Maldives Rowing Volunteer
Blogging I have discovered I suck at. Never seem to do it..... It’s going to have to be one of my New Year’s resolutions to improve!

Since the schools broke up I’ve been running beginners swimming lessons in Hithadhoo and Maradhoo. We’re using the swimming track in Hithadhoo and rather a nice spot by the bridge onto Maradhoo. We get lots of cars stopping to check out what on earth is going on as they clock loads of people thrashing about in the water shrieking with laughter, banter and directions to their fellow swimmers/thrashers. One American guy working on a climate project here asked me if it was a big party. He was genuinely surprised when I said ‘uh no swimming lessons!’.

Ages range from 3 to 12 for the younger 6 groups all of whom mastered the art of bribery much faster than the art of swimming. ‘Yes we will get in the water/kick our legs straight/jump off the swim track mummy if we can have biscuits/cake/lunch at a restaurant/a Barbie doll/toys’. One little girl, Imeely, is a master at it and has so far gone to a cafe for chocolate cake and got a new doll out of the three week course. I have a feeling all the mothers will be glad the lessons are coming to an end as for a free course they are proving quite expensive!!

Imeely is now swimming around festooned in arm bands, goggles and swim hat rather than lying rigid in her mother’s arms screaming. I would like to take credit for this but sadly cannot. Meezan, our beamer of the group, impressed her so much one day by just stepping off the swim track into the water (he did not expect the drop or the total submersion that followed – as proved by his eyes filling the entirety of his goggles when he surfaced)! However, he beamed and paddled off and Imeely immediately paddled off after him and now follows him everywhere!

The 3 adult groups range in age from 18 through to about 50 and are great fun. Only one or two were really scared of the water and the rest threw themselves into my requests with alacrity demanding to be taught to do forward somersaults and headstands. There was much shrieking and laughter when they were practising picking up objects from the bottom of the sea. Being salt water floating is really easy and sinking is not quite as easy as it is in a pool back home. Inevitably, there will be people wriggling about on the surface eyes glued to the plastic egg on the sea floor they are meant to be picking up until finally the need for air makes them lift their head to hoots of laughter from their friends.

It’s great to see the enthusiasm and determination to master the rudiments of freestyle, backstroke, breast stroke and doggy paddle that everyone shows. Deep water is still terrifying to some - huge eyes behind a kick board and legs working like crazy as they swim towards me before turning round and making a dash for the shallow water.

Most days it’s blue sky and baking standing in the sea but we have had our fair share of rain and I seem to have spent the last three weeks permanently damp. One of the best moments was standing up to my waist in the sea as the wind and waves whipped in, the rain poured down as it only does in the tropics, the sun set and we huddled in a water logged group eating barbequed fish and chunks of coconut that one of the ladies had bought along – don’t think she was expecting a deluge from above!

On a more pleasant evening we also had a rapid bbq after the swimming ended at 6. We moved on up the link road to a spot where they had the fish, baked potatoes and chicken grilling away in tinfoil over some hot coals. Everything lathered in a very tasty ‘Maldivian curry paste’ and washed down with raspberry/blueberry juice – the jury was out as to which it was! Azum and I then cycled our very slow and replete way back to Hithadhoo.....   

Azum, is a guy who is totally passionate about any form of swimming. He took his swim instructors certificate earlier this year – transpires lots of people did but hardly any have then gone on to use it. Anyway Azum was down at the track a couple of mornings when i first started and asked if i wanted some help so now the two of us bike up and down coaching swimming and putting plans together for next year. I think I need to be about 5 different people to satisfy all the requests to do things I’m getting.

