Mauritius is a lovely place, and impressive too. Yes it's a tropical paradise of sorts, with stunning beaches and long, arching turquoise bays, and acres of coral beach sand. But those aren't the reasons I found it a compelling and interesting place to visit, and an example of a society that seems to be getting things right. Here are my reasons:
Mauritius is a lovely place, and impressive too. Yes it's a tropical paradise of sorts, with stunning beaches and long, arching turqouise bays, and acres of coral beach sand. But those aren't the reasons I found it a compelling and interesting place to visit, and an example of a society that seems to be getting things right. Rather, my reasons are as follows:
- Rooftop solar hot water heaters. Why aren't more countries investing in this relatively simple and inexpensive technology? Most African countries I've lived or worked in are too busy installing air conditioning units that drive up the demand for energy, which the aging facilities can't produce, which causes rolling blackouts. And hardly anyone back home is investing in solar either, despite all the problems oil dependency have led to. Solar isn't the answer to all of the tropical world's energy problems, but it's a heck of a good start. Bravo.
- Trees, millions of them. Most of Mauritius is delightfully forested. Even major roads are tree-lined, often with gorgeous Flamboyant (in Nicaragua they're called Malinche) trees, or arching Eucalyptus. Village avenues twist under the canopy of almond trees, or ramparts of Bougainvillea, and even the beaches are lined with gorgeous stands of pine. Retreating from the tropical sun to a shady patch is much more pleasant when it's pine, not palm, and everywhere (with one exception) we saw signs that trees are cherished and nurtured, not blasted down and carted away. Most of the rest of the developing world: please take note.
- A Hopping Economy. Tourism helps, as always, but well beyond tourism, Mauritius seems to have lots of ways to be employed, and lots of what they sell, they make (sounds simple but you'd be surprised how many poor countries struggling to get ahead don't produce much of anything). From bakeries to textiles to small industry to restaurants and tourism to security to farming of pineapple and sugar cane and vegetables, and beyond, Mauritians are busy. You can get a sense of how well the economy is doing by counting men hanging out on doorsteps during working hours. In Mauritius we didn't see any. Some books I'd once bought in Benin turned out to have been typeset and printed in Mauritius, and the stuffed animal we bought my son had been made in Mauritius as well.
- Economic Diversity.For the most part, in the United States, there's one major box store for each market. In Mauritius, the streets are lined with thousands and thousands of small shops, each slightly different from the next. My studies in economics make me aware there are economies of scale being missed here, but I have a nagging feeling there's more to it than that, and that there's great value in having the sense of community, rivalry, and diversity that comes from so much variety. And of course it keeps people employed and learning skills, something I wonder if the economists don't fully take into account. Something I'm researching in my spare time.
- Mauritian Character. It helps if you live in a country you know people like to visit. But being welcoming and friendly and warm makes it easier to like such countries; in the end, the effect is circular. We've traveled in some friendly countries before but Mauritians are among the warmest and friendliest people I've ever met. And I'm talking about average families we met at the beach, not tourist hotel staff. Furthermore, the Mauritians clearly take pride in who they are. Everyone was well-kept and clean, dressed in bright colors and tropical prints.
- General Racial Harmony. While tensions must certainly be present under the surface, Mauritius presented a face of multiracial harmony, people of obvious Gujarati Indian and Chinese descent living well together (there are apparently traces of Malagasy and of course French blood present as well, but I sure couldn't see much of it, and most of the French I saw looked like expat retirees pleased to escape the winter). It seems helpful that Mauritius has no indigenous inhabitants, and no one island race aspires to "ownership" at the expense of the others; rather, Mauritius' unique colonial history saw the importation of indentured servants and slaves from elsewhere, and upon liberation everyone was forced to figure out how to make it work.
- Gorgeous Open Markets. Every market we saw was gorgeous, including a few way off the tourist trail: baskets of ripe, polished tomatoes, greens freshly washed and sprinkled with clean water, everything appetizing and lovely. I'm too jaded by the inevitable third-world market easing touts and pestilence, flyblown meats and mangy-looking vegetables. In Mauritius everything looked good enough to eat right off the stand, from watermelon to red lichees to baskets of fresh vegetables.
- A Sense of Environmental Stewardship. Too often, developing countries see the environment as a burden, or a resource to exploited on the road to wealth. The Mauritians clearly understand the environment is a source of their wealth, and are taking care of it effectively. I counted soil conservation, trash pickup, an effort to reduce the use of plastic bags, and an aggressive anti-littering campaign. Bravo, Mauritius: The USA could learn from you.
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