Aid Worker is Ex Explorer

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Aid Worker is Ex Explorer

6 October 2011

Ex Explorer scout Freya Husselbee has jetted out to Mauritius to work in Woman’s Shelter.

Follow her amazing  journey here with regular updates as her year continues. Installment one arrived yesterday.


Bonjour from Mauritius!


    Ok, so I’ve finally got around to writing this after 5 weeks of being here and a lot has happened already. Everyone is so friendly and welcoming, all of them interested in why we’re here. The weather was a tad unpredictable at the beginning because it was the end of winter, so it was sunny most of the time but could be overcast and we had a bit of rain. For all you Geographers there is convectional rainfall which means that it rains at a similar time each day, which unfortunately happened to coincide with my walk home from work, so most days I came home sodden. The scenery surrounding the plateau towns is so beautiful with some extinct volcanoes being the main features on the island. The architecture in Curepipe and Eau Coulée (where I live) is quite run down and ugly, with concrete used for the larger buildings to protect them from the occasional cyclone but there are also a lot of shacks built with basic materials such as corrugated iron roofs.  Brightly coloured paint has been used in quite a lot of places to brighten up the mood; I’ve seen fluorescent pink, orange, yellow, green and blue houses.  Now the weather is much hotter and the sun is out more often. I’m finding it pretty hard to sleep at night with a constant sweaty upper lip and beads of sweat tricking down my face. Lovely. There are a lot of fruit and veg markets that we use frequently and the local supermarkets for the protein and carbs. Everything is pretty cheap here too which is good.


     I work at the Shelter for Women and Children in Distress in Forestside, Curepipe; it is great fun but an eye opener at the same time. The reasons why these girls are in the shelter are shocking in our society but rather the norm in Mauritius. Even though terrible things have happened to each and every one of these girls, they are very upbeat and a lot of fun. They dance, sing and laugh the majority of the time. Their newest form of entertainment is me. They are currently teaching me French Creole and laugh at me when I pronounce the words incorrectly or say completely the wrong phrases…their favourite mishap so far was when I was trying to say ‘I don’t know’ in Creole (it’s different to French) and ended up saying ‘my bottom is itchy’. I’ve got a long way to go if I want to be fluent.  They are also unfortunately fascinated by my hair; they’ve already put corn rows in it, washed it and straightened it for me.  The 3 year old also yanks it and managed to pull me to the ground from my head because I was in so much pain. I will be bald by the end of this year. They’re also teaching me Séga dancing which is quite erotic with a lot of bum wiggling…they laugh at me a lot when I try to do it properly. Daisy, my partner in crime, is having a great time getting this 3 year old to attack me. The other day she bit me, yanked, sucked and bit my hair from my scalp, threw a huge moth onto my left boob,  attacked me from behind while I was helping another girl revise and dragged me to the floor AGAIN by my hair. To top it all off, I had my trousers pulled down TWICE by two different girls. Pretty much everyone had an eyeful.  It’s making me think that maybe, just maybe, I am not being seen as the respected teacher I should be, but even better, I am being seen as  one of them, joining in on their antics sometimes and having a real relationship with them. Some of them have started calling Daisy and me their sisters which is really nice and I now feel part of the ‘Shelter family’. Yesterday I was in charge of entertaining the little ones so I took them outside and played a few games with them, ‘duck, duck, goose’, ‘cat and mouse’ and ‘What’s the time Mr Wolf?’ It was a lot of fun but after half an hour of running around like a lunatic I was very red in the face and sweating profusely due to the sheer intensity of the sun. I got a nice tan though. 


    Our job at the shelter is to teach the younger ones who aren’t taught by the teachers at the shelter and who don’t go to school. We were pretty much thrown into the deep end in this respect because we had to find out what academic level each girl is at. It’s difficult to teach a blanket subject in class because they’re all at different stages, for example, there are 7 year old twins who can’t write and can only count to ten but there’s an 8 year old who knows English fairly well and can do all her times tables.  There are about 40 girls at the shelter, about half stay at home during the day and the others choose to go to school. The staff are very friendly and try to stop the girls from hitting each other, which they do quite a lot, I try to also intervene when the girls fight but I do get a few punches flung at me too, I do my best to dodge them.  A lot of the older girls are doing the equivalent to GCSEs at the moment, so I have to help them with revision which is difficult when half of the stuff they’re doing I’ve already forgotten from 3 years ago. I also intend to start doing piano lessons one day a week and sport another day. Art, cooking and gardening will also be on the weekly agenda.


