Tarring the Roads

Like a lot of people, we live in a morcellement.

Its overseas equivalent would be a housing estate. A large portion of land is developed, and sold off as individual blocks.

The current trend here is for gated communities, with the entire morcellement walled off, and a guard posted at the gate, where you’ll normally find him fast asleep in his little guard hut.

Our morcellement consists of one main road that dead-ends, with small cul-de-sacs or U-shaped roads coming off it. There’s only the one entrance in, and it’s the same entrance out.

Now, the main road was in great condition, but the side streets were potholed, or had never been tarred.

Then last year, the Roads Department trucks arrived.

The first couple of roads were tarred, and they looked great.

Then they skipped a few roads and tarred some further up.

They did the same thing again, and then they disappeared.

A few months later, very early one morning, I was having coffee on the patio, when I heard mysterious rumblings, and looked up to see bulldozers and trucks pass the house.

Curious.

The noise continued, so I went outside to see what was going on.

They were tarring our road! Great.

Except they hadn’t told anyone, and by the time people were ready to leave for work, they had difficulty getting their cars out of their driveways because the road had been dug up.

And if you wanted to go out later, you couldn’t, because they were laying the tar.

A little note stating, “Your road will be repaired tomorrow. Please park on the main street.” would have been helpful.

Anyway, good, they were back to finish the rest of the roads.

But they continued to do it in the same haphazard fashion as last time – a road at the end of the morcellement, then one in the middle – no logic that we could see.

Then they left again, and haven’t been back since.

Alf has a theory – maybe they were driving up the main road and choosing a side street where there were no cars parked.

I think he’s right because the roads that are still untarred are those where people park on the road.

That note would have been really helpful.

Swimming Pools, and Burning Cane Fields

People ask us why we don’t have a pool – we have more than enough space for one, they tell us.

The reasons are many:

  • We would never use it – as Alf says, there’s a gigantic pool (the beach) a scarce five minutes’ drive away, and we’ve never once gone swimming in the three years we’ve lived here
  • Along the same lines, a friend once told us that she doesn’t use her pool much as “in winter the water’s too cold, and in summer it’s like swimming in a bowl of soup”
  • We don’t want to contribute to the water shortages
  • Alf doesn’t want to clean and maintain it (and who could blame him!)
  • We, and our neighbours, have deciduous trees
  • We don’t have young kids (a pool keeps them entertained for hours!)
  • We’d rather look at this:

    Pool-less garden

    As usual, please ignore the weeds!

than this:

Neighbouring poolAnd finally: sugarcane harvesting season.

Ah, sugarcane.

As you drive around the island, it’s beautiful – tall and green, swaying in the breeze, and topped with pale mauve flowers, the fields seemingly going on forever.

Cane field in flower

But when they begin to harvest the cane, watch out.

I’m not referring to the huge trucks that block our narrow Mauritian roads as they crawl along, nor the mess they leave behind them, as unsecured bits of cane fall off the back of the truck.

No, I mean the burning-off before the harvest.

Burning cane fields

Photo from factsandetails.com

burning cane fields

Photo from meteomauritius.altervista.org

Whole fields are set alight, and no matter how far from the field you live, the black ash will somehow find that one window you’ve left open, and invade your house. It will also land on the washing you’ve just hung out to dry, and will sink to the bottom of your pool.

Or if you were the unlucky owners of The Grand Mauritian Hotel, land on the thatched roof, and burn down your hotel! Click here to watch a video of the fire. Unbelievable!

That particular fire may have gotten out of control, but the amount of smoke and ash generated is the same even when it’s a controlled burn.

Fortunately, we don’t live close to sugarcane fields, but even so, during the season, we’ll often get a smoky-smelling snow flurry, except the snowflakes are big and black. They land whole, then crumble at your touch and leave a big black smear. And our house will stink of smoke.

I’d hate to think of the effect the smoke has on asthmatics.

The government is trying to turn Mauritius into an “eco-tourism hub”.

