This song echoes the shops of yesteryear that were close to our homes, an era when supermarkets did not yet exist. Those steel metal shops were run by Chinese immigrants who came to work in Mauritius and who offered credit to families. Those were the days when many families couldn’t anyway, even afford weekly or monthly groceries.
Kids were sent out to buy food whenever the need arose, and sometimes several times a day. Oil was bought by the quarter to fill the kerosene lamp that was used to cook meals. Edible oil was also bought by the quarter while rice and sugar were sold by the kilo. In those early days, you could buy yourself a loaf of bread and five cents of butter before heading to school! Those small businesses sold absolutely everything! That ranged from basic foodstuffs to various household products and all kinds of materials (hardware products, sewing products, school supplies….), the list would be exhaustive! All of that was stored in a complete mess, but surprisingly, the shopkeeper and his wife managed to find their way around pretty easily.
Village children and adults alike enjoyed going there … though not for the same reasons. For the little ones, the candies that were sold individually, the colorful sorbets and the “try your luck” game hanging on the wall, where one could win sweets or small toys attracted them throughout the day. In front of those shops, there often was a village woman with burnt skin sitting on a small stool, frying cakes of all kinds: bringelles (eggplant), piments (chili) and potato cakes … And that was the perfect afternoon snack, topped with a nice cup of tea for many Mauritians.
In a corner of the shop, far from people’s gaze, you could catch a glimpse of what we could call a bar where our elders, tired after a day’s work, would quench their thirst in sipping something much stronger: a nice shot of local rum! Animated discussions over a drink or two with a “gadjack” (appetizer) cooked by the shopkeeper himself, allowed the latter to be informed of everything that was happening around the village. At closing time, it was quite usual to fight hard to convince some of the gentlemen that they should get back home. It also happened very often, that some villagers would come banging on the shop’ s window long after it was closed, begging to sell them through the bars, an item they forgot to buy earlier during the day.
With modernization, it is true that most of those stores have unfortunately disappeared. Luckily, during your whereabouts through the heart of the island, you may still find some of these old shops with a stack of so many heterogeneous objects. These shops, remembrances from a bygone time, are well worth the visit!