Friday, September 22, 2017

Fruits of Mauritius - Watouk

I recently heard about an obscure fruit from Mauritius called Watouk. After asking for help, I got this from Bashdev: "Watouk also known as clidemia hirta produces berries. Called locally as fraise lolou"

An RCPL74 friend found a paper about the plant. I believe you get it around Plaine Champaigne - where we get goyaves de Chine.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Origins of my Violin - Part Deux

I wrote a blog post a while ago about this and just got some new information. It's possible that the 2 sisters we bought my violin from raised Frances Tursan D'Espaignet, who became a Maths teacher at St Joseph college in Mauritius. One of the sisters taught piano, and the other taught violin. Frances D'Espaignet was an orphan raised by his 2 aunts. Frances D'Espaignet eventually built a house and lived on La Rue Blondeau in Rose-Hill.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma is now gone. I now have some time to reflect on the Hurricane (aka Cyclone) experience in the US compared to Mauritius.

Main differences :

Hurricane prep. In Mauritius, Hurricane prep does not include buying a weather radio (because most households have radios already), or bottled water (because most houses have a water tank above the house; or 'bassins' around the house, and/or we fill up all available large containers with water). In the US, the run on bottled water and gas always surprises me. I am not sure why folks don't just fill up their large pots and pans with water (do people not have large pots and pans anymore ?). The run on gas is understandable because in the US we have the option to evacuate and drive out of the path of the hurricane. No such option in Mauritius.

Hurricane prep in Mauritius also does not generally include 'boarding up' your house. Mostly because the old wooden colonial houses have 'built in' shutters already - you just have to close them. New houses are made of reinforced concrete with strong windows (I don't think we have shutters on the concrete houses). In the US, we typically have a run on plywood that we cut to board up our windows.

A big part of hurricane prep in Mauritius involves taking down your outdoor TV antenna and is, unfortunately, one of the major causes of fatalities - folks getting electrocuted while on their roofs.

US weather services do not use a warning class 1-4 like in Mauritius. Makes sense since US and in this case florida is so much bigger than Mauritius (~ 83x). Otherwise they would need to issue a different 'Warning class' for each location. Which they 'kind of' do - they issue a Hurricane Watch, then a warning when it gets more serious. At least that's what I think they do - the definitions for the terms are on the NOAA site.

US weather services tend to use a 'cone' which can be confusing as some people think it represents the area expected to experience the worst winds, when if fact it represents projected trajectory of center of hurricane (I might not be exactly right here, so if someone knows better, please let me know).

Communicating with friends and relatives in the aftermath of the hurricane is very different. In Mauritius, the phone service is always down at some point during a hurricane hit, but somehow everyone eventually knows what happened to you. The general assumption is you fared the same as them, since the place is relatively small, and exceptional damage is transmitted rapidly by word of mouth. In the US, these days social media is the main method. I found Facebook updates the most efficient. Single post - most friends. Then Whatsapp for relatives.

Another difference in the aftermath is in Florida, a lot of folks who don't have power just move to a hotel. No such behaviour has so far been observed in Mauritius.

I think that covers the differences.

The things that are the same are:

run on batteries before the hurricane
trimming of trees ideally well before hurricanes
glued to the TV weather services for updates in the lead-up and during
power loss at some point during
waiting for power to be restored and dealing with no power
no school (Yippie ! :-) )
cleanup and repairs

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Success and Wealth

I overheard someone talking about this topic, and it triggered a flood of thoughts in my mind. Is wealth the same as success? If you are poor, does that mean you have failed at life? I think the answer to both questions is NO! Here is a graph of those metrics:
What the graph aims to show is that Wealth and success are orthogonal- i.e. they are statistically independent. That is my opinion/guess. One of the difficulties with this topic is that while it can be argued that wealth can be objectively measured (ignoring issues like the value of your health), success is probably a very subjective measure. The definitions I came across were "the accomplishment of an aim or purpose" and/or "the attainment of popularity or profit". The talk I overheard was a religious one, and the argument was that success is practicing the virtues, while failure is wallowing in the vices. Even if you are not religious though, it is worth pausing to think about what you are trying to achieve with your life. Is it wealth? Or Success? (or Happiness or Health .... or....)

Friday, September 09, 2016

Wedding dinner - Bride's side

Mauritius wedding trip - Part 4

This one was similar to the Wedding dinner on the boy's side, except that the order of arrival was reversed. This time (since we were on the girl's side), we arrived 'mid-way' through the proceedings, and tried to make a fanfare. The dinner was held at Rabita Hall.

Again, there was a podium where the bride and groom sat, and guests would go up and chat with them, and near the end of the dinner, would take pictures with them.

Wedding dinner - Groom's side

Mauritius wedding trip - Part 3

A Mauritian Muslim wedding dinner is a unique experience. Hundreds of people invited to some of the largest halls on the Island, expecting to be fed the best beef biryani you can imagine, immediately without delay.

Because of the number of guests and the fact that everyone expects to be served as soon as they arrive; an enormous amount of food has to be cooked on premises, and has to be ready just around the time the guests arrive. There is also an army of servers who then deploy the food often in bucket brigade style.

The biryani is usually served with cucumber and carrot salad as well as a selection of 'zachards' (aka achard ... e.g. mango achard ). A fairly recent type of zachards is 'apple' zachards. However, for me, the unbeatable condiment to eat with a good biryani is zachards tambarin (tamarind achard). Mindblowing ! :-)

The wedding dinner on the boys' side, was held at the Port-Louis Gymkhana. We were welcome by the groom's relatives when we got there, and sat at a table and ate the delicious food. Desert was Halwa dal gram - not my favorite thing in the world.

The hall had a podium where the bride was seated, and guests would go up and talk to her.