Surely clean air should be part of it!

Maybe they think it doesn’t matter, as the bulk of the burning is done during the low tourist season, so hardly anyone will notice.

I keep hearing that it’s illegal to burn cane – I don’t know whether that’s true or not – but if it is, then it’s just one of the many things the authorities choose to turn a blind eye to.

Music, PAWS, and Barking Dogs

One of my favourite things about living in Mauritius is the music.

I don’t mean sega (a lively Creole sound with a great beat).

Or seggae – a cross between sega and reggae (which I’m a big fan of).

I mean the everyday stuff that I hear.

Mauritians are very musical, and will often spontaneously burst into song.

Right now, it’s the little girl across the road playing in her garden and singing to her toys. She’s very cute.

A little off-key, but cute.

Or sometimes it’s the lady next door, singing Ave Maria as she sweeps the yard or hangs out the washing.

Or her son, making up lyrics as he goes along. He songs usually complain about his mother making him do chores around the house (which makes me laugh), or talk of his dreams for a better future (sigh).

Or the builders up the road whistling while they work.

Sound travels here.

Even the birds twittering away in the trees, or the swishing of palm fronds, is music to my ears.

It’s lovely and relaxing, and it always makes me smile.

But then the dogs start barking.

Before I continue, let me set the record straight – I don’t hate dogs.

There are some I really like – Sam and Lyn’s Rottweiler, Betty (gorgeous); Mitzy from Rocksheen Villas (so sweet); Robin and Alain’s two cute, if spoilt and naughty, dachshunds, whose real names escape me as Robin has so many nicknames for them.

The reason I like them, is that they’re trained (well, the dachshunds, not so much – but they’re still cute), and they don’t roam the streets in packs, barking and waking me up in the middle of the night.

There are a lot of stray dogs in Mauritius.

A non-profit organisation called PAWS (Protection of Animals’ Welfare Society) does its bit – it takes in stray dogs, puppies, cats and kittens, sterilises them and then offers them up for adoption.

If you’re an animal lover, and are thinking about donating to a charity, give them some thought – they do a good job.

They also offer a paid sterilisation service, though they will sterilise pets from low-income households for free, or for a minimal fee. They’ll even pick you and your pet up if you don’t have transport. Again, for free, or for the cost of petrol.

There really is no excuse not to get it done.

(I’ve heard of some expats who pick up strays at the beach, shopping centre carparks etc and pay for their sterilisation, before releasing them again. Nice.)

Up until a few years ago, PAWS had a mobile clinic that set up in various spots around the island.

You could take your pets there, and they would sterilise them while you waited. If you couldn’t get there, they would pick you and the dog up, and drop you home again.

Our ex-landlord, Robert, took his two female dogs to one of these clinics, but refused to take the males.

It offended his masculinity.

Which reminds me of a story I heard – a friend offered to pay to sterilise her maid’s female dog, as it had given birth about four times in as many years, and, as a result, was sickly.

The maid accepted, but cried, saying that sterilisation was a sin, as the Catholic Church is against birth control.

Mmmm. And no comment.

To date, it hasn’t been part of the Mauritian culture to sterilise pets, but hopefully, things will change, helped along by PAWS’ education programs, and the fact that PAWS will even do it for free. Like everywhere else, money’s tight here.

As an aside, our housesitter, Amy, who was recently in Athens, was told that prior to the Olympics, the Greek government paid to catch and sterilise all the stray dogs, then released them back onto the streets. The Athenians then undertook to feed and look after them.

They are now a healthy, and attractive, addition the Athens tourist experience.

And, best of all, their numbers will reduce naturally.

Alf and I spent a few enforced weeks in Athens during that same lead up to the Olympics – at the time, we read in the English-language newspaper, that the government had considered poisoning the stray dogs, but decided against it, as tourists might find the sight (and smell?) of dead dogs off-putting.

I’m so glad they found a better alternative!

