Shaheen Beeharry,
Social Sciences Research Assistant & Language
Instructor at the African Leadership College

I am a British Mauritian citizen primarily of Indian and Chinese descent, living in an African country as part of the Indo-Mauritian majority and Muslim minority. I am also designing and delivering an introductory course to Mauritian Creole for students at the African Leadership College – most of whom are from continental Africa.  The irony of this is not lost on me. Never in a million years did I think that the little British girl who moved to Mauritius at the age of 9 would someday be teaching classes of Mauritian Creole, which is said to be “a key emblem of a Mauritian nation because its practice transcends ethnic boundaries” (Little India, Eisenlohr, 2006). Nor did I anticipate the immense privilege it would be to help African students recognize elements of their own cultures in ours as well as seeing my Senegalese colleague’s eyes widen with wonder when I told him that Camp Yoloff in Port Louis is named after the native language of his country. But is that not the very essence and beauty of being a Global Mauritian in the 21st century?

Nonetheless, I am not about to make allusions to the carefully manicured illusions of perfection that are so often associated with Mark Twain’s much misquoted heaven-on-earth; we have our fair share of issues which include failing political leadership fuelled by communalism, a toxic culture of nepotism and cronyism, a shrinking middle class and a possible repeat of the Chagos tragedy with 300 Agaléens on the near horizon, but that’s not what this story is about today. It’s no secret that 2018 marks 50 years of independence and I wanted to take a moment to celebrate our nation, not for the personality cults that surround the political dynasties in this country or for the smart cities to come, but for our everyday heroes who will stop what they are doing and come push your car when it breaks down (in my experience people are not so compassionate in certain countries), or a community as a whole that bands together and braves a cyclone to provide hot meals for disaster victims.

We might not always see eye-to-eye but it’s in these small acts of kindness that we define ourselves. I am part of what is arguably one of the most globally hated religious communities in modern history, but I have never felt hated or been made to feel unsafe for my faith in Mauritius. While the pre-independence racial conflict between the Muslim and Creole communities, which is noticeably absent from our national history curriculum, was the first (and hopefully last) of its kind, I would like to think it is/was symptomatic of deeper socio-political undercurrents rather than being solely based on religious and ethnic differences. In the ever so slightly amended words of KAYA, Nou lavi pieze telman li presie (loosely translated: Our life is fragile because it is so precious).

The life that we have in Mauritius is special in ways that I cannot begin to fully describe. It’s not just about the copious amounts of gato lasir (Nian Gao) I received from friends and neighbours for Chinese New Year or the puris that pilgrims performing Maha Shivaratri distributed to car passengers as they walked past with their dazzling kawars – gestures the Muslim community tends to reciprocate with generous amounts of biryani! – but the mutual respect with which we choose to treat each other every single day. Perhaps the sheer size of our small island nation has forced us into a more peaceable society in spite of/because of the wealth of diversity that exists across our modest 2040 square kilometres. It could also be because Mauritius did not initially belong to anyone is the reason why it belongs to all of us today, and even though our powerful passports are windows to the world, the Mauritian diaspora have a way of finding each other no matter where we are due to our unique shared culture.

Born in 1993, this year I turn 25. I have lived through exactly half of our half a century of independence. In 2043 I will be 50 years of age and the Republic will be 75 years free, and in 2068 when I am 75 we will be celebrating a 100-years of independence declaration. Sadly, KAYA is not here to commemorate the momentous occasion of 50-years of independence with a song only he could write and his untimely demise has left our nation heart-broken, but in this sort-of love letter to nou ti zil (our little island) I think it is safe to say that KAYA and the collective Mauritian consciousness would agree that in 50, 75 and 100 years of independence what we hope for is to leave this beautiful country a safer and fairer place.