Imagine a green place, fertile with volcanic soil, fresh water, fruits of all shapes and colours with alien names. A place surrounded by soft white sands and clear turquoise water. A gem so rare, it pushed European settlers to war. They exploited the island for its ebony trees and dodos while infesting it with pests smuggled on their boats. The last war freed the slaves and created a unique cultural and religious diversity, home to those who were victims of the white violence.
My great-great grandparents came from Bihar India. Tricked by the white men, who were driven by their greed for gold, my ancestors found themselves in a country where human and women’s rights are only becoming a reality now, in 2016. A place where being “green” is an unknown term and being multilingual a normal every-generation thing. A place where if the teacher hits you at school for not knowing your lesson, you’d go home to parents hitting you twice as hard for disappointing your teacher.
From radios blaring all day from house to house, in different languages through different channels, to the three mandatory academic languages (apart from the mother tongue that is Creole), every soul on the island is at least bilingual.
Even babies can at least count in two different languages. The mother tongue becomes the house and street language, whereas the schools adopt French as their spoken and English as their written language. Parents are given the freedom to choose the third language for their kids. More often than not, parents will choose this according to their religion.
Being from a very Muslim family, my dad chose Urdu for us. My sister was encouraged to take extracurricular lessons in Urdu, in addition to her school subjects. My parents made sure that we joined the local mosque’s Quran lessons at a very young age. Every day after school, until sunset, we were taught to read and write in Arabic. However, even the Arabic teachers could not translate what they taught; we only learned the sounds and symbols. To this day, whatever I read and write in Arabic remains a mystery to me.
The daily soap operas, which my mother committed her evenings to as she cooked dinner, taught my brother, sister and me Hindi. Years of watching Bollywood movies enforced our understanding and knowledge of Hindi, a language that we can speak, but never learned to read or write.
Growing up in this rich cultural environment equipped us with fundamental people skills, allowing us to adapt to changing environments more easily.
Yushra Khodabocus is a second-year Professional Writing student at Algonquin College. She is originally from the tropical island of Mauritius, where her love of words was inspired by the various languages she grew up speaking. She is passionate about writing and reading and strongly believes in the right to speak and be heard.