Back to Mauritius – the MSPCA vans occasionally do the rounds, chasing and catching any dog loose in the streets. If the dog is a pet, the owner can call the MSPCA, and pay to retrieve their dog.

Unclaimed dogs are put down.

Which finally, brings me to my point.

I get the whole sad business of the stray dogs – PAWS have a long and tough road ahead of them.

But why are there so many pets roaming the streets?

Where we live, any time between 4 and 6pm , there’ll be an explosion of sound, as owners return from work and let their dogs out. These dogs have collars, and appear well-cared for.

The dogs band together and run around the neighbourhood, barking at the dogs still secured in their front yards, and setting off a round of barking that’s repeated throughout the evening, and sometimes into the night.

They’re also a menace to drivers, and a pack of barking dogs running towards you when you’re out for an evening stroll, is intimidating to say the least.

If you want to exercise your dog, buy a leash, and take it for a walk – don’t be so bloody lazy!

Owning a pet comes with responsibilities – to the dog, and to your neighbours.

A dog’s not there just to guard your house while you’re out.

And your neighbours shouldn’t have to put up with incessant barking.

Sterilise your pet, train it, take it for walks, feed it properly, and show it some love.

Or don’t own a dog.

But if you do decide to take that walk, don’t forget to pick up, and dispose of, your dog’s poop – no-one wants to step in it!

Woof!

How to Get Rid of Rubbish

In Mauritius, the only rubbish (trash, garbage etc) that gets collected, is your household waste, including bottles and small amounts of green waste.

Fortunately, one company has started to recycle part of this waste into compost, which they then sell off.

Finally! Good job! Mauritius is a tiny island – we can’t afford to have massive landfills.

Any chance of turning the huge number of trees that get chopped down or burnt, into woodchip mulch for my garden?

No? Thought not – maybe in another twenty years or so. Never mind, we’ll be using the compost as mulch once I kill the grass. Though I would prefer woodchips. Allows more water and air through.

Anyway – lovely black compost – hope everyone’s buying it for their gardens, and that the small planters are using it as mulch. Otherwise, the company might go bust as do so many good businesses which are under-utilised.

Ironically, the very same people that didn’t patronise them in the first place, complain once they’ve closed down.

Anyway again (getting sidetracked is my forté!)…rubbish:

After construction, you can pay someone to take all your rubble away, but what about everything else?

Local councils don’t collect it, and we don’t know of any rubbish tips (dumps) that you can take things to yourself. Are there any? They’re certainly not in the Yellow Pages!

The Government does nothing to improve the situation, other than imposing fines for illegal dumping.

They’d be better off providing facilities – even if they charged for them.

They encourage foreigners to move here and bring their money with them. Those same foreigners (including us) add to the amount of waste that’s generated. And we use the limited amount of water that’s available, and we add to the congestion on the roads.

Etc.

Lack of foresight on the Government’s part, and consequently, improvement to the infrastructure, is a big problem.

In many, many ways. But that’s a story for another time.

Sidetracked again…getting rid of rubbish:

What we do is:

• When they took away our rubble, they left behind a section of old kerbing, so we used it as a step to the outdoor shower. It’s a very unstable step, but at least it’s out of the way
• Two pedestal fans, a stereo, and various other electrical appliances that no longer worked, soon disappeared from the verge after Alf stuck signs saying “FREE” on them
• We store it in the garage for future disposal
• We hide it at the side of the house
• Alf bribes the bin men with six-packs of beer (doesn’t always work)

This is what some locals do:

• Pile in up in their front yard
• Make a big bonfire and burn it all
• Dump it on vacant blocks

Refer back to the lack of disposal facilities.

My favourite solution, however, was one told to me by our ex-landlord, Robert, when I asked him how he got rid of things.

You call the repair shop and say you want a quote on your broken item.

You drop it off, and when they call with the cost, you tell them it’s too expensive and that they can keep it.

He did it with a fridge and a car.

I loved that guy!

RIP, my friend – I still think of you and laugh at your stories.

