A Glorious Rock

Anywhere a French minister goes, other than the toilet perhaps, they can expect hostility. They don’t mind much – it comes with the territory. In this case, the minister is George-Pau Langevin and the territory is Mayotte. No longer a territoire, in fact – since 2011 a département. Mme Langevin, Minister of Overseas, does just that – oversees (sorry…) the DOM-TOM, the départements and territoires d’outre-mer. So obviously, her visit to Mayotte sparked grumbles all round – health, security, education, environment, infrastructure, housing… When it comes to bringing Mayotte up to the standards of the Metropole, it’s difficult to know where to start

This post, though, is not to do with Mayotte, about which I’ve written elsewhere,* but about the Glorioso Islands, or Îles Glorieuses. Because the first grumble around the minister’s visit was her timetable – yesterday morning, rather than discuss the problems of Mayotte, she whizzed off in a military jet to Grande Glorieuse, the largest of the islands that make up the Glorioso Archipelago. ‘Large’ here is relative: there are two actual islands, a few rocks and sandbanks, and the whole lot together cover 7 square kilometres.

So what did she do in the couple of hours she was there? Officially, she observed and encouraged the efforts undertaken by France to protect the biodiversity of the area. The coral reefs are indeed among the earth’s most treasured assets, definitely not to be messed with. She would also have had a little chat and a cup of coffee (no croissants, though) with the islands inhabitants, 14 soldiers and one gendarme, who doubles up as the postman. Nothing too taxing and no great issues to debate. So why did she even go there?

Well, it just so happens that over the past few months, the matter of who the islands really belong to has flared up in Madagascar. Not just the Glorieuses, in fact, but the whole of the Îles Eparses, or Scattered Islands, of which the Glorieuses are a part. A glance at the map shows just how completely Madagascar is surrounded by French territory. Only La Réunion is indisputably French: the five tiny spots of the Îles Eparses are contested by Madagascar, while Mayotte is contested by the Comores.

Now far from me the idea that France is not devoted to the biodiversity around these scattered rocks, but when you bear in mind that the territorial waters are also rich in fossil fuels, you begin to see why such devotion is so convenient. Madame Langevin’s little chat with the soldiers was also saying to Madagascar, ‘C’est à nous!’

The conflict goes back to the 1960s, when Madagascar became independent. In 1979, the UN ‘invited’ France to return the Scattered Islands to Madagascar, but for some reason the invitation was declined. A proposal last year by Madagascar to manage the islands jointly was similarly turned down. France is quite partial, it seems, to uninhabited rocks.

* A brief, tongue-in-cheek history of Mayotte is here, whilst a more general overview, including the immigration issue, is here.

Just in the nick of time, I believe (the minister omitted to consult me regarding dates), this post is part of Phoebe’s All About France link up, not forgetting TJ Paris’s French Friday feature.

Lou Messugo

Back in the small place

So after a very pleasant, but quite distracting summer, we’ve just got back to Mayotte. I say ‘the small place’ because it is, well, small, but also because it was the first in Clara’s series People Who Live in Small Places. I was honoured to start that series off back in January – it now includes several others: Virgin Gorda, St. Croix (US Virgin Islands), Roatan (Honduras), Gibraltar and Brunei, to name just a few. You can check out the series here and for anyone interested in expat life, Clara has also written an excellent Expat Partner’s Survival Guide.

Though I’ve been away for almost three months, I only had to get on the barge, as the ferry between the two islands of Mayotte is called, to feel as if I’d never left. The lagoon, the bouéni in their colourful salouvas, and the occasional gendarme made sure of that. It’s good to be back, settling down to resume work on the sequel to One Green Bottle, provisionally called Perfume Island (i.e. Mayotte). Hopefully also get back into blogging, not just posting but exploring other blogs – it’s all been a bit sporadic of late. As far as this blog goes, Pic’n’Post will move to Fridays and from next week, the Thursday Interview returns. I’m grateful to Sir Souvenir Mug for agreeing to kick off the new series – find out what he has to say on 25th! In the meantime, to those who’ve recently discovered this blog, welcome, bienvenue, karibu!


