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Waiting for Sunset in Seychelles

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SeychellesNseobong Okon-Ekong participated in a leisurely boat cruise on the Indian Ocean  to capture the coastline of Victoria, capital of Seychelles and the muse over the setting of the sun. Visitors go to Seychelles for a variety of reasons. One of the most intriquing pull to the tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean is the advertised manner in which the dying sun departs the sky, each day. The Seychellois themselves have made something of a little myth out of this common place natural phenomenon that occurs on every part of the globe. The question is: Is there a place where there is no sunrise, and conversely, sunset? Why is sunset different in Seychelles? Why is there so much activity that borders on the fetish attached to a simple natural gesture like sunset? It is simply about placing a certain premium on one’s product.

Seychelles 2So, the Seychellois have convinced the rest of the world that there is something magical about sunset and sunrise in their country. They say there is no sunset (or sunrise) like sunset in Seychelles. To be sure, it is the same sun that breaks forth out of the darkness of the night, wherever you are. It is the same sun that dims its intense light at dusk. The same sun you know. In its 24-hour orbit around the sun, it remains to be seen where else people so fuss about the rising or setting of the sun as they do in Seychelles. Most hotels in Mahe, the biggest of the 115 islands that make up Seychelles dutifully announce on their notice boards, the expected time of sunset and sunrise, each day. They know it is a popular passion that guests want to connect with. Another element that Seychellois have taken full advantage of is the Indian Ocean, the large body of water, that can be found every where you turn. For this reason, the hoteliers also make a point to announce the high tide and low tide.

Not since the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians of yore made a deity of the sun and paid obeisance to it, have human beings shown so much admiration to that fiery ball in the solar system which is generally acknowledged as the source of life to all living things, whether plant or animal. However, the reverence for the sun in Seychelles is purely about leisure and additionally an economic activity. It is far from a religious objective.Tourism is the pillar of the economy of Seychelles, with  contribution of over 70 per cent.  With a total population of 86,000 people, Seychelles has an annual tourist arrival of 233,000.

That is five times her adult population. Being a nation that is proud of the diverse roots of her people, it is impossible to tie the Seychellois to a particular ancestral heritage. Mr. Serge Robert, a 60 year-old hotelier in Bird Island, Seychelles agrees that somewhere in his lineage is a mixture of African and Indian blood, but he argues that knowledge of such a background does not shape who he is today. “Of what use is it to me if my great, great grandfather ruled a kingdom somewhere? He queried, He, like many Seychellois, like to forget the past. They would rather celebrate the present reality of being part of a country with peoples from all races and colours. Even its known ties to France has been given a unique colouration. It is now proudly Kreol. Yes, the language sounds like French, but not quite. The Kreol language is a national identity forged by a mixture of Indians, French, Africans, Chinese and the English. It is Seychelles!

This mix is reflected in all walks of national life in Seychelles and has helped the country keep the ship of state on an even keel. A few weeks ago, the country’s ruler, President James Michael celebrated his 10th anniversary in power. A look at the composition of his cabinet reflects this diversity. Surrounding his own image at many public displays are faces of Asians, Indians, Europeans and Blacks in his ruling team. The Seychellois currency shares the same name, Rupee, as the Indian currency. The Seychellois Rupee exchanges 10 of its own for one American Dollar. It was no surprise then that in planning a reception cum press conference, the Seychellois Minister of Culture and Tourism, Alain St. Ange brought together all the prominent elements in the myth that makes the modern state of Seychelles. The event was packaged in the form of a welcome boat cruise for the 2014 edition of the International Carnival of Victoria. As the boat set sail from the port of Victoria, capital of the country, its two decks were filled with people. The one-hour cruise on the Indian Ocean was timed to achieve many purposes, one of which was to give the 151 journalists who were visiting the country for the carnival an opportunity to view the coastline of Victoria, and more importantly to capture the famous Seychelles sunset that the press conference held inside the 350-capacity ‘Cocos Ices of Praslin’.

This time, Captain Wilby Yoceite and his crew were not on a normal ferry operation; from Marie to Praslin and Laguine. It was a leisurely cruise at the speed of a tortoise. You should note the pun because the tortoise and turtles can be found everywhere in Seychelles. Representatives of all the organisations, ministries, departments, companies and nations were on board the Cocos Ices as it crawled lazily into the blue waters of the Indian Ocean. Minister St. Anges’ colleague in the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture was on board (Seychelles’ second revenue earner is fishery). Perhaps the most senior official of government on board was the Vice President of Reunion Island. To have its vice president at the event shows the premium Reunion places on the International Carnival of Victoria. Reunion has been a co-host of the carnival from inception. Apart from the Vice President, Reunion also came with her reigning Beauty Queen and the Managing Director of the country’s tourism board. The other co-hosts Madagascar, Mayotte and South Africa’s Kwazulu Natal Provice were represented by chairmen of their tourism boards. Prominent among corporate organisations that flew their flag on the boat cruise was the telecommunications, Airtel which addressed the communication need of many a visitor by distributing free SIM cards. The official airline of the carnival, Air Seychelles and Etihad were very visible for all to see as the boat cruise progressed. Etihad provided international connection that brought many of the participants from Europe and the Americas via Abu Dhabi. Other airlines that are active on the Seychellois route are Kenyan Airways and Emirates, even though both are yet to come on board the carnival train.

Cultural entertainment from some of the participating countries which had started on the Wharf of Port Victoria continued inside the boat. Troupes and individuals from South Africa, Kenya, Sweden, China, Korea Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, Zambia and Mozambique presented a colourful spectacle that drew rounds and rounds of applause, giving a verve to St. Ange’s statement that the carnival is “The melting pot of cultures……an explosion of culture.” Just before the Seychelles Minister of Tourism and Culture addressed the press, the host country presented its secret and heart-warming entertainment package, a detachment of the National Choir of Seychelles led by a lady, Xia Lu Lownam. Their rendition was very much appreciated. By the time the two ladies who compered the event in English and French pleaded the indulgence of the audience to turn their attention away from networking and photography, the sky was totally dark. The boat had navigated up to the West point and was now anchored at St. Anne Island for the press conference. Oh, I did not forget the important matter of the setting sun. it was about 6.17pm(Seychelles is four hours ahead of Nigeria), when a change in colouration of the sky caused a stir in the boat. Steve Oni and Chidi Ekeh, members of the production crew of Yvonne Bassey’s television programme, Through The Eyes of An African were part of the surging crowd that focused their recording devices on capturing the disappearing sun. This movement caused the boat to tilt slightly and several appeals had to be made on the public address system to bring home the imminent danger. But the situation was far from causing any panic.

As if the dying sun was mocking those who gathered to record its exit, the celestial elements connived to tease eager photographers film crew, and those holding up their camera phone. Between folds of grey cloud, it revealed, at first, a shade of orange which took over some portions of the grey sky. Then slowly as if peeling the layers of a bulb of onion, portions of the grey receded to reveal a bright orange glow. This evening, half of the orange ball was visible. The other half remained tucked into the grey sky. To the revellers who wanted a slice of the dying sun, no matter, how little, it was better than nothing. There are evenings when waiting with baited breath, camera on the ready to capture sunset in Seychelles amounts to waiting in vain. Today, the wait was rewarding. Many were still talking about it as the boat returned to Port Victoria. They were happy to have a slice of the setting sun on Seychellois sky registered on their gadgets.


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