If you are in California and you have the chance, get thee to Sequoia! Some of the largest trees on earth, bears, rushing water, and a welcome retreat from the summer heat of LA.
Web-based mapping is an activity of growing importance in many countries around the world, especially in places where base map data is often scarce and out of date. Governments are collecting more and more data, including geospatial data, and are beginning to understand the social and economic benefits of sharing the data. As part of the World Bank-DFID partnership to support Open Data in the Caribbean, I was invited by a fellow GIS consultant to help him conduct one-day open mapping workshops in St. Lucia and Jamaica. How could I say no? Within a week we had made arrangements and managed to organize the TeachOSM sessions - let's do this!
The first session was held in Castries, the capitol of St. Lucia. The group was one of the sharpest and best humored that I have encountered to date. I truly enjoyed the day and was a bit disappointed by my low energy levels - I wanted to give them more. Each workshop began with a one-hour plenary session that introduced the growing ecosystem of open source mapping, including OSM, QGIS, Field Papers, and Mapillary, and was targeted to senior executives and administrators. News outlets were present, and I began the morning be elegantly knocking over the too-tall microphone right in front of the TV camera - excellent.... ! The plenary was followed by an invitation-only six-hour training on using OpenStreetMap and QGIS. The training covered basic editing skills, digitizing, an overview of aerial image interpretation in OSM, tagging protocol, and an overview of ancillary technologies important to the open map data workflow (e.g. Mapillary, FieldPapers, Overpass Turbo, etc.). There was a live demonstration and step-by-step instruction in using OSM and Open Data in QGIS. The end of the day was spent covering meta-level organization of mapping events and community management. It was a success, which made the ice-cold Piton beer at the end of the day taste even better!
We only had a few days in St. Lucia and wanted to see a bit of the island, so opted to leave a bit early for the airport and take the long, winding, route through the Pitons back to the south. I was car sick approximately 10 minutes into the 2 hour drive down the west coast to UVF. Our van was moving at what felt like record speed along roads that belong on Top Gear, but in reality when I peered up at the dash we were going a startling 40 km/hr. The west coast of the island is stunning in the dry season, and I can only imagine what a difference lush, green vegetation might make in the views. We passed through 3 towns, stood atop two breathtaking vistas, and I only just avoided losing my french toast to the Pitons. Our driver, Marvin, seemed immune by the ride, smiling all the way listening to Disney ballads, 80s classics, and rap all the way. I found myself singing along to the likes of Lady in Red and Alladin's Magic Carpet Ride. I also learned that St Lucians are very fond of country music, and that on Friday and Saturday nights young women will be found in droves out at line dances and country music venues. Sad to miss that, along with the Friday Fish Fiesta in Gros Islet! St. Lucia, I think I'll be back!
Our arrival in Kingston coincided with Caribbean Fashion Week, so there were no hotels to be found in our price range. After scrolling through an abundance of places on AirBNB, I booked 2 rooms at Moon Hill Jamaica - home of the author of the Moon Jamaica travel guide. A driver met us at the airport and whisked us away to the mansion on the hill. We arrived on Saturday, so we had time to enjoy the property and prepare for our Monday session. The guard dogs were a bit unnerving and I hope you like reggae on vinyl - it will be piped into the sound system that is audible throughout the house... bonus! The proprietor was welcoming and helpful, and the food was so good we didn't leave until Monday morning for the training! The house is gorgeous, and I highly recommend this place.
The participants in Jamaica were just as enthusiastic as those in St. Lucia. One moment will always make me laugh though - when choosing OSM user names, one participant cried out - "but Rastafarian is taken, what do I do?!" Turns out one of our St. Lucia participants had chosen the name the previous week. The participants also added a new religion to OSM, as Rastafarianism was not yet included in the OSM database. It goes to show there is always something new to map!
