Living in Harmony
It wasn’t the sparkling ring of palm-treed resorts, white sandy beaches and calm turquoise seas that impressed me the most about this subtropical island off the east coast of South Africa.
And it wasn’t my first caddied golf game on the oldest golf course in the Southern Hemisphere that was the most memorable on this trip to Mauritius. (It was close, see Caddie Golf story)
It was experiencing a truly tri-lingual country.
We’ve spent billions in Canada over 40 years to create a bilingual nation with two official languages, yet according to the latest census, only 17 per cent of us are fluent in both English and French.
Here, in this dot on a map of the Indian Ocean, most of the 1.3 million residents are fluent in English, French and French-based Creole, the local spoken language. And then there’s the mother tongue language spoken by a population made up of East Indian, African Creole, Chinese and French.
I’m sure Liberal MP Justin Trudeau, who honeymooned here in 2005, appreciated the country’s ability to educate its citizens in both French and English.
The linguistic dexterity of Mauritians is most pronounced in the media. Driving around, past colourful East Indian temples, Muslim mosques, Catholic cathedrals, I see billboard ads and store signs in English and French. Flipping through TV channels, I see Chinese movies with French subtitles, Western movies dubbed in French, Bollywood movies with subtitles in English, and South American soaps dubbed in French.
This is where my husband was born, and returned with me after leaving 33 years ago for university in the UK. He speaks all three languages, but when greeted for the first time, we are often asked which language we prefer. I look and speak English, understand un peu French, and can recognize Mauritian-Creole, which is more similar to French than the African-Creole spoken in the Southern States.
Mountains form the backbone of this lush and fertile volcano-created island. A protective ring of coral reefs surround the island ensuring calm, clear seas for water sports. Mauritius was discovered by the Portuguese and colonized by the Dutch (1638-1710) and French (1710-1810). Residents lived under British rule (1810-1968) for 158 years before independence.
Sugar is the country’s main export and sugarcane grows year-round in the tropical breeze. Tall, spiky-leafed papaya, coconut and banana trees grow plentiful in this mild, moist climate, while the highly-protected ebony tree, exported to near extinction by the Dutch in the 1600s, remains one of the best and darkest in the world. The flightless dodo bird lived in these ebony forests, but didn’t survive the Dutch deforestation or hunters.
A Multicultural Feast
Island food is as rich in heritage as the country itself with authentic Asian, Creole, East Indian, Chinese, French and European cuisines. We dined in Chinatown in the capital city of Port Louis, lunched on Indian cuisine under a grass beach hut, and ate grilled fish at a seaside restaurant. At our resort, we could always find familiar and exotic dishes at the daily buffet.
When I think about the island and its people — independent for decades but civilized for centuries — the words from a John Lennon song take on new meaning: “ivory and ebony, live together in perfect harmony.” Magnifique.http://www.tourism-mauritius.mu