We are living in a small Hindu village on the lesser known tropical island of Mauritius. Every morning, we awake to the familiar sound of the Muslim call to prayer from the adjacent village.
At night, we fall asleep to the chanting of the Hindu devotees at the Sai Baba Temple just behind our house.
Between the mosque and the temple, we are building our Sukkah.
This is Mauritius. Within a space of one kilometer one can find a Catholic church, a People’s church, a Tamil temple, a Hindu temple, a mosque and a Buddhist temple. You may ask, “How can this be?”. Well, it is. It exists, and in harmony.
Our doctor and our carpenter are Muslim, we buy our groceries from the Chinese, vegetables from Hindu vendors at the Sunday village market and we play music with the Creole of African descent who practice a kind of Catholic voodoo. We are Jewish. I can see you laughing!
One afternoon, my twelve year old daughter was invited by her Hindu friend, Sakshi, to the Sai Baba temple.
“Sure you can go” I said, “go and enjoy”. I made sure she was dressed appropriately, and she happily pulled out her Hindu attire, which she loved to wear to the numerous Indian weddings in the village. I had taught her the importance of cultural sensitivity and respect and she was fully aware of its importance.
A few hours later she returned with a big smile and a twinkle in her eye. I was curious.
”So, how was it?” I asked.
“Oh it was great, very interesting”.
“So, tell me, what was interesting?”
“Well, they had a Xmas tree.”
“A what? Where? In the temple?”
“Yes, with lights and all, quite beautiful and right in the middle of the temple.”
“You must be joking! And what did you do there?”
“Well, they chanted, and I watched and enjoyed all the colors of the Saris and the Xmas lights. And then a crazy thing happened but you won’t believe me.”
“Go on, try me.”
“After the chanting, everyone turned to look at the entrance and in walked Santa Claus!”
“No! Now you are having me on, tell me honestly.”
“Really, I promise, ask Sakshi, except she doesn’t seem to think anything is strange, like it’s normal!”
“But, who played Santa Claus?”
“Oh, just one of the guys in the village, you know, from Mahatma Gandhi Road, dressed in the classic suit with a white beard and red hat and all. Wow, he must have been sweating under all that, it’s so hot!”
“You’re kidding me!”
“He even had a sack of presents to give out to all the kids.”
I was astonished. It reminded me of our Sukkah, full of Indian ladies in their Saris enjoying our ‘strange’ shelter and chatting and laughing while they ate our traditional meal under the coconut palms. (A good substitute for date palms).
I wonder if there is any other place in the world where so much cultural fusion could take place in absolute peace, acceptance and curiosity about each other’s traditions?
A few months later, Sakshi came to remind me that the following day all of Mauritius would be celebrating the Chinese new year. Another festive public holiday for all to enjoy!
This story first appeared in the February 2019 edition of the Cape Jewish Chronicle.