Dreaming of the Dutch & the Dodo

Oh my God, I am already more than 2 weeks here now and I realized that I don’t manage to write properly about every day, because there is happening so much all the time! I am only in my room for a few hours of sleep each night and the days are very very busy! But in a good way, of course! What am I doing….? Following classes, doing fieldtrips, researching for my project, visiting beaches, doing some sightseeing and having the time of my life with the best host family ever, and an even greater group of students and professors!

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The Summer School group in front of the National Museum of History

There is literally not very much to complain about, and if there was one thing that could be better, then that would be… Having more TIME! So I guess that time flies when you’re having fun, and unfortunately there are only 24 hours each day, so let’s just give you a brief overview of some of the past few days so you get an idea of what exactly makes it so much FUN being here!

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On the road in Mauritius…

The second week started with a second field trip. The theme of this excursion was “Cultural Heritage of Mauritius”. We started the day with a journey from Pointe aux Piments (north west) to Mahébourg (south east), where the sea looked a bit less turqoise blue and the coastline was a bit more rough. We met our guide for the day near the peer. Geoffrey Summers and his wife, Francoise Summers, were living on the island for several years. The Brittish couple knew the island very well, and with archeology as Geoffrey’s specialisation, he knew a lot of things to talk to us about. We got to know a more historical part of the island that we had not heard of before. Interesting!

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Geoffrey Summers (our guide) & Dimitris Xygalatas (our professor) at Mahébourg

After a windy walk on the peer in Grand Port and a quick visit to the restants of some tanks used during World War II, we continued to Fort Frederik Hendrik. It’s a museum which is named after a Dutch guy who had his office here during the 17th century colonisation period by The Netherlands… The historical site became a museum in 1999 and tries to represent both the Dutch and French colonial settlements in Mauritius.

Did you know that the Dutch were the first inhabitants to settle on the island and colonised Mauritius from 1638 – 1710 ? Later it were the French ( 1710 – 1810 ) who colonised the island, and after that came the British rule ( 1810–1968 ), followed by the independence of Mauritius in 1968.

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Students at the peer in Grand Port

After a brief guided visit to the museum, it was time for lunch in the beautiful tropical garden of Fort Frederik Hendrik, surrounded by ruins. The leftovers from the walls of these ruins learned archeologists that French ruins were standing on top of a Dutch fort, so in this regard it is an important place for those who want to get to know Mauritius very well. And I guess that was the aim of this visit, even though I must admit that this historical tour was a bit boring for me.

Maybe more interesting was the Tour des Hollandais, which was founded very funny by me (Flemish) and another Dutch student. This tour is about an old watch tower, used  as a vantage point to observe the bay for any incoming ships, and protect Mauritius from invaders and so on. From this point they could prevent potential attacks from the French and later on from the British.

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Dutch Girls gone Wild…?!

In the afternoon we continued our excursion to Mahébourg, where we visited the National Museum of History. Here we got to know even more facts about the colonial history of Mauritius. But the most magnificent part of this element of the trip, was the beautiful French colonial mansion in which the museum was located. It was built around 1770 and inaugurated in 1998 as a museum by the one and only Prince Maurits of Orange-Nassau, exactly 400 years after the first Dutch landing in Mauritius.

But an even more interesting novelty was the story about the Dodo bird in Mauritius… which explains why this animal is so popular, even though you cannot see it anywere on the island…

  • The dodo (Raphus Cucullatus) is an extinct flightless bird that was endemic to Mauritius
  • The dodo was extinct by the time the Dutch abandoned Mauritius due to extensive hunting
  • The dodo’s appearance in life is evidenced only by drawings, paintings, and written accounts from the 17th century
  • The dodo achieved widespread recognition from its role in the story of Alice in Wonderland
  • The dodo has since become a fixture in popular culture, often as a symbol of extinction and obsolescence

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The famous but extincted Dodo bird…

Okay enough history for today! What else did we do? We also walked to a river where women washed their clothes on stones, saw a place in the lush forest where people practice Black Magic, and visited a grassroots NGO where women do basket weaving… The last stop of the day was in a restaurant, to have some well deserved food after a busy day of educational travel before heading back to our home town!

