Authentic stories about the lives of quintessential Maldivians across the Maldives, exclusively brought to readers by The Edition.
The phrase ‘more than meets the eye’ couldn’t be more appropriate to describe the life of Zareena Mohamed, for she is living proof that things are seldom what they seem.
Spending countless hours exploring various islands, it becomes too easy to overlook the quaint life of the islanders as they move out and about in their everyday grind - from fishermen to toddy tappers and in this writers’ case, a remarkable journey behind one youthful entrepreneur turned seasoned marketeer.
“¡Hola! Ciao! Salve! Hallo!”, her energy resonates in its vibrance, striking a definitive contrast amid the leisurely tropical pace that defines many a Maldivian isle.
Nonchalantly puffing away and leaning casually against at her rather vibrant souvenir shop ‘Sabbia’, a down to earth Zareena Mohamed cheerily recollected her humble ingress into the tourism business at a tender age.
“I have been a part of this industry since I was quite young - from the age of either thirteen or fourteen. Back then, when tourists visited, I couldn’t a word, I could barely say hello”.
It all began with gingerly placing exotic keepsakes out on foldable beds along the road, Zareena, 57, explained how a boom in their profits paved way for the business to expand and eventually open a shop.
“We rented spaces and moved a couple of times”. Her sunny disposition took a sudden dark turn. “When it all began, it was just my late husband and me”, recounted Zareena with a heavy heart.
“Things have been so different since he left us”, she grasps a hand for comfort. “But God Willing, I will thrive and survive… till we meet again”.
As we learnt during the first few minutes of our fortunate run in with Zareena, the lady knew a thing or two about crossing linguistic boundaries.
“I wouldn’t be able to read anything in a foreign language but I can speak in many languages”, chortled Zareena in her pleasantly raspy voice claiming an ability to hold her own across conversations in Italian, German, French and English.
Volume rising as her enthusiasm grew she began describing, “I have a deep fascination for the Italian language and people”, her eyes grew less focused as her mind wandered to years past, ”...my friend Sandro was staying on the island and I asked him to write down some Italian words. He spoke the words and I wrote it down in ‘Thaana’”.
Zareena credits this lesson to how well she managed to assimilate into a booming industry. “People seem quite happy to chat with an elderly lady in their own language”, she said, with an all-too-lovely giggle.
“A long time ago, I met an Italian couple that were staying at Kandooma Resort. They visited (the shop) and bought goods to the tune of 30 American Dollars”
“I then proceeded to request for a tip in their language, Italian. Next, the woman tells me to show her my hands. So I cupped my palms and behold, she starts pouring money!”
Painting vivid details in her words from a day immortalized, she recalled how money kept flowing, till it spilt from her hands and onto the ground. Quite dramatic!
“After they left, I counted the money and it was a total of 10,000 Dollars!”, said Zareena, whose eyes had widened and were shining with glee well before she finished her sentence.
A proper matriarch in her own right, the rather no-nonsense Zareena noted with pride that thanks to her work, she had been able to send both of her parents on the typically costly Islamic ‘Hajj’ pilgrimage.
There was an unmistakable sense of achievement emanating as declared she had succeeded not only in educating her children but eventually erecting two entire houses - all by herself.
“Now, my children are involved as well. One stays with me on the island, while another travels to Male’ for supplies.”.
The remarkable story behind Zareena Mohamed’s sheer perseverance throughout the decades, is without a doubt, the sort of bedtime story one would tell children - overcoming adversity, experiencing great love, fulfilling dreams and remaining positive throughout! Yes, a storybook classic, moral and all.