Maldives Rowing Volunteer
Here are all the legendary swimmers of the Indian Ocean - just keep swimming!!
I went to India, or more specifically Kerala, for a two and a bit week holiday over Christmas and New Year. Being a country with a multitude of religions, languages, traditions and their own unique style of doing things it was certainly set to be a very different festive period! I spent a brilliant time with both Hari and Jeeja’s family and Shiji and Babu’s family enjoying some excellent home cooking and a fully packed schedule. Then it was off to Kochi for the famous Kochi New Year Carnival, Munnar for the tea estates (mmmm) and Periyar Nature Reserve for, sadly no tigers, but elephants, mad drivers and bison. The need to see mountains was fully appeased by the time I left and returned to sea level and the Maldives!

I actually landed in Male on a sunny day – usually it’s pouring with rain whenever I turn up. The colour of the sea is what you notice first and realise that not only had you forgotten how blue it really is but also before I left I’d gotten so used to it after four months it no longer surprised me. Nice to have the awe refreshed!

So what does the New Year hold for rowing in Addu? Well the first bit of news is that a shelter was built by the council for the boats in the Power House compound. This has done an admirable job of keeping everything dry and dirt free. The coaching launch is going to need a very good scrubbing – its ability to grow a prolific and thick beard very rapidly would make most men extremely jealous - if it wasn’t green and intermingled with sizeable barnacles. Currently, I think the bottom must be more weed than boat!

I returned to the Education Unit to be met with the fantastic news that (without any effort on my part) a rowing competition had been inserted into the year plan for the schools! So July the 14th is the date for all your calendars with hopefully a smaller one in March just to keep everyone’s competitive juices flowing! Swimming is also high on everyone’s agenda and I’m waiting for the schools to get back to me with how many students are interested in continuing rowing, starting rowing and learning to swim. This will hopefully enable me to put a schedule together that, with the help of the now dab hand rowing coaches and some soon to be recruited swimming coaches, should cater for all.......!

Talking of coaches there are plans afoot between RAM, the Maldives National Olympic Committee, FISA and the IOC for an official to be sent to the Maldives as one of the Olympic Solidarity Coaching Courses the NOC hold each year. This is to train a load of rowing coaches and provide them with an internationally recognised qualification. This would certainly be a great boost to the establishment of the sport in the country and carry us further towards our goal of having clubs operated at the local level.

Unbeknownst to the students as yet, all coaches are agreed that our first priority this year is fitness – so we are devising a ‘boot campesque’ style of training for the first few weeks involving running, swimming and if we can gather enough bikes together cycling. I’m hoping this will culminate in a mini team triathlon competition. So as you can see lots of ideas in the air for 2012, just going through the planning stage which for impatient people like me is soul destroying – I just want to get started.....

Wishing you all the best for 2012!

X Tash    

P.S. All swimmers passed their swim tests and are bugging to know when the next course starts...

Hello and a happy new year to you, I hope that although 2012 is only a baby, it has been good so far.   I am sorry that is has been so quiet on the blog front (I seem to always start off my blogs this way), however I have been having a brilliantly cold and grey time back in the UK.  Yes that is snow you can see on the hills in the photo, sadly that is the closest we got whilst up in Scotland for a brilliant family Christmas.

Christmas Day and almost falling in the Loch!
Lots of British countryside to make me feel like I am truly back home, having visited my parents on the south coast, my sister in North Yorks, friends in Henley and my brother in Manchester all before heading further north for Christmas in Scotland.  Much eating, drinking and party games (including hilarious granny musical chairs and generations of Dad dancing in musical statues, all on video) made a Christmas nudging into the top 5 of all time!

Arriving back in the UK and seeing friends and family has made me so grateful for the things I missed whilst away and made me quite definite in my mind that I wanted to remain in the UK, however  Christmas is never a good time to make proper decisions as my mind is fuddled by warm (mainly TV induced) memories, shouting children and possibly a bit of alcohol.  I have come a full circle and am planning to return to the Maldives in the not too distant future to push on with the rowing project.

Following Christmas in Scotland I headed off to the Isle of Man (I did say I had been getting around a bit) to see my best friend of many, many years, Polly, for a bit of windswept walking action and yet more tip top eating.  I have seen a lot of windy hills and cold looking sheep over the past few weeks.  There is something about being brought up on a island that drags you back, I have ended up in the Maldives and Polly on the Isle of Man, different yet equally mad islands!

Not quite the Maldives anymore
A relaxing and refreshing New Year and sadly I did not take my swimmers so I could not participate in the New Years Day swim on the beach (what a blow of misfortune), I did feel shown up by all the people who did take a dip.  No photos as no one deserves to have a picture taken of them in a swimsuit in the freezing cold on Jan 1st, NOBODY looks good in those conditions.  I did manage to see a solitary seal and not break anything playing Just Dance 3 in a tiny sitting room, so a successful trip all round.  Anyhow onwards to the future, I have just found out that sadly that the Westminster School trip to Hulhumale will not being happening in February, so it will mean that I will have to get the boat house sorted out without a team of helpers, sad times! I am back in life planning mode and will get back to you when ll details (every single one) of life have been sorted out!



Mean and moody shot of Calf Sound on the Isle of Man
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




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

(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..... 

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.

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! 

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.....

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. 

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...... 

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). 

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.....