Maldives Rowing Volunteer
Well I’ve been in Addu just over a week now and it’s been quite full on. I arrived last Friday and on the Sunday (which is in fact Monday – Friday and Saturday being the weekend) I had a meeting with the various heads of the schools in Addu Atoll, the mayor and the lady in charge of education for the atoll. I explained the strange set of circumstances that had landed me here and showed them all pictures of the types of boats that were coming – their imaginations were running along the lines of canoes and that needed correcting ASAP! By the end of the meeting all schools wanted me to teach rowing, swimming, life guarding and organise a number of regattas to impress visiting dignitaries and more importantly find out which school is the best at rowing! I’d also been allocated a desk in the education department of the council building and told to report to ‘work’ at 0900 on Tuesday morning – Monday being a holiday for the beginning of Ramazaan. I went and had an ice cream to help me work out how I was to achieve it all.

 Tuesday morning saw me sat behind my desk with a blank computer screen and ‘no clue’ written across my forehead. Luckily Shiba, the lady in charge of teacher training for the Atoll, took pity on me and gave me a very thorough run down of where all the schools were located in the Atoll - I was made to draw a map. Everyone who has seen my little map has been very impressed by it so thank you Shiba! Then I got down to the nitty gritty of organising meetings with the principals. My first call set the trend for every other call in answer to “can i organise a meeting?”  everyone’s answer is ”oh yes are you coming now?” Er, no is tomorrow ok. Oh yes. (no time given) how about 900 oh yes that is good. Phone calls are funny things here no one says either hello or goodbye so I find I’m trying to guess if the conversation has ended or not in order to get a goodbye in. I feel awful just hanging up on people – not a sentiment shared by anyone else as phones are hung up on me with alacrity and no warning – my grandfather would feel very much at home here – phone’s are for business not wasting time and money on niceties!

So a week on all the schools are keen, I’ve been to 6 meetings, I’m struggling to fit all expectations into a timetable that works, boats are due to arrive at the end of the month, trolleys to move the boats around on are being made, a location to store the boats has been found.... Now fingers crossed all promises come to fruition at the right time.

I got given a map the other day – it’s the first time a tourist map has been printed for the Atoll! It’s very big 6 pages of A3 and full of useful titbits of information such as ‘roads can be pleasant to walk around with ample space and no congestion at all’! I have yet to use it for anything practical like finding my way around. Instead I tend to ask about for directions. Not the best ploy. Usually an airy wave of the hand encompassing all land and sea for a good 180 degrees is the best you get. I received this when asking the receptionists at the city council where the bus stop was – these are not sign posted in any way.

I’ve caught the bus twice now – it still feels like an achievement against the odds. The first time, a bloke hanging over the school wall staring into the playground was pointed out to me as someone waiting for a bus – I didn’t feel it polite to say that at home he would have been described as something else...... Then today the sight of a group of four people huddled hotly under a tree on the road made me wonder whether this could also be a bus stop. As I was at the far end of the island from work and didn’t fancy a 30min walk in the baking sun I joined them. It did in fact turn out to be a bus stop. As I suspected the conductor did not have change for a 500 rufiyaa note (the price of a bus ticket being 10 Rufiyaa or 50p) luckily he was happy to just wave me on board.

The 500 Rufiyaa note has been causing me issue all day. I caught a taxi to Nooranee school this morning having learnt that a 45 minute walk up the island leaves you covered in sweat stains and dripping from every limb – not a good first impression. I got in and discovered that I couldn’t see out the top half of the windscreen. If I wanted to see the road to any degree I had to slump right down in my chair. Oh this is different I said and got told it was very good as it kept the sun off the driver. Luckily, Didi the taxi driver, who gave me a raffle ticket for a prize draw of a bed, sofa and kitchen unit (all just what my room requires),despite being a thickset guy is not blessed with a long back, and so his line of vision was safely below the halfway mark on the windscreen. We got to the school I fish out my 500 rufiyaas (it’s all I had note wise) and was told no change available but you can just have it on credit and pay next time you get a taxi. Oh ok.

