While hiking, we happened to come across a man who lives in the forest. Over a cup of tea in his makeshift tent, which had been damaged over time, he told his story to Le Dimanche/L'Hebdo.

Trapped in traffic jams. Choked by pollution. Overwhelmed by daily stress. Today’s society relentlessly pushes us to chase time and money. For many, the dream of a meaningful, peaceful existence remains a distant aspiration, hampered by the inevitable demands of work and family responsibilities. Yet some find ways to live in harmony with nature, skillfully navigating the unforeseen challenges that life throws at them.

A Friday in June. We are hiking in a forest on the island. As we walk, mischievous monkeys jump nimbly from one branch to another in the trees. Their antics brighten up our path. Suddenly, we come across a makeshift tent. Daringly, we approach to take a closer look.

On a vine that naturally strangles two trees, clothes dry in the sun. On a wood fire, rice boils in a pot blackened by time. A little further away, a man throws peels and pieces of fruit to monkeys who gobble them up and flee at lightning speed to eat them at altitude.

With a toothless smile, the man who speaks to the monkeys greets us and invites us to join him. As we walk towards him, statuettes installed under the magnificent trunk of a gigantic conifer attract our attention. The Virgin Mary, Saint Francis, an angel and a garden gnome greenish with mold… “This is my chapel where I pray every day,” the man tells us.

Who is he? To find out, he invites us to take a seat on a beach chair overlooking the expanse of water in front of his makeshift tent.

He removes the rice pot and places a coal-black deksi in it to warm up some tea he has kept in a large empty paint bucket. Then he fills a cup of tea and comes to sit on a rock next to us.

While smoking a cigarette, he reveals his name and age. He has been living in the forest for a few years, he confides. Marvin (not his real name) says he is originally from Port-Louis. Growing up in poverty, he left school after the Certificate of Primary Education (CPE) to work to help his family. He started out making rattan furniture.

Does he have family? “I lived with my mother and I never married. I have brothers and sisters that I see from time to time when I go to town,” he answers. His mother, who is no longer with us, sold vegetables at the “bazaar” and they lived in a house in a suburb of Port-Louis before going to another village in the north of the country.

“Do you live in the forest?” we ask. “Yes. It’s been a few years now,” Marvin replies. Marvin admits that after his mother died, he struggled and ended up living under bus shelters and bridges. One day, tired of this situation, he decided to live by his own rules by building a makeshift tent in this forest.

His house in the woods

Marvin made his makeshift tent from recycled plastics. The mattress he uses as a bed was given to him by hikers who met him in the forest. There is also a camping tent patched together with sticky braid. It serves as his “closet” in the wilderness, where he keeps all his belongings.

In his “house” that has only a plastic roof without improvised walls to protect him from the cold and the breeze, there is an alarm clock that allows him to know the time. On a wooden beam, we find a container hanging from a nail. Seeing us scrutinize his modest home, Marvin tells us with a laugh: “This is my fridge. I put my food in there so the monkeys don't come and steal it.”

As he returns from a fishing trip, Marvin has already cleaned his fish “Tilapias”. The wood fire being still alive, he places a “karay” in it in which he pours oil. His fish washed, he brushes them with coarse salt and drains them before placing them in the now hot oil. The crackling makes us nostalgic for our grandfather who used to cook in the same way during our childhood.

Then Marvin opens a “tempo” as black as an espresso. He shows us his “toufe bred.” He picked the “breds” from a wasteland near a hospital. “Can you cook, Marvin?” we want to know. “No, not really. I do what I can to survive,” he says. His dinner tonight will be fried fish, “toufe bred” and white rice.

Wild life

Isn't it hard to live in the forest, far from everything? “I used to work as a gardener. That gave me money to buy groceries and a beer from time to time,” Marvin says. Now he catches fish in a trap and sells crayfish for a few rupees. Do they find buyers? “Sometimes I have to travel miles to sell them. Luckily I have a bicycle.”

Peeking behind his makeshift tent, we find his precious vehicle with a basket parked under a tree. Further on, we find buckets of water under more trees, soap, a pitcher and slippers. “This is my bathroom,” he says with a smile.

How does he cope with the winter temperatures, especially since his makeshift tent is open? “Hikers gave me blankets. I’m used to it now.” And what does he do when it’s pouring rain? “Well, I just lie in bed and wait for it to pass, and the nice thing is that I can watch the rain until I fall asleep,” Marvin explains.

And during cyclones? “I try to protect what I can and if it gets destroyed, I rebuild,” he says. Does he know when bad weather is coming? “I listen to the weather on my radio. But it’s broken. So I watch the sky and I can anticipate the weather,” Marvin says.

What does he do when he is sick? Marvin has some medicines in stock in the tent that serves as his closet. Otherwise, he takes his bike or walks to the hospital and receives treatment.

Does he spend the holidays and New Year in the forest? “Yes. I go fishing for crayfish. Then I fry them up for a nice meal and buy myself a bottle of wine to mark the occasion,” he smiles.

“You’re lucky to have shellfish for dinner. They’re very expensive in the city,” we say. “Yes! That’s the joy of being able to fish and eat in the forest. I can’t complain, it gives me a hotel-worthy meal that I eat under a thousand stars without spending a fortune,” he replies good-naturedly.

When the weather is nice, Marvin goes about his business and goes fishing. His day starts around 6 a.m. He brushes his teeth, washes himself and gets dressed. After boiling tea, he goes to remove his trap to see his catch. He chooses what he will eat for his meals and puts the rest in his basket.

After breakfast, he takes his bike to go and earn his living here and there. Once he has sold everything, he stops at the market in a distant village to collect the peels and pieces of fruits and vegetables thrown away by the merchants in order to bring them back to feed his neighbors, the monkeys. He also stops at the shop on the way to stock up on the provisions he needs.

Back in his makeshift tent, he makes himself another cup of tea and puts his groceries in empty paint buckets with lids, again because of the monkeys. Then he rests a bit. Since he depends on sunlight to cook his meals, he does so in the afternoon. Afterwards, he sits on his beach chair to admire the sunset in all its magical hues in this part of the island where he has taken up residence. In the evening, under the stars, he is no longer afraid of bats as before. The next day, he resumes his routine.

His dream

Marvin grew up in poverty on the outskirts of Port-Louis. Today, he finds refuge in the forest, far from the hustle and bustle of the city. Every day, he faces challenges with admirable resilience. He manages to sell his catch and get something to eat. Despite the challenges, his biggest dream remains simple: to live in a house near a river. Why? “Simply to continue my current lifestyle of being close to nature,” answers this man who leads a life that few of us can imagine.

Call for donations

Under a makeshift tent in the cold of the forest, Marvin's daily life is a constant struggle for survival while waiting for better days. To help him brave this freezing winter and improve his living conditions, we are appealing for donations to provide him with blankets and sheets, useful kitchen utensils such as a spoon, a fork, a tea strainer, airtight bowls, a glass, a plate etc. But also warm clothes, cans and a camping tent in good condition so that he can live more dignified lives. Every gesture counts. If you would like to help him, contact us.

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