The Price of Being an Expat

I’m sure it happens in other like-minded countries (which I won’t mention in case I upset Jean-Pierre from France!).

But why am I charged more than a local?

We’re not rich.

What money we have, we worked hard for, and certainly didn’t make it by cheating people.

Even a rich Mauritian will pay less than me.

It’s because I’m a foreigner (I have Mauritian parents, but was born overseas) and I can’t speak Creole.

Even when I speak French to them, a lot of locals think I’m Italian – they even argue with me:

“No, Madame, you are not Mauritian – you are Italian!”

Must be my accent.

Anyway, being overcharged…just a quick example:

When we first started our renovations, the builder (not Joselito, bless him) would buy supplies from the hardware store, give us the receipt, and we would reimburse him.

After all, what did we know about buying cement, rock sand, rebar and concrete nails?

One fine day I went into a hardware store, and a guy in front of me got charged Rs100 and asked for a receipt for Rs150 to give to his boss.

Alf immediately got an account at the store we’d been using and began paying them direct.

How much did we get cheated? We’ll never know. But later, a little bird told us that it was a lot!

When we go shopping, Alf doesn’t mind arguing the price down – he actually finds it fun – but I don’t want to waste my time haggling – I shouldn’t have to – I live here!

I especially find it annoying when someone in front of me asks the price of something, and then I’m told a higher price when I ask. Needless to say, I don’t buy it!

It’s even worse for tourists.

They have no chance, because they don’t know what the normal price should be.

These people are not only thieves, but stupid as well.

If someone tries to overcharge me, I’ll never again spend money in their shop, or at their stall, or use their services.

Nor will my friends, because I always tell everyone I know.

And they tell their friends.

Etc etc.

So, for a small short-term gain, these short-sighted idiots lose a lot of potential income.

Not everyone cheats you.

But, mama mia – when someone tries to, it ruins my day!

Dodo!

A few years ago, we had a visitor who shall remain nameless because I’m kind.

Also, she was a very nice girl.

She spent a couple of weeks with us.

Just before she left our lovely island, she said:

“I can’t understand all the fuss about dodos – I haven’t seen a single one!”

You just didn’t look hard enough, nameless girl – we have two living under the tap!

Dodos

All-Night Parties

Some Mauritians are very considerate.

Rather than have a party at their house and disturb their neighbours, they’ll hire a house for the weekend and party there. Whole families and their friends – kids and all.

Or maybe they do it because it’s a special occasion, and therefore a treat.

Either way, it’s not a treat if that house just happens to be behind yours.

Yep, that’s us.

I like a good time as much as anyone else, but blaring music, kids screaming in the pool, fireworks, and people yelling, all of it till 8 or 9 the next morning, is too much.

It’s impossible to sleep, so the following day is pretty much a write-off.

One Friday I was so mad, I brooded all night, and the following morning, moved the speakers outside, ready to blast music at them the minute they all passed out.

But they never did. They continued for the entire weekend!

When it’s been really bad, we’ve called the police at around 3 or 4am, who’ve gone around and made the partygoers turn down the music, but the volume just goes up again 10 minutes later.

I don’t know who owns the house, so I can’t complain to them.

And I don’t want to yell at the partygoers in case they brought along a machete (just joking!). But yelling at drunk people is not a good idea wherever you live.

Fortunately it isn’t all the time.

That’s the only positive thing I can say about it.

Food From My Childhood

My family left Mauritius for good in the early 1960’s.

They went to the UK, and soon assimilated into the British way of life…except for the cuisine, which they found strange and bland.

At home, they continued to cook Mauritian food, although back then, it was hard to find the ingredients – even garlic was a rarity!

They sought out Indian, West Indian, and Chinese grocers and market stalls, and adapted their recipes to what was available.

Some of the dishes I remember are:

La Soupe

A rich, thick vegetable soup. It was similar to minestrone, but more rustic-looking, with big chunks of very tender beef in it. The beef was first browned with onions and garlic, then cooked in a pressure cooker with water to tenderise it, before the vegetables and tomatoes were added. This also created the stock.