The post office was my next port of call after the school. Now I hate post offices, they’re the same all over the world, interminable queues and no-one quite sure what they’re doing either side of the counter and there’s always someone making a total bodge up of their passport application. The post office looked quite pleasant from the outside an old blue and red painted, single story building, corrugated iron roof with steps up onto a veranda and a wooden door with an ‘open’ sign on it. So in I went. The actual area of operation was tiny about a fifth of the actual building. Into this tiny useable area had been crammed three desks – two directly in front of the door littered with heaps of paper and junk and one on the right hand side of the door but facing the back wall – not the customers. 3 chairs, 8 customers, 3 staff were also wedged in there. The post awaiting collection was not arranged in neat lines on shelves around the room instead it lay in piles all over the floor on both sides of the desks. To collect your parcel seemed to require two members of staff -one to sift through the heaps and the other (the one manning the desk by the door arrayed in what looked like a sea captains uniform) to write down the details in a book. There didn’t seem to be any order to who got served when. So after a while I waved my letter about a bit got offered an envelope (have yet to find an envelope in a store) and after addressing it and using a handy stapler to seal it managed to attract enough attention to get it weighed and some money taken off me – (no, no change for 500 rufiyaa) luckily I had 19 rufiyya in ones and twos on me. The last I saw of my letter was it sitting amoungst the chaos of papers and parcels on one of the desks as I was assured I was now finished and ushered out. Never even saw a stamp so god knows if it gets there!

On Friday I borrowed the Bangladeshi guy (Koyez) who works at the guest house’s bike to get to a good snorkelling spot. It was a tad small to say the least and lacked brakes I discovered as I failed to stop while heading for the dock edge! Snorkelling was very good but I managed to leave my phone in my pocket so that destroyed that and I spent the rest of the day locating a store that sold replacement phones! On a previous swim I lost the room key and main guest house key in the sea - hopefully that is now all out of my system!  I’ve also moved out of the guest house and into the council rooms. Some of the police are billeted around the back in barrack style rooms and they have the ultimate luxury - a washing machine. The oddly named ‘Fuzzy’ setting seems to have worked a treat and I have nice clean clothes again. One interesting feature of my new accommodation is that all functioning plug sockets are up by the ceiling requiring a chair and tip toes to access them – still trying to work out why.....

Now Ramadan, or as it is spelt here Ramazaan, started on the 1st of August and runs until the 31st. However, I found out today if for any reason during this time you cannot observe your daily fast you have to make up for it during September. Illness and “women’s issues” being two things that allow you to break fast. Fast starts from 430 in the morning and finishes at 1820. People eat at 1820 and then again at 2000 before getting up at around 3 to have the last meal before the day begins. Combined with prayer times and altered working hours as well as women having to have all the food cooked and ready before six it leads to some very strange times of operation. No-one thinks twice about calling you at 1130 at night and then when you say no you don’t fancy a coffee right now the penny drops and uttering their favourite phrase 'my god’ they laugh at the fact you’re sleeping. It seems to be very much a personal thing on how you run your day. Some sleep in the afternoon and then are awake most of the night and others are the opposite.

Ramazaan has created some fun regarding my meals. While i was at the guest house it was all ok – I was fed as normal and as I was the only one there it did not upset anybody. Having been moved into my new accommodation on Thursday evening, with the weekend looming, I had to wait til today to get things sorted. I now eat at a newly created restaurant called Checkers owned by the same guy that has the guest house. As the place has yet to open I’m the only customer. So I sit in a room full of boxes, plates, triffid style plastic flowers and pictures of Mecca pinned over the top of a scenic river picture eating my food with another guy from Bangladesh sitting observing me! He speaks even less English than Koyez but that hasn’t stopped the two of us attempting communication through mime and head wobbling! So as well as Divehi I think I need to learn some basic Bangladeshi in order to survive the six months!

I made some friends on Friday night while walking back to my room. A couple out walking with their kid said hello (most people do as you’re walking along) and then asked where I was from etc. We started chatting, they are from Kerala (india) and working here, she’s a teacher and he’s breeding fish for aquariums. Next thing I know I’ve been invited to the room they are renting from a Maldivian family and being fed keralan delicacies that their relative has just brought over. Went back yesterday to see them and managed to splash my milky tea all over the place while demonstrating the art of ballet! Then I met another keralan family out swimming yesterday evening. The wife was being taught to swim by her husband while her fish of children swam and dove around the place. It was her second lesson. Armed with two empty water bottles and a swim hat she was making good progress.  During Ramazaan the Maldivians don’t really go in the sea that much so it’s just us infidels cooling off after the heat of the day....!

Right stopping now x Tash


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