They show you churches, town halls, bell towers for city tours but never hospitals. This was a different place. The air tense, and the hustle, unsettling. Everyone was engrossed doing their own thing in the lobby; waiting to see the doctor, taking care of the patients, getting the medicines… That was when I visited the city hospital of Mauritius, limping with about a dozen sea urchin spines in my left foot.
I’d accidentally stepped on one while swimming at one of the beaches in south Mauritius. What was supposed to be a day well spent at the beach turned out to be a painful and scary experience. We then hurried to the nearest public hospital. It had an old English architecture with coffee brown walls that stretched across the hallway into different rooms.
The hospital air was different from the atmosphere I was living in for the past few days; scenic beaches, tranquil forests and the luxury of the resort. The holiday-vibes were absent here. People around me weren’t tourists. The place was hardly pleasant.
In my wait to see the doctor, I got busy observing all the patients in the queue with me. A woman carried her son in a wheelchair and sat right across me. We made eye contact and she smiled at me. I smiled back, worrying if my swimming costume was too out of place. I realized that I wasn’t being treated like a tourist anymore. The more time I spent at the hospital, people there felt more normal, almost like my city, Pune.
There was a man, dressed like a pundit who also had sea urchin spines stuck in his foot. He went in before me. I looked at him with imploring eyes, wanting to ask him if the procedure hurt, but by then, they called me in.
After getting nine injections in my left foot, and having the spines pulled out with forceps, I limped out of the hospital with a numb leg.
I had been visiting different places all that while in Mauritius, you don’t want to miss anything when you’ve come so far. God knows when you’d get the chance to come back. You want to cover all possible attractions mentioned in the brochures or even online to make the most of your trip; to make it complete.
What happens in all this hustle is that you end up in the most common places with so many other tourists that the locals around you get scanty at times. You definitely get to see amazing spots but that quite ironically does not complete your trip.
That’s because one ends up missing out on seeing the local life and the rich culture that is underlying all of it.
In the hospital that day, I got a closer look at the lives of the people who belonged there and thus made a deeper connection with the place. I saw a different shade of this country; the one that was so similar to mine.
For the rest of the trip though, a few things had changed. I wasn’t going to be able to do any scuba diving anymore, I had to limp around everywhere. However, at the same time, everything seemed more real; I got a better perspective of looking at the place.
You don’t always have to end up in a hospital to be able to connect with the people through a channel of pain like I did. There are so many other ways. My parents make it a point to walk up the nearest markets in the morning whenever we’re out on a vacation.
“The markets are always so realistic, people come dressed up in their usual clothes, lots of chaos in the local language, there’s always so much fresh local food and you get to see so many people going to work on the way, it’s fun”, my mother says.
Over time I have realised that the closer look you get at the lives of the people, the more you wander around by yourself, the more public transport you use, the more you try to communicate in your broken local language, the more you stop looking for your kind of food and keep your options open, the more landscapes you click than portraits, the more of a traveller you become.