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Francoise Summers guiding us through the Basket Weaving NGO project

That evening I was very tired, and so were my roommates, from all this traveling around. We had dinner at Nanny’s place, and worked on our computers for a couple of hours before heading back to bed for a good night of sleep.

The schedule of Tuesday mentioned “Cognition and Culture” in the morning and “Religion and Cognition” in the afternoon. These classes were given by both Dimitris and his co-instructors, and were something totally different from what I had heard about Anthropology before. It was interesting, but also very difficult material to relate to in my opinion, so I guess I will better not bother you with the details about this either.

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Another day of classes at the Temple

But don’t think now that this was all very boring, no, not at all! Because just when you think it is getting boring, it is time for a lunch break again, or another few hours between the break at the beach! And this is how we roll: time flies when you’re having fun, so you better make the best out of every day you get here! And so did I do: bought food for lunch at a local ‘Patisserie’ and went straight to the beach to chill out a few hours between Cognition, Culture and Religious classes today…

Another piece of daily wisdom and insight: if you want to be and stay happy, be flexible and always open to changes! Don’t fix your plans, because…. The weather can change, just to give an example! I was actually planning a second visit to Triolet during lunch break, but the weather was so extremely nice that I decided to run home for that bikini, and run back to the beach. Best decision ever! Everyone happy! 🙂

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Me and a colleague-student at Pointe aux Piments beach

Or to rephrase this in a more anthropological way… 

Be stubborn about your goals and flexible about your methods… 😉

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Enjoying our daily lunch break…

In the evening my roommates and I were taken to a local restaurant in Trou aux Biches by our host brother. He invited us to try some of the local food in that place, which was quite a surprise. Some of the dishes were very nice, but others I didn’t like very much. But it was good to try everything, and to be hanging around with a local family member in a not so touristy-spot.

Wednesday was another day of classes. So you see, I am actually very busy studying here! In the morning Dimitris (yes, we call the professors by their first names here) talked about Cognitive Anthropology, one of his specialisations. It is all about addressing the ways in which people conceive of and think about events and objects in the world, while providing a link between human thought processes and the physical and ideational aspects of culture. And yes, I know that this sounds Chinese to you, so that is why I will not go into details again…

After spending lunch break in a local restaurant in the village and a powernap on the beach, together with some other students, it was time for another lecture given by Martin Lang. He gave us an inspiring introduction to Cognition and Quantitative methods, such as surveys, questionnaires, etc. and he also talked about Cultural Consensus.

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Martin Lang talking about Cultural Consensus

I also went to the village to recharge my phone, which is another notable story! Did you notice that I am always online while being in Mauritius? Well, if you reload every week for 100 rupees (+/- 2,5 euros) then you can get a package with Free Internet & Unlimited Facebook for a week here. So my 3G is on most of the time and whether I am in the forest or at the beach, I am always connected… Whether that is such a good thing for an internet addict like me, I am not sure… Because you know what they say: there is no WiFi in the forest, but there is a better “connection”… 😉

That evening I spent most of my time writing a Research Proposal for the project I am going to do here. My subject is now definitive, and I will explore the intertwined relationship between cross-cultural romantic affairs and sex tourism on Mauritius. The fundamental purpose of this study is to explore the question: “What is the difference between sex tourism and romance tourism, and how is it perceived by people who have intercultural relationships in Mauritius?” The objective of this research will be to increase our understanding of this social reality by developing explanations of the phenomena by critically evaluating the interrelation between sex tourism and romantic cross-cultural relationships in Mauritius. So now you finally now what I am doing my fieldwork about!

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Trying out a Sari in the local village’s shop

But oh yes! Before I forget to mention… Apart from working on this, I also went with my host father and host sister to the village to buy a Sari! Sari…What?!

