My official processing begins with the aid of Shiva, a debonair Indian with a lush moustache worthy of writing home about. His cheekbones are so high you could hang curtains from them. He calls me Jane Miss which must be the order used in Hindi. He helps me leave the Nasandhura and repair to the Abalone guesthouse since the MOE don’t have a budget for the debatable majesty of the former. The Abalone is a minute guest-house down a tiny side-street.
The receptionist is fair vibrating with excitement when I cross her threshold. Left in my room for a few moments, I can see the bedding is disagreeable. I immediately spend not a small amount of time reshuffling the sheets and pillows until I find bits that might pass for clean in a blackout. The gaseous odour emanating from the bathroom is routing my nostril-hairs. I race downstairs to acquire all manner of cleaning requisites. After some frantic spraying, brushing and swilling, my toils are rewarded – not a jot.
From what I have seen, the Abalone is, at best, the distant side of crummy; at worst, nothing a box of matches couldn’t rectify. I won’t complain as I prefer not to garner a reputation as one responsible for producing breakdowns in MOE personnel. And to be fair, it is only for a few days and I escaped being dispatched to the far-flung Fuvahmulah. I cannot keep Shiva waiting, sentry-like any longer so away we go.
‘What is your job at the Ministry, Shiva?’ ‘I am having no job from MOE. I am working only from Athama Palace Hotel. New teachers stay there. Actually, Jane Miss, you are getting the very special treatment. Indian and Sri Lankan teacher ladies are together, eight or ten, in one room. And the Athama is not as good as this one.’ Crikey dick.
Quite how much less good does not bear thinking about. It is quite telling if they think they are treating me in the manner to which I am accustomed. Do they really have no idea how we westerners live? Now I sound like some snooty colonialist who should be punched. It’s not that slumming is beneath me. I went to live on a kibbutz years ago expecting to rough it but that surpassed the decrepit Abalone.
Shiva escorts me to various appointments in taxis. But he never gets in with me. Preferring for grounds unstipulated to follow behind on a motorbike. Thus, a little motorcade cruises the teeming mini-metropolis of Malè, where something like 125,000 people live and it is as if they are all on the streets at once. Most roadways are narrow lanes flanked by front walls of buildings.
Often there is no footpath. It is quite diverting to be a passenger while the taxi exactingly inches along to avoid abrasions. The buildings off the few main roads are older and a bit more cobbled together looking. There are shops everywhere, especially shoe and material stores. I have the impression of being in a maze and once the sea is out of sight, become completely disoriented such that Malè seems to me to be much bigger than it really is.