Right now I am sitting at a coffee shop called Vida e Caffe. I like it here but feel a little bit bad about it, mostly because it is at a mall and I have some sort of aversion to the consumerism. They have great coffee though and it reminds me of coffee shops we would have in the U.S. I am sitting outside. The temperature is ideal- warm, slight breeze rustling the potted tropical vegetation. People are milling about with bags of recently purchased items. Kids are playing in a fountain and riding bikes around. The mixed-use office spaces are slowly coming to life. I feel like I am in an architectural rendering.
My fellow coffee drinking patrons are, like in the U.S., on computers. One has a Macbook, Iphone, Ipad, and a drone (not flying, just resting on the table). Half of the coffee drinkers are wearing saris. I can hear three different languages being spoken. There are bright orange birds foraging for scraps around the drone table and zooming in and out of the automatic doors.
I rode my bike here on a shoulderless road. Cars were respectful but had they not been I would have been run off the road into a sugar cane field. On my way home, I will take the same route. I will pass another mall before returning to the sugar cane stretch. This mall is a bit older, looking forlorn and forgotten compared to its architectural rendering of a neighbor. I will pass a bus depot and a fire station with a lookout tower, both surrounded by sugarcane fields. Afterwards, I will carefully navigate my way through a roundabout (always terrifying on a bicycle!) and then the sugarcane fields will end and the road will devolve into the chaos of Triolet.
It is a friendly sort of chaos. Cars will stop at random and park in the middle of the road to run into a store or grab a roti. Generally the stores have perfectly acceptable and completely unused parking spaces. Nobody will honk. Cars will line up patiently behind and wait for an opportunity to pass on the busy two lane road. At this point I will probably weave onto the sidewalk, dodging pedestrians before rejoining traffic.
I will probably continue on this road. The traffic keeps it exciting if there is not too much bus diesel going into my face. I will share an informal 3rd/4th lane with motorcycles and other bicycles. Cars will give us just enough space to keep us on our toes. Maybe I will pass some of the overloaded 50cc motorbikes to avoid their spewing exhaust pipes.
On this road, I will pass auto repair shops and spare parts shops. Then my favorite market: Petit Profit Market. I have never actually gone in but I giggle at the name every time. I will pass a few piles of trash, mostly plastic bags and bottles that are on their inevitable path to polluting the ocean. Then some clothing shops and Kalachand- a large showroom selling the most poorly made items and the store responsible for the complete inadequacy of the bicycle that I am riding. A few pooja shops come next, where you can buy incense and little statues of Hindu gods.
I will pass a large white and green mosque, hopefully during the call to prayer. I love the sound of the call to prayer, sung with such intense emotion through large speakers three times a day. I will also pass a few Hindu temples. They may also be broadcasting prayers if we are near one of the many holidays. Sometimes I do not know about the holidays until I bike up on a broadcast or a procession of people. The processions will be blocking traffic, with everyone wearing similar colors, carrying something large and heavy, maybe offering food, and burning great smelling incense.
I will smell the snack offerings on my ride home- roti, various fried vegetables and legumes, perhaps briani if it is Sunday, Tuesday or Thursday. I will pass people selling vegetables on the side of the road. Some will have a proper wooden structure; some will be braving the sun on the sidewalk with baskets of their offerings. A few will have set up impromptu shade structures with old tarps or bread bags. I picture them having picked and processed their goods earlier in the morning. They will stay there all day, or until their products run out. A large contingent sits across from the supermarket- a western style, windowless, big box called Winners that is complete with the florescent lighting and sterile feel that characterizes grocery stores back home. The supermarket is topped by a casino that strikes me as frightening.
Near Winners I will turn down a side street. Traffic will calm down immensely now but mostly because the road narrows and cars have to navigate groups of pedestrians. I will pass a few shops that are never open but allegedly sell clothing, phone credit and give haircuts. If it is near the time that school gets out, there will be a man selling popcorn and some women selling fried goods. A few ladies might be selling roti and mine-frite out of their front gates.
After another turn I will be on my street. There will be a group of men sitting on logs at the intersection watching the world go by. I can never tell if they are drunk or just chilling but they are always there. There are different cohorts that don’t mix but are all very friendly. The young ones are usually there in the evening and seeming drunk. The older ones are usually there during the day and seem mostly tired. It is a community-created public space where you occasionally have to tuck your knees in for a passing truck. Ladies won’t sit there but may gather nearby, standing in the street and talking with kids in hand.
Near the sitting area is my apartment. I’ll open a wooden gate that has been torn to shreds by Chiquito, the dog that really wants this to be his home. He is occasionally banished due to his intense stench but I will probably let him in if he is there. He got in some fights recently and is looking a little beat up and like he could use a rest. He will go curl up in the shade near the motorcycle or go find the water that Annie leaves out for him.
Annie, Bertie and Nicholas live downstairs. I live upstairs. Bertie built the house and works in construction. He prefers to speak Creole and smiles and laughs easily. I know he likes football and Annie’s cooking but he remains a bit mysterious due to language barriers. Annie speaks perfect English and is a friend, cultural guide and the best chef in Mauritius as far as I am concerned. Nicholas is two. He sometimes likes me, sometimes throws things at me, never has a dull moment. I call him “boss”. He associates me with Kinder- a certain type of chocolate that I occasionally bribe him with. He will come upstairs, let himself in, open the refrigerator, take a Kinder, turn off the refrigerator, turn off the water, grab Alex’s shaving razor, and go play with a fan… All in the span of about 30 seconds. If nobody has noticed he is there by then, he will go out onto our second story porch that has no railing and mess around with the mango tree. Then he will take all of the keys. He is sometimes like a demon-tornado, but a very cute one.
Nicholas loves the mall where the coffee shop is and goes there frequently on imaginary bicycle trips to buy bonbons. Maybe he will grow up to be one of these people that I am looking at now, smart phone in hand, looking business-like. But probably he will be at a different mall. By then this mall will have been forgotten and a different one will have popped up in the neighboring sugar cane field.