Shopping centre Mauritius

With Black Friday a distant memory, it’s vital now to keep up the momentum with some serious Christmas shopping. Because let’s face it, unless we each continue to consume a few tons of superfluous goods, not only does life have no purpose, but we won’t be able to continue destroying the planet. I’d never heard of Black Friday until a short time ago. Now, from what I gather, it’s hit the UK big time, triggering a small but welcome movement called Buy Nothing Day. France, being France, will resist, and one part of France Black Friday will never reach is Mayotte, where Friday is prayer day and there’s nothing to buy in any case. There’s a tropical lightness of being in Mayotte that works as a positive detox from the hypermarkets in the Metropole.

Being high-minded and all, I take to heart Gandhi’s commandment to ‘live more simply so that others may simply live.’ That’s one way of putting it. Another is to be honest and admit to embracing one of the rare joys of encroaching age, the right to be a curmudgeonly scrooge. A stance I adopt with delight when it comes to clothes, say, or cars – conveniently, they interest me not in the slightest.

Not so long ago, arriving in Mauritius (by plane, having decided, after much debate, against the rowing boat) where we’d booked (iPad) self-catering accommodation, we wanted some stuff for breakfast. “Try the Super-U,” said the man at the petrol station, so we went along, without much hope because Super-U in the Metropole is generally pretty small and never open on a Sunday afternoon. But this one wasn’t just open, it was massive. And as I scurried gleefully round the aisles, stuffing the basket with Muesli, Weetabix, and dragonfruit, I said to Mrs. B. “Wow, if only we had all this in Mayotte!” I’m with you, Mahatma, honestly. But sometimes, you know, it’s not that simple living simply.








Do you hear what I hear?

In the second half of the last century, one persistent and irreversible trend was decolonisation. Or rather, not quite irreversible – France has managed to buck the trend by making Mayotte a French department in 2011. Why? When talking to people here, the question arises often and no real consensus emerges. One answer often put forward, though, is Big Ears. This is the name given to two large radar dishes on Petite Terre, operated by the military, protected by high wire fences and forbidden to all cameras.


Big Ears is jointly run by the DGSE (Direction Générale de Sécurité Extérieur) and the BND (Bundesnachichtendienst), the German secret service. Compared to the NSA, they’re minnows, but by adding the Mayotte ears to those already installed in the Dordogne in France and Kourou in French Guyana, they’re able to cover a large part of the globe. How reassuring to know we’re being listened to – all for our own good, of course.

To cruise or not to cruise


Despite its attractions, tourism isn’t a big money spinner in Mayotte, with just over 50,000 visitors a year. A good half of those come out to see relatives working here; pleasure tourism, with close to 12,000, is progressing but remains small. No doubt this is why the arrival of The Silver Whisperer a little while ago had the island’s tourist team on full alert: the 10 hours the passengers spent here had to leave them with nothing but the most magnficent memories. I hope that was the case, as whatever memories they took away came at hefty price – almost $14000 for 17 days,

The sight of the ship incited Mrs. B. to try convincing me yet again that paradise is a cruise ship. I have my doubts, especially as we’re never going to fork out that much. The memory one passenger brought back from a Mediterranean cruise was far from magnificent: “It reminded me of a prison. I had a little cell, they herded me out and said, ‘OK, you go play, stand in line and do this, stand in line and do that, now go eat, come back,’ “. To me, that sounds closer to the mark.

But almost 16 million people went on a cruise last year, so they must be getting something right. Then again, very few of those millions would be grumpy misanthropes like me. The debate continues – all contributions welcome.

Gazette Issue 2 and other writings


Many thanks to those who signed up for The Gazette. Issue 2 will be sent in a couple of weeks, and of course, to anyone who wishes, the first issue is also available – the subscribe link is on the right. Just a reminder – The Gazette is a free magazine containing two or three of my stories which may vary considerably in style or topic. For me it’s a useful way of sifting through ideas I’ve had for a long time but never got round to writing. So now I’m getting them into what you could call beta shape – not the finished product perhaps, but worked on enough to be put out for the judgment, and hopefully the pleasures, of others. Subscribers aren’t officially beta readers, since there’s no obligation to provide feedback (even if feedback is welcome). Details of the contents of Issue 2 will appear shortly.

