The other Maldives
We did take full advantage of our one sunny day. My family went parasailing and sea-bobbing (holding onto an electrically propelled pod somewhat similar to what James Bond used in the opening scenes of “Thunderball”) while I took an excursion to inhabited islands with no resorts.
The tour proved to be extraordinary. I was the only guest who had signed up that day, and my guide was Simo Ali, whom I had met earlier in his role as watersports manager.
He took me to his home village, Fiyoaree, population 1,500, which was about a 25-minute boat ride away. We passed dozens of small, low-lying islands populated only by palm trees and the occasional telecommunications tower.
The atmosphere on the island was laid-back, to say the least. About 10 young men sat on plastic chairs in a small cafe, drinking tea and eating sandwiches, but Fiyoaree was by and large a hammock culture, with people lying or sitting in wide-gauge fishnetting strung between trees next to the sea.
Ali said that much of the younger generation has, like himself, left the island for jobs on resorts.
As we walked around, he seemed to know, or was related to, everyone we met; the village comprised three families, he said. I was greeted warmly by all.
What made the visit to that and another slightly more prosperous village most memorable was the slow unraveling of Ali’s life story.
He was born on a boat that was bringing his mother to a medical center for his delivery. School went to seventh grade; he learned English, but his opportunities were limited to tuna fishing or tourism. He chose to go to a hotel school in Male, Maldives’ capital.
After studying for three years, he worked first as a waiter and a tour guide. He learned to dive and had a job in watersports with a Jumeirah resort prior to coming to Outrigger.
But what seemed to be his proudest accomplishment was a successful lobbying effort to get the government to develop a waste management plan for his village.
“I wrote letters,” he said. “I put on a tie and went to Male and spoke to many people in government, you wouldn’t believe how many. But this is our country, and if we don’t care, who will?”
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