Maldives Rowing Volunteer

R.I.P.

11/23/2011

5 Comments

 
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Two pieces of very sad news. Firstly, little Pingu died last week - he/ she (never established which it depended on the day and its antics what gender it was!) got bitten by a snake. Yes despite what you read in the guide books they do exist in the Maldives. This was the second instance of a snake in that week. The first one got killed and popped in a jar of formaldehyde to live in the biology department of Addu High School. Well I cried lots and we buried Pingu in Shiji's back garden where he had been living since we got back from Hulhumeedhoo. Definitely very much missed by all.

The second tragedy is that I perched my delicate behind onto my kindle and it broke!!! Incredible I know but there you have it. I was in the middle of two books as well - aaaggghhh. This is why books are so much better than high feluting electronics - they are pretty much indestructable. This disaster prompted me to sally forth into the local library (something i've been meaning to do for ages and not got round to - nothing like incentive to spur you on). Well for 10 rufiyaa - 50p - i can become a member and take out a vast array of books. Some more classical than others. Bee you will be pleased to know they have enough books here to indulge my weakness for time travelling romance to my heart's content!

x Tash


 
 
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(I have now uploaded lots and lots of photos from the day please see them all here)
0415 and my lovely Nokia alarm hauled me awake. Washed, dressed – nice Dhiraagu polo shirt and a new pair of board shorts specially for the occasion. Took the battery for the camera out of the charger (amazing I know, my battery is never charged – George’s wedding, shark diving, most of the trip round China....)and left my room into the pitch dark morning. The sky was amazing – no moon and loads of stars looking like you could reach out and touch them and only me on the now fully tarred main road - Orion, and the southern cross being the only two constellations I can identify with any certainty. (Thanks to Becs I’ve now added the little know ‘tennis racket’ to that list!).Then while calling Sinan, Sarey and Roba I pedalled down to the power house and started getting all the gear down to the water ready to go – tyres, rope, lifejackets, blades, fuel, the ever present plastic bags full of odds and ends and the bucket cum tool box. Roba laughed at me when I told him I was nervous and had butterflies..... 

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Luckily loads of the kids had to walk by the power house to get to the swim track so we dragged 7 into the boats to help us row them out to the course.  I went in the launch and Sinan and Roba took the motor bikes around. You know the mental puzzle of having one boat and a load of people or animals on one side of the river and you have to get them all across in a certain number of moves or with various restrictions – well I think all Maldivians would ace that game as they do it on a daily basis working out how to transport loads of people to various locations on only one or two bikes.

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The sun by this time was coming up and as we rounded the bend out into the lagoon it was obvious we were going to certainly start with no wind at all - the water was like glass. All the equipment had arrived and a frantic few minutes was spent getting it all in place and greeting all the students as they dragged themselves along - no one enjoying the 0545 arrival time! Roba soon had them organised into schools. Everyone looked very smart in school colours, flowers in hair and carrying school flags and or shields. Once everyone was in order I dished out the rules and introduced our sponsors – I’m sure they’d worked it out by this time given the profusion of paper caps on heads! The first competitors were announced and we were off. 

Guin and Becks were in charge of timing from the Dhiraagu tent armed with stop watches, whistles and two megaphones ably supported by Roba and the MNDF. Ira and Sarey were in charge of getting the students in and out of the boats after each race and making sure we had the right students at the right time. Ably supported by the teachers and our amazing notice board (sadly not made of cork board – wood coated in nice red beize had us all fooled for a while – however with a bit of effort and much cursing pins and paper were encouraged to find a precarious grip) which in true GB rowing style had a bus timetable and circulation pattern ..... I was very impressed with myself! 

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Sinan and I were in the launch getting boats to the start, starting the race and providing steering tips and hints on the way down. I even had one of the biggest megaphones known to man at my disposal. I stupidly listened to Sinan who informed me the on switch was the red button which I duly pressed and deafened most of the island with the alarm siren. However, once we’d turned it on properly, and I remembered to use it, it worked really well and I had a voice at the end of the day (not sure everyone else was so happy about that).  We had two further safety launches from MNDF who also provided trips for staff up and down the course and seemed to have an amazing supply of drinks and snacks that Sinan and I made the most of through the day. 