In Jamaica we were interviewed by Nationwide News Network and NewsTalk93 FM, and the event was covered by the Daily Observer newspaper. We were excited by the press coverage, and the opportunity to train approximately 70 people in the two countries. There was a diverse industry representation among participants, with many having previous GIS experience. I was motivated and inspired by the enthusiasm in both countries, and the experience helped me realize that the potential for TeachOSM is high.
These workshops represent first steps to realize countries based on open geo data. Technology alone will not provide the organizational structure for newly minted mappers; to sustain an open source project requires a community of active mappers, and I hope to see continued investments in open map data for the citizens of Jamaica and St. Lucia, and throughout the Caribbean. I look forward to growing TeachOSM and spreading the use of OpenStreetMap globally!
A blog post was also written for HOT that can be found here: https://hotosm.org/updates/2015-08-31_open_data_open_mapping_teachosm_in_the_caribbean
The $12, two and a half hour Bolt bus ride from Philadelphia was quiet, warm, and a bit nausea-inducing – but we managed to make it to NYC on a Friday during the summer with ease. I hopped off the bus and made my way through the hustle and bustle of the city streets into the depths of the subway. Having not been in New York for some time, I had forgotten about the absence of escalators throughout much of the subway system. Feeling a bit like a pack mule, my three bags and I made it down the long stairwells and through the throngs of fast-moving, impatient New Yorkers.
The State of the Map US conference was held at the United Nations headquarters – an impressive compound overlooking the East River. SoTM has been held each year since 2007, and is the annual conference of OpenStreetMap. This was my first SOTM in the US, and the sheer number of people was overwhelming. The conference brought together 850+ OpenStreetMappers, which made navigation a bit difficult at times, but there was no shortage of networking opportunities and there was a gorgeous rose garden on the grounds for those times when one might need peace and quiet. It was a great turnout, especially when you think that SOTM had 65 people in attendance in 2010. Much of Saturday was spent networking and meeting new people, and while not chatting in the lobby there were 3 tracks and many sessions to choose from. Saturday night the group took buses to Studio Square in Astoria, a large restaurant with a beer garden, a plethora of taps, and the chance to relax and talk even more about maps.
Sunday brought more sessions showcasing the diverse uses of OSM, including Missing Maps, Peace Corps and OSM, OpenMapKit, and Getting OSM Schools Through Geobadges. Topics were thoughtful and inspiring, and they reinforced my belief that OpenStreetMap will grow and continue to transform lives through education, disaster relief, navigation, community development - really, the applications are endless! Sunday evening a large group headed to the Staten Island Ferry to cruise past the Statue of Liberty – it was quite a feat to get that many people herded onto subways and into the same ferry! Most of the group did a u-turn as soon as we arrived at Staten Island, but 3 of us stayed behind and caught a later ferry, which allowed us to see the lights come on in the city and float past Lady Liberty ensconced in her evening glow. A fitting finale to the official conference.
At the last minute a few colleagues were unable to make the conference, so I stayed Monday to help facilitate a TeachOSM session. We had a decent turnout, and despite having half of a voice the session was a success. The idea for TeachOSM was born at the 2014 SOTM US, and it was inspiring to see this first educational session come to fruition. The TeachOSM mission is to promote and advocate the use of the OpenStreetMap platform to teach the fundamental concepts of geography and mapping - apropos!
That night was the closing session with GeoNYC at Mapzen off of Broadway, complete with pizza, beer, and more chances for noisy networking. Around 8:30 I decided to call it a night and was on my way to the subway, when a few congas, a keyboard and a xylophone in the window of a neighboring sushi restaurant caught my eye - of course I took a closer look! A nice guy out front informed me that it was Toshi's Soul Night, and the “best soul night in the city!” It was free, and his enthusiasm lured me to stick around for a few tunes. Well, despite my impending 9am flight, I couldn't seem to pull myself away. The music was fantastic, the crowd was engaged, and I had also sat down next to a lovely young woman who had performed the first set and was happy to fill me in on all kinds of fun details about the music scene and idiosyncrasies of a life in NYC. By the second set I found myself on the dance floor, and in the end my new friend and I shared an Uber to the Upper West Side, making promises to meet up again soon; a sweet ending to a busy and exciting weekend in the Big Apple! That 7am cab to JFK felt even earlier, but my thoughtful cousin had packed me snacks for the plane, check in was painless and I had no complaints - I was headed to St. Lucia for my first major TeachOSM project – this time for the World Bank!
