Reunion’s Best Herbalist

Are you an insomniac? Got bad circulation, high cholesterol or headaches? There’s a cure for that, and you can find it at your local herbalist, known locally as a tisaneur.

Back home in Australia, herbalists are rare and treated with suspicion. But here in Reunion you’ll find a herbalist in every town, and everyone has their trusted provider who has the best herbal mixes. Being a Reunionese herbalist is a complex, revered and trusted job. 

I talked to a well-known herbal tea maker who had helped over 3000 babies be born, with her famous fertility teas created with 100% local and endemic plants. And another who learnt to harvest the ingredients for his plant mixes when he was a child, alongside his grandfather.

But I discovered that this important Créole tradition is in danger. Not only are French laws getting stricter in regards to using plants for medicinal uses, but a new generation of herbalists is appearing, with far less knowledge and experience than older generations. Although plant treatments have the reputation of being gentle and safe, in fact there are many local plants that can be extremely toxic and dangerous if ingested in the wrong dose, or at all. Annoyingly, many of them look very similar to the safe plants used in popular tisanes.

Which is why I choose to listen to the advice of a friend: follow the « 3 grandma rule ». Before buying any remedy from a herbalist, observe the people lining up at their stand. If you can count at least 3 Créole grandmothers, chances are you’ve found an excellent tisaneur.

Vocabulary

to trust – faire confiance
a mix – mélange
well-known – celèbre
to harvest – récolter
alongside – côté à côté

in regards to – en ce qui concerne
gentle – doux
safe – sûr
annoyingly – fâcheusement
Advise – conseil

To follow – suivre
lining up – en queue

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From One Paradise to Another

Never did I think that at the age of 24 I would go to one of the most popular honeymoon destinations in the world. In January I flew to the island of Mahé in the Republic of Seychelles. This tiny country in the middle of the Indian Ocean has always been a dream of mine; the idyllic beaches and the laid-back lifestyle. I travelled with my best friend from England, who had come over for a 4-week stay in the Indian Ocean. Along with another friend we embarked on what turned out to be the most incredible adventure ever.

Even boarding the flight in St Denis, it felt exclusive. People, myself included, were taking pictures of the information board, which stated the Seychelles as our destination, as a way to make people envious back home I’m sure! As we landed late in the evening, we could only make out the silhouette of the huge backdrop of mountains and the quiet, deserted capital ‘city’. Early next morning, we boarded a ferry to take us to Praslin, 45km from Mahé. I must admit the ride was the bumpiest I have ever been on. Children were being sick left right and centre and even adults were running to the only toilet and returning moments later covered in water. (I can only imagine what happened!)

We toured Praslin for three days, visiting the most famous and most photographed beaches in the world. The beautiful turquoise water lapped onto soft plush white sand. This, I thought, are what dreams are made of! After enjoying too many ice creams and enduring the white-knuckle bus rides, we moved on to la Digue, 15km from Praslin.

Think of a little island, in the middle of the ocean, no cars and no Internet, this somewhat describes life in la Digue. We hired bikes and after a few uneasy starts, we toured the island also for 3 days.  Again we visited deserted beaches with powder like sand and I even found a hammock, in which I spent an incredible relaxing morning.

Cut off from the world, no phones, no Internet, nothing, it was the perfect way to really relax and take everything in.

Even as I waddled back to the ferry to return to Mahé, I still couldn’t believe I was in the Seychelles. There are not many 24 year olds who could say they casually took a trip to paradise for week!

Vocabulary

Honeymoon – lune de miel
Tiny – minuscule
Laid-back – décontracté
Along with – avec
To board – monter à bord

To land – s’atterrir
Background – toile de fond
Bumpy – cahoteux
White-knuckle – terrifiante
To hire – louer

Uneasy – inquiet
To waddle – se dandiner

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Brass Monkeys

This week, the UK is in the grip of “the Beast from the East”: in other words, a weather front from Eastern Europe is bringing very low temperatures and some snow to our islands.  There is a funny and rather vulgar English expression to describe cold weather, which is: “It’s cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey”.  So people might say “It’s a bit brass monkeys” or even “There’s a brass monkey out there looking for a welder”.  It’s not clear where the expression came from – possibly statuettes of “three wise monkeys” sold to tourists in China,  but whatever the origin, it’s certainly brass monkey weather at the moment.

Londoners are feeble about snow.  A fall of just a few inches can bring the entire city to a standstill.   Everything stops working.  Trains, buses and tubes are cancelled.  Schools, shops and offices close.  This is not because the routes are blocked by snow.  It’s because Londoners treat snowfall as an unofficial public holiday, and stay at home.   At the first sign of even a flurry, they think “Great!  A day off!” and pull the duvet up round their ears.  People who do want to go to work, can’t, because the schools have closed and they have to take care of their kids. So the parks are full of stressed parents and their children, in a state of snow mania, tobogganing, building snowmen and having snowball fights as if their lives depended on it.  

