Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Coleslaw in the Blog Sandwich

Yes, esteemed readers, it is indeed time for the FILLER! I have been having a rather stressful afternoon of it trying to exorcise evil viruses from my Hotmail account and instead exorcising MYSELF from my hotmail account.

It started when my email caught a virus and started sending spam of it's own accord (i.e. not the usual crazy messages which are normally my doing), right after I'd been at the very internet cafe in which I am now sitting. 'Ho-hum' says I, 'I'd Better Change the Password'. So I wind my way through the intricacies of the brand new hotmail layout, and set myself a shiny new password. I click 'confirm'. Nothing happens. I click it again. Absolutely zilch. I leave it be for a second and plan my journey home from Heathrow (yes, it's not far away!). Back to hotmail. Nothing. Click, click click...OK, so that may not have been so smart. The page finally loads and it turns out my new password is erm...3 characters shorter than the one I typed in.

I have no clue what it is, and the backup email address I set, aged 13 or so, for when I need a password reminder is very same hotmail address. And it turns out that, aged 13, I didn't really know what a security question was for, so no joy there. Is this the end of my illustrious hotmail account? Quite possibly...If anyone has any suggestions, please go right ahead and tell me.


My goodness, I do like talking about my problems, it would seem! In other news, la-la-la-lah-lah-life is wonderful and I am continuing to have the greatest of times in Mauritius. It is unbelievable how fast the weeks are going past - today was the LAST DAY of class. This means I have been teaching in Chamarel for four weeks. I have learned a lot, but I feel the time for reflection is not quite yet. For one thing, there's the beach. You see, the sun sets around 6pm here, so if I'm going to truly make the most of that place, I have to get out of this damn internet cafe! The other thing is that the last time I wrote I promised a hitchhiking-devoted article, and it is still in the works! I caught a very nice ride with the headmistress of the local secondary school (La Gaulette) to get here, and she was one of the most interesting and talkative people who's ever stopped for me. But there are others! And I can promise you that all the wonderful characters who I have been lucky enough to encounter on the Mauritian road will be unveiled to you all next time I get to a computer!!

A plus, mes amis!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Fancy Fair!

Greetings to one and all! As promised, I am being extremely sporadic with this blog, writing when where and how suits me...If this means that the content of my entries is occasionally a bit stilted, then so be it...the life of a young boy traveler is far from predictable, and it is only fitting that my journalising reflect this, right?

Summertime, and the livin' is far from easy. For the second half of last week a kind of gradual fatigue was setting in, and no matter what fun games we played or what crazy songs we learned in class (Sweet Home Alabama, anyone?) I was definitely feeling the need for a break by the end of Friday's lesson. Luckily, last weekend was the occasion of the MID-POINT BREAK, so any need for drinking, dancing, chilling and NOT planning lessons for the next morning was most certainly met!

All of us volunteer types (there are 10 of us in total in Mauritius, and one program director) converged on sweet home Chamarela (my adopted home village) to see the sights, groove to the music and get soaked to the skin by the good ole' Chamtown downpours. The reasons why everyone came to Chamarel were simple - not only is it incredibly beautiful and surrounded by mountains, but it is also host to an epic cultural event known as the 'Fancy Fair' to celebrate the Sunday after St. Anne's day. Catholicism has a strong following in Mauritius and especially in Chamarel, where a decent-sized, tin-roofed church dominates the town centre. More on religion in Mauritius in a later entry...there is way too much of it to fit in here!

The Fancy Festival was on Sunday, but before that, we had 2 days and most importantly 2 nights to kill in a sleepy Mauritian village. On Friday afternoon we took a trip to the Seven-Coloured Earth, an interesting geographical phenomenon, where volcanic activity and natural elements in the soil have basically turned a large patch of ground outiside the colours! And as if that wasn't enough, there were giant tortoises wandering around next to it! On the way, we also stopped by the massive 'Cascades de Chamarel' - two giant waterfalls, plunging off a cliff into a deep, rainforested valley. Very very 'Jurassic Park'. The cool thing is that even though these two sites (like many of the most interesting things in Mauritius, it seems) were pay-for-entry, all of us got in for free because Jean-François, my Mauritian 'host dad' works the entry gate!

Friday night we all had a crazy party with drinking games, dancing on tables and my trademark random guitar singsongs at 'La Cure', a church property where we were generously being allowed to stay for the weekend. I guess they would have been even more surprised at the amount of hard alcohol that was consumed over the weekend as I was to find that 70cl of wondrous sugarcane rum cost 100 rupees (about
£2), or less if you brought the bottle back...

Saturday we rose bright and early and embarked on an epic hike to the summit of the highest mountain in Mauritius! Le Grand Piton is, despite being less than 1000m high, very imposing, partly because it rises from very close to the sea. This means that it looks freakin' huge! Sadly our hike ran into a couple of problems, namely mud, rain, mud and thick cloud all around the summit. Beautiful views there were not, and while I am still quite happy in a t-shirt on top of a mountain in the middle of Mauritian winter, some people were less so. So down the mountain we went, most par derriere i.e. on our asses, like some giant muddy slide. Everything was soaking, the ground, our clothes, my ipod (sadly it has yet to recover...R.I.P., methinks).
I had a wonderful wonderful time...Despite the clouds, the rain, everything like that, climbing a mountain was the antidote to lesson planning. I am now in a Zen state...