La Daube (pronounced “la dob”)

A thick stew of either: chicken, carrots and peas; beef and potatoes; or beef and cabbage, cooked in a tomato, onion, and garlic sauce, with bay leaves and thyme. This was served with rice.

Brown Lentils

Cooked to a thick soup-like consistency with onion, garlic, bay leaves and thyme, and served with rice (or bread!) and rougaille.

Rougaille

A thick, strong, tomato sauce with the usual herbs, and either beef, boiled eggs, sausages, black pudding, or fish. This was eaten as an accompaniment to a pulse dish with rice.

Cottage Pie

I’m sure it had a different name – but I don’t know it.

Made with tinned corned beef instead of mince, and – you guessed it – a thyme-infused tomato sauce – all topped with cheesy mashed potatoes, and finished off with a thick sprinkling of crushed Ritz biscuits (my grandmother’s preference over breadcrumbs), and then baked. This was served with a green salad.

Civet (pronounced “siveh”)

Like a thin rougaille, but with the addition of a big slurp of Martini Rosso (I think it was originally made with red wine, but my grandmother liked Martini!). Made with venison when available, otherwise, beef. It was served with deep fried potatoes, croutons, and a green salad.

Vegetable Salads

Made using thinly-sliced green beans, or chunks of choko, marrow, squash etc. A vinaigrette dressing and sliced red onion was added to the boiled and cooled vegetables, then left to marinate before serving.

The vinaigrette was made with white pepper, not black, which gave it a distinctive taste.

Potato Salad

Thickly-sliced potatoes, carrot, and beetroot, with red onion and boiled eggs, all in a vinaigrette dressing.

Roast Beef

My favourite.

The original recipe was very simple – poke holes in a roast, and push in a lot of garlic cloves. Add a little oil to a pressure cooker, and brown the meat well on all sides. Add water, salt and pepper, and cook till tender and practically falling apart. The liquid was then reduced, and the sliced beef placed in it to keep it moist. It was served with salads and fried potatoes, and always with homemade mayonnaise.

Over recent years, Alf has modified the recipe – brown the beef. Halfway through, add quartered onions, and allow these to brown also. Add whole garlic cloves. Add a beef stock cube dissolved in hot water, a big slurp of red wine, ground black pepper and salt. Add water to almost cover the beef. Once cooked, strain the liquid, add more red wine and reduce it. Thicken it with flour mixed with water to make a rich gravy.

We now eat it with roast potatoes and pumpkin, carrots in parsley butter, green beans in tomato sauce, and cauliflower cheese. And horseradish cream for me. Yum! But not very Mauritian!

I’m sure there were a lot of other things I ate as a child, but I’ve forgotten them. Or maybe I didn’t like them in the first place so ate a sandwich instead!

Restaurants Today

I find that most restaurants offering Mauritian cuisine focus on Chinese dishes and curries (Mauritian curries are never hot – chilli is always served on the side).

Rougaille is usually called Creole Sauce, and often has Indian spices in it instead of the fresh flavour of thyme. Ditto for la daube. My grandmother is probably spinning in her grave!

Restaurants with Creole chefs tend to be truer to the original recipes.

The other dishes I’ve described aren’t offered (though you will occasionally be given a small dish of lentils as an accompaniment to curries).

The French influence has all but disappeared, and in most restaurants, exists in name only.

Also, I’m guessing that tenderising meat in a pressure cooker has gone out of vogue, because a lot of restaurants serve pretty tough and chewy meat (ditto for octopus).

Don’t get me wrong, I like curries – especially squid curry – but I think that there’s also a place for the food of my childhood.

Home Cooking

Over the past few years, we’ve been invited to eat at a lot of people’s homes – in general, Creole’s still cook the sort of food I remember, and Hindus and Muslims tend to cook mainly Indian food.

