Saturday, 10 July 2010

Rainy Maldivian Day

Today was super rainy. From when the sun came up to now, nearly midnight, it's been a full day of heavy low clouds and rain. This morning, the clouds were touching the sea. When the ran came, it moved in. First hitting one roof, then all the roofs and making a very loud noise. Also, construction on Saturday morning, right outside my window. This all meant no sleeping in for me. But it was nice to do some work from my hotel room and watch the ran come and go.

Today was supposed to include snorkeling and an island visit, but the weather did not cooperate. Still, it was a rather productive day. 

I went back to the fish market today to take some photos. On the way, I met Rittey, who is an unofficial tour guide. He basically takes people around and can't ask for money, but accepts gifts. A lot of guys who do this have shops that they take you to at the end of the tour so you can buy souvenirs. I told him I didn't need a tour, but would like to ask him some questions. I ran into Buck in the meantime who was meeting his host for the two nights he's staying on an inhabited island about an hour south from Male'. Rittey obliged us by answering some questions. He believes that the sea level is rising. He thinks that Maldives will not survive it. While he dreams of going to Egypt and he thinks Male' is not the best place in the Maldives, he wouldn't like to live somewhere other than his home. He says people here do care about the environment and they would not like to leave their home. If he could speak to the world, he would ask them to please change their ways and save his country.

Don't know if I'll see Buck before I leave Monday but I hope to. I look forward to hearing about his trip.

Then I ran into Shahid. Who walked around with me while I took photos. Back at the fish market, we saw barracuda, swordfish, yellow fin tuna, smaller tuna, red snapper and many other types of fish. I finally understand why it's called yellow fin. It has little fins along it's tail that are yellow. It's quite striking.Then we went through the market again. I tried a cinnamon stick--delicious! For whatever reason, things here are going in one ear and out the other. I have been doing a very poor job of remembering the names of things I have learned. We walked out to the sea wall and there's a little water break where fish swim around. Saw a box fish and a few butterfly fish. Then the rain came so we went to his shop, had a drink and a chat.

He said he plans to interview the president and ask him some questions about environmental issues. He wants to ask about transportation: electric vehicles as an option, to get rid of the diesel engines and the air pollution. Maybe a bus system so people won't need motorbikes and for people who own cars to get rid of them. He also wants to get rid of plastic bags and bottles, to reduce the amount of trash that people produce. I hope he has success. I think that would be a positive step anywhere.

Before I left the shop, he played some music for me that was made by Maldivians using natural sounds: from waves and wind to the sounds of people working, whittling away at wood, opening coconuts. I think he said it won a grammy.

I managed to catch a break in the rain and walked to Shaahina's. She said there was no point going to Villigilli today because of the weather. People would not be out to talk to and it would not be nice to go around. So she invited me back to her house and to meet her friend Salma who works for the WHO. I'm so glad I accepted the invitation. Not only did I get to try breadfruit, rambutan, and some savory and sweet treats, including fried spicy fish balls. Rambutan is amazing. It's got a spiky exterior, but you break it open and it reveals a gelatinous looking egg shape that's subtly sweet. The soft translucent white flesh covers a large, white, almond-shaped seed. The fish ball was delicious, but a bit too spicy for my sensitive stomach.

Shaahina is wonderful. So generous and kind. She answers all of my questions and has offered to help me in anyway she can. Tonight was a big help. I got to meet her brother-in-law, Hamdun, who served as minister of planning under the last government for about 6 years. He oversaw two master plans. He obliged me by answering questions about sea level rise and their plans. He explained, using a plate, that there are two kinds of islands. One, plate right side up, in which the reef is higher than the land. This protects the land better because the reef breaks the waves, but if water comes over the reef, it gets trapped. The other way, the land is higher than the reef which leaves it more exposed to waves, but the waves would wash right over the land. He says, like with Hulhulmale', they wanted to design it so there was a higher lip near the reef so that the water wouldn't come in as easily. Lagoons also protect the islands. He told me a bit about islands that have been eroded or that have been washed out by storm surges. He believes sea level is rising and considered that in his plans. He says in order for people to move from their island, the entire island has to support the decision. And then the government relocates them. It seems there has already been a good deal of movement. He said there were 9 projects in the works and more islands that had applied.

I also found something I'd been looking for in a book. All the things I read about the number of islands in the Maldives say "about". Turns out they are regularly coming and going, shifting with the seasons and tides. Sandbars come and go regularly. Islands less easily, but it's common. An island in this case is considered to be land with vegetation, however simple, uninhabited or inhabited. Shaahina says it's commonly to see a sandbar once and then have it be gone the next time she visits the area. She said on her island, she has seen the sand go around the whole thing within a few months. The beach shifts with the current and the winds and the seasons. She says this is being altered by the developments they're making. Like the airport island, hulhulmale and the resort at the tip of that reef have now blocked off the currents which used to flow into the atoll from the east. She thinks this makes for a stronger current on Male'.

Her friend, Salma, is a great lady. She lights up when she talks, has a good sense of humor and tells a good story. She said that no one is really looking at climate change and health. She is working to change this and has had some initial meetings, including a technical meeting, for her region, which is SE Asia. I look forward to hearing from her and getting some more information. Health implications of climate change include heat related illnesses, a shift in vector borne illnesses, water availability, and issues related to flooding.

It has rained so much today that the streets are flooded. I was given a ride back to the hotel in a car and was glad for it. I was going to walk, but flip flops and a few inches of water would have made for one incredibly slow and slippery walk back.

I wish I were doing a better job of recording these conversations as there is so much to remember and learn. I'm so grateful to Shaahina for her help. I hope I do the Maldives justice in my dissertation.

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