As the day progressed little issues such as what to use as a starting flag were ironed out – I switched from using a lycra to one of the very large Dhiraagu flags. FISA rules were explained to Sinan and I through the day so hopefully we got one or two of the races spot on! The students were great all proceeding up in single file to the start, with just the odd alternative thinker, and generally getting themselves nicely lined up. The fact we were through the start line most of the time when starting was something we let slide. Did mean we had a girls crew post the fastest time of the day much to the U18 and 16 boys anguish until I explained they had been 50m through the line by the time we were ready to go. Note for next time: have the marshalling point miles above the start line!!

To be continued.....

 
 
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Right as I haven’t kept you all up to date with events as we went along the story of this incredible day is coming to you in instalments – it worked for Charles Dickens so I’m sure it will work for me....

November the 4th was the date of this auspicious event. We had a few wobbles in the week leading up to it - the date and location being changed on a daily basis. Finally, with a bit of a stress from me alternative suggestions were stopped on Wednesday morning at 1100. The area by the swimming track was chosen because we could row the boats there, it offered great viewing for the spectators and a large open ocean if steering should go awry!  Great, we now had one and a half days to pretty much get everything in place. 

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A whirlwind of activity ensued – sponsors were found, Dhiraagu (one of the two telecommunication companies in the Maldives), who leapt into overdrive to get all the medals, trophies and prizes down from Male and ready for 1600 on Friday – oh and did I mention that Thursday turned out to be a public holiday!! Invitations and certificates were printed, a meeting with all the schools squeezed between prayers and Muhibbuddins School prize giving, the 5 hours of which I sadly missed as I had a meeting with MNDF in Feydhoo. We needed to see if we could erect some shade on the spit of land that jutted out into the sea. Oh and lay a buoyed course at the site.... Shade was not possible with 2000 soldiers sleeping under tents in Gan and any other tenty material being used to keep rain off vital building works there was none to spare for the rowing event. However, I was promised six guys and some bricks would be on site at 10 SHARP on Thursday morning to set the course out. I promised I would also be there SHARP with yellow oil drums (acting as floats), my assistant coaches and hundreds of meters of rope – oh and a measuring tape as none of us had any idea how long the course was going to be...... 

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Guin and Becs also turned up in the midst of this furore they were met by the police, given refreshments and then via a small detour to the wrong guest house dropped off at Ocean Lead (more popularly known as Scoop house) my new abode until the SAARC summit is over. My previous residence has undergone a full on face and body lift and been transformed into ‘State House’ – it looks amazing! In fact most of the Atoll has undergone a full on transformation (there should be a warning ‘no epileptics allowed out after dark’ the quantity of flashing lights festooning offices, shops and any static structure is truly incredible). 

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Thursday dawned and we were on the water at 630 giving the students their final practices at getting up to the start line in single file and turning in order ready to race. Blades were painted (thank god it’s hot and sunny here) and all the stickers Guin had bought with her were attached to the four boats – they looked ‘well smart’! After going to the swim track at 10 and discovering we had a perfect 200m to race over I left the MNDF equipped with snorkels and a very nice inflatable rib (would look great as a coach boat) and headed to the office to round up the rest of the equipment and see what could be done about shade. 6pm Thursday evening and we finally found something – a metal  frame that could be draped in tarpaulin (tharuphali in Divehi). The police moved it from the field in front of the youth centre for us. So by 8pm 100 chairs, 3 megaphones, umbrellas, tent, flags, podium (took the day to track down) tables and a very swish notice board were all under one roof loaded into the pick up truck ready to be taken to the course at 0530 the following morning. Start lists were printed and tshirts, stickers and caps from the sponsors had been delivered. I fell into bed at midnight secure in the knowledge I could do no more and I only had 4 hours sleep ahead of me.....