And Sunday was the Fancy Fair! A crazy melange of church-service with very dancey 'Sega'-guitar accompaniment, market full of flip-flops, food and bootleg dvds (French-language 'Inception', anybody?), and a stagefull of live music and pint-sized Sega dancers. I lost count of the number of faratas I ate during the day...or the weird deep-fried Mauritian snacks which I sampled. The event brought hundreds and hundreds of people to the tiny town of Chamarel. Our classroom was transformed into a disco, and the devastation and smell of ganja was so severe that the next morning we had to hold a games-based lesson outside. The festival music, mostly local bands come to play for the benefit of the church, was a mixture of reggae, rap and of course even more Sega! Some great bands, including Chamarel's very own 'Natur' reggae outfit took the stage, but it was a little disheartening that as well as being the online white kids in the crowd, us volunteers were ummm....the only ones dancing.

As well as being a religious festival, the Fancy Fair had a pretty strong rasta vibe...I saw some of the craziest knee-length dreads ever, and the number of obvious smoking circles around the fair was pretty amusing. The police didn't seem to be chasing anyone up, confirming the impression I've got that Chamarel is pretty relaxed about such things!

Phew....What a weekend. I'm gonna end this here, and hit the beach!
Check out next entry, when your humble narrator will return to his natural mode of transport, and investigate the murky underworld of hitchhiking in Mauritius!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bonzour! Ki manier?

So the deal, in brief, is this:
I am in Mauritius, I will be here until the 21st of August. I arrived on the 15th of July I have been sent here by a small-scale American nonprofit, name of 'Learning Enterprises'. My mission? Teach English. Lots of English. This I plan to do, and many other things besides, and then write about them to all of you lovely people, inviting you ALL to share my joy, pain, embarrasment, confusion or interesting tropical disease.

Two weeks have passed since I first set foot on this tiny island in middle of the Indian Ocean, and that, to me, seems pretty crazy.

Two weeks of rice with everything.
Two weeks of unreliable buses.
Two weeks of my schizophrenic phone (with or without signal depending on alignment of the stars, ground temperature and chi flow)
Two weeks practically sans internet.
And one and a half weeks of teaching my very own native language.

The place where I have passed most of my time so far, my adopted hometown of Chamarel (Chammytown, for the cool) is way up in the hills. The village is sprawled across several kilometres of land, houses separated by patches of what is virtually rainforest. The farmland there is consists of acres of tall sugar cane plants, with pineapple plants, Jacques fruit trees and all kinds of palms springing up all over the place. The landscape is very hilly and steep, and North of Chamarel the largest mountain on the island, Le Grand Piton shelters the town.

I am staying with la famille Quint, some of the kindest and most hospitable people I have ever been lucky enough to meet. They have a wonderful house in the centre of the village, with a huge extended family who are always coming and going and visiting the house. Blondine my Mauritian 'Maman' is an amazing cook, but the food here is seriously pimenté (spicey)! It's taken a little while to get used one of the first meals with les Quint I had the misfortune to bite into a single very very spicy mini chili, about the size of a seed. I spend the next ten minutes turning interesting shades of scarlety red and downing glasses of water in rapid succession. More on Mauritian cuisine in a later post...

English teaching has so far been very successful, and a good deal more dynamic than my experience in Senegal last year! Because we have total freedom to teach whatever we want, however we want, classes have been a lot of fun for both ourselves and the kids. I'm teaching with Daniel, another volunteer living in Chamarel. Every weekday morning at 9am, we begin our class in the local Catholic school, which is empty for the Winter (yes, Winter!) holiday. Circle games, ball games and group competitions have been big hits, as has creative work with drawing (I brought a crateload of crayons and pens from home). Grammatical work is limited, but we teach the basic rules of the language, or at least enough to cover the topic of the day, be it 'parts of the body', 'my house', 'the weather' or 'the date today' (the subject of this morning's lesson). We teach for 3 hours every day, with a break of 15 minutes in the middle of the class. As most of our pupils are between 7 and 13 years old it is unsurprisingly difficult to hold everyone's attention for this long, so fun games are invaluable.

And at the end of every lesson...we SING! Music was a big success story during my teaching in Senegal. But in Mauritius we have most certainly taken it to the next level... in every lesson so far there has been a decent portion of the time given over to singing English songs, with or without guitar accompaniment. We've done 'One Love', 'Three Little Birds' (both Bob Marley classics!), 'We are Family' (for the 'family' topic of course), 'Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes' (unvoidable) and finally an extremely edited version of Calvin Harris' 'Merrymaking at my Place'. For this last one, we have, of course, replaced the line 'drug-taking' with various household activites, such as 'Bed-making' and 'Shower-taking'. And the verse is truly a funky blast of wonder. I shall do my best to get a video uploaded as soon as possible.

And now, my time in the internet cafe is drawing to a close and so too must this frenzied, confused and far too brief blog. But more is to come, with photo and video accompaniment. Stay tuned, amigos and amigas, and please, PLEASE drop me a comment!