It has been two weeks, give or take, since my last entry. That does not mean, however, that it has been two weeks since I last wrote anything. In fact I have been doing more writing than I have done in a long time, but none of it has been as self-serving as this blog. E-mails pinged back and forth between us and the UK, between the officious islanders and us, between us and our parents and finally confirmation emails from airlines regarding ticket bookings. Since we have left for good, this post is the first of many where I will be dramatising various exchanges between ourselves and the locals.
In short, we have been made to leave the Maldives under a dark cloud; the students who would have been receiving a once in a lifetime opportunity are no longer going to do so; we have island-hopped over to Sri Lanka and as far as we are concerned, we aren’t returning to Addu City for the foreseeable future.
Why? There is no “in short” answer to why we have left. A toxic mixture of politics, personal feuds, small-minded islanders and an overwhelming feeling of resignation and indifference from me towards people whose intentions have been selfish to the extent that any offer of help was refused unless it either financially or socially benefited their personal standing in the parish-sized community.
We didn’t have to leave, but we felt we would be wasting our time if we hadn’t and as one of local sympathisers reiterated: “Sometimes, you have to be a bit selfish to be selfless in the long run”. So now we are sitting atop a hill in central Sri Lanka in an absolutely stunning property which belongs to one of Jerome’s relatives, and our decision definitely seemed worth it as we chatted over fresh papaya and sweet Ceylon tea at breakfast this morning.
With our move, there are a few things we have to adjust to.
For the last month we have been sharing a double bed and now we have 5 or 6 at our disposal. As much as I enjoyed all the pillow-talk and watching Jerome wake up slowly, there has to be something to be said for independence in the bedroom. I can sprawl, turn and a rotate to my heart’s desire without having to explain myself in the morning.
We can actually eat what we want: gone are the days of going to a restaurant and asking for something apart from fish curry with chili paste and inevitably receiving “pish curry” with “shili peste”. We don’t have to beg people to wash our clothes because our five foot three landlord, Mo, keeps making excuses and constructing elaborate, yet ill thought-out backstories about why his washing machine isn’t working. Here is just one of those exchanges:
[Enter James back right, carrying basket of washing and box labeled “soap”. He knocks on the a front door. A short, rotund Maldivian boy answers. He wears no shirt and he is eating a chocolate bar; the folds of fat on his stomach have creased since he has been sitting down and watching television. He looks up, maneuvering so James’s shadow blocks the sun from his eyes.]
Me: Hi, would it be okay if we wash our clothes?
Mo’s son: No.
Me: Why not?
Mo’s son: Father said that mother isn’t well so she cannot wash your clothes?
Me: Oh, don’t worry, we can wash our clothes, look I’ve brought my own detergent and everything.
Mo’s son [at top of whiny, pre-pubescent voice]: NOOOOO! Mother is sleeping you cannot wake her.
[Hours pass, dance interlude on stage, night falls. Enter Jerome, carrying basket of washing. Jerome knocks on the door. Out comes a short Maldivian man, wearing no shirt. He leans on the door to portray an air of nonchalant aggression, like a camp John Wayne.]
Mo: My friend.
Jerome: Hi Mo. Can we wash our clothes in your washing machine?
Jerome: Why not?
Mo: The water is broke.
Jerome: Oh, so should we not shower?
Mo: Uhhh, no it’s fine, the showers work.
[The sun rises, big and golden behind James, Jerome and Mo’s son while dance topless on stage with abandon. The set changes. The scene is now Mo’s bedroom. Mo lies prostrate on the bed, his head at the bottom of the bed, facing the door. Mo’s wife is ironing washed clothes in the corner. Enter James and Jerome, carrying the basket of dirty clothes. They barge past the feeble advances of Mo’s son, who is again, sans shirt. They knock on the open bedroom door.]
Mo [propping himself up on his elbow, baring his naked midriff to the audience]: My friends.
Jerome [indicating to the scurrying Mrs. Mo in the corner]: So the water has been fixed then?
Mo: No it is still broke.
James: Are you sure? We have our own soap and everything, we are happy to do it ourselves.
Mo: My friend, if you want to wash your clothes you have to ask the Association, they will arrange.
James and Jerome: Ok.
Jerome: Can we use your sink then? Our one upstairs doesn’t work.
Mo: No. My friend.
James [indicating again to a gormless Mrs Mo, as she lifts damp clothes out of a basket onto the ironing board]: But, can I just ask, how did you wash those clothes.
Mo [he and Mrs Mo share a glance, she looks gormless. He looks back at the two travellers and raises the arm he isn’t leant on. He points to outside of the house, away from the door where they stand]: My friend, this is none of your business, leave now.