Tom is a journalist whohas a great interest in travel writing. This is his story of visiting the Maldives once the tourist ban was lifted in 2009, allowing visitors to the Islands to see life outside of the glamorous tourist based Resorts: the real Maldives.
The Maldives were first inhabited more than 3,500 years ago. Later Indian and Sri Lankan people settled bringing Buddhism and Hinduism to the islands. Many of these people arrived as a result of ship wreck on the prolific reefs surrounding the islands. Arab traders later visited, finding a supply of cowry shells that were used for currency.
The Maldives consists of approximately 1,200 islands and atolls. The populations is around 400,000 local people with an additional 1.3 million tourists a year.
When the author stood on a beach on one of the Islands he looked to the other side observing the complete flatness of the land. and sent to be recorded in the USA. A tsunami is a real threat.
Until 2009, visitors had been banned from staying at places populated by locals. “Government officials had been concerned that western influences might rub off and spoil the Islamic way.”
Tom decided, on the lifting of this ban he would love to visit the Maldives, avoiding Resorts and mixing with the locals. He found most of the locals to be friendly, and welcoming. They invited him into their homes and guest houses and although basic facilities were presented this was what he enjoyed. He enjoyed the food cooked for him, spicy tuna or chicken curry, never tiring of the beauty of the island. His many trips between islands by ferry were again basic but in good company, sleeping side by side with fellow locals.
One of the islands the author visited was Rubbish Island. Ships containing all the rubbish from the resorts emptied it onto this partly artificial island. Often people from Bangladesh were used to work there and control this area.
Tom spoke to many people and gained access to many politicians and a dictator. He learnt about the “bubbling politics, and discovered a deposed president, rigged elections, human trafficking, corruption, hard drug use, fundamentalism, the question of women’s rights in an Islamic state, over-active secret police, and he puzzled over the social division between tourist and locals”.
The Maldives have always had an aura of magic for me; such small islands in the middle of the vast equatorial ocean. The resorts which offer every kind of luxury to people are owned mostly by corrupt politician’s families, or overseas corporations. The damage they do, filling Rubbish Island and exploiting workers, is difficult to accept. The locals and their guest houses are just beginning to emerge for people who want the real Maldives experience.
Tom has written a wonderful travel documentary. I would love to have heard about the smells, the sunsets, the experience of swimming surrounded by fish and just what it felt like to float on your back in the ocean. This is the one thing that is missing to an otherwise interesting treatise on modern life and times in the Maldives, tourist style.