 
 
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Taking tuna to the turtles
Hello again, after a brief departure from the Male island area I am back, sadly not refreshed and revitalised, but very much enthused!  I have spent the past couple of days in the company of the lovely Tiny Island Conservation team on Naifaru in Lhaviyani Atoll. Tiny Island is the only community run conservation programme in the Maldives, running a turtle nursery, conservation education programmes and other programmes through the brilliant Naifaru Juvenile, an NGO run by Naifaru locals.  After 8 months in the Maldives I have at last visited an island that does not lie in the shadow of Male and it was a fantastic experience, particularly to meet people so passionate about improving their island and the lives of those there and most importantly, doing something positive about it.  There is a huge amount for me to learn from what is happening in Naifaru, and I have returned bursting full of inspiration of what can be done if you set your mind to it!

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Teeny tiny turtles
Other residents of the island include over 100 baby and young turtles in both the nursery and in the sea station (a turtle halfway house).  The volunteers, currently the lovely and very hard working Hannah, Kirsty and Liam, have the job of cleaning, feeding and caring for all the turtles until they can be released, not a task for the light hearted or weak stomached, the smell is more than over powering when the nursery is opened in the morning!  The majority of the turtles arrived after being confiscated from a poacher by the police a couple of weeks ago, a fantastic job by the police in the fight against turtle poaching.

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Dhon Dhooni, the celeb turtle
One of the most famous residents of the turtle nursery is Dhon dhooni, the albino turtle, a real rarity and sadly cannot be released as he would be a very easy snack for a passing shark.  Hopefully Dhon will be able to live with his growing celebrity and not let his ego run wild and become the Elton John of the turtle world, demanding only the pinkest tuna and white sea grass, although if he could sing to the other turtles like Elton they might forgive him - I have digressed I am sorry! 

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Nasty, nasty bird, no idea what it is
Whilst on Naifaru, I had a mostly great time, getting really close to turtles, having seen them in the wild whilst diving it was fab to see them up close and see the amazing colours (apart from Dhon Dhooni). The only down side to the trip was this bird, someone's "pet" which was wandering around getting in the way and refusing to move for anything.  The pesky bird bit my toe whilst I was trying to help get it out of the way and caused and severe injury (well a cut to the toe but it jolly well hurt), definitely my least favourite Naifaru resident.  My least favourite part of the trip was the boat ride home, having had a flat calm beautiful trip out here, the return was an absolute horror.  Three hours on a very noisy speed boat, rear facing with no view outside, stifling the urge to vomit and bracing yourself against the back breaking jumps over the waves and I mean back breaking, I can barely stand up straight today, is not a glamorous way to travel, in fact it is up there in the top five worse journeys of my life! ( It is beaten only by journeys under a terrible hangover curse and then only just)

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Invurtle alert
On to one of my favourite residents of Naifaru, "The Invuuuurtllllllles" the two turtles with inverted shells, who live in the sea station, with their inside out shell, they look like they have been in a turtle road accident and been shunted on a turtle highway in the sea.  Anyhow they appear to carry on as normal despite continually having their bottom stuck up in the air whether they like it or not - not the best way to live your life.  Swimming with the turtles in the sea station was lovely, even if they did like to have a little nip of anything they could get in their nosey beaks.  There is not much more peaceful in the world than watching them contentedly munch on the sea grass or just relaxing with their front flippers on their shells.
Big thanks to everyone at Tiny Island and Naifaru, especially Hana and Mohammed for letting me come and visit their programme and hopefully I will have more news soon as the reason for my trip.  In other rowing news, Guin and Rebecca are now down in Addu to witness to rowing revolution that is taking place down there, unfortunately they will be returning to Male before the grand rowing regatta (rescheduling threw the timetable out of kilter a bit!).  However they will be able to witness the growing boathouse on Hulhumale and meet some of the super swimmers before they return to the UK.  We will have more of an update from the South soon, but have a look at all the photos from Naifaru and bye for now!

Rachel