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 a passion for travel, the desire to make a difference & a love of maps, MaggieMaps was born.
Unless otherwise noted, all prose, poetry, maps and photography posted on this blog are Copyright 2013 Maggie Maps
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