Becoming Mauritian again – my personal progress and shortcomings

It feels good to be back in Mauritius. Even though I’m a local, there are things that I have to adjust with once again after living abroad for more than a decade.

You’ll be intrigued to know when you return to your country of origin, it feels like an adventure on its own. I currently feel like I’m in a rehabilitation center where I’m ‘unlearning’ some habits and ‘re-training’ myself on how to live and behave. Let me add however that the process is enjoyable, mostly because I am approaching this as an adventure. It also helps that it’s on a tropical island with white sandy beaches and coconut trees!

Mauritius island beach view

Becoming Mauritian again (and more importantly acting like one)

One month in of being back to living on the island for good. I think I am doing well, even though at times, I still feel a bit lost, or like I can’t grasp everything. Here are some of the ‘re-entry things’ I’m experiencing and how I fared.

1. Mauritian food

These past few days I have been feasting on morsels of food in my mouth that I have grown out of eating. I didn’t have the opportunity to eat them for the past years due to unavailability in the other countries I’ve lived. I am having various nom-nom-nom moments.

Breakfast right now is usually two pairs of roti with brède songes, potato curry, and tomato rougaille. Minus the chilli that most Mauritians are so fond of (baby steps eh…). I’m also enjoying delicious coconut water fresh from the coconut shell!!! For the past years I’ve had bottled or canned coconut water imported from Thailand, Philippines, or Australia. It feels great to have the natural island coconut water again. I’m also loving the street food of which I’ve always been (and still am) a huge fan. I made sure that I arrive in Mauritius in time for Diwali (beautiful festival of lights, celebrated by the Indians) – my dad brought me the sweet treats that his Indo-Mauritian friends shared with him. I may have eaten all of the sweet treats without sharing… oops.

I love, love, love the food here. It’s richly diverse, the flavours pop in my mouth like an explosion of multi-coloured balloons that bring out the happy kid in me.

So if there’s one thing to cherish when moving back is getting all this yummy food again!

2. The driving

I am (slowly) getting familiarized once again with the way people drive on the island. This means instead of screaming each time a gigantic lorry suddenly overtakes out of nowhere, I try to breathe normally and admire the sugarcane fields. At the best of times I close my eyes (sitting in the passenger seat!) and tell myself I’m the lead actress in a romantic feel-good movie (of course I’m not going to die).

3. Greeting

In Mauritius, greeting people is done by kissing on both cheeks. I haven’t done this in years, and I only ever do this with Europeans, or Mauritians I meet sporadically. So when I meet new people now, I have these awkward few seconds where I deliberate in my head whether to reach over for an embrace (the South African way – my former home), or shake hands, or simply nod a “hello” and wink. I still can’t describe what it is I do – it’s been a blur for greetings lately! It’s a mix between an ape-like hug, with a kiss on the side. In my extended family, when we have dinner, it’s usually well over 30 people, that’s going to be interesting for my cheeks. Should I bring some chafing cream or soothing ointment for afterwards?

4. Grocery shopping

I spend an hour in one aisle at the supermarket just to find shampoo! All I wanted was a simple shampoo to wash my hair, nothing fancy. But wow, there were so many different types and various unfamiliar brands. In the food section, I also had some trouble finding the products I was looking for. I added one item to my shopping trolley thinking it was butter when it was ghee. And when I went to the milk section, I found big cartons of powdered milk. For the past years I have been drinking mostly almond milk (because it’s cheap and healthy), and then I swapped to macadamia nut milk because it was more sustainable for the environment. My one trip to the local supermarket was a dizzying discovery of things that were foreign to me. Some brands I’ve never heard of until now. Like the brands Casino, Ibiza, or  (brace yourself) … Cock. The latter is a mosquito repellent (if your curiosity has been piqued).

Also, things are expensive due to many items being imported. A lot of the ingredients I’m allergic to, so my options are limited when it comes to pasta sauces, canned goods, and biscuits. Therefore, I made some modifications to my diet. Not a bad thing considering I anyway love eating lentils, dhall, and all kinds of pulses and legumes. This is also inspiring me to make my own food from scratch (mayonnaise, pies, biscuits…).