  • A sari is a South Asian female garment, associated with grace and is widely regarded as a symbol of Hindu culture
  • It consists of a drape that is typically wrapped around the waist with one end draped over the shoulder
  • A sari is one of the most common outfits used by the women of India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, …
  • Saris differ from each other on the basis of design, fabric, drapes and colors
  • The length of a sari can vary from 4 to 9 meters

And moreover, that Wednesday evening we (my American host sisters and I) cooked dinner for our host family, after them cooking us dinners so often. We decided to make Mexican food, even though that is not very American or Belgium, because first of all the ingredients were more or less available here in the supermarkets, and second of all… A funny story! Our host family eats “Faratas” all the time, a local flat bread of which you have to use to eat the rest of your dish by wripping of pieces of this piece of bread. But I used to eat it all the time as a Burrito/tortilla, so that is why we decided to learn the locals eat Tortillas stuffed up as burritos. A funny cross-cultural experience in which we exchanged our culinary behaviour and habits! 😛

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Me and my American host sisters cooking Dinner for our Mauritian host family

Unfortunately I must admit that it was more fun for us than for our host family, who was not used to eat Guacomole with cheese and salad in a wrapped up – look a like – Farata flat bread… I am not sure if they really enjoyed this ‘different’ food as they are quite conservative. Also, our Hindu family is vegetarian so they do not eat meat, chicken, fish, eggs, … Therefore we used Tofu – look a like – chicken, which they did appreciate of course.

The evening ended with showing the Saris we had bought to our grandmother and family, and that was a lot of fun! And I worked until the late hours designing some research methods and tools for my research project…

Voilà…. This was another update of my busy days in Mauritius! I hope you liked reading it as much as I liked experiencing it, and I will keep you posted soon with more!

Kisses & Love,

Julie

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The beautiful peer and the view at Grand Port

Settling into Mauri…What?!

Waww, I have only been here for a few days and so much has happened already! I feel like a cameleon, adapting smoothly to my environment. So: where to start?!

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It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives.

It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin

Sunday I arrived and I got to know my host mother a bit. She speaks some French but mostly Créole and it is obviously not always obvious what she is trying to say. She is very nice and kind, but also a little bit possessive in her own unique hospitable way, as she is cooking dinner and makes me eat whatever she likes. She made me eat the weirdest things, fortunately she is Hindu so I am not supposed to eat meat (lucky vegetarian I am!).

I was very happy to meet my fellow roommates after a few hours of being drawned into a little culture shock, having no internet, no phone, no toilet, no shower and so on. Emily is an American student who is staying at “grandma’s place” (as she calls it) as well, and Francesca is also an American student who is staying in the house next door, where I go to shower and use the internet. The house next door belongs to the children of ‘Grandma’.

Where I stay there is no bathroom at all, unless you consider the open air sink as a bathroom. So I have to walk through a garden and knock at the other houses door, which is not really a problem actually. But not really a luxury either! :p In the shower I got company of Mom and Daughter Cockroach, so yes… I have already made some friends here, and built up a reputation as murderer!

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Going out to get some streetfood with my roommates

But enough about the house and the weirdest food being served there, I am here for Ethnographic Fieldwork, not for wishing I was at the beach all day! And dear friends, I hope you don’t keep thinking that that is (the only thing) what I am doing here. Anthropologists do have a hard life! 😉

Because as fast as I arrived in the house, so fast was I gone again. After a terrible too sweet and pink drink that I was offered to drink as a way of welcoming me into the family, I was invited at a Knife-Walking ritual in the village of Pointe-aux-Piments. So I did not even have time to put my luggage down and check my room, as my host father and I were already gone again.

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Colorful Hindus in Pointe-aux-Piments

The ritual was exactly what it sounded like: people were literally walking over knifes, while playing music, burning essence sticks, while suffering and so on. I had never seen a ritual like this before – and I am not expecting to see many of these again in my life – and I was also not really understanding much about it either. The only thing that is for sure that is they sacrifice theirselves for their religion (Hinduism). I was told that before the ceremony those people were praying and fasting for several days, and during the ceremony partcipents would then envoken their godess whilst making a sacrifice. Walking over the swords appears to be a very meaningful and extreme ritual for hindus, in which they are seeking to prove their piety by withstanding their pain.

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Walking over Knifes… A quite unsual religious practice in Mauritius!

Monday it was time to go to school at 9AM… Dimitris Xygalatas, the Summer School professor, an anthropologist who is very experienced in doing research on extreme rituals in Mauritius, opened the course by overviewing all practical concerns and reviewing the syllabus. I got to meet all the other students. We are with 18 students, coming from different countries such as Denmark, United States, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Peru, Servia and Belgium (which is represented by myself). After introducing ourselves, our field of study (we come from different degrees in social sciences, varying from Bachelors to Masters levels), the instructors also presented themselves. Apart from Dimitris, there are a few other instructors as well, who are basically research assistants or connections of Dimitris who are also researching within Mauritius. So we are a group of +/- 25 persons.

