Three days ago, I stepped off of an air conditioned plane from China into the hot and humid air of the tropics. I had finally arrived in the Maldives after two days of travel. After barely making it though immigration, I met the young Maldivian men that we will be working with and headed off to find our hotel for the night.
Two days ago I started the day with an early morning walk through Malé, the capital island of the Maldives. James and I walked through the streets for two hours. Some of the things that stood out were the huge amount of plastic trash on the ground, the huge volume of motorcycles, and the fact that we appeared to be the only non-Maldivian people on the streets. I have to say that it reminded me in some ways of cities I have been to in Mexico, with all of the trash, paver block streets, and a sort of spoiled paradise feeling. The diesel burning power plant was big, loud, and stinky.
Later that day we boarded a boat for a three hour ride to the Four Seasons Resort at Landaa Giraavaru. On the way I was able to get to know my new Maldivian friends better. They are all very friendly and charismatic people. I learned a lot about the Maldives and what it is like to live here. We finally arrived at the island and I was dazed. The place exceeds all expectations and preconceptions that I had about what it might be like. I am still trying to wrap my head around it all. Sydney, Trudy, Lira and some others greeted us at the dock. I immediately felt at home with all of them. They are three of the most amazing people I have ever met. I still have yet to see most of the island. I have only been to the employee village, which feels like a small resort in itself. There’s a small turf soccer field, basketball court, beach volleyball court, game room, dining hall, barbershop, and much more. There is a beautiful white sand beach 20 feet from our back door.
Yesterday started with a three hour tour of the closest local island Kamadhoo. Very quiet. We are here for the celebration of Eid, the end of Ramadan so it was a holiday. Much cleaner than Malé. Found several containers holding mosquito larvae. Thought about how most Americans only think of places like the Maldives as you see them from a boat: beautiful island paradise. A lot is missing from that picture, including many problems that the local islanders face. Lack of fresh water, nowhere to dispose of trash, mosquitoes vectoring Dengue, poor higher education, few opportunities, isolation and disconnection from other islands, lack of arable land, lack of access to good health care, among others. Many of these problems don’t have an easy or visible solution. It is very easy to identify problems, but very difficult to come up with solutions for them.
As we were waiting for the ferry back to the resort island some of the people got some snacks and drinks from the local store. All I could think about was how the plastic bottles and styrofoam was going to end up either burned, on the trash island, or floating around in the ocean. But it was nice to have a sweet cold drink. How many of the local islanders have similar thoughts about the consequences of their consumption? Do any of them make different choices as a result? Is there any way to increase that number? How? What is the solution? Does the solution require the people to live a life with less convenience? Would they have to give up that nice cold drink on a hot day? If so, is this a sacrifice that people would be willing to make? What will be the consequences if they don’t make this choice? I have so many questions. I hope that my time here with more experiences, thinking, and conversations with the locals will help me find answers for some of them.
Later that day we did our first dive course. We went all out and by the end of the class I was full on swimming around underwater breathing through a tube attached to a metal tank of pressurized air! It was incredible! We didn’t go down more than 5 metres or so but it was totally amazing. We were under the surface for at least 30 minutes.
Today we began really thinking as a team and getting mentally prepared for our mosquito control projects. They day started off with an expectation conversation. This is a great exercise that Syd and I learned back in high school from one of my great mentors, John Cunningham. This helped set the guidelines for our relationships as a group so that we can work efficiently and powerfully together without unspoken conflict. We also began mapping the local islands. I was really impressed by the system that Trudy has developed for this. One of my favorite parts of the day was when we planned out some mosquito education games to play with the school kids. I worked with two of the Maldivians, Dan and Piggy (He goes by this nickname). They are very creative and thought of ways that we can change several traditional Maldivian kids games to be relevant to mosquito control. I am very excited to implement them. While we worked hard, we also played hard too… including some energetic group photo shoots (pictures below).
Tomorrow we start on the ground at Eydhafushi with our first mosquito control project. I am looking forward to learning more about the process of actually going through the community and doing the control project. I am also very interested in working with the local people and figuring out how we can best motivate them to take action now!
I am overwhelmed with excitement to be here. I have so many different thoughts swimming through my head every moment. I will try my best to give you all a snapshot of what is going on up there. Now I think it is time to go hang with the crew. I’ve spent enough time on the computer for one night.