Needless to say the rowing hasn’t stopped while all this has been going on – three afternoons a week we have rowing running on a ‘drop in as and when you can’ basis with council buses bringing the students up from the other islands. Armed with 4 doubles, Guin’s single, the coaching launch and a peddle boat we hit the sea either going out to the reef for a spot of snorkelling, over to the swim track for a spot of swimming and socialising with everyone out having a good time in the evenings or we see how far we can get down the coast towards Maradhoo. As it’s meant to be fun we don’t get very far before everyone mutinies and heads for the swim track! I have plans for gym fitness and long distances on the water come the New Year.

x Tash

The racing was very exciting we cracked through the morning heats at a rate of knots and moved the afternoon heats down to save time later. Two of our youngest students (11 years old) racing U14, surprised themselves by winning their heat and even got an interview with MNBC which made their day! Guin and I also got interviewed and were able to watch ourselves on the news that night and apparently we were also on the next morning as we popped onto Rachel’s screen while she was eating her breakfast – hopefully my cheery mug didn’t cause too much indigestion!! Oh the heady heights of being a tv celeb!

We only had to re-run a couple of races – one boat lost an oar when it popped out of the gate (just before the 100m mark) and even I knew we could stop and start again! The other restarts were due to a mangle of boats caused by convergent steering from all crews. Much easier to start again than try and apportion blame. Considering we had no lanes the fact we re-ran only 4 races out of 25 just went to show how good the kids really are – weeks of being threatened to ‘steer straight or else’ by me may also have had a part to play!

Just so you get some idea of exactly what we achieved in one and half months, here are a few numbers for you all. On the day we had 90 students competing in just four boats. These had been selected from about 150 students in the weeks preceding the competition. I worked out every school had had 9 sessions each that’s 18 hours, half of that was for girls and half for boys and again the hour session was split by fitness exercises so each student must have been in the boat maximum 9 hours but more likely 6 hours in the past two months. They all rose to the occasion and impressed the pants off myself and the other coaches – we couldn’t believe they were the same lot that had driven us all wild during the week!

The races were really close in all categories – we had one girl vomit on crossing the line – which impressed me being a masochist! Between retches she informed me that she was sorry they had come second in the heat and they would beat the U18 girls in the final - which they duly did.

Racing was put on hold for Friday prayers 1000 - 1400 (hence the mega early start) and recommenced at 1445 once the ambulance had been relocated. Did I mention it was baking hot out there? ..... I felt like a melting ice cream and as I’d banned everyone from swimming while races were going on we just had to cook. However, the afternoon bought a bit of a breeze (nice and cooling) the current also picked up so boats tended to cross the finish line to the right of the actual course! The President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, and various members of his cabinet stopped by to watch a race or two as did Farah Faizal the Ambassador for the Maldivian High Commission in London. Interschool tensions were on super high by this point with Feydhoo, Muhibbuddin, Addu High School and Irushadhiyaa all ready to take chunks out of each other and we ended up with some incredibly close finals with boats crossing the line almost simultaneously which the crowd and competitors loved and kept the time keepers and marshals on their toes!

We finished bang on time - 1730 (which as I’d had no idea how long to plan for each race when I was structuring the day was in my mind a minor miracle)! The award ceremony took place as the sun went down behind the beach after a minutes silence for Matte. Rebecca, Guin and Ibraham Mohamed from Dhiraagu did the honours handing out medals, trophies and prizes with yours truly announcing over the megaphone all the names – hoping my pronunciation was not too atrocious – all the right people stepped forward so I think we were good! The Mayor Abdulla Sodiq and Superintendent for Education Fathimath Naseer presented the coaches and myself with certificates to acknowledge all the hard work we had put in over the last two months.  

Then followed a very enjoyable photo shoot session with all the students and schools before everyone finally left and we set about the not so fun job of clearing up. Luckily, Hafsa at the council sent the truck to pick everything up bang on time. So we loaded the launch, Roba attached his boat to the launch for a tow home, and the rest of us poled back in the dark over the flat glassy water with the stars above. Perfect end to the day. As we put everything away we were all quite sad that something we had worked so hard over was finished, that Matte wasn’t there to see it and wondering what the next project would be and that although it was bound to be good it would never be the same as that first time. Anyway, we finished our maudlin packing went home washed (much, much needed) and headed down to Royal Palm Restaurant for a cheerful celebratory meal. Must admit to missing the pub at that moment......     

X Tash
My last blog from the Maldives, sad times.  I am off back to the UK tomorrow morning and although ridiculously excited to see friends and family, eat cheese, real bread and drink real milk, not be permanently a little sweaty and wear some different clothes, I am of course very sad to be leaving. However..... it is looking likely that I will be returning in the not too distant future so I am not dying inside!