A big thank you to the OSM Foundation for organizing such a great gathering. I am already looking forward to the next one!
The year was 2008. I fell madly in love with a place called New Orleans, and of course the annual Jazz Fest. It is one of my most cherished experiences during the year and a tradition I hope to continue - as they say, 'NOLA til you die!' As a startup business, however, finances do not always align with dreams. While in Mauritius this past March pursuing work, I thought about doing the “responsible thing” and canceling my trip. A good friend reached out and we were chatting online, so I shared my concerns. His response? “Friends do not let friends miss Jazz Fest!” Thus, my compass remained pointed toward the Crescent City.
I flew out of Baltimore on Southwest for $147 one way and arrived the Wednesday before the first weekend. Friends greeted me at the airport – a first time for me in NOLA and such a warm welcome. I would be staying the week at their home Uptown. Their generosity was a crucial component in pursuing a Jazz Fest experience. Last year was my first time flying solo in the Big Easy, and it allowed me to meet many wonderful people. One group that I met last year that I am particularly fond of is a group of men who have been meeting at Jazz Fest for years. They are a joy to be around, so this year I hoped to share some dances and laughs and catch up on their lives outside of the Fest.
Besides the unparalleled access to incredible bands, Jazz Fest draws a wonderful fan base and the positive vibes fill your soul with joy. It is an annual injection of wonderful energy. This year I was fortunate to catch Wilco, Honey Island Swamp Band, Tedeschi Trucks Band, The Who, Shovels and Rope, Dumpstaphunk, the Mardi Gras Indians, and many more. The Who killed it and my friend got us up front, Shovels and Rope put on such a fun show, and Susan Tedeschi's voice is just incredible! Well, and then there is the food.... crawfish monica, crawfish ettouffe, crawfish bread, shrimp po boys, pralines, crawfish just off the steamer.... you could eat the day away!
The first weekend the festival grounds were saturated after a week of rain, but that couldn't keep us from dancing. Our crew even rode bikes in the rain Saturday, but we were driven into a local watering hole halfway there by torrential downpours. I have been attempting to limit wardrobe additions, but my rain boots were a worthy investment! Sunday I took a break from the fest and spent some time exploring the French Quarter. That night we ended up doing a double header at Blue Nile for Worship My Organ featuring Marco Benevento, Robert Walter, Skerik, Adam Deitch, DJ Logic & DJ Kevvy Kev, and then Eric Krasno, Stanton Moore & Wil Blades late night. If you stay inside, the second show is free!
During the week I was able to spend time on work, but there were also plenty of fun distractions – many free of charge. To avoid cab fares, I had bought a bike upon arrival, so getting around was pretty easy - even in the rain. Monday there was a benefit called Instruments a Coming at Tipitina's, where I saw Rory Danger and the Danger Dangers for the first time – a super fun group with their 2 minute countdown and great sense of humor. Tuesday there was a crawfish boil house party, followed by an oyster date and more time at Blue Nile with the 'Fantastic Four' (Eric Krasno, Oteil Burbridge, Robert Walter, Cochemea Gastelum, Adam Deitch & John Staten) + Polyrhythmics. Wednesday was the 2nd year of the Oak Street Block Party - a free local fest with music on 3 stages. It was a nice bike ride from the house, and we even rode past the giraffe cages at the zoo and the Tree of Life. Oak Street featured Leftover Salmon, The Nth Power, Kung Fu, The Heard, Eddie Roberts West Coast Sounds, Sonic Bloom and Hard Proof. Great vibes and a very relaxed afternoon of music. That night it was time for more crawfish and music at a brewery with some special folks before heading Uptown to pack my bags for the next morning's flight.
