When you say the Maldives, most of us will think of heaven on earth. If you had asked me two years ago, I would describe what everyone knows from magazines – small islands, wonderful beaches, palm trees everywhere you look and clear turquoise water full of life. I always dreamed to see the Maldives, but the price was way out of my budget.
However, sometimes our dreams come true and I got a job offer for the company in the Maldives capital Malé. I was overjoyed, but this enthusiasm did not last long.
THE INITIAL SHOCK – A CONCRETE JUNGLE
After the interview, I started to look for some information about the Maldives and what I found increased my excitement about moving there. The first thing that surprised me – The Maldives is a 100% Muslim country. No pork, no alcohol, no dogs, and to add to all of this appropriate clothing must be worn at all times. Well, it would be fun, I thought.
My job was in the capital, Malé. This city is like nothing you normally see in the photos. Male city is the most densely populated capital city in the world. More the half the population of 350,000 people live in Malé in a congested concrete jungle barely 2.2 square kilometres in size.
When I announced to my friends, where I was going, everyone congratulated me and how they envied that I’m going to this paradise on earth. But they had distorted information about this country as I had a month before, so my answer to their congratulations mostly was: “Did you see how their capital city looks? No? So take a look on the internet. It looks like as a small hell in the middle of paradise. “After that, most of my friends wished luck and strength.
In January, the D-Day came, and I flew off to a new life. When I was debarking from the plane immense heat hit me. Throughout the year there are temperatures ranging from 28 to 32 degrees. People from the company picked me up at the airport and took me by boat to Malé. My concerns became real. People everywhere, lots of motorbikes, which ride as they want, little or no sidewalks, tiny streets and not very nice buildings, trash on the ground and in the water. Line summarized – hot and chaotic concrete jungle. And my view from my room wasn’t pleasant either. The first day I spent crying.
When I partly recovered from the initial culture shock, I began to explore this concrete jungle. With so many people in the streets, moving around the city requires a lot of patience. They are not in hurry at all and walk very slow, so slowly that it was impossible for me to even walk like that. Once my boss even asked me why I walk so fast and that it scares the others. It amused me a lot. But was not surprised – I was far taller than the majority, white, blonde, and scaring them with my speed walking – such an alien.
Another skill that I had to learn was dancing among the bikes. It may sound exaggerated, but there are so many bikes driving without any rules and the streets are more likely without sidewalks. So these maneuvers sometimes looked really like a dance. But in the end, this chaos has its own order, and I didn’t see many accidents. Riding a bike was also an experience too. They don’t know the right side preference, driving in the opposite direction is not a problem, bikes and cars at the crossroads intertwined in a special way so the ride was always an adrenalin sport for me.
There is not much which can pleasure your eyes when you are walking along the waterfront around the island. Plastic bottles, garbage and occasionally dead fish float in the sea around the capital. The problem with garbage and its disposal is apparent everywhere. Until recently, there were no bins in the city. Even though few bins were deployed around the city, people are not accustomed to use them. There is a cleaning crew that regularly cleans up the garbage in the park every week, but within 2-3 days the park is full of garbage again.
Not far from the capital there is a man-made island which most of us called the rubbish island (its real name is Thilafushi). Most of the garbage is dumped there. You can see rising toxic fumes on many of my photos from sunset.
Environmentalists say that more than 330 tons of rubbish is brought to Thilafushi a day, most of which comes from Malé. According to official statistics, a single tourist produces 3.5 kg of garbage a day, twice as much as someone from Malé and five times more than anyone from the rest of the Maldives archipelago. Ali Rilwan, an environmentalist in Malé, said that “used batteries, asbestos, lead and other potentially hazardous waste mixed with the municipal solid wastes is being put into the water. Although it is a small fraction of the total, they are a source of toxic heavy metals and it is an increasingly serious ecological health problem in the Maldives”. Bluepeace, the main ecological movement of the Maldives, has described the island as a “toxic bomb”. Already in a BBC report from May 2012, the island of waste was described as “apocalyptic”.
Meanwhile, a growing number of tourist resorts are taking matters into their own hands. Kurumba, the first resort ever established in the Maldives, has a waste management program that has cut its rubbish output by 70 per cent. The Reethi Rah resort, run by the One & Only international hotels group, has set up in-house solar power, composting and recycling, while Club Med’s Finolhu Villas resort is solar-powered and is looking to achieve “zero waste” through recycling and reuse.
