|A Dhoani taking tourists for a sunset ride|
I love it when a country surprises me.
Maybe it’s the sombre clothing, the women dressed in flowing black dresses and hijabs; or perhaps it’s the reserved way the locals interact, as welcome as we feel its tough to get a smile or wave out of people: but the Maldives feel very sedate and steady, and very unsurprising. It’s not the kind of place that you’d expect to have 12 different names for a coconut. Or even the kind of place where a coconut might be detained by the police. But during the 2013 election a kihah (young drinking coconut) was suspected of being infused with black magic and was accused of vote-rigging in a key presidential election.
The kihah was found innocent and released.
|posters and political slogans are found throughout the islands|
Much of what makes the Maldives intriguing is how little most people know about it. The common perception is of a sun-kissed paradise that caters to the well-heeled and honeymooning. And up until 2010 (after the Local Tourism Laws were passed by Mohamed Nasheed in 2009) exclusive resorts were about all outsiders ever saw of the Maldives.
In truth, it’s a deeply complex country of 394,000 (with one third of those being foreign or illegal workers). Most people either work in the resorts, for the government or they fish. Right now the Islamic Republic is struggling to stabilize its nascent democracy. But just yesterday thousands protested against the government in Male and hundreds (including several members of the opposing political party) were arrested.
|we spend hours everyday in the warm water|
Despite the turmoil, the Maldives feels very peaceful. We were lucky enough to spend the past two days being shown around a couple of villages (when we were out of the water—which is tough, the water is amazing).
|a local boat getting repairs|
On Maamigili Island Jamsheed walked us through the town to the shore where traditional wooden boats being built. There we were told they are built without plans or nails and that the master boat builder has the blueprints in his head. From there he took us past the gardens and then to a local restaurant where he treated us to a traditional lunch where he encouraged us to try a little post-lunch adafi (betel leaf and areca nut with a little breath-freshening mint and clove).
|my skeptical face...|
We talked a while about village life and politics, and then Jamsheed asked us if we needed any coconuts. We told him we already have a few aboard and then we commiserated over how tricky it is to get the young drinking coconuts. Then we learned those aren’t coconuts. A coconut (the mature kind with meat) is a kaashi. But a kihah is for drinking (or placing curses on someone…) and therefore it’s not a coconut.
So armed with twelve names for coconuts, and a deeper understanding of village life, we headed back to the boat and dove back into the gorgeous water and looked forward to all the surprises to come.