The World is On Our Doorstep

Save Something kitten

Earth Day today is traditionally a time to reflect on how humanity can save the planet, though it takes on a whole new perspective during this era of COVID19. Internet memes abound joking that the coronavirus is the planet’s way of scolding humanity and sending it to its bedroom as punishment with the admonition, “Now go away and think about what you have done.”

The pandemic underscores poignantly and painfully how interconnected we are in the modern world. How my respiratory survival is dependent on others changing their behaviours. How my toilet paper supply is dependent on global supply chains.

I had saved the post below from our daughter Isley especially for Earth Day given its theme of saving things including the planet. It was penned after we got together this past year and she was reflecting on her secondment at Soneva Fushi and Rihiveli working on a number of Maldivian writing projects.

The piece reminded me of the starfish parable…

  • “One day, an old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked he came upon a young boy who was eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one. Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the boy simply replied, ‘I’m saving these starfish, Sir’. The old man chuckled aloud, ‘Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?’ The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turning to the man, said, ‘I made a difference to that one!’”

We can all matter to individual starfish, one-legged birds and kittens. And if we do, the whole planet can matter to all of humanity.

HOW TO SAVE SOMETHING

I wrote the poem “Today I Was a Starfish” during a short writing residency at Soneva Fushi. It’s two true stories in one: Soneva had a Precious Plastics initiative where inventors worked to recycle plastics in artful and purposeful new ways. Soneva also engages seriously with sustainability, saving and reusing wherever possible so it seemed right that I write a poem responding to this part of who they are. I also watched that little kid cry her eyes out over an ice cream, and laughed before realising that she was right: the ready appearance of another ice cream doesn’t erase the loss of the one she held in her hands.

This was back in 2018. I went from Soneva Fushi to Rihiveli, which had its own collection of stories about the importance of saving. Their icon is a beautiful white bird called Juliette, who ended up on the island after the 2004 tsunami, and was cared for by the humans there. She now doesn’t fly, but hangs around on one leg (incidentally at Soneva Fushi there was also a one legged bird who would visit at mealtimes, called affectionately Onelego). Another example of this spirit of care was its reopening as Rihiveli The Dream, when to stop the island from closing it was bought by a collection of guests and run in a way which preserved the staff and style of the island they knew well.

It was while I was at Rihiveli that I was asked by the London Theatre Consortium to attend a residential climate lab when I returned to the UK. I had no idea how many overlaps I would find during my time on that lab to what I had seen in the Maldives: most obviously, the science and history behind the climate catastrophe we face, and that the Maldives is at the knife edge of in so many ways.

But also, the Maldives became emblematic for the key revelation I had during my time at the lab, which has to do with structural and systemic barriers to addressing climate change, and found metaphorical manifestation in a little stray kitten…

On our penultimate day in the Maldives, in Hulhumalé, a tiny kitten greeted us as we had breakfast. We had plans to explore the island and snorkel, but they were abandoned to take care of this flea-ridden little beast with the wonky jaw and seriously cuddly cuteness. We gave her some egg and cleaned her when she toileted and held her in our laps while we picked fleas off her one by one, trapping them in selotape that we borrowed from the hotel reception. There are many stray cats in parts of the Maldives, cared for ad hoc by the working community. But this one was in my lap. She couldn’t chew properly. She didn’t seem to be able to poop. She fell asleep on my hand. We named her Dhaya. I needed to save her.

After realising that it would be impossible to process the paperwork in time to take her to the UK with me, I looked into getting her to a vet while we were still in the country. But the thing is there are ZERO vets in the Maldives. None. Not one. There is one man in Indonesia who makes a trip every six months to look over the pets of the residents, and everyone essentially crowdfunds his trip and tries to get their pet seen during his brief visit. We made a friend in Sujon, who worked in the hotel we were staying at – a fellow animal lover, he said he would keep Dhaya in his apartment and take care of her for us, until we could get the vet to see to her, which I could organise from the UK. I felt good knowing she had a home, and that it might not mean sending her all the way to the UK to keep her happy and safe. But that evening Dhaya took a turn for the worse. We could sort of diagnose the problem using the internet, and the treatment was straightforward, for a vet. But we didn’t have a vet. Or medicine. Or expertise. And she died.