    On the weekends we go to the beach in Flic en Flac and explore our local surroundings. On Sunday we went to Quatre Bornes market which is a textile and food market. There are hundreds of stalls crammed into a fairly small space. It’s mad and really fun. Rachel found a stall selling baby turtles and is actually going to buy one, keep it as a pet for a year in our apartment and then donate it to the place where she’s working. Everything is ridiculously cheap here, e.g. bus journeys are less than 30p one way to the local major town and litre bottles of rum are less than £4. We’ve also explored the capital, Port Louis which is really built up and busy, there is a nice, romantic waterfront you can walk across, a lot of markets, China town and shops with names we recognise! We went to have a traditional meal with a contact I knew who lived in Port Louis, actually living in what other people call ‘Gaddafi Square’ because there are a lot of Muslims living in the area. The family were really friendly and generous and cooked up a traditional dish of fish biryani. It was lovely but really filling. Our ‘Mauritian Mum’ tried to force seconds onto my plate but I couldn’t eat any more, with the feeling of actually having to be sick to put anymore in my mouth. However Daisy and the others were polite and asked for more and she piled high seconds which were larger than the first portion. Daisy was determined to finish and spent half an hour after everybody else had finished eating to keep shoving mouthfuls in her, taking deep breaths in between each one.  We then had almond jelly, which I would not recommend. The taste and texture made us silently gag with every mouthful, but we politely ate it all up. We’ve also had a couple of nights out checking out the Mauritian nightlife and had a lot of fun.


    Diwali, the festival of lights was on last Wednesday and we were showered with lots of different Mauritian style ‘sweets’, mainly a lot of fried stuff, pastries and marzipan. It felt like Christmas. I was at work for 14 hours straight celebrating with the girls. They all dressed up and gave me a green and white churidha to wear which made me look like I had just come from the ‘70’s. We decorated the building and there were lots of fairy lights outside. It was beautiful. There were a lot of food donations given to the Shelter throughout the day. We had a 3 course meal for 40 given to us for lunch and then an even bigger meal for dinner. I was stuffed. It felt like Christmas food-wise.


    Last weekend we went on a trip out with the girls, we went to an aquarium in Trou aux Biches, which is up in the North, and they all loved it. Then we went to the beach where they went swimming. At lunchtime we went to La Plantation resort and spa where we stayed for the night, it was pretty posh where we could just relax on the beach, in the pool, in the sauna and the steam room. Not really what a bunch of poor volunteers should be doing, but you have to treat yourself sometimes.


    We’ve had a few cockroaches and a couple of opaque geckos in our spacious apartment which has caused a lot of hysterical screaming, I got the carving knife out and chopped the roaches in half. Here is one of many episodes that I have had with the household pests. The other night, at about 1am, I heard this noise just as I was drifting off to sleep, it was only a moth, but out of the corner of my eye I saw one of these geckos. I didn’t really want to be sleeping alongside an amphibian so tried to coax it out of my room with a broom. In doing so, the gecko flew onto the top of my wardrobe, I had to get a chair from the kitchen to try and look at it, I found it eventually, when it saw me, it sped quickly back onto the wall and then launched itself at me, bouncing off my leg. I screamed and ran out of the room, losing the lizard. I decided that I should sleep on the sofa, as I got all my stuff into the lounge I then saw a massive cockroach scuttling across the floor; I got the carving knife out!


      Our apartment is very civilised, we have a shower, a washing machine, an actual toilet, a TV, a fridge, a basic gas stove, a large kitchen, a lounge, three bedrooms and a spacious balcony. Unfortunately we don’t have an oven or a dishwasher…I’ll do without!


I hope you’re all OK and having a nice time in England.

Love Freya xxx