From Darkness to Light – Diwali in Mauritius

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Mauritius has a very large Hindu population which means that Diwali is celebrated. The festival is celebrated in October/November at the time of the new moon, when the night is darkest. I sensed, a few days before new moon, in the activities of the local population that something important was going to happen soon. Vendors began selling little bags and fold up boxes with pictures of rows of sparkling lamps and the markets became very busy with women buying food and families buying new clothes. On the beach young boys began throwing firecrackers at the feet of passing tourists (ME!), scaring them (and strangely not the feral dogs) witless.

I understand Diwali to be “The Festival of Light”, a celebration of a new year and an opportunity to leave the negativities of the past year behind and to begin again, afresh. It is also seen as a celebration of the triumph of good over evil and hope over despair.

Hindus celebrate the goddess Lakshmi who represents abundance and wealth, as well as the elephant deity Ganesha, the remover of obstacles and a symbol of wisdom. Homes are traditionally lit up with lights and “Rangoli” patterns are drawn in brightly coloured vegetable powders on living room floors or in courtyards.

I took a stroll into town, in the early evening of Diwali and found the local temple ablaze with light and a group of people chanting and singing in accompaniment to indian musical instruments. At first, I stood outside, my Western “Abrahamic” upbringing imposing a hesitancy to intrude. I remembered that the Hindu tradition embraces all systems of belief, so I joined the group in the temple for some chanting and singing which involves one person singing a phrase and the group replying in answer while clapping and ringing “Kartal” (Indian cymbals) to the rhythm set by the drummers on their hand drums. I loved the companionable atmosphere of chanting with the group and afterwards made a donation to the goddess Lakshmi, thanking her for my privileged life. I felt humbled as I was presented with a generous handful of blessed Indian sweets (prasaad).

Diwali Chanting

Diwali Chanting

Happy Diwali to anyone reading this, may any darkness you may carry at present become illuminated with the light of knowledge that . . . like the phases of the moon, change is inevitable and that light follows dark and dark follows light and all is as it should be, even in the world of certain ungrateful and mildly discontented cruising “Yotties”.

There is a Vedic Chant in Sanskrit which goes like this . . .

“Asato Ma sat gamaya
Tamaso ma jyoti gamaya
Mrtyor Ma amratam gamaya”

Lead us from the unreal to the real
From darkness to the light (of understanding)
From (the fear of) death to (the knowledge of) immortality

My attempt at a Diwali Rangoli, on paper though!

My attempt at a Diwali Rangoli, on paper though!

An Honest Look at the Cruising Lifestyle

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I am struggling personally with the aimlessness of the cruising life at the moment. We are surrounded by new things all the time which is fun for a while, but I feel so much an observer to life rather than a participant. This is an unexpected feeling and I am still trying to figure out if it is a good one or an unpleasant one? So what is this cruising life about?
We are at anchor in a protected bay, the sea is a deep turquoise colour, the air is milky warm. Grande Bay is a busy tourist part of the island of Mauritius. It is fun, colourful, there are restaurants and coffee bars, boat charters and people in bikinis under umbrellas over warm sand. There are juices for sale under the coolness of the trees on the beach and music filters over the bay. It is lovely and beautiful. In the Chagos Archipelago, where there are no people, no restaurants , where the sea is a deeper turquoise and it is so clear that the blacked tipped reef sharks can be seen circling 10 metres below and one only has raw nature for entertainment, it is also beautiful.

But why the feelings of mild discontent?

On passage from one place to another I am convinced the cruising life is about getting to our destination, finding land, a safe anchorage, a quiet bay, a coffee shop, ice-cream, fresh vegetables and fruit. Once at our destination for a few days, a restlessness presents itself and I find it difficult to reconcile the feeling of being a simple observer to the places we visit.

Fish Market Grande Bay

Fish Market Grande Bay

Before we bought the boat we were land based and I felt trapped, bored, discontented. I was restless for change, but now, after living with change for a short period of only three months I feel a need for stability, for a feeling of “rootedness”. I am confused at these wide swings of emotion and these constant questions about what is important and what I want and need, in order to find “happiness”.

This confusion calls into question the nature of contentedness. Perhaps there is no such thing as the perfect lifestyle, only choices and consequences and the challenge of finding, or realising a contentedness in whatever one does. I ask myself if being rooted on land, perhaps on the farm which I am so drawn too, would make me feel any happier, any more content or would I soon find myself longing for the space of the sea and for the excitement of change in a new landfall.

While there is much to be said for being the objective observer, the feeling of being aimless and unable to participate on any real level is confusing. On the positive side as the outsider, you possess a certain objective perspective that is lost when living in a place for a long time. This is interesting, as the new observer the mundane becomes extraordinary. I have noticed this with tourists when they visit Cape Town, they stop and notice the small detail, the odd flower, the penguins, a garden an insect, things South Africans take for granted. The cruising  lifestyle offers that freshness. But at what point does one need to participate more, to contribute rather than to simply pass through? I am preoccupied with these questions at present, as I write, on a verandah, above a beach, overlooking a turquoise bay while I watch the weekend beach visitors, the families, friends and the tourists get on with their day.

Grande Bay, Mauritius

Grande Bay, Mauritius

We have a visitor from Cape Town who is helping us repair our steering issue and then we will move on, again, to Reunion Island, for the euphoria of yet another set of new experiences.

From there we will face the challenging trip back to South Africa. Back to family and to the reality of our “land life” for a little while, until once again, life becomes mundane and the need for new experiences begins all over again.

