Believe it or not, this is my final week in the South Seas.
In just a few days I’ll be beginning the long journey home to the US, figuratively and literally speaking. Although rather than taking what is officially the world’s longest “domestic” commercial flight between Reunion and Paris (more than twice the distance between New York and LA), I’ll be making stopovers on neighboring Mauritius Island, Johannesburg, and Abu Dhabi before arriving in Chicago. My brother is totally jealous because I’m going to be having dinner in Johannesburg at a place called “Carnivore” where every kind of meat you can imagine comes served to your table on a Massai spear on an all you can eat basis until you literally raise a white flag in the middle of your table in defeat. Seven months of bananas and mangos and I’m ready for some red meat.
Before I leave though, allow me to bring you up to date one last time on some of the latest Reunion banter I hear about in the teacher’s lounge.
The Prime Minister of Mauritius recently made some strong remarks about the people of Reunion, including accusations that Reunion could not exist were it not for the assistance of others. It’s a fact. The most expensive highway in France runs along the west coast of Reunion. Roughly 30% of Reunion’s labor force is unemployed, living on generous social benefits from the metropole. Generally speaking, Reunion produces very little in exchange for all that it consumes from the French Republic. Yet coming from the Prime Minister of Reunion’s sole sister island (soul sister island? that too), it struck some serious nerves.
The local paper included the following quote from the PM’s speech: “Sarkozy a demandé aux Réunionnais pourquoi ils n’agissent pas comme les Mauriciens. Pourquoi doit-il à chaque fois verser de grosses sommes d’argent pour les Réunionnais.” (Sarkozy has asked the people of Reunion why they won’t behave like Mauritians. Why does he have to dump great amounts of money on the people of Reunion all the time?)
Mauritius, on the other hand, has had to pull itself up by its own bootstraps since it became independent from the United Kingdom in 1968 and has done well at it. Let’s just say they’re proud of the fact and not afraid to point out the distinctly “made in France” approach of their neighbors.
Moreover, the island of Mayotte is now officially the 101st département of France, reigniting a heated regional conflict with the Union of the Comoros, which still claims the island with UN backing. How Mayotte, with its strongly Islamic culture, will coexist with the recent anti-Niqab legislation applicable on all French soil, is beyond me.
In any event, the French have been in the Indian Ocean for centuries. In a few days, there will be one less American. It has been a wild and exciting experience living here, and I hope to find truth in the Malagasy proverb that I will not attempt to transliterate but instead paraphrase that “the world is round, and as such, if you leave a place, you’re bound to come back full circle at some point.”