Last week, the Maldivian regime decided to blow up a reef in the southern island of Meedhoo in Addu Atoll.
They then decided to organize a viewing party, complete with tea and snacks. Pictures of the local islanders celebrating the wanton destruction of their own island’s natural reef sparked some outrage on social media.
I was momentarily outraged too. How could people be so.. evil? clueless? completely utterly moronic?
But then I thought about it, and realized it actually makes a lot of sense in the proper context.
Welcome to Maldives. Our people hop on their motorcycles and ride around the narrow streets of Malé for no reason, jostling for space with thousands of others who had the same idea – and they do this for “fun”. Especially on dull Ramadan evenings.
Speaking of Ramadan, every year during this holy month of f(e)asting, there’s a special night market that comes up in Malé. It is like a rock concert but without the stage, lighting or music. Just the mosh pit. Thousands of frenzied Maldivians go and dive headlong into this sea of humanity, rubbing up against thousands of other sweaty bodies, while shopping for shitty goods.
And they think this is “fun”.
So what, you ask? Festival markets are crowded everywhere in the world! That doesn’t mean anything!
Well, fine. Now listen to this, and listen carefully:
Not very long ago, there was a major garbage crisis in Malé. Tons of rubbish were piling up in the capital faster than anybody could transfer them to Thilafushi.
Lorries loaded with stinking heaps of rotten vegetables, spoiled fish, kitchen refuse, poopy diapers, rotting carcasses of stray cats and rats, and other vile filth would pass through the West Harbour area of Malé early in the morning, making customers in the nearby cafes gag and regurgitate their breakfast.
The lorries would deposit their putrid cargo on a waiting barge near the Vilingili ferry terminal, where waiting passengers would retch and go green with sick depending on the wind direction.
My office at the time happened to look outwards on this sight, on the fifth floor of a building situated a few hundred yards away, and I had to keep my windows firmly shut because of the overwhelming stench.
Despite this, the foul stench would somehow still leak in, putting me in an equally foul mood. This nightmare lasted for weeks.
One such day, I happened to look outside my window and – honest to god, I shit you not – here’s what I saw: a steady stream of motorists on their motorcycles kept riding right up to the godawful, reeking barge.
There they would halt, sometimes with their kids in tow, carefully observing the tedious monotony of garbage being loaded on a barge.
The fetid contents of the trucks were oozing some kind of gross, stinking juice that spread across the ground all the way up to the motorists feet, but it did not seem to deter them in the least. They’d just sit there on their bikes, watching on in dazed wonderment.
After several minutes, they would leave seemingly satisfied – and then even more curious motorists would arrive to take their place.
It was a moment of sobering realization: the island offered so little in terms of recreational options, that citizens were forced to derive what little morsels of entertainment they could from (literally-) watching garbage pile up.
And that’s in Malé, the capital city. The rest of the country probably has even less to do.
I still remember the first time I visited my hometown of Addu, as a six year old. Internet and cable TV weren’t quite a thing yet, but a fancy new speedboat had recently arrived; all the neighbourhood children would excitedly go and sit by the docks, staring and waving for hours at the sleek, white boat with deep black windows that allegedly held tourists inside.
Occasionally they would take a break from waving at the boat, and go find some alternate thrill – such as strangling a cat with a rope and hanging it from a tree, while middle-aged adults watched on bemusedly.
And when they finally got bored of waving at inanimate objects and torturing cats, guess what they did?
They went to watch dynamite explosions.
The land reclamation for the Addu Link Road was going on at the time. Not far from my grandma’s backyard, you could sit by the sea and watch frequent dynamite explosions. A shockwave followed by foaming jets of water and sand (and dead corals, presumably) spraying into the sky. It was quite a thrill.
There was one political party in 2013 that promised recreation in its manifesto – birakaanulaa majaa kurun – but many Maldivians mocked the very idea; I don’t quite know why even until this day.
But I do know that instead, we find our own ghastly forms of entertainment – not entirely unlike the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
Deriving perverse pleasure from blowing up a ten-thousand year old coral reef may seem excessively pornographic. But when accompanied by tea and refreshments, it is a downright adventure.