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Sunday, November 02, 2008

Venus d'Ailleurs ... From so far ...

Last week, I reconnected with Mauritius through two documentaries on African and Indian migration to the island. They are part of a series of four (the one on French and Chinese migration still in progress) titled Venus d'Ailleurs ... From so Far ..., produced by David Constantin and Alain Gordon-Gentil, a prolific man who has written nine books, and won a prize at the Cannes Festival for a short film he produced on Gandhi.

Gordon-Gentil was in Toronto to present his documentaries. The first one I saw on October 22nd at Alliance Fran├žaise de Toronto was about how Africans came to Mauritius, a poignant account of their plight when they were sold as slaves to work on sugarcane plantations owned by French colonizers. The other presentation on October 23rd at Bai'tul mosque in Maple was about the migration of Indians hired to work on sugarcane fields in Mauritius after slavery was abolished. The documentaries put us into the heart of the people through evocative writing, music, dramatic shots, interviews, and pertinent historical information. They stir compassion for the struggles and difficult living conditions of Africans and Indians who first arrived in Mauritius. At both events, guests were very moved, some to tears. For me, it was a journey that awakened long-dormant attachments to the rich, multicultural aspects of a country I left a long time ago.

It was also my first time in a mosque and I was touched by the atmosphere of tolerance it fostered in hosting the screening, welcoming guests of different ethnic and religious backgrounds, even treating us to a buffet dinner. After the presentation, Gordon-Gentil mingled with the crowd to answer their questions. His easy-going personality, unbound enthusiasm about his work, and interest in people made it a pleasant and inspiring evening for all.

I'd like to thank my good friend Paul Comarmond, Secretary General of IOCP (International Organization of Creole People). He made possible Gordon-Gentil’s presentations in Toronto by including it in Creole Month, an event he helped establish to recognize the importance of Creole in the world.

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