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Having classes at the beach. This is The Life!

So what is this “Ethnographic Field School” all about?

Well, the course will “provide empirical training in ethnographic fieldwork through immersion into the field and engaging in qualitative as well as quantitative field studies involving a variety of methods such as participant-observation, interviews, surveys, and behavioral and biometric measures. The course also examines key methodological, epistemological, and ethical issues pertaining to the study of culture and working with human subjects. Furthermore, it involves a series of field trips and lectures on Mauritius, its diverse culture, and its fascinating history”, as it is mentioned in the syllabus.

So: again, we did not come here for 3 weeks of paradise and sunbathing, but we came to experience “the real Mauritius” (even though you can start questioning that, if you think about being a large group of Western students living closely to each other for the next few weeks).
After that first general session in the morning, we had our first lunch break and everyone was excited to get to know each other better, to overcome to culture shock and make some new friends. We decided to explore the coastal area of Pointe-aux-Piments (the village were we stay), and so we discovered our first beach at only 5 minutes walking from the classroom, which is actually located nearby a fancy hotel: Récif Attitude Hotel*** (about €90 per night for a standard room, which is kind of affordable for a paradise island!)

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Getting to know each other at the beach of Pointe-aux-Piments

Well, I have to admit… It is kind of paradise here, right? And I guess not many of you reading this have lunch breaks as I am having here. So God bless the life I lead, and thank God for this amazing opportunity! But to all good things come to an end, quite fast, because lunch break was “only 2 hours” and then it was time again to return to the afternoon class. The only thing that I could think of, was that this might become an extreme ritual that people must start to practice every day and everywhere, lol.

This session an introduction about Mauritius and its culture was on the schedule, but as smart as Dimitris is (yes, we can actually call our professor here by his first name!), he started with a little quiz to test our knowledge about Mauritius, or in other words: did we read enough, and prepare ourselves well for this course? I spare you the answer to be honest… Woops! 😉

Funny facts you might like to know about Mauritius:

  • Did you know that Mauritius is about the size of Luxemburg?
  • Did you know that Mauritius has no official language? (But English and French are taught at school)
  • Did you know that the tallest mountain on the island is about 800 meters high?
  • Did you know that Charles Darwin has written not only about the Galapagos Islands (which I visited last year), but also about the flora and fauna of Mauritius?
  • Did you know that there is actually a town called Pamplemousses (grapefruit) in Mauritius?

But… maybe most important, do you actually know where in the world Mauritius is located? I bet most of you readers don’t, which is actually not really a problem (because I also did not know it very well before I heard about this course and looked it up). The most important is that you know that it is NOT “one of those French islands in the Caribbean”, but that is actually “one of those islands in the Indian Ocean, near Madagascar and La Réunion”. Or to be more specific… here’s a map:

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Enough educational stuff for today! Unless you really want to know more interesting facts about this island, then you should look at this nicely written article! Tomorrow I’ll write about more interesting facts, but more important: my interesting life and experiences here, a Sega dance night and much more fun!

A big kiss for all of those who are so great to keep following me!

You’re the best! Thank you for all the support!

x x With Love x x

Julie

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¡Bienvenida a la Fundación Yanapuma!

Welcome to the Yanapuma Foundation “Sustainable Community Development in Ecuador”. This is a non-governmental organization is working together with local and international partners to bring about lasting change for the marginalized and indigenous people of Ecuador. And this is the reason why I came to Ecuador, to be part of a bigger project. To be the change I want to see in the world, as Mahatma Gandhi would say…

YanapumaThe Yanapuma Foundation office in Quito

All the projects Yanapuma works with form components of the integrated approach, which focuses on the interconnectedness of the social and environmental reality affecting rural indigenous and marginalized Ecuadorian communities. The aim is always to work to create and maintain active partnerships between Yanapuma, its funders, and the communities that they serve. I will be mainly working around 3 of their projects whilst traveling with groups: the Tsachila, Chilcapamba and Hacienda Tranquila.

