Keep Me By the Wavey, Green Colour Water: Living in Maldives with Muslims #10 by Jane Mauret

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Maldives sunset.

The next day I am out exploring and happen to call into the hotel just on noon to find a message telling me to check-in at the seaplane by 12.30pm. I grab my gear and race to Jetty No 8. Incredibly I get to the seaplane terminal on time. Once again I am offloaded and am told to report back at 6.30 am the next day.

Male is a small but busy city Maldives

Typical Malè street, motorbikes glaore.

On my third trip to the seaplane terminal I get a seat on a plane going to Vilamendhoo resort where I am to pick up a speedboat. These resort names mean nothing to me yet but I am glad to know that resort islands are nearby my new home. Boarding with me is a Scots in his late twenties. He is Bruce, a VSO who has been on Mahibadhoo for eight weeks. He is just going to pick up his gear as he has to return to the UK for an operation on his Achilles. Bruce says I will probably be living in the house next to his. Over the whole journey, Bruce regales me on the copious delights of Mahibadhoo.

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Typical Maldives safari boat, the Atoll Explorer.

‘It’s absolutely awful. You’ll hate it. There’s nowhere clean to swim as they all throw their rubbish into the sea. There’s nothing to do. You can’t even buy proper food. And it’s impossible to leave – unless you want to pay hundreds of dollars for a speedboat. You’ll probably go mad.’ Don’t hold back, Bruce. Tell me what you really think.

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Boats Mahibadhoo (where I lived for six weeks).

Positive old Bruce with his disquieting digest is okay with Mahibadhoo since his job as a principal trainer requires him to travel almost constantly. He is very fair and unremarkable except for one tiny thing. He has a touch of the marionette about him as his face is almost entirely immobile apart from a busy bottom lip. I find myself staring in a bid to glimpse something approaching a micro-expression. Later in the day we reach Mahibadhoo where we are met at the tiny wharf by Khaleel (fortyish) and a further deputy principal, Ismail (mid-twenties). Bruce and I are whisked to the Atoll Chief’s House for morning tea. It has high walls and every part that is not a path is crammed with greenery. Chatting about the trip, I offer that it was my first time in a seaplane and I haven’t been in many speedboats either. It transpires this is the first time they have put teachers on such illustrious media.

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Malè, the capital, main centre/main street.

Khaleel might be good-looking, except that he has this strange, concertinaed appearance, akin to Wile E. Coyote after the Acme anvil has landed on him. Without doubt, Khaleel has the sexiest voice I have ever heard. This effect however is slightly diminished at regular intervals by his emitting a deep, drawn-out growl. ‘So … are you a teacher?’ ‘No, Khaleel, I’m not but…’ ‘Hhhhgggggrrrrrmmmm.’  Having learned I am not an educator, both Khaleel and Ismail lose all interest. They have written me off. A matter of fifty metres away are Bruce and my houses, next door to each other. They are concrete with only two tiny windows very high-up to deter the heat. Our homes face a few trees and beyond that, the sea. I have an almost uninterrupted view apart from a large, two-storey, gated building which is the police station. My house design is railway carriage; a series of rooms all accessed one after the other.

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Main street, Mahibadhoo where I lived for six weeks.

The front door opens in to a very small TV room with cable. The next room is six times the size and contains a wardrobe and a King-size bed. It could easily hold two more. The bathroom is quite new and pretty with blue and white tiles. The last room is the kitchen which is much older than the rest, more like an outhouse. It is also very dirty looking and the mini-bar style fridge is rusty and mucky. There are two big gas rings with bowls balanced on top that surely belong to pigs-slash-dogs. Bruce says they are saucepans. Between the charming fridge and bowls, I do not foresee doing much self-catering which is a pity as I love to cook. The back door from the kitchen is so fragile it may as well be made of rice crackers. I am not a little disturbed to see about forty-three lizards making themselves at home in my dream kitchen. Beyond the sturdy backdoor is a shared backyard and clotheslines.

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Maldivian boys.

Bruce and I agree to meet after I have settled in which for me consists of emptying my pack onto the bed and darting out the door. He gives me the guided tour complete with explanations. We are back home in half an hour. The first stop on this giddy expedition had been to where I had noticed a plume of dark smoke to the right of our houses. Oh joy. It is the rubbish dump. The drill seems to be: fling the goods onto the ground; throw down a couple of lit matches; run away. The smoke is due to the fact that most of the rubbish is not flammable. As we walk around the perimeter of the island, I notice rubbish on the ground and on small beaches that scallop the edges. This is not my country and it is not my place to criticise. But I am distressed because the sea is so lovely. I suppose for them the ocean is no more interesting than lawn is for us. Bruce says that the word for rubbish in Dhivehi is similar to the word for sea.

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 Malè fish market.

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