Street in Male’ Maldives – Courtesy of Google Images
A five-star hotel. A very lovely warm night near the Equator. A waiter glides by with a large Bami Goreng bedecked with a handsome lettuce leaf that elects to hang-glide off the plate into the pool. Tonight, guests have to slum it and use the tiny, unappetising beach recently built at the backside of the hotel, a little dark and scary at night. For, this evening, the Maldives Olympic swimming squad is practising, this being the only remotely large pool in the Maldives and, even then, a bit on the mingy side compared with the monster the team will no doubt be faced with in a year or so. Always a hypnotic sight, cruising the lengths, strong, silent, on a mission and with those huge, dazzling teeth Maldivians possess, just like sharks – and both without benefit of orthodontics.
Malè is so crowded that hundreds, if not thousands of locals (which also includes those from India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand, Nepal and the Philippines) will contract into shift-sleeping, whereby three lucky persons will, every night, get to camp in the same bed at eight-hour stretches. To keep the two who are always going to be roving the streets, waiting, entertained, every shop is open every day until 11.00 pm. And the Maldivians, of all ages, are always out in force since shopping is the main hobby here. I have heard of up to twelve people living in one room so, at times, the streets probably feel less crowded than home.
I often hear “Meece, Meece” when out and about and just smile and wave in the general direction. There are two thousand students at my school. Even the ones I don’t teach yell out. In any other city, I would be regarded as a harmless loon if I did as much smiling and waving at no one in particular that I am forced to partake in here.
No matter how unpromising the parents appear, I have yet to see an ugly baby. The babies and toddlers have such ‘old soul’ faces that it is quite acceptable for strangers, even male strangers, to approach such tiny visions and touch them (preferably on their face or an arm).
Last night on my way home from my evening teaching job, a real Monsoon-like sheeting-down. I got soaked through to my ribs which is not unusual, but later, I could not sleep last night as everything ached, even my fingernails and my hair-roots. There is probably a viral fever going around. I have to take the day off school but have no choice to crawl to a (ubiquitous) pharmacy. He gives me Panadol and Night Nurse but get no relief. Slither back later and get Migril (for migraine). I take one, wait, then another, then throw up. Take some more, don’t throw up. Much later I notice the bottle warns not to take more than six in one week!
Later, have to return to the pharmacist who parades six of his valuable wares with something of a flourish. I fall prey to four. In most of these emporia, you can often help yourself and they usually hand over prescription drugs for the asking. I have been taking a certain anti-depressant for years (for chronic insomnia, let me add) which can be lethal. I tend to stock up on these by the hundreds in Maldives and only once, did the pharmacist say, ‘You won’t DO ANYTHING, will you?’ I said, ‘No,’ sprinting out the door, clutching my dear friends to my (more than ample, if I say so myself) breasts.