A departing diplomat caused a stir last week with comments on a bunch of non-integrating expats from his country, currently colonizing parts of our rainbow island in a somewhat monochrome manner. I have seen the colonization trend, but thought it was more of an economic endeavour as opposed to a systemic implantation. Apparently it isn’t… and the matter is being brought to attention because the neo-colonizers, if I may call them so, aren’t quite fitting into the landscape of red, blue, yellow and green…
My story today is about another “community” of expats, whose language is commonly spoken in Mauritius and whose “descendents” are among the better-faring of the land. These former colonizers have adopted a not-so-innovative tactic to settle in the country: marriage. If any of you have ever watched the American movie “Green Card”, where Gérard Depardieu, who plays a green-card-seeking Frenchman marrying a money-seeking American woman, played by Andie McDowell… you may see my point. Although anyone with the American Dream would think that a white wedding to obtain permanent resident status in the U.S. is worth it, one could also think: what is the appeal in Mauritius?
The appeal for a Mauritian may not be that obvious: marriage is often a matter of mongering status and other privileges which have nothing to do with emotions; salaries are poor even for overly qualified people and meritocracy is a mere fantasy which many of us can only ever dream about, knowing it’s something that we may not live to see. Add to that price hikes of all kinds, which are currently affecting mostly the lower rungs of the social ladder.
Now, switch places and imagine you’re a foreigner. A tourist… just arrived in this uber-advertised dream island. Everything is breath-taking right from the airplane:  beginning with a range of picture-postcard panorama, royalty treatment, the best food even locals do not have access to… pure luxury coupled to friendly and welcoming people. So much so, that the tourist begins to think: “I can get used to this!” Why wouldn’t anyone? For the ones who have money, investing a few hundred thousand Euros or buying an IRS is not a problem… for others, a wedding is of the order so that access to property and other “privileges” usually reserved to nationals can be obtained.
Part of the result is: visit any or many of the tourism-oriented businesses across the island and you’ll find very often that the owner is a Foreigner, married to a Mauritian. The female spouse isn’t always a business-savvy lady, but more like the girl back in the 80s who would shun a poxy job as a maidservant and become a “correspondent” to some Farmer John in a remote corner of Europe… eventually leading into a marriage, the kind which cannot always be categorized, for all of the sweet and sour stories which have emerged from such episodes.
While I used to go to the beach and barter with Mauritian beach businessmen on the price of that coral necklace … or on the price of being under that parasol for half an hour, now I am given the price in Euros, because it’s a non-Mauritian citizen running the business and very often with the help of his Mauritian Mrs! If some want to believe there is nothing wrong with that, I don’t. I believe there is, especially if business and entrepreneurship opportunities – which don’t come easy – are being eroded because of “foreign” entrepreneurs on Mauritian shores. These aren’t investors or job-creators bringing the hyper-coveted FDI (that’s Foreign Direct Investment, for beginners)… but rather predators and job-thieves whose sole interest is in having permanent sea, sex and sun. Maybe the Mauritian spouses gain from it… but who knows whether this isn’t a form of exploitation or human trafficking? If one “community” is being accused of not integrating and creating its own little enclave in the country, the other is being ignored under the pretence that it has integrated so well, Mauritians, which are pariahs in many of these Foreign lands, are particularly prized on home ground!
I have many foreign friends, who respect my country, love it and love its people. I have foreign friends who would genuinely want to live here because they want to share in this country’s cultural riches and treasures. They want to eat dholl puri and dance sega, partake in each festival and raise their Mauritian flag with pride. Mauritians, by default, are fond of foreigners. Let’s just not allow those who are going to use and abuse and hospitality and resources take up the space which we ourselves do not have. Our government needs to protect us from such abuse… but I am wondering whether it is still “man of the house”.