New Orleans is a difficult place to leave, especially just before the 2nd weekend where Widespread Panic, Alison Kraus, Galactic, the Meters, Kermit Ruffins and Dr John would be there, but the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) Summit in DC and a wedding in Richmond were calling! A $95 flight on that Thursday was also difficult to pass up! It took a long time to walk down that jetway and was a verrry long day on the road when my plane was grounded in Atlanta for seemingly no reason. I made it to a friend's place in Alexandria in time for a few hours sleep, and Friday morning it was time to replace the top hat with my business pants!
This trip made me even more grateful for the many loving friends and family members who have opened their doors and become my pillars as I move about the world and try to get my business running. Without them, the constant motion of my life would be an even greater challenge. Meeting new people on the road can be fun and satisfying, but being able to spend time with great people year after year in a place like New Orleans is worth working for. Being able to dance with friends to your favorite musicians, and then have four more of them walk in the door? Marching down Frenchman Street to an impromptu brass band performance? I'm not sure when life on the road will turn into life with a lease and a house plant, but moments like these make life worthwhile, and help keep me moving! See you soon New Orleans! :)
After a month with the students at Lake Sibaya, our team had some planning (and resting!) to do. There was also the chance to do a drone flyover video for a new client in South Africa, so I ended up staying a few extra days at the camp to work, relax, and plan. It was out of our budget to take the Land Rover back to the airport, so I agreed to a 4 hour mini bus ride from Hluhluwe to the bus station in Durban. It was my first minibus experience in South Africa, and one of my few times traveling alone in the country.
Here's how it works... You wait in the station until every last space is full, and that's when you take off. This could take minutes or hours, depending on the demand that day. It took about an hour to fill up and we were off, all 18 of us packed in like sardines, but I was happy to be on our way. I have to admit, I was fairly uncomfortable at first in my little jump seat by the door. I speak no Zulu, had a large wheeled bag on my lap, and was the only foreigner on the bus. During the first 2 hours, the young woman behind me was dozing off, and I got a solid head butt each time she nodded forward falling asleep. She later apologized, which was welcome. We dropped people off along the way, a few just on the side of the highway where it seems like nothing could possibly be around. The bus made sufficient rest stops though, and got us safely to downtown Durban where I got off and tried to figure out what to do next. After seeing my confusion and touch of anxiety, the bus driver pointed to a few taxis across the street and off I wheeled! My flight back to Mauritius was early the next day, so I found a parked, empty taxi and he took me to Tekweni Backpackers for the night.
They didn't have much left in the way of rooms, so I took a bunk in a 6 bed dorm and was almost immediately invited out to a celebration of Francophone Africa in a local park. There were 4 of us from the backpackers, and it was nice to be in a place where I could get from point A to B without the use of a Land Rover! There was a main stage, and the area was surrounded by craft vendors, beer trucks, and food stalls. A wonderful way to spend a Saturday evening, and I was careful to walk back fairly early for my 5am shuttle to King Shaka.
It always feels like coming home to arrive to Chez Jacques, and this was no exception. My little room under the stairs was waiting, and it was a welcome respite after the camp full of students and travelers in Sibaya. That week I also had a chance to visit with some friends I had made during my visit in 2014. The photos are of a game we created for some children at a local orphanage - monster mash! Ivan even made one of my favorites that weekend - grilled Dorado & octopus potato salad, with a side of ladyfingers. Heavenly!
