Emerging Writers. Crossing Mauritius, by Helene Munson.
Overseas visitors to this island paradise are scooped up at the airport by travel operators of all-inclusive coastal resorts and promptly put behind high walls designed to keep in tourist’s spending. Those of us who travel unshielded from island life, get to know our service providers more intimately and learn the dance of building mutual trust.
Standing by the side of the road with my luggage waiting for the public bus. I need to get to Grand Baie. My ride will stretch from the most south-eastern point of the island to the farthest north-western one. A taxi driver pulls up offering me a fare that seems downright cheap. His dark, copper-tone face observes me: “You don’t trust me, do you? I am Ram.” I look at the Ganesha on his dashboard, sitting there to bring its owner prosperity. But this guy is not asking for much, and travels have taught me: The taxi driver trying to overcharge you is merely doing his job; but beware of the guy who undercharges you. Seeing my doubtful face he adds, “We get noodles, you can meet my wife, Gita.” “What? I don’t want to eat, it’s 10am!” I reply. But I get in.
He and his wife get up at 4 a.m. every morning to make 100 pounds of noodles. I meet Gita. Ram and I drop off the noodles at several Mine Frite (bastardized words: noodles in Chinese and fried in French) restaurants, which explains the reasonable fare as he would have had to drive the route anyway. Once the trunk is empty he stops at the boat model building workshop, the handicraft outlet and the cashmere factory, all slick tourist shops with eager salespeople expecting me with calculator in hand. I apologize beforehand that I will not buy anything. But he still insists on going. He points at my light skin; he gets ‘little presents’ just for delivering a white face to the door. We talk about his Indian heritage and he explains, “My ancestors, from Bihar, were brought here as sugar cane plantation slaves by the Dutch, seven generations ago.” I try to lighten up the conversation by asking him about his children, a safe topic with any taxi driver.
Arriving at my destination I pay him and add a few folded banknotes as a tip. He does not look at me. He does not trust my generosity. Eagerly he unfolds the notes to check if Ganesha has taken care of him.