Tears of Mauritius

, par Jose Ignacio Benito Climent

I would have never thought that that summer that I was spending in Russafa, I would actually end up receiving a face-time call from a French friend of mine who was living on Mauritius Island. Nicolas was his name and he had married a local woman that he had met while being in hospital in Paris, after his father had taken him to France on account of Nicolas’ having experienced a psychotic episode in Senegal. Nicolas’ father had never looked after his children properly, once he had divorced his wife, Véronique, a strong psychoanalyst herself who enjoyed riding horses at Dammeris-les-Lys, where the whole family (Élodie, Dimitri and Nicolas) had always lived. Véronique was now living with a much younger man that she had met via a newspaper ad, long before the internet ever existed.

Josep, having received the call from his friend, had forgotten that Nicolas was not alright and that, really and truly, he had never been. However, the idea of spending the summertime speaking French on Paradise Island seemed like an enticing prospect. Indeed, back in Valencia, Josep wouldn’t stop telling his friends about it, and everyone was amazed at the trip that he was going to undertake. And go he did. No sooner had he landed at the airport there, did he start to notice a post-war atmosphere. Everyone was trying to get him on a taxi, and while Josep was drinking an orange juice, a waiter suggested he spent an hour with a woman. Josep could not believe how anyone could be thinking about trading a woman’s body, while he was just drinking and thinking about his adventure on Mauritius Island.

Nicolas showed up with his son Tao, whose name he got from his parents’ being Budhists, something that Josep would understand later on, when he noticed the family wouldn’t hurt any insect. He would have exterminated the whole lot of them, though, convinced, according to his Western mentality, that it was the right thing to do. They stopped at the beach and drank two local beers which were easier to come by than having to import them. Also, they were cheap. However, not everything was. Indeed, there were many rich people on the island who owned expensive cars.

The island itself was divided into assemblies, the one that controlled the native creoles being Hindi. As a matter of fact, creoles had lost control over their own land, which seemed to be under the rule of mobsters who had come from the insides of the many international ways of capitalism that had kept these people living in misery, and that had achieved that goal using religion as a means to justify themselves.

Once Josep was gone, the picture that would stay with him/ would remain in his mind would be that of a creole native woman looking out to sea, thinking about leaving her country and just move ailleurs, somewhere else, far far away. Josep would never had thought of that as a way of getting the attention of tourists. She was actually looking at a harbor, where the only shark lived, one that people used to say, was old and totally harmless, just like a tamed dog. Nonetheless, on one occasion I recall seeing a very good-looking boy who was missing a leg. I don’t know why I thought he could have lost it on the island, or maybe at La Réunion, where there were many more sharks. It could have been, too, that he had lost it at Morne Brabant, which had been declared one of the World’s Heritage sites by the UNESCO in 2008, because the whole mountain is made of basalt rock. Morne Brabant is the kind of place where some English people go surfing and land dive, and thus, try to feel the air plow through the water and kiss the water with their boards. There was an account about the unsuccessful liberation of slaves that is related to the symbolic importance of Mount Brabant, being as it had been, a refuge for them in the 18th and 19th centuries. Rumor has it that when the English freed the slaves on the island in 1835, the authorities could not make understand to those who lived high up in the mountain, hidden in caves, that they were actually free. So, they committed suicide by jumping from the top o La Morne. That is how the suffering of thousands of slaves who had lived on Mauritius Island had been remembered, by calling it the Republic of Brown people (La République des Marrons).

The Island’s contemporary history had been harsh, too, ever since some creole musicians who had lived near La Morne’s harbor, had been killed, just like Kaya, who played a sort of native music from Jamaica called Séga, one that Bob Marley himself particularly liked. Indeed, Kaya was slain in prison by the Hindi police after some demonstrations had taken place on Mauritius, demanding more independence for creoles. Indeed, until one hasn’t spent enough time living here, one does not fully understand that although creoles may well be the heirs to their island, they are the ones who hurt the most in their own homeland. This situation made me reflect about the problems related to gentrification that we face in Valencia, and what can be done to prevent Valencian citizens from leaving the city ; how to avoid so many tourists from coming to the city, and how very expensive housing was in Valencia. “Valencia is not for sale” I thought.