I also returned to the great news that someone at the University of Mauritius had heard about my talk at the Science Center and wanted to meet. I agreed, and we met at the public beach for a talk. I immediately liked the Dean, and after just a few minutes we set up a meeting where I was to present open source mapping to a group of academics and government professionals at the University. After the talk, we had a round table conversation about mapping needs in Mauritius that ranged from toxic waste sights to historic places and environmental features. It became very apparent that maps and data were needed, and that capacity building could benefit the entire country. It went well, but I walked away without any concrete plans. I had some business cards, and the Dean was to get back to me regarding the opportunity for future training at the University. Nonetheless, when I boarded the return flight to Newark just a few days later, I was feeling like I had made the right decision to follow my instincts and revisit Mauritius... You don't know unless you go!
Just a few days after my arrival in Mauritius, a Facebook message arrived from a friend in South Africa asking me to help him with a Winterdodger project in Lake Sibaya. Four students were coming from a French University to do conservation work to support Lake Sibaya - South Africa's largest freshwater lake. After some research and consideration, I decided to take the plunge. My friend needed someone with mapping experience (& equipment), and I love teaching & couldn't wait to get back to SA! Not a bad combo, and there were also a few safaris to Tembe & St Lucia on the books. After some negotiation on room/board/sleeping arrangements, I was booked and ready to go!
I flew into Durban on Valentine's Day and had a great reunion with an old friend. We had spent 3 months traveling through southern Africa in 2013, and it was wonderful to catch up (there may have been a bit of Windhoek lager and tequila involved as well!). We had a full day before the students arrived, so we explored Durban and planned the next few weeks. As it turned out, this would be the first group of students to arrive for the Save Sibaya project, so there was quite a clean slate! General plan? Map animals, nests, plants, roads, houses, paths - everything, really - in and around Lake Sibaya with the goal of slowing the draining of the lake, saving the remaining wildlife strengthening the community, and protecting the area from further degradation. Part of the area around the lake forms part of the Isimangaliso Wetlands Park, however much of the area remains unprotected. The lake is threatened by development, excessive poaching, and reduction of water levels due to regional consumption. Blue gum trees are a major contributor to this, as they consume 80 to 200 liters of water PER DAY.
The students flew in the next day , and they were very excited to be greeted by the Landie at King Shaka International. They called themselves 'Team Wild Africa', and would spend the next 4 weeks building a comprehensive database of species around Lake Sibaya and also exploring the many national parks and reserves nearby. It was a four hour trek to the 'compound' at Sibaya, so after collecting supplies at the big mall we headed off!
The first week we focused on collecting data on cycads - these ancient plants have a long fossil history, are slow growing, and can be sold for high dollar on the market. Once mapped, these plants can then be protected from poaching. After basic data collection skills were learned, the students began collecting data and GPS locations on everything we could find on our hikes and drives through the area - invasive species, homesteads, bird nests, elephant shrew holes, hippo paths - you name it! There were some challenges, as none of our team speaks French and the students had very little English, but after some hurdles we got our points across! Another reason to work on my French!
The weekends we had quite a few excursions. We did game drives in Tembe Elephant Park, did an overnight and a boat safari in St. Lucia, visited a cheetah rehab facility, did a safari in Mkhuze National Park, and spent time on the beaches around Sodwana Bay. During one of our visits we were fortunate to see a bull elephant crossing the road, but one of the noisier students let out a yell ... in that moment I truly thought we were goners as the elephant peered into my soul and began to trumpet. Afraid does not even begin to describe how I felt! Lucky for us he finally kept going across the road, but we promised to bring duct tape on any further safaris for noisy students! Yes, there are dangers out there... No monkey bites, but I was dinner for a spider this trip, and have a nice new scar souvenir. Lucky for me, I did not host any spider eggs or awake to them crawling out of my leg! Yikes. The tent was scrubbed of webs after that experience!
