September 5, 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 5  

Front Page >> Editorial & Opinions > Coming together in La Réunion


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Coming together in La Réunion

da island coconut
Niru Somayajula

Gazette Staff

Before my summer began, I thought living on a small island in the middle of the Indian Ocean would deprive me of any contact with the outside world. Was I ever wrong.

I made some general assumptions prior to moving to the small French island of La Réunion, situated approximately 800 kilometres southeast of Madagascar. I assumed being on a tropical island meant I would be going to the beach every afternoon, where everyone listened to reggae beats and smoked a lot of pot. What I learned very quickly upon my arrival on the island was shocking, yet remarkable.

My first eye opener was the people and how culturally diverse they were. Due to physical location, the island is built up of four races: Chinese, Malgash (from Madagascar), Indian and Caucasian from the mainland (France). Over the past 150 years, people on the island have mixed up a fair bit, yet individual cultures are still present. You can be in a town on one side of the island and witness fire-walking Indian rituals, while the other side of the island could be celebrating the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana.

Like the people, the music in La Réunion can also be classified as hybrid. You can, big surprise, hear reggae blaring out of many cars by the beach. Granted, they're probably tourists in their rented cars trying to fit in, but they are nonetheless. The real music of the island you would hear at parties and bars is Sega and Maloya. A melange of reggae, soca, pop, Latin and at times choral music, is infectious and erotic music and it begs to be danced to.

While the island held the facets of the tropics, the main attractions were the mountains and the live volcano that happened to erupt, as if on cue, upon my arrival. Instead of spending lazy days at the beach with a cocktail, you would be more likely to find traffic jams on the roads heading into the mountains at 6 a.m., because that's when you had to leave home if you wanted to make it to the summit before clouds moved in late morning.

First impressions are a funny thing. You can find them incredibly surprising or entirely predictable. I was fortunate enough to have spent my summer working on an island halfway around the world, yet found the nature of the people remarkably similar to us here in North America.

I'd like to claim myself as a bonafide island girl, having completed the prerequisites of surfing, scubadiving and lots of island cocktails, but I think true island spirit lies in the heart, which I don't think one can learn.

It seems wherever you go in the world, people stay the same. They have the same goals, passions and needs. It just goes to show assumptions and first impressions have nothing in common.



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