I clearly remember the day I left the Moka district, where my friends lived. I was going to Port-Louis, a city where Baudelaire lived with his mulatto Haitian lover Jeanne Duval, a writer on Mauritius Island for six months. Indeed, the French poet produced “À une dame créole at Jardin de Port-Louis”. I distinctly remember travelling on a bus and being stared at by everyone. Indeed, I was the only calm white man who was travelling on a bus with the poor and the working men, and not on a jeep (the main means of transportation that French colonists did take). The latter would have never dared to jump onto a bus, on account of the context of poverty that they would have been immersed in, and also because of the violence that would have surrounded them. Something I would never have thought was that I myself would end up just like any other slave, succumbing to the wishes of a family from Mauritius Island, as if I were a character in Adolf Bioy Casares’ novel “L’Invenció de Morell”, in which one does not really know if he is being chased or if he is going crazy on the island.

The family that I was staying with was raving and I would, little by little, find out about it, as I was living with them and talking to them. Indeed, Jeanne, the islander, the artistic therapist and Nicolas’ wife, had a member of her family who performed back magic tricks. That was the same Jeanne that had met Nicolas in Paris, after he had been in a psychiatric ward after having experienced a breakdown in Senegal, working as he had as a psychiatrist with child soldiers. It was that same woman who also told me she could see dead people around me, even the love-child I could have had when I was twenty years old with my then ex-girlfriend Julie, had it not been for the fact that she chose to have an abortion, because we were too young. At that time, in the 1980s and 90s, in order to terminate a pregnancy, a woman had to assume the role of a mad woman and go through the disgrace of being mistreated by the health personnel.

All Josep could do was wander off the subject for he was really scared and all he longed for was having a good night’s rest. However, there was a couple who always drank the local beer at Mauritius Island with a touch of liquer de violetes, one that Josep had brought to Nicolas. Josep’s friend had had his drink together with a joint carried in the rectum of Florian, a buddy of Nicolas that Josep had met at Melum, while he was looking after Nicolas’ brothers. Florian had been a soldier who at the time was going to marry a local Hindi, a beautiful woman, for whom I was sorry, seeing, as I did, the disdain with which Florian treated her. Indeed, Florian treated her fiancée in the same way that a colonist from Dakar would a faithful wife who valued stability in a relationship, an attitude that Parisian women lacked. The way Florian treated that woman made Josep paranoid, because he was always making fun of the military and making trouble. He would say “José, sí, sí ! José, ça, ça.!” Indeed, Florian was a male chauvinist and an addict, a bore of a man, who, just like Nicolas, would not shut up about how he should come live with them to Mauritius Island and buy a house there. Nicolas had told Josep that he had no friends on the island and that finding a place to stay and a woman would not be difficult.

What had begun as a pleasurable trip had turned into a contemporary tragedy of the French Robinsons, ex-pats who had chosen to live their lives anew in Europe. These were also known as the new-age people. Quite coincidentally, one of the bars on the island was called The Robinsons, precisely hinting at them. Josep thought that he was in the hands of a sect and he was not mistaken. Nicolas, Jeanne and Florian held a belief that was very much rooted on the island, one that relied on yoga practices and fortune-telling, one that would foretell Josep’s life at any given moment of change. So, all three put Josep in touch with an old fortune teller, who did yoga and lived in a beautiful colonial-style house. This woman tried to convince Josep to live on the island and to find himself a woman there. Thus, he could work as a teacher or a psychologist and leave his behind his inconsequential life as a philosophy teacher in Valencia. The seer thought and saw into Josep’s soul that maybe there was a chance he would stay on the island, just like one of the novels by Michel Houellebecq that had been turned into a film. In fact, Josep had given a talk about these novels at El Mundo bar, back in Valencia, a place that he was longing to come back to as soon as possible. He didn’t want to leave his life behind ; he enjoyed his life, his friends, his family and his country. Coming back home for Christmas was not just the motto of a TV spot ; it was a real need. These thoughts made him flee the island and think back on the family that he had left there, living on the edge, always moving from one place to another, living off Josep’s money to try and make it through that dreadful dark summer. Josep came back to Valencia a little paranoid, as if he had done something improper leaving the African family behind, especially those two tormented boys in desperate need of psychological support, a family that lived in a sort of religious delirium, 16 hours from Valencia via Dubai.

In his novel Ànima, the Parisian writer Le Clézio had not conveyed everything he could have about the island, his father’s natal country. People who come to this island with the idea of spending their time on a hammock, drinking cocktails, walking along the beach and being uninterested in anthropologic matters, do not know what travelling is, even though it may be even riskier to really travel around the world with no fear !

Traducción de G. Garrido.