Return to Mauritius

Image courtesy of Yasmin Jaunbocus

Image courtesy of Yasmin Jaunbocus

I have looked forward to my holiday in Mauritius not just for the 9 months since we booked but for the 9 years since I last visited.

My memories of Mauritius were not always tinted by the rose tinted glasses of holiday nostalgia; it was a mix of being too hot, too itchy from mosquito bites and too English for the archards and pickles. Very often family politics came in to play as I sat in the back of an aging old Mercedes, skin sticking to the leather seats as my parents argued.

There were numerous journeys visiting numerous aunts and uncles who all blurred into one long, hot cup of sweet vanilla tea. We dressed up for weddings with no idea who was getting married.

I knew I was going to one of the world’s most coveted holiday destinations. I could brag about the sandy beaches and crystal blue waters via social media, though we didn’t visit those beaches as often as we wanted to. It was also a family holiday with commitments only Asian families will understand. There was always an intense frustration that I couldn’t wear a sleeveless top in 32 degree heat because people might talk of the indecency.

Image courtesy of Yasmin Jaunbocus

Image courtesy of Yasmin Jaunbocus

It was an escape, but once there, it could feel claustrophobic, because back then, it didn’t feel like home in the way it does now. Perhaps that is because I feel more settled in my own sense of self and identity but this time it was different.

The beaches were nice, but sitting up till midnight with my grandmother or making another cup of tea with my khala, at 2 in the morning as we gossiped, was better.

Everyone wore sleeveless tops and maybe it was because the world was getting smaller,  but it felt more like home than ever.

The sun shone and when it rained it didn’t fill me with woe, like it always does when I peer from behind my curtains in Manchester. At home I’d have to don my East is East parka and sometimes did.

Everything tasted amazing. I ate bread every morning with gateaux piment, their much better version of falafel and didn’t think about carbs once. I washed in showers with a bucket and a jug and never felt cleaner and more refreshed. I shared a bed with my sister for two weeks straight and never resented it, whilst at home I’d prickle if she’d been in my room, even if nothing had moved.

I got up early every morning to have tea with my uncle who inexplicably says I’m his favourite, despite the fact we don’t often chat or spend time together and I hadn't been in the same room as him for close to a decade. I laughed uncontrollably with my cousin, getting up to no good like we’d been best friends for years. My very old grandma scolded my dad in front of us (to our delight) and told us stories of her father and the sugar cane fields and the ‘blancs’ who would visit.

She applied cream to a burn I had and I mourned for every bit of grandmotherly affection I’d missed out on for 26 years, my parents being immigrants.

I relished the role of being the oldest cousin and the respect and wonder it brought with it and was delighted when an actual Mauritian thought I was one of them because my Creole was so convincing. In Mauritius, I felt no different, for once. If I was paid the same compliment in the UK, I would be glad I hadn't been noticed rather than that I exactly belonged.

No one here asked if I was Pakistani, or Bangladeshi or swore I was Sri Lankan. I was Mauritian.

Image courtesy of Yasmin Jaunbocus

Image courtesy of Yasmin Jaunbocus

I threw myself into the traditions of Mauritian weddings as my cousin got married, and my judgement of how young she was, to be committing so early, crumbled away like the henna drying on her hands. I danced sega, their traditional island dance with abandon (be it with a few Brixton moves added in) and ate pineapples with chilli and salt and felt the sun on my back.

Every day in England, where the streets are paved with gold and you can buy everything in a supermarket and careers and Pret and Instagram rule supreme, it’s easy to get lost in painting Mauritius as an idyllic isle without its own set of problems. But I can’t help it. Always being stuck here and not here, straddling seas and borders and cultures and otherness and sameness and family and thinking of YOU and being selfish whilst struggling with the cultural implications, is frankly exhausting. As is trying to maintain relationships via WhatsApp and Skype and a time difference.

It’s strange though, how you click into the puzzle as soon as you return and get over that initial shyness. You’re never really meeting a stranger, going back. They know you without having met you.

What I’d give to be in that blissful state of holiday for a few more weeks.

I won’t leave it 9 years again but even 9 months right now seems too long a wait to feel as if you’ve gone home and on holiday all at once.