5. Queuing at the till

This takes forever! At least in my mind. You see, I’m accustomed to be fumbling in my bag for my wallet while the cashier had already packed most of my groceries. Now I have time to turn life into a movie in my head while the cashier scans the item, one by one, turning each product 360 degrees to find a code, and then and only then to enter it in the machine. Yes all 60 digits. I’ve also been ‘reprimanded’ (like I’m some naughty child that used the chalkboard while the teacher wasn’t here) for placing my basket in the ‘wrong’ spot. When I asked, I got deadly stares – how can I not know something as basic as this? I really ought to catch up with the rules here.

6. Bureaucracy in Port Louis

I love Port Louis.

Just not for admin.

Because it takes forever and a day. Or maybe, I’m simply impatient. I love using my time intentionally, in that respect, I’d rather be sitting hours on the beach watching sunset than be told to move from chair to chair (‘Next!”) to finally get to my turn to being served.

Tip: get there early, before offices open so that you avoid traffic, and the queues.

7. Information (or ambiguity of information received)

I should get my head checked. Sometimes I don’t know how my brain processes information.

Simple example: I get told to go to the first floor of a building. Perfect, that’s easy enough. I enter the building, head to the info board where all offices are listed. I see only the ground floor, mezzanine level, and then 4th floor and upwards. What happened to the first, second, and third floors? Are they in another dimension parallel to our world? Or am I so stupid that I don’t know? Anyway, I head to the lifts area, which seems to be another long wait. Plus the lift can only hold a maximum of ten people, and as luck would have it, I’m the 11th person. Also the number of rules surrounding the lift area got me really, really scared for my life.

Anyway, so I head for the staircase, but it’s clearly marked “mezzanine level’. Perplexed, I am convinced this is the floor between the ground floor and the first floor, but I see no other staircase after the mezzanine level. It stops there. Turns out it was there that I had to be. Should I assume someone means mezzanine level next time they say first floor? I’m taking diligent notes.

I’m not afraid to say I don’t know. Really. I’m not. I love to ask around. So I often ask people I know and trust. Like my biological mother.

“Where can I buy this type of paper?” I send her a picture of the type of brown paper bag I need via Instagram. (My mom’s cool that way).

“Oh go to my friend Emily’s shop.”

“Ahem…o-kay. And that would be… what? where?”

“In Port Louis.”

“Ahem…o-kay. And whereabout exactly in Port Louis, the big capital city with many small roads and filled with hundreds of tiny shops?”

“Oh it’s super easy, it’s near the market”.

At this point, I see we are going nowhere, and I simply ask for the physical address. As a typical Mauritian parent who means well, she doesn’t do what I ask and instead draws me a map. Of course, it’s on Royal Road in Port Louis. Royal Road, I’ll have you know, is a popular name for roads ALL over the whole island. I wonder if municipalities got together and while choosing names, maybe they voted for that one name. It does stand out after all. A noble ring to it 🙂

Anyway, I go to the exact address my mother gave me. The shop (or at least we think it is) does not have a name. There’s nobody with the name of Emily. I turn to the kind-hearted and helpful people, my other fellow Mauritian folks. They too don’t know Emily, and finally one lady announces that this shop does not exist anymore.

I stop for lunch and buy a ‘pain fourré’ (sandwich). The yummy bread is handed to me…in a brown paper bag. The exact ones I have been wanting to buy. “Oh dear sir, please where can I find these bags please?”

Partou ou gagner sa. Anywhere, you can find it anywhere and everywhere.”

Maybe I’ll just buy a hundred sandwiches from him and repurpose the brown paper bags…

That said, Mauritius is like one big community so the more you meet people, the more likely you’ll have access to information. Simply ask. And be prepared for people to go out of their way to help you – they are well intentioned and often go to great lengths, even beyond providing info. It takes a bit of getting used to initially.

I hope you’ve been entertained by my progress (and shortcomings) in becoming Mauritian again. If you have any tips for me to become a better citizen, please comment below! Or share your progress if you’re currently re-integrating in your home country.

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