Feydhoo Walk

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13 April 07 - 1000 - Gan Harbor, Addu Atoll, Maldives

Walking the one paved street on Feydoo beside the lagoon with Abby and Eliza
Walking the one paved street on Feydoo
beside the lagoon with Abby and Eliza

We stepped out of the air-conditioned 2 Plus 1 store in Feydhoo yesterday and the humidity enveloped us like a hot, wet towel. It was late afternoon but the sun was still high, glaring brightly overhead. In the middle of the island there wasn't even the slightest whisper of a breeze.

We turned to the east, towards our boats, each of us clutching a small cup of cool, creamy French yogurt. We had no spoons, so I opened the top only a little bit and sucked it out. Mulla's store was out of ice cream, and this was the closest we could come, but it was good enough for me. One taste brought me back to French Polynesia, walking along the shady village streets of Ua Pou, Huahine and Raiatea. Until a woman crossed the street in front of us. You'd never see her in French Polynesia.

She was dressed simply and elegantly, all in black. Black sandals, soft black pants, a long-sleeve black tunic, and a black head-scarf with embroidered flowers. She didn't appear to notice the heat that was plaguing us, in our flowing skirts and t-shirts. Actually, she didn't appear to notice us at all, five tourist women walking down her street. She disappeared into a house and we turned the corner.

The road we walked on was hard-packed sand with embedded shells. On either side were low walls of coral brick, the mortar cracked and unevenly spread. Beyond them were impeccably-swept dirt yards, the leaves raked away from under trees and bushes to feed a burn pile. Banana and breadfruit trees stood proudly in the yards, and in the shade of them sat forlorn jolis. These ubiquitous Maldivian chairs are made from rectangular metal frames at an inclining angle, draped with wide-hole net. I have not sat in one, but I imagine if you had too-wide hips it could be rather uncomfortable. But they're easy and cheap to make.

How do they smile when it's so hot & they're so covered?
How do they smile when it's
so hot & they're so covered?

Most of the houses are made like the walls. They look like old castles or keeps; the only things missing were moats and towers. Of course the houses were rather small and modest, but the medieval look came through. That is, until a woman drove by on a purple motorbike, her headscarf fluttering in the breeze and her young son perched on the seat in front of her.

We continued walking towards the beach. There was a high wall to our left, made solidly of concrete. The door was slats of beautiful fresh wood. We passed a small supermarket and looked in the window to see bags of flour, rice and spaghetti and canned foods. One street we crossed was larger than the others. "This will be the next one they pave," we all agreed.

On one street corner, someone had taken a can of spray-paint to the wall of a building. "We want democracy!!!" they'd written in English. Theoretically Maldives already has democracy. Of course, only one name has appeared on the voting ballot, so what's the real point? We'd passed the Maldives Democratic Party building on the way to Mulla's store. It's a new party, so the ballot may have a new name on it soon.

We continued on. One old man on a motorbike stopped to talk to us. Abigail, 9, was rather put out that he thought she was a boy. But he grasped the idea of us having sailed here from the US rather easily, and for once didn't seem astounded at it having taken us five years. I suppose when the US is halfway around the world, five years doesn't seem that long a trip. Though he then asked if we were going back to the US after the Maldives, so who knows how much he really understood. Despite us rarely seeing any mosquitoes in Addu (though flies were a different matter), that corner was infested with them so we moved on quickly.

The walls are all made of coral blocks
The walls are all made of coral blocks

The road we were on turned at the beach and continued on down the waterfront towards Gan Harbor. That particular corner also seemed to be a hangout for young locals. We swapped 'hello's and nodded at each other, but kept walking - until Abby was ambushed by three beautiful young women. They cooed and squealed over her, pinching her cheeks and stroking her hair, putting their hand beneath her chin. Abby, big eyed, snuggled up next to her mother, Kyle, but didn't turn away. The women asked the usual questions - Where are you from, is this your daughter, how old is she? - before Kyle politely but firmly said "Nice to meet you. See you later." One last squeeze of the cheek and Abby was free. Poor girl. I'm sure glad I'm not that small and cute. Talk about overwhelming.

Two younger girls followed us around the corner, along with a boy. The boy showed Mom a beautiful tiger cowrie, and completely didn't understand her question of whether it was dead and empty when he found it. The girls were much less shy and had much better English. They looked about eleven or twelve, though I'm not very good at judging ages. One was dressed in pink pants and t-shirt, and riding a bike that was too large for her. The other girl was gorgeous, in a dark tunic and pants. Long earrings dangled from her ears, and she had several necklaces as well. Either she was wearing very-well-applied eye liner or mascara, or she had the most beautiful eyes I have seen.

Low coral walls, and sandy streets
Low coral walls, and sandy streets

They wanted to know if we wanted to go to the next island. It was low tide, but it was at least a foot deep across the channel, more likely two. I don't know if they walked or if they had a boat. The sun was going down soon, which was a good excuse to say "Not today." The girls equated this to 'tomorrow' and we had to emphasize 'maybe'. I wonder if they were disappointed when we didn't show up.

We found a path between bushes to get to the beach, which was less sand than rocks and rubbish. I tell you, the Maldivian government may be big on environmental issues, but it sure doesn't teach its people about pollution. Glass fragments, sheet metal, cans, eggshells and diapers were the majority of it. We also saw shoes - a full sneaker at one point, not just flip-flops - bicycle parts, fish heads, bottles, canvas bags, and two text books. The books were still legible, which suggests they were dumped there only a few days ago, at the end of term. And the eggshells I know didn't come from our boats, because the current always flows from that outer lagoon into our harbor. The locals have a tall, bushy hedge along the road to keep this rubbish tip out of sight. It's a strange mindset - keep the front yard clean and throw all the trash in the back.

The backstreet is a path by the sea
The backstreet is a path by the sea

Nonetheless, we had a nice walk along there. Locals would look at us as if we were mad, but we just waved cheerily and kept walking. We hadn't prowled a beach in months. There were a few interesting shells we all found, and it was good to just be out walking. All the trash was tragic, though. I would have suggested coming back with big garbage bags to pick it up, but the volume would be outstanding. And tomorrow it would all be back. There's just no thought here of disposing of things properly. I have maybe seen three big trash cans in all the walking around I've done. Even telling people about throwing away rubbish doesn't help if there's nowhere to put it.

So that one walk along the beach rather lowered my opinion of the Maldives enviro-mentality. Yes the streets are all clean and free of trash - but you just have to look where no one else looks to find it all, like a kid shoving all his clothes and toys into a closet to 'clean his room'. It looks better but doesn't really solve anything. I'd love to be a part of an environmental awareness education program but I fear it would take a lot of work, time and effort, to achieve much here.

Mulling over this, we quickly found ourselves back at the dinghy. We completely forgot about the key for Estrela's new outboard, so we paddled back to the boats singing a three-part round of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." Dad was not on board when we got back; he'd just zoomed over to see a Dutch boat.

The evening ended with a dinghy-search and -recovery, contemplation of the true meaning of the word 'capsicum,' and a movie, but those are all stories of their own.

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