Two days ago, I got my bike repaired for a punctured wheel. One day ago a local troublemaker broke into my house to puncture both my wheels with a staple for some unknown reason. Today another kid fixed my bike’s wheel and the chain, something that had been bugging me for ages. Thus is the circle of bike on Hithadoo. Ebb and flow of stasis and movement; of not being able to go to the shops and racing around the island soaking my trainers. No pair of wheels and a chain and I become a slouch, dependent on lifts and bound to a 100m radius of my house: I have now succumbed to the huge change in scale of my environment. Distances I would happily walk when I first arrived have now become unthinkable to travel by foot.
With this shift in scale, my thinking and awareness has also shrunk to fit the island. I am less concerned with the wider world than I am in England, mostly because I have no chance of catching any news in Dhivehi. My focus has become more exact, just to coach rowing- there is very little else in my life here and it is how I identify myself here and how people know me. They inevitably ask: “Who you, you tourist? Shangri-La” and I reply “No, I wish! I rowing (do the arm action) coach… over there (point to the sea)”. Often the word rowing isn’t understood, so I reel off a few words like “water”, “boats”, “sea”, “sport” just to get the neurons firing. If they don’t get it after that I just say “I’m teacher” and they seem satisfied enough.
But I have started to notice some trends emerging from the locals that you might not expect. A much larger proportion of people that you would expect to, have either lived in Germany, or married German guests they met while working on the resorts. They seem to love the Germans over here, and many stories of converted wives have come my way. This also leads me to the second question I inevitably get asked after “Who you?”, being “You married?” I say “No” because I am not married. A few women have then said “You want marry with me?” and then I say “No thank you, but thank you for the offer”: they don’t seem to mind at all as rejection comes just as easily as the proposal- Agony Aunt columns here must be really relaxed.
Also I am getting more adept at working out who the locals are and who the Sri Lankans, Indians and Bangladeshis are. At first I couldn’t tell my Dhakas from my Delhis but now I’m more clued up. One way to spot them is the way they move their heads. A local waiter had me confused for weeks when I would ask for a dish and he would shake his head almost in a figure-of-eight motion as if he was trying to avoid a cricket ball: turns out this is an Indian and Bangladeshi nod, which reassured me that I had actually been on the receiving end of disapproving looks every time I ordered food. I gave the new nodding a go for a day and I just got a really stiff neck. But then I don’t play much cricket. Cricket also happens to be a way to identify this portion of the population: Friday is the holy day here so nothing functions until 2pm, but if you walk past any patch of ground, cricket games will be afoot for hours on end, it’s all very calm and civilized.
Therefore, things I have learnt: Oil my bike chain often, marriage is no biggie, watch my neck if I play cricket.