What Mauritians Can Teach Us

Marceline has a large, but very old stone in her kitchen. It’s from her grandmother, who got it from her mother – so it has been passed down through many generations. With this stone and its accompanying stone roller she can quickly grind spices, grains, even make tomato sauce as you can see in the picture. What you can’t see is that this stone is right next to the microwave! It’s an interesting accommodation of old and new.

Mauritians know well the strategy of accommodation. With four main population groups – none more than 50% of the population – they have learned to accommodate each other in order to exist peacefully on their small island.

How do they do this you might ask? To begin with, many Mauritians speak most of the languages of each of these four ethnic groups (Hindi with Tamil, Creole, French and English). Our hosts spoke all four languages at home and we observed this was true of neighbors, teachers, store employees, bus drivers and others. To know the language of another is to have some understanding of their worldview and perspective. It takes effort to learn another’s language which says that they are important and worth understanding. But learning four languages? This is normal for many Mauritians and says something about the importance of being able to understand and engage with those from different cultural backgrounds.

Their governmental system also works to accommodate. When candidates are voted into office – if one minority group has no candidates who gain enough votes for office a designated number of “best losers” from that group are automatically given seats. In this way each group is assured of representation in their parliament. It was also interesting to watch on TV as legislators in the parliament spoke English if they wanted to be efficient and concise. They switched to French if they were making and emotional or impassioned plea, but then used Creole to be emphatic. Everyone understood.

Mauritius is geographically about the size of Hennepin County with about the same population – yet Mauritius provides free health care and education for all of its citizens – something we have yet to accomplish in the U.S. Mauritius insists on accommodating each and every citizen with the basic human rights of health care and education.

Even navigating narrow neighborhood streets, Mauritians rarely use their horns, except with a light tap on the horn to say “I’m right behind you.” Drivers allow other drivers the right of way. Accommodation.

Where we stayed, in the area of Rose Hill, we noticed something wonderful – within our immediate neighborhood we heard the large bells from St. Anne’s Church on the corner, the ringing of many small bells from the Hindu Temple on the next street and the call to prayer from the Mosque down the way. In Rose Hill, people of different cultural backgrounds share the same neighborhood, they don’t live in separate neighborhoods or enclaves. While they speak their own languages and maintain their own cultural and religious traditions, at the same time they also share a neighborhood together and know each other as neighbors and friends.

Relationships are not perfect. Racism and discrimination exist, but Mauritians have learned to embrace diversity in ways that the rest of the world has yet to learn.

Below is a picture of our friend Chris. He is a dedicated science teacher, an inventor, great cook and a musician. He and his family extended wonderful hospitality to us throughout our trip – welcoming visitors who were different and embracing diversity. Yet one more way accommodating.

Going forward, it is not enough to simply tolerate differences or to merely coexist. Our survival as a species and as a planet depends upon our ability to embrace and seek out diversity. Mauritians offer this critical skill to the world.

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An Invitation to Mauritius

Traveling is always an amazing opportunity to learn and grow. I like to travel – but I prefer travel with a purpose. Almost two years ago I visited Slovenia in order to present a paper at a conference – and to learn about Slovenia and Slovenians. This year I had the opportunity to travel in order to teach and to learn as well.

Recently, we visited the nation of Mauritius thanks to a generous invitation from our good friends, Marcel and Marceline, who live there. Where is Mauritius you might ask? Mauritius is east of Madagascar – the large island off the eastern coast of Africa. Go east of Madagascar to Mauritius – a small island in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

Traveling to Mauritius requires two very long plane rides. The first half of the trip is an eight-hour plane ride to Paris (or Amsterdam) and the second is a twelve hour flight to Mauritius.

Situated in the tropics, near the equator, Mauritius was just beginning its winter season when we were there – end of March, early April. Nevertheless, it was quite hot and humid by our standards – although this was relative. It was perceived as cooler by those who live there, compared to the even hotter summer temps.

Our hosts live in the area of Rose-Hill outside of Port Louis, the capital city. This is the northwestern area of the island. Breadfruit, sour sop (tastes like a passion fruit, a very large passion fruit!), bananas and more grew in the courtyard area of their house. In addition, Marceline created a beautiful container garden along the stairway up to their front door.

Picture1Picture2 Come along with me as we explore the country of Mauritius.

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Mauritius Embracing Diversity

Mauritius, 2017

Survival Requirement: Embracing Diversity

Dr. Roxanne Meshar, M.Div., D.Min.

Thank you for your invitation and generous hospitality! Also I’d like to thank Mary’s Pence (maryspence.org) for their endorsement letter and ongoing support of my work. It is an honor for me to be here with all of you.

