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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Place Where You Live: Rose-Hill, Mauritius

Air Date: Week of

A fountain in Rose-Hill, Mauritius. (Photo: Ameerah Arjanee)

Living on Earth gives voice to Orion magazine’s longtime feature where readers celebrate their favorite places. In this week’s edition, Ameerah Arjanee describes the sights and sounds of her childhood home town of Rose Hill in Mauritius, a small island off Africa’s east coast, and why she’s now looking at it with new eyes.


BASCOMB: Warm, tropical waters off the coast of Africa attract lots of tourists to the small island of Mauritius – where we head now for another installment in the occasional Living on Earth/Orion Magazine series “The Place Where You Live.” Orion invites readers to submit essays to the magazine’s website to put the places they care about on the map and we give them a voice.

[MUSIC: Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeroes “Home” from Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeroes (Rough Trade Records 2009)]

BASCOMB: It was the search for magic in the mundane that inspired today’s essay.

ARJANEE: When people think of Mauritius, they usually think of the very tropical touristy things like the beaches and the coast. But my town is sort of a post-colonial, tropical twist on Suburbia. Yet it has this gentleness and rather breezy feel to it.

[MUSIC: Tommy Emmanuel; Anjelina, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWS1IRF_IFA
Album, Endless Road 2004, Favored Nations Records.]

ARJANEE: My name is Ameerah Arjanee and this is my essay about Rose-Hill, Mauritius.

The architectural emblem of my mid-size, mild-weathered town is a municipal hall adjoining an out-of-use theatre from the 1920s. The style of the building harks back to the colonial past, yet it doesn’t have the grandeur or aloofness of similar ones in Port-Louis or Curepipe. For Rose-Hill has always been, at least in my eyes, an unassumingly bourgeois place, peopled mainly by schoolteachers and administrators who look at life with kindness and indifference in equal measure.
In front of the municipal building is a fountain that’s hard to qualify as tasteful or odd. It’s in the shape of a statue of three men helping each other up, a noble gesture, yes, but each body is abnormally elongated, each arm a twisting branch. Every Rose-Hill child has loved climbing up its limbs on Saturday nights, when the sprinklers are off. Her tired parents will sit on a peeling white bench and eat Vona Corona ice-cream cones, grateful for an opportunity to not talk to each other, while the family dog runs through the still-wet grass, chasing an invisible frog. At dusk, a drug addict will come squat in their spot. Close his eyes, kiss the dark.

A church steeple rises above the trees in Rose-Hill, Mauritius. (Photo: Ameerah Arjanee)

During the worst years of my adolescence, this town has felt like a tropical Privet Drive, Surrey. I decided to ignore the Plaza’s hall and odd statue, the old cloth shops of Surtee merchants, the elegant Catholic churches, the bursting colors of the local market, and see only beige, utilitarian buildings. I saw the sidewalks but not the flower-heavy jacaranda trees lining them.
I am now twenty-three, and every day, I try to fall back in love. When I came back from a trip to Mumbai, I noticed how pretty and green this town actually is. There’s a lingering scent of crushed, flamboyant petals, mango leaves, tall ferns, and breeze on every walk to the bus station, Chinese corner store or municipal library, if you pay enough attention. I try to now, every time I step out of the house.

[MUSIC: Tommy Emmanuel; Anjelina, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWS1IRF_IFA
Album, Endless Road 2004, Favored Nations Records.]

I think the charm in Rose-Hill is very much like the charm of a town in a Miyazaki cartoon or the small, imaginary town in 100 Years of Solitude. A place which looks very neat and small on the surface but has hidden magic.

One of the things that create this discreet magic is the combination of the quiet presence of trees and buildings that sort of bear witness to the colonial history and waves of immigration of the country. So, you could be walking down a small street and find a beige cement house that would not have any mystery to it, if not for the odd, wooden veranda still attached to it and the alcove of a Tamil goddess on the other side of the road.

Or in the Summer, you could be sitting on your balcony and you’d see a row of flame trees over the horizon and there’d be the steeple of a Catholic church rising above the trees and piercing the blue sky. And in the town center you’ll also find old Chinese restaurants made of cool stone. And inside the owner would be serving pork-filled buns alongside Indian sweetmeats. And on the wall, would be the Chinese goddess Guanyin alongside the Virgin Mary. So, at the same time as you’re seeing traces of the different communities that have populated the country, and there’s a bit the sound of the leaves in the breeze in the air and that’s sort of a marriage of the sound and smell of the trees with the cultural richness. And it really sort of reminded me of, like, how magic realism hides in these little things and you have to…you have to really look for it to find it.

A mix of buildings in Rose-Hill signal the different waves of colonial and immigration history. (Photo: Ameerah Arjanee)

[MUSIC: Tommy Emmanuel; Anjelina, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWS1IRF_IFA
Album, Endless Road 2004, Favored Nations Records.]

BASCOMB: That’s Ameerah Arjanee coming to terms with her hometown, Rose-Hill, Maurititus. You can find pictures, and details about Orion Magazine and how to submit your essay, if you want to tell us about the place where you live – at our website, loe dot org.



Ameerah Arjanee’s essay on the Orion website


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