Mauritius is known for its markets and as a newbie to the island, I thought I would give shopping at “The Market” a bash.
That was my first mistake. You don’t give shopping at the market “a bash” because it WILL bash you. Allow me to explain…
I donned my marketiest (yes, I made that word up) outfit of linen dress, leather sandals, and sling bag. I grabbed all five of my children, dressed in their best market outfits, and off we went. We were all arms swaying, heads held high as we wafted down the main road on our new adventure. We may as well have been singing a song from “The Sound of Music” – we felt that perfect. I gazed fondly at my brood, sun-kissed and oh-so-islandy. “This is us, living our best life,” I thought.
Our first stop at “La Foire” was the basket man. I, obviously, needed a large basket for all the fresh produce I was about to buy. He spotted the newbie a mile away and I saw him spot me and thought to myself, “I am forewarned my good man. I will not be fooled into paying tourist prices.” The haggling began and I was pleased with my purchases of one large basket for moi, two smaller baskets for two of the four girls, and a circular basket bag for my eldest daughter who would be returning to South Africa soon and needed a proper island souvenir to take with her. I walked away smiling, feeling great at having conducted my first market purchase like a true local, minus the use of Kreole Morisien or even French, but who’s taking notes? Unfortunately, I discovered later that day when I stepped into an actual souvenir shop that I had significantly overspent on my basket purchases and that the dear old basket man was, in fact, the winner.
Lesson Two: Behold how the mighty shall fall.
We were about an hour in and I could see my troupe starting to wilt. The sun was beating down on the tin and canvas overhead and the humidity mingled with the smell of incense; the B.O. emanating from all of the overheated humans was beginning to make us gag. I ushered the wilting von Trapps out into the fresh air where we stopped at a vendor selling ice cold drinks. Our baskets were empty and I was desperate to fill them. Refreshments would surely lift the sagging spirits of my little gang?
Lesson Three: Cold beverages do not always lift spirits.
I decided to take swift action. By “I,” I mean my eldest daughter suggested taking the younger children home for lunch while I stayed behind to finish the shopping. I forced them to take one last picture before sending them on their way. I can’t be certain, but I think I heard them cheering as they left.
Returning to my fresh produce mission, I gaily skipped along, ignoring the burning sensation of my feet taking severe strain in my flimsy sandals. All around me the colorful calls of stall-holders rang out, advertising their wares. I tripped along, eyes alighting on the various wonders to behold: brightly colored fruit and veggies, plump and ripe; the vendors using spray bottles to keep their produce fresh; rows and rows of women and children’s underwear (really?); marketeers, baskets and bags slung over their forearms going about the business of buying their weekly goods. I was in love with this wildly chaotic, loud, and smelly place. Every sound was a symphony. I felt every bit the “Madame” I was being called as I carefully selected my tomatoes, clementine, pineapple, herbs, and veggies. I counted out my notes and coins like a true Mauritian and even managed a few raw French sentences. I was in market heaven. And then the handle on my basket broke.
Lesson Four: Behold how the mighty shall fall, again.
You’ve heard about the straw that broke the camel’s back? Well, this was the handle that broke the Madame’s spirit. All of a sudden the symphony became a cacophony, the smell of dried fish and rotting vegetables assailed my nostrils, and the heat I was only moments before oblivious to threatened to smother me. Gathering up my broken basket, and my resolve, I trudged my way back to dear basket man for an exchange and then wove my disheartened way home to a cup of tea and the loving arms of the traitors who had left me behind.
That was a while ago and I have since learned my lessons. Nowadays, I leave all children at home, I grab a sturdy market bag, and don my trusty black Havianas. I sling my handbag across my chest and march my way through the market, stopping only to say hi to the man who sells oranges and who insisted on taking a picture of me on my own phone or to buy an item on my list. I drink in the sounds and the smells of the place I am, once again, so in love with. Afterwards, I treat myself to a roti or a bowl of fried noodles (Mine Frite) and an ice-cold beverage while I sit under the shade of the big tree that is just outside La Foire and watch my neighbours go about their business.
“This is us, living our best life.”