Category Archives: postcolonialism

Au revoir, Reunion Island (made in France)

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.”

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Filed under Burqa Ban, postcolonialism

“The French empire strikes back”

I wish I had come up with that title sooooo much! Is it too late to change the name of this blog?  Anyhow, check out this article in the Times which addresses the lunacy of French postcolonial thought.  http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article6971605.ece?token=null&offset=0&page=1

My research at Middlebury involved a good deal of trying to understand why France took on colonies in some of the most obscure places on the planet without any material or strategic advantage to be gained (why on Earth would you want to colonize the Sahara?).   The Spanish and British at least had empirial visions based on natural (and human) resources, trade, and activity that generated revenue and security for European interests, good or evil.  For France however, it all boils down to national pride and historical jealousies.   The article is a fascinating critique, and I have to agree with many of the author’s observations – especially that Reunion must be the most beautiful place “in France”.  And it gives you a good glimpse of what life is like here in the “Dom-Toms”.

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What do Islam and Barbies have in common?

Not long ago, the French government passed a law banning the burqa in public settings in order to maintain the state’s commitment to complete secularism.  France and many other countries in Western Europe have considerable Muslim minorities from North Africa and the Middle East, and immigration is changing the face of Europe in the same way it is in the US and elsewhere.  In Reunion, however, minorities are the majority.  Here there are mosques next to churches next to temples next to voodoo huts next to whatever you can imagine.  And they’re very proud of their long history of integration and cohabitation.  (There’s a wall covered in graffiti explaining this that I need to take a picture of.)

The reason I bring up the burqa ban is that I witnessed a bus driver deny a young girl permission to get on his bus until she agreed to lift the niqab and hijab covering her face and hair.  That was shocking.  I’d seen many women wearing the burqa since arriving here (although clearly not as many as in Yemen, where ironically women are “free” to wear them in public) and I am curious to see how the recent law from the capital 5,000 miles away will affect the Muslim population on Reunion.

Meanwhile, the 12-year old son of the teacher I’m staying with, Tanguy, is searching frantically under the furniture in the living room for a lost earring belonging to one of his many Barbies.  I’m not sure what the kid is thinking, but he really likes his Barbies.  Last night we watched TV with three of them sitting next to us on the couch, in perfect upright posture, hands resting delicately on their crossed legs and everything.  He says he wants to become an activist for the rights of Barbie’s when he grows up, because he believes that its unfair that they can think but they cant move, that they can carry bags and purses but can’t access their contents because they’re solid plastic and don’t open, and that their eyes are always pointed blankly in front of them and you can never really tell where they’re looking.  Maybe as he grows older his budding interest in activism will lead him to take on real challenges and issues facing real women in the real world.

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Filed under Burqa Ban, Hmmm that's odd, postcolonialism