I only had a month before I had to return to Mauritius for more work with the University, but I was really glad I went. It's such a beautiful region, and I think we have the opportunity to have a positive impact on the area. It was an enlightening beginning for the Save Sibaya Project team, of which I am now honored to be a part. There were many challenges with the programming and lessons learned, but overall it was a success and a positive experience for the students. I believe 2 of them are already planning a return trip to our camp! I fell in love with the camp and the project, and look forward to returning in the fall for more conservation mapping work - this time through South Africa, Mozambique and into Malawi for October. Stay tuned!
If you want to participate in Save Sibaya we are accepting volunteers and donations to help with supplies, camp construction, and work at the community center! Contact me for any additional details on current projects!
Before arriving in Mauritius, the US Embassy passed along the email of an American woman with a Fulbright Scholarship working on community based research and mapping around climate change for one year. Her immediate and enthusiastic response to my message was part of the equation that got me onto that plane. She was already working with a boys school supporting efforts to develop a green roof and opportunities for green learning. I threw out my idea for a MapGirlz workshop and she began putting the wheels in motion. We met a few days after I arrived and we hit it off immediately; perhaps it was because I still had the American 'do it now' attitude that she had missed all those months in Mauritius.
Thus, through her connections my new colleague was able to establish 2 days of workshops with a local girls secondary school. I rented a car and drove north to pick up my colleague, and we traveled together across the island to Roche Noir. It is a small island (approx. 787 square miles), but it was quite a trek! Dogs, trucks, pedestrians, bikes, buses... defensive driving might be the way to go here! We made it to the east, and luckily Simadree State Secondary School was difficult to miss – it is a big pink building on the outskirst of town. With time for lunch, we stopped at Le Pride Snack for some noodles - a great find!
After too many noodles, we approached the pink school to young girls in uniform smiling and waving from the plaza and balconies. We were greeted by the school Principal and shown to the classroom. The students were already seated, but the first two rows were completely empty. I gave the girls a big smile and urged them to move up. After a moments consideration, they obliged. It was the first of two 80-minute sessions where I would be introducing the girls to the world of maps and GIS; no small feat.
There were 23 girls and they happened to be learning about geography and maps in another class, so that set the stage. We had the girl come up and mark their home towns and favorite places in Mauritius on a paper map we hung on the wall. The Principal found this exercise very useful, as he pointed out that many of the girls likely hadn't made it to the southern part of Mauritius. We followed the exercise with an overview of mapping and different applications of GIS, and then introduced Field Papers; a tool that would allow the girls to map offline and in the field. I had asked for a list of each student's home village, and pre-printed the atlas pages them to fill in. We then discussed the importance of the legend and talked a bit about scale. The students were given the mission of mapping 5 different things in their villages and creating their own detailed legends, and we sent them on their way!
One week later we returned for a second lecture and to see what the girls had produced. A few were frantically drawing as I walked in – I guess there are procrastinators in every group! After a short lecture about OpenStreetMap and other open source mapping applications, we broke into two smaller groups to share the maps. I was blown away by the level of detail on some of the maps. One girl quietly approached me, apologizing for not having brought her map because it was "too big". She had done a map of her entire village, but was embarrassed to drag it on the bus to school. We are still tracking down this map - I cannot wait to see it! The session went quickly, and the girls were eager and excited to do more mapping, particularly with OpenStreetMap and GPS units.
Feedback was positive, and the girls discovered some new things about their communities as they looked around with a new perspective. There will now be additional data on the map where nothing existed previously. The teachers present were also excited about the topic, and I hope that we can hold more workshops for Mauritian students in the future. The Field Papers will be uploaded to OpenStreetMap and traced so that the data collected will be visible by everyone in the world. The MapGirlz dream became a brief reality in Mauritius, and I hope it spreads to all corners of the globe!
Prior to my arrival in Mauritius, a contact at the US Embassy suggested I reach out to the Rajiv Gandhi Science Center (RGSC) about mapping and GIS. It was great advice. My emails to the Director and his staff at the RGSC in Port Louis were met with enthusiasm, and I was invited to a meeting promptly upon arrival. It was a nice facility where learning opportunities began in a brilliant front garden and play area. The mission of the cetner is to serve as a provider of non-formal education and popularization of Science and Technology among the population through various media. They hold frequent presentations and take their programs into the community – teaching local people and students how to make sundials or solar cookers, about cell structures, how root systems work, and more.