My professional background is posted here.

In order for participants to more easily view or translate my presentation (using a smart phone), the presentation slide text follows.

Creator Spirit

Help us respond to our call to be members of one family.

Guide us to constant peaceful concern for sisters and brothers throughout the world.

Make us mindful of the needs of those who endure the injustices of war, hunger, poverty,

that we may live in harmony and unity with others.

Renew our commitment to our global family.

Beyond Borders, Catholic Relief Services

 

There is no “objective” reporting or writing

  • Every article, book, report has a point of view – cultural, historical, linguistic, geographical or psychological
  • The question:  is the bias disclosed?

 

Whose story
and how we tell it

  • History of American First Nations
  • History of chattel slavery in North America
  • Who decides? Who benefits?

 

Learn how to identify events and systems

  • Creating a system of under privilege and over privilege in the U.S.
    • Representative government benefits elites
    • Pay for education with property taxes
  • Always ask, “Who benefits?”

 

Wealth transfer and poverty creation in our time

  • Inequality in pay creates generational poverty
  • Charity – who benefits?
  • Unregulated capitalism allows unethical businesses to monopolize industries, create laws for their own benefit

 

What to do?

  • Help build awareness and empathy “muscles”
  • Develop and enrich our own personhood through engagement with those who are different

 

Exercises can build diversity awareness and empathy

  • Identify our own social location
  • “Simon Says” or My View games
  • Games can teach values of sharing, cooperation, inclusion

 

Embracing diversity is not optional – it is required for our survival

  • Diversity creates cultural richness
  • Increases our curiosity about others
  • Builds awareness, empathy, resilience
  • Develops our personhood, humanity
  • Is a critical survival skill

 

Embracing diversity:

  • Informed by Christian Doctrine of Trinity
  • Political, subversive, dangerous
  • Yet essential for our survival and the survival of our planet

 

Workshop

  • Demonstration of fast, easy exercises for all ages
  • Helps to develop empathy and compassion “muscles” for life

Thank you. Merci.

The Workshop: Here you will see demonstrations of fun, quick and easy exercises that help build compassion and empathy (collected over the years and around the web) –

Simon Says uses the childhood game of the same name to show that not everyone begins life with the same advantages.

My View allows us to learn from points of view different from our own.

Stand Where You Stand – for now. Our opinions and ideas are always changing.

Describing our social location reminds us that our point of view is quite limited!

Popular games can also be a source of learning. Prophetopoly (by Jeff Dols, Monopoly in reverse), the game of Life and others can be played with the same rules, but the objectives are changed so that all are cared for. This helps build cooperation, compassion, empathy.

Endlessly Connected

prairie & smoothies 007These last few days of summer vacation before school begins allow for some relaxation and reflection. Recently the prairie in our development was mowed. While it was growing, we could see how butterflies, fireflies, hawks, chipmunks, rabbits, and birds of every color made the prairie their home. Until the prairie returns I’ll miss its color, scent, green coolness and soft textures. The prairie was an entire ecosystem – all interconnected and interdependent – the way our planet is interconnected, but in miniature.

We are a part of this interconnectedness and interdependence. Our health depends on the health of the planet and all the species who exist within its biosphere.

The lie of our culture is that we are somehow separate, competitive individuals. Ancient wisdom and modern science tell a very different story. Greed and violence happen when we are less than human. We are all interconnected and interdependent. Our natural inclination is to cooperate, to support, to care and to collaborate. This is what indigenous cultures have known for thousands of years. This is what the world’s major religions teach.

Because we are interconnected, those who suffer elsewhere on the planet are a part of us. The suffering of others hurts us in ways that we don’t yet understand – but nevertheless it hurts us – even if it is because we may become callous to its existence, our hearts hardened.

Our inability to care for ourselves, each other and the entire planet happens when we are less than who we are meant to be. This inability to care is the root cause of violence on every level – verbal, emotional, psychological, spiritual and physical.

Love and care begin within. Health begins within. We must learn to speak kindly to ourselves within our own minds. We must learn to fully respect our bodies and minds. Eat and drink only what brings health to every cell. Watch and participate in activities that inspire, delight and challenge.

We can endlessly shape and change our minds, bodies and relationships. One practice is to start each day by making just one choice that is healthier than before – either physically, emotionally, spiritually or mentally. After just two weeks a change can become a habit. Justice begins within.

Those made poor also offer us a chance to open our hearts and grow. They offer us an opportunity to change – to become engaged, to learn about how we create poverty. Those made poor offer us a way to become healthy by becoming more connected, more compassionate, more fully human.