We hopped on the motorcycle with our usual sense of rushed purpose. I had been working a bit more than usual and was starting to feel stressed about an approaching workshop on sustainability mapping. I had never met the students I was going to work with, was unclear on whether or not they could read a map or if they would speak English, and I was partnering with a woman who had a very “do everything at the very last minute” mentality. Preparations for something this vague felt a little tense, and we had waited until the day before the workshop to print out the set of materials.
And, as often happens to me in Mauritius, I was unaware that a large holiday was approaching. Someone mentioned a festival called ‘cavity’ the week prior, and something about piercings and people pulling carts. This was the extent of my knowledge about Cavadee, the Hindu festival to honor Maruga, the god of war, which turned out to be very pink, very pretty and very gruesome.
Traffic was stalled in all directions when we reached the main road. People were lining the streets. I felt momentarily anxious that this task was going to end up taking so long. Then we saw the first part of the procession. Large, colorful wooden structures dwarfed the barefooted, pink clad men carrying them on their bare shoulders. Some of the men were flanked by two stoic helpers who would occasionally lift the structure and allow the clearly exhausted carrier to adjust before putting the burden back on his shoulders. Children carried smaller versions of the structures, building up their strength for future Cavadees.
A water truck liberally dumped water on the street for the barefooted worshipers who followed. It did not look like it helped very much as it immediately evaporated in the mid morning sun. Residents and business owners along the street would pull out their garden hoses and set them on the street to contribute a small stream to the procession in an extremely touching offering. Those in the procession would pause in briefly, cooling their feet until the next garden hose.
Rows of women filed by with cloths tied over their mouths to keep a complete silence. More men followed with spears through their cheeks, arms and backs. The sound of idling cars was punctuated with rhythmic drum beats. Work suddenly felt really insignificant while watching this moment of self-inflicted group pain- bare feet on hot pavement, newly pierced skin dripping with lime juice, heavy offerings carried on bare shoulders. This was clearly more important than my short-sighted printing goal.
My time here in Mauritius often feels like these brief periods of focused work, with plenty of the typical frustrations, delays, lack of responses from partners and last minute changes… all punctuated by things that feel significantly more important.
The traffic started moving again and we slowly passed the remainder of the procession. The last devotee had piercings throughout his back, with limes attached, that were pulling a trailer the size of a small car. Barefoot and trudging slowly, head down, he kept pace with the rest of the procession while we zoomed off in the other direction.
(All photos in this post credited to islandcrisis.net)