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When I asked an official in the Recreation Division about this, he said, "Yes, strange temperament, these boys. They probably felt they had something better to do than get beat. So they went home and played dominoes."
"Or the other thing?"
The official had a South African accent; he told me he spent his vacations in England, but he always felt very happy to get back to the Seychelles. He hoped that I'd have a chance to play the golf course at the Reef Hotel, a clever layout with nine greens and 18 tees; "a very nice tight little course," he described it.
He talked about sports in the Seychelles. "We're very good at netball, which is a version of basketball for ladies. We have natural ability at boxing up through the middleweight division. We're all right at long-distance track, which you might find odd considering the cramped size of the islands. Of course, we're very much outnumbered in population by the countries we play in international competition—Kenya's 13.8 million, Mauritius' one million, even the island of R�union, which has a half million. So we've had mixed fortunes. But the support is fanatical. When we beat Mauritius in soccer, people came out and did headstands on the pitch. In track, we entered the African Games. We didn't do too badly, though we didn't win anything. But someday we will. We're forming an Olympic Committee."
The next day I read an indication of the determination of the sports authorities. Nation ran a story reporting that the Seychelles Football Association was going "to stamp out the prevalence of undisciplined actions by players at national competitions." A number of players were suspended for "foul language." Two players and an executive from Rangers "B" (the team with the amusing left wing and right back) were fined 200 rupees (about $28) for "scuffles" with match officials. The St. Michel team (the one that had trouble fielding a team for the second half) was suspended for the remainder of the season and fined 100 rupees. An editorial (in French) supported the Football Association's actions.
Even more than perusing Nation, my favorite reading on the island was the guidebook. It is as frank as the sports column of Nation and curiously deprecatory about the country it is supposed to extol. "Alcoholism is a terrific problem in the Seychelles," it confesses. Or, "Generally speaking, the Primary Educational System is catastrophic." It complains, "The picking of [cinnamon] leaves is done by women who are not well paid." It can be snide: "The 500-odd British expatriates...are called 'anglais pourris' [rotten Englishmen] by the locals because they are not always cleanly dressed." The guidebook can even dispel some of the charming local legends: "The locals will tell you that men wearing ear-ring are divorced or want to protect themselves from an 'evil eye.' This seems doubtful."
Much of the guidebook gives more traditional information. It lists the hotels (about 50 throughout the islands) and the restaurants, and describes the cuisine of the islands, which is mainly Creole—with the influence of the Indian subcontinent apparent in the vast number of curry dishes—including such fare as shark chutney, beef curry with coconut milk, bouillon of fish heads, curried octopus, escargots in herbal butter, minced ray, fried parrot fish, and so forth. The most exotic and startling dish is chauve-souris, the giant fruit bat, which, as its name suggests, feeds on the juice of the mango, eucalyptus, jackfruit and breadfruit. I saw some of them fly out of the top of a ridge on the island of La Digue and they seemed as dark and big as ravens. Indeed, their wingspan matches that of the raven—about three feet—and they provide almost a pound of food for those who order them in the restaurants where they are the specialty. The bats are caught at the mouth of their caves in nets; each year several hundred of them are served, usually in a curry dish. One of the disconcerting problems with ordering up a bat is that it arrives on the plate looking—as it was described to me—like a very small, muscular man. The manageress of Gregoire's Island Lodge on La Digue told me mournfully, "They have sweet little faces, the chauves-souris, and even with the curry way of doing them, I was dreadfully upset to see them arrive on the plate. I've only had a bat twice—and both times by mistake."
One of the great pleasures of the Seychelles is to be able to take side trips from Mah� to the outlying islands—either by boat or air, the larger islands having grass landing fields. Along with the inevitable splendid beaches, each of the islands seems to offer a character and individuality of its own.
My first trip was to Bird Island, a small coral island, the northernmost of the Seychelles and appropriately enough named because it is the site of a sooty-tern rookery, where at the height of the breeding season more than two million birds crowd one end of the island. The colony was once badly depleted. The terns' eggs are very palatable, and as many as 100,000 eggs a year were cropped from the nesting areas until 1977 when an annual quota of 30.000 was established. When I asked how the collectors could be sure they were picking up fresh eggs, I was told that the procedure was to trample through a marked-out area of the rookery, destroying all the eggs, and then to return a few days later when the birds had laid new clutches.