TsachilaCommunity of the Tsáchilas, ethnicity of Ecuador

My position in the company as an intern is “VOLUNTEER GROUP LEADER FOR COMMUNITIES IN ECUADOR” because one important resource for the foundation are international volunteers and groups for short or long term periods (1 week to 6 months) to assist the communities with their goals. Yanapuma receives the groups of volunteers a number of times a year, and for this reason, they need people who are willing and able to motivate, manage and lead these groups of 10 to 15 volunteers in different locations around Ecuador. In the communities volunteer work will be done in construction, education, environment, and other areas.

My responsabilities will be:

– Learn about the local culture and previous projects in the different communities

– Prepare for the group’s arrival by setting up accommodation, food, transport, project work, and budget. This might include visiting the local community where the project is to organize with them the details of the work and accommodation

– Greet the group upon arrival and be their leader throughout their time with Yanapuma in Ecuador. This includes traveling with the group to coordinate and oversee their transport, project work, and additional activities.

– Introduce the group members to the community and vice versa

– Coordinate daily activities with the contact person in the community

– Explain the norms of living and working in a community to the volunteers and make sure they are being implemented

– Motivate and support the volunteers with their daily activities

– Organize activities during free time and weekends in coordination with the community

– Participate with the volunteer work

– Oversee the health and wellbeing of the group during their time with Yanapuma

– Be the point-of-contact between the group and the Yanapuma office in case of problems or concerns

– Maintain email communication with the contact person in the group (teacher, representative) to organize the logistics and project

My group will arrive the 1st of April 2014. Most group members will be aged 18-21 years old, and coming from the United Kingdom through a travel agency that offers gap year programs. They will stay for 10 weeks, until the 9th of June.

But for now I am working in the office preparing their trip together with Cristina Lopez, the volunteer and intern coordinator of Yanapuma.

Yanapuma 003The office

Also, I obviously need time to get used to the country and its culture ànd to the company. Therefore, I am staying one month in a host family. And until now I can say that I feel really blessed them around me because they have helped me a lot during my first days. They care about me as if I were their own hija (child) and I don’t know what I would do without them.    Gracias Ana Maria y Francisco!!!

ComedorDining area in the host family house

I have no idea how I will manage to become a real GROUP LEADER in one month, but there is no way back. Only forward… So I’ll keep my head up high, hoping for the best! I can do this!!!

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By the way: I already have a small idea of my 10 week itinerary but I’m not telling you yet… Surprise for the next blog post?!

 

Ecuador: Meeting the Family!

After travelling for 23 hours from Brussels to Amsterdam to Quito, I finally reached my destination. Was it because I was sleepy or wasn’t I realizing what was all happening to me? I just said goodbye for 3,5 months to my boyfriend, cats, family and best friend… Again I left for a new adventure, all alone in the unknown. For the first time it made me feel uncomfortable without stressing me out. I just decided to go with the flow and take this time to live life and see how life can surprise people.

Arriving in Quito, about 2850 meters above the sea level was an unforgettable experience. Right after the airplane came out of the clouds, there was this amazing landscape that took my breath away… The aerial views over the Andes were anything like what I expected. The mountains, rivers, villages and nature had something magical and I felt immediately that this country was really special.

Aereal view Quito 1

Then secondly, after I came out of the airport’s arrival hall (to smoke my first cigarette in hours) I was overwhelmed by the typical smell of Latin America. Just smelling the air made me feel like coming home again somehow someway. I guess I just love the air in this part of the world. It is very distinct from our air in Europe.

After another taxi ride of 1 hour, I finally reached my guest family house. It was raining and already becoming dark, I was kind of exhausted and the pressure of being so high in the mountains gave me a small headache. But I put myself together, met the wonderful and very hospitable family members, had a first dinner with them and talked a little in Spanish. I feel like I have to fresh up my language skills again, but it goes surprisingly well already. No English, por favor!

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The guest house in area Mariscal Sucre

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Family hosts: Francisco Jiron & Ana Maria Ziritt

As I expected from the pictures they had sent me, the house was very nice and clean. My room was rather small, but really a good quality from Ecuadorian norms. There is a little noise from the traffic in the streets around, but overall I am happy with the place. I unpacked my bags, and around 9 PM local time (3 AM in Belgium) I finally got to bed… Tired but satisfied. I decided to take it easy as he next day is a Sunday, and there is no need to rush things as I am here for a long time.

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Hasta pronto!

Un beso,

Julie