I will write a (slightly) longer blog when I am back in the land of fast cars and loose morals, but in the meantime I can safely say that although this country has irritated me to my back teeth on some occasions, the people I have been fortunate enough to meet and the places I have seen have made my time here fabulous.  The thought of dull grey skies, without the constantly changing clouds, children who don't always want to say hello and not being stared at constantly (actually not the last one, I will be very happy not to be constantly stared at) makes me very sad.  Having only been to one resort and that was in the dark and for two hours, I have not experienced the Maldives that most people see on their holidays, but I have been subjected to the endless ferry trips, rubbish strewn beaches,  and spitting men and I am still desperate to come back, so it is not all bad, if not the brochure perfection image most of us have of this country.

Right , off to bed to dream of E 
Hello, sorry for the radio silence of late, I was waiting for Tash to finish her epic blog posts about the brilliant regatta held down in Addu.  I was most impressed when the television came on whilst I was having dinner and there was Tash, on the news.  I was very impressed - all the photos have made me very jealous - rowing is on it's way to Hulhumale though!
Guin is somewhere in there!
Since my last post, we have had a visit from Guin to the swimming group, which was super popular, of course the children had no idea who she was but any visitor is an excuse to fight each other in the water and therefore worth turning up for!  Anyhow it was great for Guin to see what I have been talking about all these months and meet all the people I rabbit on about on skype.  I was hoping the visit would breathe new life into the boathouse project, and it is looking like I was not hoping in vain.  The new hotel being constructed alongside the boathouse has provided a great opportunity to get even finished to a high standard, utilising all their manpower and tools.  I am ready willing and able, but I would not want a boathouse finished by me, my building skills are not up to much if anything.

In the past three weeks we have been running holiday swimming lessons as all the children are on school holidays, many have gone back to their islands (no one is actually from Hulhumale, much like London) so those that remain are very bored and have been swimming everyday.  I have loved teaching this group, they are mainly the younger children many of who cannot swim and it has been brillant fun, culminating with our snorkelling lessons in which we saw a sea snake, a lion fish, a bat fish, and some other reef fish and caught quite a few bottle fish (a very common fish here that looks a lot like an empty plastic bottle floating in the sea, they are harmless to humans and if seen in the sea should be removed!). Thanks to IntoScuba for lending us the children's masks and snorkels - it was a massive success, we had mothers and grandfathers borrowing the masks to have their first try at snorkelling.

Swimming lessons have now finished on Hulhumale until the return of a coach in the new year (identity yet to be revealed), sad times.  We finished with a minimum fuss certificate ceremony, in which I did almost choke up having to say goodbye to everyone.  The parents and children on Hulhumale have been so supportive and it made me a touch emotional.  I was swiftly brought back to earth having been given a card made by a student describing me as having a smile like a dolphin and being as white a vampire.  I will write up the whole poem soon as it is brilliant! I am utterly convinced that the swimming lessons need to carry on next year, the demand is growing, we just need to work out how to get a coach on the island and get rowing kicked off and I will be one happy little bunny - until that time I still have a lot of work to do, definitely not on holiday yet.

Another reason for the quiet has been the arrival of Mr and Mrs Loveridge, my brilliant parents. They have finally left South Asia, after a month here, I only saw them for five days, but had a great time especially introducing my father to the brilliant underwater world of the Maldives - he was lucky enough to see a HUGE manta on his last dive here, literally massive.  Sad to see them go this morning but not too sad as I will be seeing them in six days back at Gatwick!

So as my time in the Maldives is drawing to a close, although I am hopefully on a return in January, I am getting a bit sad and determined to take in everything, particularly the heat before I head off to the UK, my bag will be very light as none of my clothes here are suitable for British winter and I don't possess a pair of proper shoes.  However I very excited about coming home to see friends and family and having a longed for meal with red meat and no chilli complete with a glass of wine, ahhhhhh................

PS I would just like to mention that if you are looking for all the pictures from the swimming programme they can be found on another site Hulhumale Swimming Programme