“The culture of Mauritius includes sandy beaches,” said Steven Dickstein at the logistical and cultural preport lecture. “The main resource of Mauritius is Phoenix beer,” he continued. With “facts” like these, the culture portion of the lecture lacked content. The logistics were not exactly revelatory either. One slide revealed that Mauritius was dark at night; another, that the country had a flag. Although the lack of interest in Mauritius as something more than a drinking binge was disappointing, it inspired me to dig deeper in an attempt find the true culture of Mauritius.
The next morning we left for the beach on a rickety bus. After a few stops, the bus was close to full, so a woman sat down next to me and my mother, Merne. She immediately introduced herself in accented English: “Hello, I am Sita. It is nice to meet you.” She talked animatedly with us for a half an hour. Towards the end of the drive as my mom was explaining Semester at Sea, Sita put her hand on Merne’s knee and said, “I will pray for your family to continue to be this lucky.” I was awestruck. Here was a woman so generous that instead of being jealous, she sincerely wanted us to continue to live such fortunate lives. The rest of the people we met in Mauritius continued to be as kind and welcoming.
That night, after playing cards until dusk, we went for a walk on the beach. Halfway there, we passed a shrine filled with statues. I had seen it earlier that day, but when we walked past in the dark it felt more intimidating. A quarter mile down the beach, we saw fire on the shore. At first, we thought rowdy students had made a bonfire. As we got closer, however, we saw a line of men standing facing the ocean behind the fire. It turned out to be an Islamic ritual. Each man was holding a stick of incense. Their forms were shrouded by white full-body robes. Lit incense sticks had been placed a few feet past the water line. After a few minutes of chanting, we saw one man step out of line and hand an object we couldn’t identify to one of his comrades. This ritual continued for the next ten minutes and was still happening when we left. On the way back, we stopped once again at the statues. Now they seemed less menacing, an embodiment of human faith.
These experiences helped me appreciate the culture of Mauritius (advice about the Phoenix beer not withstanding). If I had remained satisfied with the explanation given at the preport lecture, I never would have noticed the complexity of the culture. I hope that in the future, instead of labeling a religious shrine as scary, I will be able to see past that and respect the religion it represents. Instead of seeing a country only as a bar, I will be able to view the people, the country, and the true culture.