A lot of Mauritians seem to have forgotten the old recipes – our ex-landlady (who is a Creole) makes la daube with a packet she buys at the supermarket called La Daube Spices. There are NO spices in la daube, Nadege – just herbs!!!!!

But like my family, Mauritians who emigrated a long time ago have stuck to the old recipes.

So if you ever get invited to eat at a Mauritian’s house overseas, you might well get a taste of how things used to be. Ask if roast beef’s on the menu!

Say Hello, Then Wave Goodbye

There are different types of expats living in Mauritius:

  • Those married to Mauritians, and who have made their home here
  • Those who have started businesses here
  • Those who have retired here for tax-purposes
  • Those who have retired here because they like it
  • Those on work contracts for international companies

We have friends from all of these categories.

Most expats are in and out of the country a lot, as they return home to visit their families, or go on holiday, or go off on business – so you get used to people not being here.

“Where’s “X” – I haven’t seen him/her for a while”

“They’re in (pick a country) – and due back in a few months”

That’s fine.

Normal even.

However, sometimes, something else happens.

Sometimes people leave for good.

Sadly, that’s part and parcel of an expat’s life.

I’m sure it’s the same all around the world.

Knowing that doesn’t make it any easier though.

A good friend of ours, Ann, lost her Mauritian husband, Robert, last year, and has made a life-changing decision to return to the UK after having lived here for 14 years.

I’ve known her for less than 4 of those years, but during that time, we became close.

I shall miss her enormously.

You miss everyone that leaves, but some more than others.

Au revoir, Ann, bon voyage, et bonne chance.

I’m sure that everything will work out for you, and that you’ve made the right decision.

But that won’t stop me from missing you! xx

Poor Cat, and Freaky Day

Today, I heard a “meouw”

Over and over again.

I’m a cat person, so I recognised it as a distressed kitten noise.

It was coming from next door.

I kept looking, checking the neighbour’s trees and garden, but couldn’t see anything

For about half an hour.

I kept looking. It was definitely coming from there.

Nothing.

Then it started to rain heavily. Really heavily.

The crying became worse.

I looked again, and saw a kitten trying to run up next door’s mango tree trunk.

But it kept falling off – I kept watching as I couldn’t work out what it was doing.

It kept losing its grip, falling off the tree, then gripping the trunk in weird ways.

Finally, I understood – it had a rope around its neck, and kept swinging from the tree, then grabbing on to it again – what the hell?

It was trapped in a noose – it kept trying to run back up the tree, but the heavy rain was making its feet slide off.

Every now and again, it would hang there by its neck – quiet and dead-looking.

But its desire to live kicked in, and it struggled to get back up the tree.

I’ve never seen anything so upsetting and horrific.

I don’t mean that I just stood there and kept watching – it just took a while for me to understand what I was seeing. And to work out what to do. And to look again to see if it was still alive – I just had to keep going away.

You can’t imagine!

The neighbours were out, but their 4 dogs were home, and would no doubt bite my face off if I tried to go into their yard. I didn’t know what to do apart from cry.

So I woke Alf up, once I realised that I couldn’t work out how to save the kitten.

He’s more practical than me.

He put our stepladder against the communal garden wall, and cut the rope with a long-armed cutter-thing.

The kitten fell to the ground, continued to complain, and walked around.

It kept meowing for a while. Loud and complaining.

The neighbours finally came home. We haven’t spoken to them yet.

Will check with them to see what happened.

I know they didn’t do anything on purpose – they’re animal lovers. I will talk to them in the next few days.

It’s still meouwing in their garden.

And I’m still in shock – can’t imagine how Alf feels – he had to get up close and personal, tell the kitten it would be OK, pull it off the tree, let it dangle a bit more, so he could cut it free. I couldn’t have done that – I don’t have it in me.

I still feel ill.

Alf, is also upset, but in addition, got an injured elbow, and various other sore bits from climbing up the ladder and cutting the kitten free.

Crappy day.

But worse for that kitten.