But at what point does the constant change become the ordinariness of life?

The Dog House, Rodrigues.

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There is an old slaughter house next to the gate at Port Mathurin where, on occasions we have seen a cow or a bull standing, waiting. Across the road is an empty lot, fenced with corrugated iron. A pack of feral dogs live here. They are healthy, and organised, presumably because they have a source of food from the slaughterhouse. In the evenings that we walked past we watched them emerge, tentatively from behind the fence, and with the “top dog” taking the lead they bark and whine at rival packs from elsewhere. The dogs are completely oblivious to humans, not acting afraid, nor interested and attempts to communicate with them result in them seeing straight through you. It appears as though humans and dogs coexist on the island, peacefully. One or two families have domesticated dogs, but it does not appear common. It would seem that there is a simple mutualism occurring between dogs and people. These feral dogs “own” this piece of vacant land opposite the slaughterhouse. I peered through a gap in the corrugated iron fence as I walked past the other day, stealing a glance into a secret dog world. There the leader of the of the pack, a tough light brown dog, with some “Staffie” features was lying in the sun, feet in the air amongst the overgrown grass. Quite relaxed as a few of his mottled pack lay sleeping nearby.

On the island of Gan, dogs are not present. We did not see any dogs at all. This is understandable since in the Muslim faith, dogs are considered “Haram” or dirty and forbidden. Seeing a dog as we landed in Rodrigues was an immediate contrast.

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Colourful Rodrigues Island

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Rodrigues Island

Rodrigues Island

“Oh, and plastic bags are banned on Rodrigues Island” said Gillbert, the Port Captain of Port Mathurin, Rodrigues Island. This large piece of information was delivered after a very friendly welcome and an orientation talk on the jetty. We soon realized how habituated we are as shoppers to the plastic bag after a fast paced walk to the local market, forgetting to take our own bag. Here we bought fruit and tomatoes and all things that are impossible to fit into a pair of hands. We are a sorry bunch of consumers! Banning plastic bags does not mean that all plastic is banned on the island, but it is a stand, and a good one to begin with. The locals mostly carry baskets which they hang off the handle of their bicycles or scooters. Basket work is a local industry and while banning plastic bags solves a plastic bag disposal problem it supports the local Crafters.

Rodrigues Architecture

Rodrigues Architecture

Corrugated Iron Style

Corrugated Iron Style

Rodrigues is an island full of colour with a mixture of seventies concrete style architecture and the traditional corrugated iron houses, mostly painted in pinks, blues, yellows and oranges. Many of the people claim African or Madagscan heritage. Colour plays a role in the clothes they wear and in the many colorful flowers in the gardens. Restaurants often have an arrangements of colorful plastic flowers on the tables as decoration. On our first day, a funeral procession walked past, each person carrying a posy of plastic flowers and the graveyards are filled with color too.
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Brightly Coloured Shops

Brightly Coloured Shops

Honouring those gone before

Honouring those gone before

Electricity is generated using diesel oil generators. Water is an issue, surprising given the mean annual rainfall is 1.16 metres. Gilbert explained that there are many boreholes on the island but not enough to meet the demand of the population. Their chosen solution is to build three desalination plants . . . I wonder if it would be necessary if more of the islanders collected rainwater from their roofs, if new houses were built with underfloor reservoirs, or if there was a greater management of the geography and topography in the form of Swales and terracing. I recognize, however that there may be larger issues at play which I might not immediately see.

Market Day Veggies

Market Day Veggies

Market Day

Market Day

The island is a food growing island and would appear to be extremely fertile. Food growing and fishing are the two main industries as well as a fairly new and growing tourism industry. The tourism industry is still very much in its formative stages and as such is fresh in comparison to what some might see as the over commercialization of Mauritious. Diving is by all accounts very good with some unique corals. Claire, enjoyed a dive session where she was taken to 23 metres and encountered endemic corals that change colour when touched, from purple to white. It is an ideal Kite Surfing destination with good, constant winds.

The large coral lagoon which surrounds the island, encircling it in a sparkling blue ring is a playground as well as a fishing resource for the local fishermen who “pole” their way through the lagoon at low tide or alternatively sail when the tide is higher.

La Rose Cut and Brush

La Rose Cut and Brush

being "fussed" by Annique

being “fussed” by Annique

My first priority on landing, other than a visit to the fresh food market for fruit, was to have my hair washed. Sailing is an Androgenous activity, there are no male or female roles in the activity of steering and sleeping and by the time we reach land, any land, I find the need to reconnect with gender roles and my femininity. It is also difficult to wash hair on a moving platform and even more limiting is the fact that water is an expensive resource. We have a watermaker on board, but watermakers consume lots of the sun energy we collect, and quickly. So, for the weeks while we are passage making, I usually plait my hair in two plaits and just live with the dry salty feel and the odd basin wash. So it was with absolute delight that I discovered a hairdresser a short stroll from the Port Mathurin gate. The thought of the luxury of having my hair washed was overwhelming and Annique of the “La Rose Cut & Brush gave a suitable “fussing” for someone starved of feminine luxury.

Our stay on Rodrigues island has been a lovely break after the sail from Gan. We have linked in with the cruising community and have met several “yotties” who have sailed from Cocos Keeling, on their way from the east in order to round the Cape of Good Hope and feel as though we are now part of some sort of sailing global rotation. We leave tomorrow, for Port Louis which should take 3 days . . .