Don's Diary

January 31, 1997

Monday

Long flight south overnight with a group of colleagues to Mauritius for the summer school of a degree programme we offer there through flexible learning. We are the first flight allowed in for a couple of days as cyclone Danielle has hit the island over the weekend inflicting considerable damage.

Arrive to a bizarre scene occasioned by a dearth of luggage trolleys. The sole entrance and exit of the terminal is completely gridlocked by about 400 determined passengers pushing their trolleys in or out of the doorway while desperate local police give futile traffic directions. I am dispatched to the car park to find an abandoned trolley to transport our mountains of luggage, books, learning materials and laptops. Find the place swarming with other trolley-hunters, equally vigilant and ruthless. Achieve my prey by stubbornly holding on to the trolley of a French film crew for ten minutes while they unload their equipment, fending off predators meanwhile.

Three hours after disembarking we clamber into two taxis. Having been here last year we know the going rate and knock them down to half price. The drivers are not amused, take revenge by racing across the island so that we reach our hotel in Flic-en-Flac feeling distinctly queasy. Stay up late organising my overheads for the next morning. Will the course study guides have arrived safely?

Tuesday

Early start with a colleague to cross the island for an 8.45am class. Danielle has now passed leaving brilliant skies and part of the hotel roof peeled back like the lid of a sardine tin. We arrive early at the British Council office in Rose Hill to find it locked but with a small group chatting by the doorway.

"You look like a group of students!" we observe. "Well you look like a couple of foreign lecturers!" they retort. Much chatting and handshaking on the pavement as more students arrive. The door eventually opens and we all troop in. Discover the overhead projector will not work because the power lines are down. Danielle again. At 8.4am,, however, the lights come on and we are off. The group is keen and able and personable. They like the university course materials and we have a good day together.

Wednesday

Four of our team down with a stomach upset. Effects of Danielle on the water supply, apparently. After this morning's teaching visit a favourite little cafe, the Sa-Naz, which I have discovered behind the market. The Muslim proprietor makes excellent vanilla tea and we share a common passion for Manchester United. He is a regular pools man and updates me on the week's scores. Finish teaching at four and catch the bus home through the beautiful and strange Mauritian countryside. The smaller banana and pineapple plantations have been flattened by Danielle. The local farmers' work for the year wrecked in a night. The workers in the sugar fields, a fellow passenger tells me, are imported labour from India and the Philippines. Younger Mauritians no longer want such backbreaking work under a scorching sun.

Thursday

Teach research methods all morning in the stifling heat and then the students throw a small party for which they have prepared a fabulous range of local food. We unwind over dinner by a moonlit Indian Ocean, conducting a long, intense discussion about the Harris report on postgraduate education while our fellow guests, much more sensibly, dance the Sega in the background to the accompaniment of the local Creole band. Late in the evening walk along the beach under a sky fiery with stars and pick out, for the first time, the Southern Cross. Also marvel at what I consider to be another strange southern constellation until I realise I am looking at Orion upside down. As I climb the hotel steps I comment on the beauty of the scene to the hotel security guard. "Yes, this is Paradise," he says, seriously.

Saturday

Back to winter at Gatwick. Bid farewell to colleagues going straight on to Scotland and catch the London train. Alighting with my bags and boxes at Clapham Junction I crash, melodramatically, down the huge gap between the platform and the train, feeling two ominous cracks in the process. Next I am hurtling across South London in an ambulance with the attendant regaling me with details of his credit points for a part-time BSc in paramedical studies. That night I am under general anaesthetic for an operation on my broken leg and ankle. Wake up with very sore back to find aforementioned limb encased in plaster. The nurse administers a delicious shot of pethidine. "That's what I'd give you if you were in here having a baby." The poor soul in the adjacent bed has been badly mugged, with his teeth kicked out and both arms smashed. He shouts out against his attacker in his sleep while the elderly person opposite with a broken hip and Alzheimer's thinks it's the doctor speaking and summons him over. So . . . how will I get back to Edinburgh? How will I now pick up the kids from school? How much work can I do by email? Oh God . . . "Yes, this is Purgatory", I think, seriously.

Ray Land, Senior lecturer in educational development, Napier University, Edinburgh.

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