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Report No 1 - 21 August 2006
Jack and Viv are currently living in the island of Ungoofaru (pictured
below), the capital of Raa Atoll, in the Maldives.
Jack is the Resident Engineer for the construction of a new township on
the neighbouring island of Dhuvaafaru. This island, which was previously
uninhabited, will eventually be home to about 3,600 former residents of
Kandholhudhoo Island, which was devastated by the 2004 tsunami.
The project, which is the largest of several similar ones on other
islands , is funded by the Red Cross (IFRC).
Jack's routine for six days each week includes a daily return trip in a
small speedboat between the two islands. The trip takes between ten and
twenty minutes and varies from restful to very uncomfortable,
depending on the weather, as the area is subject to frequent fierce, and
very sudden, squalls.
Living on Ungoofaru is very far removed from the common perception of
the Maldives. Apart from the obvious advantages of peace and
tranquility and the absence of security issues, which cannot be ignored
in this day and age, it has not been easy to adjust to the absence of so
many of the basics that we have taken for granted in most of our
previous postings.
However, whilst we anticipated most of the likely shortages that we did
in fact encounter, nothing could prepare us for the initial difficulty of
obtaining such basic items as fish and coconuts! It appears that the
locals have never considered how one goes about obtaining them, they
just do. Even now, though we have found fairly reliable sources of these,
and other such items, we still have to keep on our toes or several days
go by when we miss out.
Naturally the supply of other essential items varies with the schedule
(for want of a more accurate word) of the delivery boats, and so we
have to buy all that we can afford when we see it.
The biggest disappointment that we have encountered is the almost
complete disregard by the Maldivians for the care of their
environment. On Ungoofaru the beautiful beaches are littered with
rubbish so that we have yet to find anywhere suitable to swim in the
whole island. Consequently Viv has not worn her bathing suit for the
whole four months we have been here. (Jack is much luckier as the
island where he works is still moderately pristine and he manages the
occasional swim when time permits.)
To the locals it appears that the sea is a giant waste basket, which is
strange considering the great diligence with which the ladies of each
household clean the sand streets early every morning with only rakes
and/or small hand brushes.
Less upsetting, as it has been a feature of many of the places we have
lived, is the ma
ñana attitude. Emergencies are dealt with fairly
speedily but otherwise 'soon' means 'sometime in the future' and
specific dates are pure guesswork.
In the same category is the lack of transport to and from Male, the
capital. The only regular passenger ferry travels each way once a week
and stops at an island about three quarters of an hour short of
Ungoofaru. Even that trip takes five hours each way and is dependent
on the weather. The other alternatives are ten hours on a cargo boat
(dhoni) or the occasional IFRC boat when it visits the project. Planning
a leave break with rigid flight times is not easy.
However, we have managed one outing to the nearest resort island
(about three quarters of an hour away). It was very pleasant but
expensive and not something we will do too often.
But, when all is said and done, the people are very friendly and helpful
when they can be. Most of them speak a little English though only a few
speak it well.
But we've managed so far and it should get easier as we go along.
And we hardly notice the fact that this is a strict Muslim country and
therefore all alcohol is strictly forbidden......!