Saturday, February 23, 2013

The magic of penpals

"Pen pals"....most people would not even know what that means today.
Who even have pen pals these days?

Believe it or not, I had a couple of pen pals throughout my teenage years. They were in France if I remember correctly. I do not remember their names, let alone remember what they look like or what we used to write about. I am fairly sure there is an envelope back in my room in Mauritius with all the correspondence throughout the years.

I remember one of them was in Menton. She sent me beautiful postcards of the festivals there. In 2003 when I visited Monaco, we went through Menton and I fleetingly thought about her.
I had lost track of her, so there was no way I could find her, but it was a good feeling to be in a place where I know someone, I have shared bits and pieces of my life with, was currently living.

What got me so hooked for all these years?
Try sharing your life, what is weighing you down, or what makes you jubilant, with someone miles and miles away. Someone so far removed that you know even if they judge you, it would not affect you. More often than not though, it was an exchange of petty incidents who made you happy or sad at the time, but then you forgot about it until a letter comes in the mail a couple of months later reminding you of the incident! It also showed, that what might seem so overwhelming at one time, may have absolutely no importance in a couple of months! 

What brought back the memory of my pen pals today?
I recently watched an episode of the Jeff Probst show about a college student starting a movement to have more hand-written letters around the world. I thought of doing it too, but I do not really have time for it. Maybe the next time I'm feeling low, I will try it so it may make me think of how blessed I am, and get me on a more positive mood. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Icebreaker

On January 31st, I delivered my first speech for Toastmasters.
In TM lingo, that's CC-1. CC is not for my initials, but for Competent Communicator. There are 10 projects for the Competent Communicator path and I hope to do all 10 projects within the year.

CC-1 was fairly easy to write, you are supposed to write about yourself, give your club a way to know you better. The goal of the project is to get you up there in front of everybody for 4-6 minutes. I believe that I talked for a little bit more than 5 minutes. I learned it by heart, but I fumbled once and I forgot where I was in the speech once, so I had to go back to my notes. I had no qualms about my writing ability. I did have my doubts about the delivery.

The feedback I have received was good. Everybody thought it was well organized and I delivered it well, with voice inflections, peppered with laughter, smiles and eye contact. As I was wrapping up the speech though, I could feel my body relax and my voice changed, gained more confidence. As I go along my Toastmasters path, I hope to get to that level of confidence at the start of my speeches, not as I am wrapping up, with end in sight!

Below is my speech:


"If I were to ask someone on the street to guess where I come from, they would probably be wrong.

If I were to give that person a second chance, they would probably still be wrong. 

Toastmasters and guests, je m'appelle Carine and I am African.
I was born and raised in Mauritius, a tiny island off the coast of Africa.
When I say tiny, I really mean tiny!
In my early years here, when asked by people where my accent is from, and I would get a blank stare in return, I would draw an imaginary world map.

*Draw in the air* 
Africa. Australia.
And someone in between these 2 continents, in the middle of the Indian Ocean, there should be a dot marking Mauritius. That is, if you are lucky. 
Some maps do not even have the dot representing Mauritius.
Some have the dot, but not the label, so people could mistake it for a fleck of dust.

The Mauritian population is made up of mostly Indian, then African, European and Chinese descendants. The culture is diverse, as everybody has brought a little bit of their countries with them.
The history is rife with battles between the French and the British, fierce enemies at the time, both trying to conquer as much land as possible.

Though the Brits were the last to own the country before it was declared independent in 1968, the French colonists were more successful in establishing the language, building roads and naming places. So when they left, tail between legs, the Brits imposed English as the official language and implemented their educational system. But they were not able to kick the french out of the people.
This is how we became bilingual, English and French and to add to the insult, we made up our own third language, creole, closer to french than english.

The French and the British both brought African slaves with them to be domestics and work in the sugar cane plantations. When slavery was abolished, the African slaves were freed and the British brought in indentured labourers from India and encouraged traders from China to come and settle in Mauritius with promises of land and wealth.

My ancestors were among those brave ones taking a leap of faith, leaving China for a faraway island.
In essence, that is what I did some 13 years ago when I came to Canada. Except I didn't come on a ship, but on a British Airways flight. And I didn't come with promises of wealth and land, but with the promise of an education.

The dilemma that I often face today is when I have to fill out my ethnicity on forms.
How do you categorize a french speaking African of Chinese descent?

Of course, physically, I should check the box for Chinese.
But I do not speak the language, nor do I understand the intricacies of the culture!
Should I check the box for French? 
But I have never lived in France, nor do I have the innate taste for wine or cheese.
Should I check the box for African?
Look at me! I do not look remotely like a typical African.
So more often than not, I would end up choose 'Other' or 'Prefer not to answer'.

Please do not pity me though, it is not as if I am ashamed of where I come from.
Mark Twain and Charles Darwin both referred to Mauritius as heaven on earth.
In fact, Mark Twain said 'God created Mauritius first and then paradise was copied after it'. 

So when I'm asked where I come from, although I may not say that I come from the great White North, it is more interesting for me to say 'from paradise on earth'. 
After all, there are only 1.3 million of us who may say that in the world."