Last year, Award-winning film-maker Alison Teal, 27, visited Thilafushi – or Trash Island. Alison was campaigning to have the mountains of waste found on Thilafushi turned into bikinis, jackets and other clothing.
In addition, on the island, hundreds of migrant workers labour without safety equipment to process and burn mountains of trash, which includes batteries, asbestos and untreated medical waste, and after a few months of work, they have to leave the island with health problems.
The Maldives are 100% Muslim country. People in the Maldives are very friendly and everyone wants to be friends with you. However it is hard to get here true and deep friendship as people are shy or feel more comfortable among other Maldivians. On the other side, I’ve never got so many messages on FB as during my stay in the Maldives – I blame boredom of young ones. There is not much to do. Alcohol is banned, no pubs or clubs, so the youth sit in the streets and in cafes. The ones more active are dedicated to football and other sports.
Alcohol is banned and it is hard to get some unless you have good connections. On the black market a bottle of alcohol can cost around 100 dollars or more. On the other hand, there is a big problem with drugs. There are many drug addicts and you can bump into them while walking around the city. They try to show you a prescription for medication and beg for money, but in reality they are trying to get money for drugs. According to UN reports 40 percent of people under 30 use heroin or brown sugar as it’s called there.
The Maldives is the lowest-lying country in the world. One would think that when they are first to go, the environment and global warming would be the highest priority for them. Unfortunately, it is not. The first democratic president convened a conference on global warming, which took place under water among corals, but the government decided to arrest him after some time.
This year, the Maldives government even considered allowing to some companies to search for oil and gas under the sea since the survey from 2014 shows a great potential discovery. For me that was shocking news. I’ve never seen more beautiful underwater life, such as the Maldives.
But this is not the only thing that threatens local marine life. The capital city of Malé is not very big and buildings are rising every year. Few years back buildings should not exceed 8 floors. But now the limit is 20 floors. All the islands are of coral origin, and are fragile. The capital is not an exception. Thanks to the rapid development two cracks were found in the coral that are currently being repaired.
Further destruction of coral takes place in the adjacent artificial island Hulhumalé where is the international airport and where the future capital city is being built. This island was created by dumping sand on the coral. Currently its size is expanding by dumping more sand on surrounding coral. When I was leaving, the area between Hulhumalé and an adjacent island which had a bankrupt resort on it, was filled with sand too. Where previously swam dolphins and frequently baby sharks were seen, two walls of sand was dumped to slowly kill off the coral. It smelled awful that time. You can see the sand wall on the photo below.
On the south side of the island is a swimming pool created of drums in the sea. Although you have the possibility to swim there, you will not want to do that. There are 4 drain pipes around Malé with no sewage treatment plant so everything flows directly into the sea. In addition, the sea around Malé is contaminated with garbage – plastic bottles, containers, and even used condoms. Brrrr. I’ve never been in the water around the capital.
THE SUNNY SIDE
Despite everything I have described now, the Maldives have the other side of the coin. And that is mainly the other islands. The total number of islands in Maldives is around 1,200 islands of which only 200 are inhabited. Mostly with smaller towns and villages, or resorts, which most of us imagine when they hear “the Maldives”.
Another bright side of my life there was that I wasn’t the only one who came there to work, and soon I met a lot of people from around the country who love traveling and adventure and have a positive attitude to life as I do. Together we took trips to nearby islands, boating, lunches, dinners, diving, swimming with mantas, sharks and we organized a party at the nearby resorts. I also found some friends who showed me the beauty and attractions of the Maldives. Thanks to my friends, I quickly got used to my life there and I had a lot of fun.
My dream of a life in paradise partially fulfilled and through my work I started visiting luxury resorts. I have visited about 20 luxury resorts, where they treated me like a princess, and which are considered to be a paradise on earth and are dream destination to many people. Most of my trips to resorts were business orientated, however my meetings lasted for an hour or two and the transfer back was normally the following day. So I always packed my bikini, sunscreen and my camera with me and I tried to enjoy each resort as much as I could and took a lot of photos.
Each country has its darker side, but not many people know the other side of the Maldives. For many people it is a dream destination for their holiday. This compelled me to write this article and to highlight the other side of the Maldives, on which most tourists will never know, because most of them are taken directly to their paradise resort. But if you have a chance and time to go there, I highly recommend it to you, because their capital is so unique. Maldives for me remains in my heart and I will never forget my one year there.