses on the island is air-conditioned, and for that luxury, riders pay a fee. I will say, I generally prefer the ones that are not air-conditioned. Let me explain. It's a tropical island. Surely I would prefer riding in air-conditioned comfort to riding sweaty. Right?
Because air-conditioning is so new, or perhaps because Mauritius is so tropical, the air-conditioned buses tend to maintain an interior temperature of approximately, eh, 40 degrees fahrenheit. I would tell you the temperature in degrees celsius, but, like Creole, it is a language I have yet to master.
I also discovered a lucrative phenomenon today. Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius, is probably the most popular place on the island for residents to work. Many of them live elsewhere on the island. Thus, as I discovered today, oodles of buses leave Port Louis between 15:30 and 18:00 (read: 3:30 PM and 6:00 PM) (the entire Francophone world is on military time). As a consequence, very few buses leave other destinations bound for Port Louis at that time. Today, I found myself in Ebene at 16:00 (read 4:00 PM) and needed a bus back to Port Louis where I am staying for the time being. I found these buses to arrive every, eh, hour and a half. To compensate, however, many private contractors (read: geniuses with vans) would drive along the bus stops towards Port Louis while most of the buses were headed in the other direction. While the number of people in the daily mass exodus from the capital was still greater, the influx from people who work other places on the island going into Port Louis at quitting time was more than enough to fill (read: cram. 20 people to a vehicle meant for 7) every van that I saw. Interesting local economy.
Spotted: the Indian Ocean from my (hopefully) apartment.
Heard: Feist and the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the lobby of my hotel.
Pictures to follow
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Let me begin by saying that I'm feeling rather empowered right now. I've completed everything on my to-do list save the big one (find a permanent residence) but I have an appointment to see an apartment later this afternoon and several more prospects. All in all, I'm feeling good.
Yesterday I trekked to the University of Mauritius campus for the first time. Hm. Well, parts of it are lovely. Parts of it look like what I imagine old KGB buildings look like. Either way, I hope there's some good learning to be done there. I feel like there will be. I met a few students. All were very nice. I also, just for fun, went walking down a random road on the edge of campus. It dead-ended abruptly into a field of sugar cane that workers were busy burning. My dad could probably explain the agricultural value of such activities, and I'm sure that if I had asked the workers would have explained it (in Creole). I just abruptly turned around and hoped that they hadn't noticed me.
The real story from the University, though, was learning buses. Up until then I had been moving around mostly on foot and rarely by taxi. But I needed to get somewhere that I couldn't walk, and there wasn't a taxi in sight. I needed to learn buses anyway. I asked four separate people how the buses worked. The first was a man employed by one of the bus companies. While he meant well, the only ingots of information I could salvage from his kindly onslaught of French Creole were that I didn't have to pay before I got on, and that to get where I was going I should take the number 73 bus to St. Pierre. Wonderful. I waited for an hour. There was no number 73 bus. Overheated, I walked to the school cafeteria (read: old red bus converted into a lunch stand). There I purchased a Pepsi and asked the woman working the counter if she could enlighten me. She happily explained the buses to me, I assume, but once again, her kindly diatribe was in French Creole. She then did me a great service. She asked a nearby student if he could help me. He spoke perfect English (although we still communicated more in French).
Let me say that I have come to regard English speakers as a luxury. I could go about my day completely in French (NOT French Creole. Yet.) if it was a necessity. It is nice, though, to be able to communicate in my native tongue. I'm much more eloquent in English, and there's also a sense of symbiosis with "English speakers." They all naturally wish to improve their English skills. A conversation with me about, say, how I-desperately-need-help-with-buses-or-I-may-cry has got to be good practice. So they get practice and I get total comprehension. It works out wonderfully. In any event, he helped me a great deal and even congratulated me later as he saw me boarding the correct bus. He also offered to pay for my fare. I declined. I then bought his lunch.
He was not the only one to offer to pay my way. While waiting for the right bus (any number bus in the direction of Vacoas or Curepipe), I met a little woman. She was an "English speaker" whose opening line was "Good morning my son." It was currently nearing 3 pm. In any event, we continued talking and boarded the same bus. Thirty minutes later, she had paid for my bus ticket. She also bought me an Atlanta Braves hat, a bottle of soy sauce, a questionable bag of edibles called "baguettes aux fromage" (NOT what you're probably visualizing) and a bag of jasmine rice. I'm not exactly sure why she purchased me any of these articles. She kept saying, "a present for your father." (read: uhpresentpouryofatta). Anyway, I bought her some shorts and a blouse that she picked out as repayment. Don't worry, I spent more money on her than she did on me. She was incredibly pleasant, although we did get some silly looks from passersby. I am, as I said, about 6 feet 2 inches tall. She was perhaps 4 feet 6 inches tall, and the entire time she was standing on tip-toe to speak to me while I bent nearly in half so that I could speak into her ear. What a day.
Spotted in Port Louis: Overweight Mauritian wearing Texas Longhorns shirt. Also, Small Mauritian Woman wearing LSU baseball hat. I asked her about it. She said it was a university in South Africa.