I sit quite terrified in the front of some twenty parents at the community center in Grand Gaube in the North. Vikay introduced himself, ELI Africa, and my program to the parents of young students from the village, but a man in the back row seems entirely displeased with our presence. His face reddens, and he clenches his teeth as he hurls questions in Creole at Vikay. I hold my composure as well as I can, try to appear comfortable and confident amid his assault, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Maybe he feels theater is excessive. I can’t be sure because I can only pick up the occasional phrase of Creole that sounds close enough to French for my mediocre comprehension. Maybe it seems a waste of time when his daughter should be focusing on her math and French studies. I’m lost, completely lost; I have no idea what he’s screaming about. Maybe we shouldn’t be here—if the families don’t want this kind of education. He’s mad—about something or someone—and nothing Vikay says seems to appease him. I’ve waited days for the right education center for my program, and the promise of Grand Gaube kept me excited all week. But it’s going wrong.
We left the office at Calebasses and drove 30 minutes through sugarcane fields until we hit the coast near Grand Baie. Sandy white beaches became rocky shorelines dipping more steeply into the sea. I think we were lost for a bit. Vikay and Michel assured me we were simply taking a scenic route. My suspicions were confirmed when we pulled over to ask for directions. As we climbed up into the second floor of the community center, I was disappointed by how few parents had showed up. We were more than fashionably late due to our grand tour of the entirety of the northern coastline, so there should’ve been a full house at this point.
We sat up front and Vikay began his explanation of ELI Africa. More parents trickled in, presumably straight from work. One walked in with his hard hat still atop his head. Gradually the room filled, and then entered our mad man.
We survived what seemed a well-attended but dismal meeting. I prepared myself for the worst—a new search for a new center, work delayed by another couple weeks, and then the man stood up and asked me in English, “Can you start on Monday? And can the parents come?”
Vikay left the meeting beaming. On the way back to Triolet he explained how excited the man in the back corner was about our program. He was frustrated with the Mauritian education system, frustrated with the way it only foster and rewards a very specific type of intelligence and neglects the rest. And he was thrilled his child could participate in a program that takes a holistic, experiential approach. The anger I saw was understandable, warranted. It reminded me that parents fight for their children—whatever their means. As I left the community center in Grand Gaube, I was genuinely proud of ELI Africa. The service we provide isn’t something dreamed up on the other end of the globe to be implemented rigidly and coldly upon native populations. We provide what is so desperately desired, what is needed but cannot always be attained.
So, at last, I start teaching theater on Monday. I’m expecting a large turnout—of parents and students alike. I’ll let you know how my first day goes.