As we were about done eating, the groom and his 'posse' turned up in a fanfare and he went up to the podium to sit next to his bride, while the posse sat down to eat.

After most people had dinner, each 'family' then takes turn to go up to the podium to congratulate the couple and take pictures with them.

At some point the wedding cake is cut, but I had fully entered food coma by then, so I cannot quite remember when that happened.

So there you have it. We stayed till the end, when the bride and groom left together in the 'carosse marize' (wedding car).


Mauritius wedding trip - Part 2

We were in Mauritius for a wedding and this is a post on the actual religious wedding ceremony that took place on Saturday. The name for a Muslim wedding is 'Nikah'.

The Nikah was held at the Masjid La Rue Vellore aka Noor-E-Islam Masjid, and it was to take place just after the 'Asr prayers (mid-afternoon). As usual, it was hot. Thankfully, I was wearing some light Indian clothes, and so was Adam, our 6 year old. Rehana and Iman went to the back of the Masjid to the ladies side, and I loitered outside the Masjid with Adam, since he was not too keen on going it yet (or was it me who wanted to stay on the streets ? ... can't remember). Once the 'Asr prayers were over, we started to make our way inside the Masjid.

As the groom came to the Masjid, there were a few girls blocking the door. Part of Mauritian Muslim tradition (I believe) - Groom had to pay them off to let him out. He came prepared and had a bunch of envelopes with money.

The standard formula for the Muslim wedding is the groom and 2 'witnesses' from the bride's side have to be there, as well as the Imam (who conducts the proceedings - although it does not have to be an Imam). Everyone sits down on the carpet, and the Iman starts by saying some stuff (generally about how marriage is a good thing), and then piles into it. He announces to the gathering at large that we are here for the wedding of (bride's name) to (groom's name), then he talks to the bride's witnesses and asks them if the bride agrees to this union. If he hears a yes, he then asks the same question of the groom. Once he hears the 'yes', the marriage is done and he then asks for blessings for the happy couple. Everyone stands up and a line forms to hug the groom. That's usually my cue to go look for our shoes. We then loitered around inside the Masjid until most people have left, and when we leave, we each get a 'cake'. I think it is part of the Muslim tradition to have something sweet at the end of the wedding.

This is what happened at the guys' side. What happens at the girl's side ? I have no clue since I was not there. Adam and I walked to the back of the Masjid and waited, and waited, and waited. Fortunately there were a bunch of other husbands out there waiting for their other halves. I heard the delay was due to the groom could not put her shoes back on, since she was wearing the full western wedding dress. Two other ladies had to dive in there and find her feet. Hehehe - someone should have recorded that.

Once the bride came out, the 'wedding car' whisked her away with her new husband sitting in the back of the car.

Next event was the Dinner - boys side....

Friday, August 05, 2016


Mauritius wedding trip - Part 1

We are in Mauritius for a wedding and this is a post on the Mehendi ceremony that took place last night in the depths of 'camp Lascars' aka Plaine Verte - right by the football stadium 'Mamad Elahee'. The ceremony is named after the plant used for making 'henna' and is usually the first of a series of events that make up the traditional Mauritian Muslim wedding. Part of the ceremony is that the bride gets her hand and feet decorated with those henna patterns.

The ceremony/celebration took place in a hall next to the bride's place. My wife is related to the bride.

We got there just after 7pm, and there were a few folks there already (all from the bride's side) eating dinner. After greetings, we sat down and got our plates of food delivered. It was curried chicken with basmati rice with a cucumber salad and there was mango kutcha.

We had a few 'servers' with more food to pile onto your plate. The custom is they will try and keep filling your plate as you eat. If you refuse, they will ask:

Faire moi plaisir ...!
Rough translation would be:
I would be so happy if you would eat some more...

After everyone has had dinner, we then moved to the other end of the hall, where we had a stage meant for the bride (and groom ?) and chairs laid out to face them. While waiting for the bride, someone mentioned that they had brought a ravane. I was volunteered to sing, so decided to write something. With help from a team of people, we came up with two Segas for the occasion, and kept practicing. The idea was we were going to sing it before the bride-grooms' side came over. Then someone suggested we had to warm up the ravane - we went down to the kitchen and used the gas burner.

The grooms' side then arrived and brought with them lots of trays full of gifts - including the wedding dress, shoes, cosmetics, sweets, etc, etc...

After the groom's side settled into their seats, (without the groom - he does not get to attend the Mehendi), we then went up by the stage and performed our segas.

We then resumed the normal mehendi (performing a sega at a mehendi is definitely NOT part of the normal Mehendi).

A variety of finger food was then served to all the guests (samoosas, mini quiches, crab rangoons, banana tart, and of course the napolitaines). Food was followed by guava juice.

Then there were lots of photo sessions with the bride, the groom's side left with trays of gifts for the groom. More photo sessions with the bride, followed by freshly fried gateaux piments and tea.

A dominoes session started at the back of the hall, and I also saw someone come in with a soccer ball. By that time, it was 11pm and time to go. Adam had been running around with the rest of the kids and now wanted to go to the car.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

On the future of work, and life

The current employment market in the US is not the best it's ever been. That would be stating the situation mildly. Although, thankfully, unemployment rates have come down from the over 10% rates just after the 2007 great recession, there is still a lot of underemployment (14.5% currently), and young people are still finding it hard to land a job. The worrying news is that things are likely to get worse. There are increasing reports that the economic situation is about to take a turn for the worse - mainly as a result of the fiscal floods of Quantitative Easings. Also, a lot more of current work is about to get automated by increasingly useful AI (Artificial Intelligence) computer systems. This raises the prospect of increasingly large percentages of the working age population finding it harder to find work in the near future. Are there new ways of life these days that does not require a 'steady job' ?