So a couple of weeks ago I had one of the most ‘culturally rich’ days of my life. A wonderful final year student called Ophelia from Lycée Bouvet invited Ellen and I to her house to meet her family and become real creole women. We started off our afternoon (as French students don’t have class Wednesday afternoons) by driving up to La Marine viewpoint in St Benoit and having a little picnic with her, her sister and her father’s girlfriend. It was actually the first time that I’d seen that stretch of grey, pebbly beach in all its splendour and it was quite incredible. It was probably the first time that I’ve also seen a beautiful part of this town, but despite the fact that everyone tells me I’m living in a dump I love St Benoit; it holds a special place in my heart. Also I’m still awestruck every time I see the sea stretching out into the beyond, don’t think I’ll ever get over that. Ah I almost forgot to say that here we also helped a fishermen reel in this beautiful, big fish! My first experience of fishing 🙂
So from La Marine we went back to her lovely, large créole house with her cute, old Papí sitting out on the veranda. I should mention here that Ophelia’s father owns both sugar cane and pineapple plantations and her house is also surrounded by mango, lychee, papaya and banana trees! We met her delightful grandmother who took us out to the backyard, selected a chicken from their pen and then deftly slit its throat in front of us – and in front of the other poor chickens too! It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be to be honest, she was obviously an expert and it didn’t take long for the chicken to die. Granny then dipped our dinner into a large pot of boiling water and invited us to help pluck it! Although plucking it was not difficult or gruesome I did find it a bit weird, especially as I was standing by the chicken’s head and it looked as if it were just sleeping soundly, until I noticed the little cascade of blood dripping off the table and nearly onto my feet. So I stopped there.
Whilst Granny chopped up the chicken Ellen and I went to visit Ophelia’s father in the fields. He was very kind and let us have a go at chopping down some cane. Even though I have effectively used a machete in the past, I will admit that I was pretty crap at hacking down even just one piece of sugar cane. In my defence the type I had been given was the one that is resistant to cyclones! Also I really struggled hitting it in the same place twice.. Had a little energy boosting nibble of some wonderfully sweet cane then back to kitchen for cooking lessons from Granny!
We were preparing 2 traditional dishes for the evening: Rougail Saucisses and Cari Poulet. Neither of them are that complicated in fact; just a different combination of onions, tomatoes, garlic, turmeric, thyme and chilli. We left them both to stew and then all the women gathered around the table in the dining room to make samosas whilst the men were all on the terrace having a beer! Never felt so traditional in my life! But the main point here is that finally at the age of 21 I have learnt how to make samosas. And how proud my mother would be to learn that even though it was my first time, mine were the prettiest and neatest on the table! Must be in my blood!
The second part of finding my inner Indian came when we finally celebrated Diwali here! It was a week late compared to the rest of the world but they make it a really big deal in the East here. On Thursday we went to St Andres (the town with the largest Tamil population) and I had some henna done in prep for Sunday when there was a big celebration there. A kind teacher from Lycée Patu gave Ellen, David and I a lift on Sunday where after watching a parade from all the various Indian associations on the island there was an amazing Bharata Natyam performance of the Ramayana. As with all Indian things, it was a bit too long but it was beautifully choreographed. And there was a narrator to explain what was happening, though he did speak a mix of Créole and French so it wasn’t always that helpful!
Monday we returned to the same site for a Holi festival! I know it is normally done in Feb/March in India and I have no idea why in Réunion they do it months earlier. One student told me that as it is the New Year it is seen as a celebration for a fresh start. Anyway, we had such a great time throwing powder at everyone, dancing to the Bollywood music and playing in the coloured fountains. I feel I should note that there were many more Europeans at Holi than Indians, so I don’t know if it has maybe turned into a bit of gimmick here? But either way I absolutely loved it!
So there it is, one of the most Indian weeks of my life, maybe my coconut ways are changing out here!