When I walked into the main offices, I immediately liked the Director of the Center. He was full of positive energy and had an open mind regarding mapping education. During our meeting he invited me to present at the Center to an audience of approximately 200 people. I had two weeks to put together a presentation about open source mapping & GIS for an audience of professors, ministry staff, and high school students. I wanted to appeal to varied interests and skill levels, and hopefully everyone would walk away having learned something new.
The final presentation included a dash of GIS history, applications of GIS, past Boomerang projects, aerial imagery (including balloon mapping, drones and satellite) and data collection.The Chief GIS person within the government also presented about how the technology was being used in Mauritius, adding some local flare. It was my first time presenting to such a large group and I was pretty nervous, but my voice slowly came down an octave & I adjusted to the headset. I even had a bit of fun walking through the audience Bob Barker style to pick on participants for questions and activities. My gadgets got the attention I expected, with many questions about the UAV. I rewarded any answered questions with candy – which at one point led to laughter as I handed an attending policeman a piece of candy and he joked that I would stoop to bribery for audience participation. At the end, there were a few professionals lined up down the aisle waiting to meet me and find out how they could use mapping in their business and industry. I was thankful to RGSC for the opportunity, and am curious to see where it might lead. Hopefully I'll be able to teach some courses there in the coming year, but at least it was very good practice in public speaking!
For many people that travel, regular checkups and health appointments can be difficult to figure out, and very often staying on top of your health means finding emergency care should something go awry. As an American without health insurance, I try to inquire about medical care options wherever I'm traveling. It had been more than a year since I had seen a dentist, so I asked around. I don't know many people who like the dentist, and usually visits in any country are accompanied by tales of terror.... This I was trying to avoid!
There happened to be a dentist 5 minutes down the road, where the manager of the Chez Jacques had gone the previous week without incident. I decided to investigate. I found the small office tucked in the nearby shopping strip, and the receptionist happened to be outside smoking with a neighboring shop owner. She was able to take me for a cleaning the next day. I walked in Tuesday afternoon 10 minutes early with a book, expecting to wait. I was greeted by the dentist and receptionist, and brought directly back. No forms, no fuss, and everything looked clean. After 5 basic questions, I was reclined into the purple chair and the games commenced.
My cleaning began with a metal instrument that sounded like a couple of sharks attempting to chew through a metal roof... The sound was so excruciatingly piercing I thought there might be a pack of dogs waiting outside the office. I guess my teeth needed a cleaning, and he was thorough. After a few minutes I began to feel like a an old Dodge pickup with someone tinkering under the hood. I closed my eyes and thought those happy thoughts...
When that glorious symphony had finished, the sand blasting began! I believe he used baking soda, but it could also have been lemon Ajax. The safety glasses were crucial - the pressure was so high my entire face was covered in powder and droplets of blood by the end. After some major rinsing, the dentist assured me that we weren't quite finished... Reclining slowly back into the antiseptic comfort of that purple chair, he began searching for the English words for what was to come... "You know the volcano rock that floats?" Ahh, let me think ... Pumice? Yes, he was going to polish my teeth with pumice. Hey, why not?
I have to admit, this I kind of enjoyed. It was gritty, but didn't taste too awful - and by the end my teeth felt incredibly clean. I gave it a few more rinses and when he said we were finished, I exited ejector-seat style. I paid my 1800 rupees, we discussed why an American was seeing a dentist in Tamarin, and I was out the door. My teeth were clean, I had been talked through each step with no major harm done, and I saved about $100. The reason to come to Mauritius? Probably not, but I do recommend that every traveler be proactive when it comes to their health and take advantage of opportunities as they arise. Ask around for recommendations, check out the office in advance, and make sure you can understand the procedure.
