Imagining John Cage in a Mauritian Hospital

I‘m lying in an HDU (High Dependency Unit, one step below the ICU) of City Clinic in Port Louis, Mauritius.  Different machines are whirring at slightly different speeds and frequencies, every so often they converge, sing in harmony, and then diverge but with a kind of continuo moving the piece forward.  Beeps punctuate the sound, some are regular, some are not, and they interplay with the whirring, some sound with increasing urgency and some remain random.  I am listening to medical techno, in a Mauritian hospital.

At times a strange sound enters the mix, a cross between crooning and wailing.  After a few minutes realize it is the call to prayer, part of the diverse fabric of this multicultural society. 

Suzi has a room down the hall.  The hospital staff arranged this for our convenience.  Reflecting the country’s diversity, the first two floors of the clinic are western medicine, the third floor, oriental medicine. The staff reflects Mauritian society, Black, Indian, Moslem and more. Some nurses wear hijabs, some have red dots on their foreheads.  And then there is the stylish Frenchwoman.  The woman who brings us food has a jaunty chef’s hat on over her head covering. She brought up the chef to meet me.  He has a white chef’s jacket full of patches from all the culinary institutes he has attended along with a Mauritian flag on each lapel.  The food is very good although the silverware is a bit spotty, not dirty but sometimes we don’t get a fork, or a knife, and once they brought me oatmeal with a lot of milk and a tongue depressor with a wide end but no spoon bowel to pick up the milk.   The lady with the chef’s hat shows me pictures of the fruits and vegetables from Mauritius that I will be eating on her smart phone so I can be educated in Mauritian cuisine.   A case manager administrator in a colorful abaya and hajib greets me every day with a kind word and leaves throwing a kiss.  The hospital medical director, Dr. Audrey Patricia, paid a visit.  She is Chinese Mauritian, educated in Ireland.  Her father, Dr. Patrick founded the clinic.  (All doctors are first name here with the prefix Dr.)  The accents are mixed.  A woman with a red forehead dot may have a very French accent while another sounds more from the subcontinent.    

In a way the hospital is old fashioned.  The nurses wear starched whites.  Male docs are in jeans, the female ones more stylish.  While the equipment is modern, records are still pen to paper. One nurse writes my vitals on the back of her hand to transfer to my chart at the nursing station.  At shift turnovers there there’s a literal comparing of notes.  There is a sign saying we need to allow 4 hours for checkout while they gather chits to present the bill.

Teatime is my favorite activity.  I get Mauritian black tea with warm milk sugar, and three “Julie Butter Crackers.” (the hospital calls them biscuits.)  “Julie” of the package is blond with a red hair ribbon and blue dress.  Other than “Julie Butter Crackers” and “Made in Malaysia”, the writing is in Chinese.  Commonwealth, except they taste like a Ritz.  The hospital walls are full of cheerful cartoons. 

The uninhabited island was probably discovered by Arab seamen.  It appeared on a map in 1500 under the name of Dina Arobi.  The first European “discovery” was by a Portuguese sailor named Domingo Fernandez Pereira.  The Portuguese lingered a little.  Then the Dutch came and named the Island after Maurice Van Nassau, a Dutch Prince and Stathouder, their distinction was to eat the dodo birds to extension.   After that the island changed hands between the French and English before becoming independent in 1968.  Some maps show the island as Isle du Maurice, others Morris Island, officially Mauritius.  The dominant religion among the country’s two and a quarter million is Hindu at just under 50%, descended from indentured servants working on the sugar and tea plantations followed by Roman catholic at just over 25%, and Muslim at almost 18%.  The Chinese population is just over 3%.

English is the official language although French is also used in Parliament. Both English and French are taught in schools. The street language is Mauritian Creole, based on French, the language the slaves used before the British abolished slavery and brought in indentured servants   It is used in about 85% of homes and understood by 90% of the population.  Indian languages, like Bhojpuri, also have many speakers.  The hospital office works in French, all the machines and wards are signed in English. On the hospital floor, it sounds like the radio.

Being in a hospital room with no window at eye level my main connection to the country, other than through the staff, is through radio.  TV is mostly programs from other countries that give me little insight.  On radio announcers go seamlessly through a range of languages, especially on the request and dedication shows. 

The music is mixed.  Much is what I may program as “world music” on Raven Radio although with a much larger emphasis on Bollywood.   But my presentation is not as high energy as the local stations’ punctuated by reverb, and lots of electronic stings and zippers.  Listening to pop radio in Mauritius reminds me of a warning Lorenzo Milan once gave to community radio programmers.  He wondered if our playing world music to broaden listeners’ horizons was really playing the Tibetan equivalent of Lawrence Welk, or in today speak, Abba.  In a way it doesn’t matter. 

I wrote this more than a week ago.  I am sending from an airport lounge in Dubai.   I got out of the HDU an into the ‘daisy ward.’  They are all named after flowers.  I have a view of the park strip outside and a ringside seat to the recurring arrival and departure of Cyclone Freddy.  Here are some pics from the window.

In the next posts, I will describe my time in “daisy ward” and the program that allowed me to get out during the day to do some sightseeing and build strength with a little walking, while being monitored morning and overnight.

14 thoughts on “Imagining John Cage in a Mauritian Hospital

  1. Oh my, this is a cliff hangar! I choose to believe that what is said and not said means your health is going in the right direction. Like others I have been thinking of you and wishing you well.

  2. So good to hear from you. I’ve been thinking about you a lot. Thanks for the detailed report from the hospital. You are getting a view ond insights into this country that no one else will have. Life’s twists and turns take us on many adventures that we never thought we would have. Looking forward to reading your next post.

  3. I have been anxiously waiting for your next message. Glad to hear you are progressing. Be healthy soon.

  4. You are a trooper Rich. And what a unique experience. Good to know that you are moving about.

  5. We were happy to read your update. You make even a hospital stay into an adventure!

  6. Thank you for the update. Pleased to learn you are improving.
    Please keep your readers up to date with the next phase.

  7. Rich,
    I have been waiting to hear the next chapter in your adventure. When I said I wanted to travel with you vicarously I had no idea I would learn how to navigate a foregin hospital. Hope all is WELL.

  8. First….my prayers have been with you since reading of your medical emergency. It is encouraging to see this last one was sent from Dubai airport lounge, may your travels see you home safely and your health continue to improve. I have been reading your blog since your last world cruise because my brother and his wife were on that one with you, and you are a better reporter than they were! I have remained reading because i greatly enjoy your photography and your ability to write in ways that make me feel I am present in the moment with you. Such a gift! God’s protection I pray for you and your wife.

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