Following my interview of T.J. Paris (author of, amongst other things, the wonderful Papa Bouilloire series), he has kindly reciprocated, with my answers to his questions appearing on his blog today. Many thanks, TJ!


Finally, after writing a first piece about Mayotte to kick off Clara’s excellent series People Who Live In Small Places (now including Gibraltar, the Seychelles, the Netherlands and a village in the west of France), I was asked by Phoebe at Lou Messugo to do another piece, her series being devoted to France and its overseas territories. I didn’t want to repeat the same post as I did for Clara, so it’s quite different in fact, with the negative side (i.e. illegal immigration and its consequences) given more prominence.


And that’s probably enough of me for the moment so I’ll sign off here. Ta ta!

Connivance of the Cadis


Le turban et la Capote (The Turban and the Condom), by Nassur Attoumani & Luke Razaka

One consequence of the départementalisation of Mayotte in 2011 is that the laws of the République Française must now apply. This has led to a decline in the influence of the cadis, the Muslim dignitaries previously in charge of the island’s moral and legal affairs. Among the customs the Republic disapproves of is polygamy, especially when the wives can be as young as thirteen. The cadis, though, have no problem with this – it’s been part of cadial law, approved, and to a large extent practised, by the cadis themselves for centuries. Before we start feeling sorry for them, though, it should be noted that the practise is still going strong. The cadis have simply learnt to pretend that it’s not.

Ulysse, don’t give up!


I’m very glad our neighbour’s back. She’s just been to the Metropole for a week and during her absence I was responsible for walking her dog, Ulysse (being French, he has no ‘s’ on his name, but he doesn’t seem to mind). Now it’s fine walking the neighbour’s dog as long as he gets back in one piece. But as the week wore on I grew increasingly anxious Ulysse was going to keel over and die. He’s old, arthritic, and clearly close to the end, which I dreaded might come on my watch. Actually, I was sharing the task with Philippe, the other neighbour, and I found myself shamefully praying that when it did come to pass, it would be on his stint rather than mine. But as he was doing the cooler morning walk, with Ulysse refreshed by sleep, that appeared to be wishful thinking.

Strangely enough, Ulysse summoned unsuspected reserves of strength whenever he saw a scooter, which he attacked. At first I kept forgetting he felt so strongly about scooters, so failed to brace myself and was jerked into the road while the hapless rider swerved, swore and shook a furious fist at Ulysse (or rather, me).


After the scooter attack, in which bother rider and dog came perilously close to heart attacks, it was even harder for Ulysse to negotiate the sixteen steps back to the flat, but four pauses and ten minutes later, he was back inside, where he collapsed panting on the floor. And I breathed a sigh of relief until the next afternoon.



The bouéni ticklers


Zaïna Méresse

Bouéni is the Shimaoré word for woman, but it conveys more than that. A bouéni is mature, imposing and plump. No zero size models here – buxom wives are seen as a sign of vigour and prosperity. Nor are they in any way shrinking violets, Mayotte being traditionally a matriarchal society. There was thus considerable sadness last year at the death of Zaïna Méresse, the last of the bouéni ticklers. The tickling women movement began in the 1960s, a reaction to the threat of independence from France, which the bouénis were keen to avoid. Whenever a Comorian politician arrived in Mayotte, he’d be surrounded by a goup of bouénis who tickled him into helpless, squirming laughter while they repeated their demands. In the 1975 referendum, the three other Comoros islands voted for independence, while Mayotte opted to remain French, a result due in no small part to the ticklers. If only today’s world leaders could be tickled into making good on their promises.


Les Bouénis, Cyrille le Corre


Mine, yours, ours, theirs

In response to the Tiny Expats Show Your World event:


The first challenge is to wake up. After the third coffee, enough of my brain is awake to make it profitable to sit at my desk. Not very tidy. Stare at the gecko on the wall for the next five minutes. No, no, concentrate!


The view from the balcony:


A bit further afield (just as well I can’t see this from the balcony):


Satellite view of the district (Google checking on my progress).


My world, your world. Our children’s world. Let’s make sure they can enjoy it when they grow up.