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Two Thousand Isles: Lost and Found

06 May 2017, MVT 10:59
Aishath Naj (L) and Daniel Bosley pictured holding up red balloons in memory of the late Yameen Rasheed, a social media activist and blogger who was found murdered in April 2017. PHOTO/AISHATH NAJ
06 May 2017, MVT 10:59

By Daniel Bosley

How do you write a travelogue about a period in which you learn of a friend’s murder? No, really, this isn’t rhetorical. I genuinely don’t know. Over the past fortnight, what was found during our visit to Fuvahmulah was impossible to reconcile with what was lost in Male’.

I suppose the simple answer to the above question is that you don’t. To combine an account of the things you saw and the way you felt doesn’t really make much sense at a time like this. So, all I could think to write this week was an honest account of the experience.

Arriving in Fuvahmulah just over two weeks ago, I saw the thundi, hawitta, endless fields of fruit and felt inspired by the island’s unique environment and history; and then I saw the news that Yameen Rasheed had been murdered, after which I only felt sadness and confusion.

Sadness that, just as we had found one of the Maldives’ most beautiful islands and started our trip in earnest, the country had lost one of its bravest and brightest. Confusion about how to continue writing about life in the atolls when overwhelmed by this tragic death in the capital.

In this disorienting fog of emotions, it feels impossible to analyse such a thing. Just as countless others impacted by the loss this past fortnight, it can seem impossible to carry on, but impossible to just stop either. To write positively about culture and society at a time such as this feels futile, I commented to one friend, who wisely responded: ‘but doesn’t everything at the moment?’

Out in the islands – even one as large as Fuvahmulah - (and struggling to get online), events in Male’ can feel far away and surreal. Hitting a wifi zone once a day at such a time can be overwhelming, like a boat arriving in the harbour unloading nothing but bad news from the world beyond the waves.

Life in such isolated places in particular must always have been this way, with the peace and tranquility periodically shattered by unexpected death; the illusion of autonomy from life elsewhere routinely punctuated with messages from Male’ and vessels carrying political refugees.

Even today, the island community’s evident self-sufficiency is tethered to ongoing government-sponsored projects; new flats, a sewerage system, a harbour upgrade, and ‘local’ elections. No matter the distance, a wary eye must be kept on the capital at all times.

And so, while I hoped to lose myself in the details of life and culture in the islands, instead I found myself last week writing about events more than 300 miles away, and re-evaluating our plans before they had even properly started.

For to write about culture and society in the Maldives without touching upon politics and its unpleasant offshoots continues to be (one of) the Maldives’ modern day dilemma; one that polarises coverage of the country and one which this project hopes to explore. Is it possible to celebrate and document the aspects of life here that belong to everyone, across generations, rather than just the tourism and politics that are the preserve of today’s elite few?

In practical terms, the immediate answer to this question was tragically emphatic.

But the friendliness and famous hospitality of the people we met in Fuvahmulah have given us hope that we will find sufficient motivation to continue our work; and the life of Yameen Rasheed will do the same.

We intend to return to Fuvahmulah in the near future to collect more stories.

I almost hope this article makes little sense (apologies, nevertheless). A piece ‘about’ a trip to an island which barely gets mentioned, shunted out of the way by unforeseen loss. Describing a visit during which the wonderful things I saw and the friendly people I met were a million miles away from how I felt, perhaps that makes more sense than anything else.

Editor’s Note: “Two Thousand Isles” is a collaboration between Maldivian photographer Aishath Naj and her husband, British writer Daniel Bosley in partnership with Mihaaru to document the untold stories of the Maldive islands. Exclusive articles will be published biweekly on Mihaaru every Wednesday and Saturday.

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