Flying back from Mayotte once, I was sitting next to an elderly woman whose daughter and two grandchildren were on the other side of the aisle. We got to talking and I asked her if she'd gone to Mayotte for a holiday. 'No, I came to rescue my daughter,' she said, and went on to explain, 'She's been married to a local inhabitant for eight years. For the first six years, they lived near me in Grenoble. Everything was fine. Then they went to Mayotte - for him, it was going back to his roots. That's when it started - drinking, womanising, beating my daughter every time he got back. If I hadn't come out to help her escape, there's a good chance he'd have killed her.'
Her story, transformed, made its way into Perfume Island. 'Nature reclaiming its own' was how she put it. But how common is it? I don't have figures, but Valérie Tomas, a doctor in Mamoudzou Hospital, interviewed more than 1000 women and concluded that violence against women in Mayotte occurs more often than in Metropolitan France (where it's already far too common).
When she visited the women in their homes, Tomas noticed that they spent a lot of time watching telenovelas made in Brazil - the audiovisual equivalent of the frozen battery chicken wing they also import from Brazil. And this gave Tomas an idea - why not make a TV series in Mayotte? Chababi Project, produced in Mayotte with local technicians and actors, is entertaining but educational, focussing on the issues facing the island, and especially the woman, but with an upbeat, positive message. The sort of approach encouraged by the Constructive Journalism Project, but applied to fictional dramas.
For all sorts of reasons too complex to go into here, it was rare in Mayotte to come across anyone optimistic about its future. Which I why Valérie Tomas's initiative is all the more welcome, laudable and brave. And proof that with enough enthusiasm and energy, such projects will not only see the light of day but have a positive effect. The series is now in post-production and will hit the screens next year.