I must serve my country. That thought is echoing through the heads of all the rowing students after the rowing session today. At the end of the two hour session , an army officer marched into the rowing area and handed a letter to Hasna. The Rowing Association has been picked to serve Addu City MNDF because of its high performing athletes, it’s formidable reputation in the area and the impressive credentials of the coach (I assure you).
What actually happened was I stood in silence for 15 minutes as the officer spoke in Dhivehi and I only understood a paraphrased translation after he had left. BUT, had I been taking Dhivehi lessons, the conversation would have doubtless gone like this:
-Assalamu alaikum officer, what are our duties for the good of the nation?
–Wa alaikum assalaam, you need to get up early on Saturday morning and report here at 8am to be driven to a top secret location.
-Yessir! May I enquire what myself and my highly-trained, finely-tuned athletes will be doing in this secret location?
-Picking up litter.
You wot! I have to get up to pick up litter! I haven’t spray-painted a wall with “fudge the police” or dissed anybody, not intentionally anyway. Hopefully the kids haven’t either.
However, of course there is a very good reason why I have to pick up litter. I am living in probably one of the most delicate environments in the world. The Maldives is severely threatened by rising sea levels, with some smaller, uninhabited islands already disappearing and all the major ones in the process of erecting sea walls. The increasing temperature of the sea is destroying the living coral reefs that form the foundation of the islands and with them the thousands of species of fish and sea life that depend on them for their own existence. I’m not an eco-buff by any means, but for me what I’ve seen of the islands and the sea life is pretty damn cool and if anything, it would be a huge shame for other people not to be able to experience the same things. See this article on the destruction of the coral reefs which explains better.
But how can picking up some rubbish cool the ocean down and preserve the environment? It doesn’t, dumbass. But what does, is the change in attitude which is badly needed. When Nasheed was in power, he pulled a big PR stunt by having a cabinet meeting on the sea floor to highlight the importance the sea-life had for the Maldivian people. The education about the environment just simply isn’t here. There are no public bins, bushes and beaches do the job for that. Supari (nuts in the lookalike condom wrappers) line the streets. The kids at rowing will quite happily take the nuts and discard the packet without a second thought; in London, the very least you would get is a condemning glare, the most probably being a telling off or a fine. The picnics I have gone to have been very fun, but I am very conscious of the fact that water bottles are left strewn across the beach, food wrappers and discarded fish guts left under palm trees by fishermen. There is a whole portion of the island which is just a big fly tip, but it is out of sight, so it must be out of mind, right?
When confronted with panoramic, flawless blue oceans and white sandy beaches, you forget that this place isn’t just a postcard, but also a place where people live their long and mundane lives, just like in a mundane town like Derby. Difference is, people probably recycle in Derby, and there ain’t no palm trees there, just speedbumps and Chicken Cottages.
So in fact, me going to pick up litter is not a punishment for me being a naughty naughty boy. It is, like the rowing project, a community scheme in its infancy, which looks beyond the 12km of Addu City for inspiration, so that we can reflect the wider effect of our actions and improve and modernise the community to adapt to the modern-day, squash-your-bottles, own-three-different-bins world.
Basically, I’m not expert but it’s clear that people need to change the way they live to adapt to living in such a precious place. Google it though, you will get way more stuff than I’ve said.