Even workers who do go to their office, arrive several hours late, then spend the day exchanging tales of their heroic journey to work with the couple of colleagues who have also made it to their desks.  The country loses millions of pounds in man-hours for every snowy day.  

It’s not as if it doesn’t snow every winter at some point.  London is, after all the capital of a northern European nation.  In Moscow, Prague, even Paris, people don’t take a day off whenever the snow clouds gather.  They just put on some sensible clothing and go to work. When I was a child in Yorkshire and it snowed, we just got extra scarfs and wellingtons and walked to school.  So did the teachers, and even the caretaker who had to shovel the coke into the boiler to heat the building.  We never had a day off because of snow.  Londoners are wimps.  

Anyway, if it snows next week, I plan to put on a thermal vest, thermal leggings, extra woolly jumper, two scarves, a hat and … build a snowman in my garden!  It’s not that I’m a wimp, it’s just that the buses and trains won’t be running and the university will close and students and staff will all stay at home.  What else can I do?  Oh yes, I know – I’ll stay away from brass monkeys.

Vocabulary

brass   – le laiton
welder –  le soudeur
standstill –  å l’arret
day off – jour de congé
flurry – bourrasque de neige

tobogganing  – faisant de la luge
man-hours – heures (de travail)
wellingtons – bottes de caoutchouc
caretaker – le gardien
wimps – des mauviettes

thermal vest – gilet thermique
thermal leggings – leggings thermiques
woolly jumper – pull en laine

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Freedom in Diversity

When people ask me where I come from, I almost respond with a cheer and say, “Singapore!”, which often is met with an even more enthusiastic response, like “wow cool!” or “I would absolutely love to go there”. 

Often, this follows with, “But what exactly is your origin, because you don’t look Singaporean, you know, you’re not Asian-looking” or even “Are you sure you’re Singaporean?” 

With a considerable dose of patience, I then launch into a full-length explanation of Singapore’s history, its demographics and the fact that I am a third generation South Asian Singaporean. Of course, my South Asian language-speaking capacity comes into question, to which I shamefully say no and quickly redeem myself by highlighting my proficiency in Mandarin and Malay. Luckily, most Réunionnais whom I’ve shared this with have been empathetic – even admitting regretfully that they can only speak Creole and French, but not their mother tongues, like Tamoul or Mandarin. This follows with a slow understanding glance and smile, and to change the subject, a self-comforting round of drinks for good measure.

For those of you who may not be familiar with Singapore, here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Formerly a British colony, Singapore is a sovereign city-state/island country located in Southeast Asia 
  • It is three times smaller than Reunion island and has a population of approximately 5.5 million
  • Singapore is a multiracial country with a majority population of Chinese (about 75% of the resident population), with Malays comprising of 13% and Indians making up 9%. A smaller percentage of minority groups include Eurasians (people of mixed European and Asian descent) 

When my husband first brought up the idea of moving to Reunion Island, I did a quick google search and was thrilled to find some similarities between this tropical paradise and my tiny sunny homeland. Besides having similar climates, both are island states, have a history of European colonisation and most importantly, are distinctively multicultural with firm long-standing traditions.

One of my favourite traditions here is the Festival Liberté Métisse, which not only celebrates freedom and abolishment of slavery but also the harmonious living of diverse cultures which has helped shaped the island’s identity. Never will I forget the powerfully moving arts exhibits and the trance-like drum rhythms which got people from every corner swaying and tapping to the same beat for a good hour or so.

The closest event to the Festival Liberté Métisse is probably the Chingay Parade in Singapore which showcases a marvel of dazzling floats, dancing dragons and stilt walkers, celebrated by Chinese, Malays, Indians and Eurasians alike. It is renowned for being the largest street performance and float parade in Asia; certainly impressive and wondrous in its own right but it doesn’t quite deliver the same impact (not on me at least).  To me, the Festival Liberté Métisse had a raw sense of energy and I felt this directly as I had meaningful exchanges with the participating artists, musicians and craft makers. A resounding quality that was common among all these wonderful individuals was a strong sense of passionate authenticity – needless to say, they all felt free to be this way. 

I’ve seen more diversity here than I have elsewhere, and it’s almost integrated in daily life – from passing through small towns with colonial vernacular style buildings and vast sugar cane fields to witnessing resplendent waterfalls, lush primary forests and undulating mountains. For this, I stand proud and tall of my Reunion, which occasionally evokes nostalgic thoughts of my past in Singapore, but more importantly has enriched and made me feel free in accepting my ‘assorted’ self along with the diversely rich cultures and surroundings here through respect, patience and tolerance.

Embracing these values is true freedom, to say the least, and I’ve never felt more at home!

Vocabulary

cheer – acclamation
full length – longue
shamefully – honteusement
a round – tournée
redeem – sauver

breakdown – détail
to bring up – raconter
besides – en plus de
to shape – former
moving – émouvant

to sway – se balancer
to show-case – exposer
raw – brut
needless to say – inutile de dire

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