The delay in Paris was due to cyclones in Mauritius but we left around midnight and headed south on our 11 hour journey. Air Mauritius is not in the top 5 for entertainment options, but I did have the opportunity to daydream every time the reel of beautiful Mauritius scenery appeared on screen.
We arrived a few hours later than expected to a gray, rainy day - but it was 50 degrees warmer than Philadelphia... I was not complaining! I was met by a taxi and whisked across the island to my Mauritian home-away-from-home, Guest House Chez Jacques. I noticed some changes along the hour-long journey including a new gas station and a few new developments - buildings grow quickly in Mauritius! I received a warm welcome by Italians #2, 3 &4, and Snow (the dog). It was surreal to be back after one year, but I was excited for the new adventure. It was amazing how many of the locals remembered me from the previous year, and I fell right back into my old routines (which included morning beach visits, mine or roti for lunch, and Mana's or Jacques for dinner!).
Within my first week I managed to set up 2 meetings and reunions with 3 friends I had met the previous year. This may not sound like a lot to busy people, but for Mauritius it was a big deal. These meetings led to bookings to do a presentation at the Rajiv Gandhi Science Center for approximately 200 people and some mapping workshops with high schools on the island - all to happen in the coming weeks! I was also making maps for some clients and preparing for a presentation at the Baltimore Social Innovation Journal Pitch Day, so I spent a great deal of time at my Chez Jacques 'office'. The weather helped my concentration - during the first 10 days we had torrential downpours, and during the next 5 the ocean and river were so brown that swimming was not really an option!
I befriended Italian #3, a kite surfer, so on those rare sunny days I joined her at Le Morne peninsula, a popular kite destination and a World Heritage Site at the southwestern tip of the island. It is a gorgeous spot with a dark history. The peninsula was notorious in the early 19th century as a refuge for runaway slaves. After the abolition of slavery in Mauritius, on 1 February 1835 a police expedition traveled there to inform the slaves that they had been freed. However, the purpose of the expedition was misunderstood and the slaves jumped to their deaths from the rock. Since then the date is celebrated by Mauritian creoles as the Commemoration of the Abolition of Slavery.
We also enjoyed Cavadee during this time. Thaipoosam cavadee is a festival celebrated by Mauritians whose ancestors originated from Tamil Nadu, India. Devotees to the cult of Muruga, accompanied by relatives and friends, will gather near river banks for the ablution rituals. Dressed in fuchsia cloth, they will join the officiating priest in prayers and mantra-chanting. Fruits, incense sticks, rose water, milk and clarified butter are offered as oblations around sacrificial fires for self-purification and sanctifying the kavadis. Kavadis are arched bamboo structures supported by wooden rods and richly decorated with fragrant flowers, coconut tree leaves, lime and peacock feathers, and are carried or dragged by each devotee to the temple. Many people offer their flesh to the 'vels' (sharp needles) or pikes that pierce through their cheeks, forehead, or tongue and commits them to silence and honors Lord Muruga.
This year Italian #3 and I joined 2 Hindu neighbors for the event, so we entered temple and also received the warm milk offering which is poured into your hands and consumed. Afterwards we shared in the festivities and were given rice and veggies on palm leaves along with a delicious fruit beverage. Everyone was welcome to the festival and we could have enjoyed the full day, but I had a presentation to prepare for... MapGirlz Mauritius was to debut the following day!
Combining my passion for travel, the desire to make a difference and my love of maps, I founded BoomGeo in 2014 to improve access to geospatial technology & data through education & consulting.
WYPR: Interview on 'Baltimore's Future' with David Warnock
Baltimore Social Innovation Journal - Winter 2015
OpenStreetMap US: "Say Hello to Our Argentina Scholars"
Unless otherwise noted, all prose, poetry, maps and photography posted on this blog are Copyright 2013 Maggie Maps
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