As Mauritians we have always been close to our foreign friends. After all, each and everyone of us came here from foreign shores. India, China, Africa, France or England. We celebrate our diversity and respect each other, even if at times, like any family, we bicker with each other. So, it’s only normal that tourism has been one of our main markets throughout time. This land in the middle of the Indian Ocean has been attracting tourists even before there were Mauritians here. And so Mauritius took up that mantle and our magnificent sandy beaches and beautiful mountains continued to attract people from all over the world. And we made the most of it.
Hotel after hotel after hotel. More money, more hotels. Then came the villas and the IRS schemes and ever more reasons to attract the rich and the affluent and convince them to bring their money to our home. The method changed but the result was the same. Ours is an economy that looks without not within.
Even our industry of old – Sugar – was aimed at the outside. Sure we made use of some of it locally, be it the raw material or our good old glass of rum, can attest to where it came from, but most of it was exported. Even when we could no longer compete on the international scene our reliance on sugar was so ingrained that the government used our very own tax money to subsidise the sale of sugar and basically make up the difference.
What has been the result of this culture? The culture of looking to the outside to prosper. Depending on others to grow our economy? It has served us amazingly well through the times. After all, our island is the beacon of Africa, stable and strong. But what of us? How has it affected the typical Mauritian? What price did we pay?
In recent times our beaches have become contested territory. Where once children and elders smiled and laughed, barricades have been erected. Those beaches are no longer free to be used and enjoyed, they have been converted into profit machines and they look out for clients, not in. Some of our kin lay forgotten in dilapidated homes within hard neighbourhoods but those are not the places that the taxis and tours take our tourists too. As a matter of fact, if you talk to 100 tourists that come here there may only be one or two that are aware of the big picture. We’re not the same paradise for all.
And what of education? What are the children being taught and even more importantly, how are they being taught? In the internet era, children are already exposed to the bling and glitz of the world at an early age, even they look outside for inspiration. Who can blame them? Here we quickly forget our heroes. Our sportspeople who put us on the map are set aside time and time again. Our artists have no platform to thrive on and the few that do work extremely hard to keep themselves afloat and have no time or energy to groom the next generation. Our values held by the grandfathers and grandmothers that many of you fondly and proudly remember lay forgotten beneath the dust of our progress. We are all to blame.
Now, in a time of crisis that has forced us to stay inside we have the time to look inside. We can look inside ourselves and evaluate what’s important. Parents can remember the respect that is due to teachers and schools for taking care of their most treasured beings. Children can feel what it is like to live with family again and contribute to the home at an early age. We can all learn to respect the men and women that toil the earth for it is they that we seek in times of trouble. We can learn to be thankful to those that are risking their lives day in and day out to keep this sickness at bay. We should take all the possible measures to make their lives easier and not harder. As individuals we finally have the time to look inside and be grateful for what we have. But gratitude is not enough.
Once this crisis is over many of us will emerge from our homes and take in the extent of the effects of COVID-19. Then, it is likely that most of us will rush back to our “normal” lives. I implore us all, let’s take a step even further back when this is over. For once let’s look inside instead of outside. Instead of following others let’s take this opportunity to change of our own volition, to value what deserves to be valued, to focus on bettering the lives of each and every one of us Mauritians.
Maybe some of the hotels can be converted into senior homes with a service that equals, or better yet, exceeds what we offer to tourists. These are our elders after all, they are the ones who worked so hard to get us here, surely they deserve that much. Perhaps we could also change our consumer habits, just as we are hungering over local vegetables and fruits, looking left and right for the people that till our land to feed us, perhaps we can continue to do so instead of going back to the innumerable shopping malls to find “premium” items.
It’s easy to look at this situation through a negative lens and cry over it. It’s even natural to do so. This event will be the cause of pain and suffering as individuals, as a people, as a country and as the world. But this is also an opportunity to do better, build better for the right people for the right reasons. It gives us a chance to learn from the past and correct our bearing, to remember our older values and allow some of that to seep back into our modern way of living. We can be better.