The kitten was saveable. We all wanted to save it. But without a vet, we couldn’t.

The planet is saveable. We all do want to save it, even if we disagree about how. But without systems in place and upheld by governments, organisations, businesses etc, we’ll fail. We cannot crowdfund the climate revolution.

Yes we have to work as individuals – the child needs to not drop the ice cream. And yes we need to be grassroots in our approach to change – so much has been achieved by the Rihiveli community, contributing and sharing and organising in whatever way they can personally to achieve a collective aim. But those energies need to be focused upwards, at those with more power and resources to affect serious change. But as always, those with least resources and the least power are expected to do the most. Yes, me offsetting my air travel is good, but not as good as that being a responsibility of the airlines themselves.

This is what I learned at the climate lab, and at Rihiveli, and from Precious Plastics, and from the kitten.

I’m writing this over a year later now, after Greta Thunberg has proved that an individual (herself someone with significant clout, and inspired by activists before her) can at least influence others, and begin the change systemically. Extinction Rebellion sees many individuals coming together to encourage change and enact it within their reach, putting pressure on larger bodies to recognise their voice. Veganuary proves to be a huge commercial incentive for corporations and companies to be part of the change. And there’s a stray cat with mange that sleeps in my neighbour’s shed that I’m trying to trap and treat. They remind me of Dhaya. Which makes me realise a final thing:

It’s not wrong to want to help the kitten on your doorstep. But the world has been getting smaller for a long time now, and this story of international travel and relationships and communities is proof of that. And the fact is, the world is – and always was – on our doorstep. What we strive to make better in our own worlds impacts the worlds outside of our own, culturally but also ecologically. My choices have ripples that widen and deepen a very long way away. But I also need to think not just about this kitten that I can see the shed, but about all the kittens. But again – at risk of sounding like that Debbie… I can’t help every cat. No one can.

I’m tying myself in knots here a bit now, because there’s no clear right way to fix this. The macro is the micro and vice versa / people power is real power but the real power is systemic / the cat I see suffering is not more or less special than any other suffering animal, or suffering person, and yet I can and should care for them specially.

As I sit in my car on my road, watching the trap I’ve laid for this latest rescue mission, hoping the mangy street cat won’t see me watching, will take the bait, and surrender himself to my care, I think: there are lots of ways to save things. None of them are perfect, convenient, comfortable, or ideal for everyone. But at least there are lots of them. This is one of the ways I can try and save things. And another is demanding that those who can do more do do more. If the infrastructure had been in place, Dhaya would be alive. So I’m going to keep saving the little kittens, but now I know to do that by challenging the fat cats.

Save something bird

Planet time out

Best of the Maldives: Wood Painting – Rihiveli Dream

Rihiveli Dream - flags

With all of the glitzy bling scattered around the Maldives like toddlers throwing tinsel on a Christmas tree, some of the old school décor with retro charm stand out even more distinctively. One example is Rihiveli extensive oil on wood paintings. The reception features one of the most handsome island maps I have seen, and I love the little vexillological (word of the day for you) retrospective.

Rihiveli Dream - reception map

Best of the Maldives: Table Tennis Area – Rihiveli Beach

Rihiveli Beach - table tennis area

Pretty much every resort will offer a table tennis table. Some even have elaborate outdoor pavilions, but I haven’t seen any ping pong area as stadium-eque Rihiveli Beach’s beach bar. They have set the table in a sunken area with a couple of rows of raked seating around the sides. Perfect for that family holiday grand championship tourney.

Best of the Maldives: Fish Totem – Rihiveli Beach

Rihiveli Beach - repeater fish

One of my favourite artistic crafts is reminiscent of a sort of tropical Tanenbaum adorned with colourful bass instead of baubles. It is the Rihiveli Beach repeater totem recognition. Situated at the cross roads of the paths which criss-cross the tiny island, is a totem pole covered with decorated fish that include names and dates of the guests’ milestone visits.

  • After 4 visits – Fish added to totem pole
  • After 15 visits – Fish can be put anywhere you like on the island (like on a tree – see photo below)

The record repeater for the resort is 55.

With this post, I’m adding the new tag “Repeater” for such recognitions and celebrations.

Rihiveli Beach - fish totem

  

Rihiveli Beach - fish recognition

Best of the Maldives: Coconut Danish – Rihiveli Beach

Rihiveli Beach - coconut danish

I’m a big fan of everything coconut and always surprised that resorts do even more with this ironically indigenous ingredient. Rihiveli Beach had an impressive array of pastries (particularly impressed with their lemon meringue which had a soft crust as so many resort use hard crusts, which I tend not to eat), but my favourite was their coconut Danish on the breakfast buffet. Yum, definitely went back for more.

Best of the Maldives: Crab Plover – Rihiveli Beach

Rihiveli Beach - crab plover beach

Resorts feature all sorts of resident creatures including turtles, cats, octopi and rabbits. Many islands host a bevy of birds. But no resident has charmed us as much as “Julietta” at Rihiveli Beach.

Julietta is Rihiveli’s resident Crab Plover. The local story goes that she was found on the neighbouring bird island when the resort was first developed in 1983 and brought over to Rihiveli because she couldn’t fly. Obviously, 34 years is a long life for a bird so there is speculation that this “Julietta” arrived in 2006 after the tsunami hit.

Whatever her back story, her present day exploits are downright captivating. She came right up to us and greeted us sitting on our lounge chairs soon after our arrival. She follows the staff around like a puppy and at one point strolled along with us when a staff member was taking us some place. At first we thought that she was looking for food handouts or droppings, but it turns out she’s not interested human food in the least. All she eats are the little crabs that run across the beach. Actually, the staff can (and do) help her with her meals by shining a torch on the beach when the crabs are most active which helps Jullietta spot them. During a beach dinner one night, Julietta was being particularly sociable and so one of the chefs decided that she deserved some of her own treats. He stepped away from the buffet, turned the flashlight on his iPhone and shined it on the sand while Julietta eagerly snapped up a meal of unsuspecting micro-crustaceans.

But the most fun part of the night was her joining the crowd on the disco floor of the infamous Rihiveli White Party (see photos below). During the thumping house music, she was out there in centre of the dance floor seemingly enjoying the vibe as much as any guest.

Julietta has inspired her own virtual fan club with lots of paparazzi shots of her by visitors posted on TripAdvisor and Flickr. She has become such a high profile part of the property that the resort logo features her (in the midst of some of her disco dancing maybe) – see photo at bottom.

Rihiveli Beach - crab plover disco 1

Rihiveli Beach - crab plover disco 2

Rihiveli Beach - julietta logo

Maldives Tour 2017: Rihiveli

Rihiveli - tour 2017

The legend that is Rihiveli is true. Our expectations were a bit piqued for Rihiveli as one of the top Maldives experts and good friend, Francisco Negrin, dubbed it his favourite island. Since he has stayed at over 40 resorts in the Maldives, including a number of 5+ stars, it was quite an accolade.

Many of those tales I have heard (most through Francisco) and ended up writing about, unfolded before our eyes. Our stay (coincidentally since it was quite short) included one of their longstanding “White Parties,” which was bopping more than any other disco we have been to at a resort. Coming back from a dive trip to Ran Thila (one of the top ten dive sites in the Maldives) we came upon the resident pod of dolphins. Slapping on our fins and jumping into the water, at least 40 swam right by me. There are hundreds of these Spinners who live in the lagoon which is a bit of a sheltered breeding ground for them (tiny baby dolphins were everywhere, plastered to their mothers’ sides).

Coincidentally, Rihiveli shares a number of qualities with Dhigufaru, the island we had just departed. Tiny islands both with only 40 rooms of simple accommodation and simple amenities. Though the more rustic Rihiveli was sort of like Dhigufaru’s bohemian older sister.

There was one aspect of this retro throwback that we experienced for the first time at Rihiveli – no air-conditioning. We started visiting the Maldives as early as 1998, when whether or not air conditioning was available was one of the data fields I tracked in my by research spreadsheet of resorts. We have always had air conditioning. Rihiveli is a rare vestige of a by-gone era in Maldive tourism. I think only Fihahohi doesn’t have AC (of the resort islands, many guest houses are bringing the non-AC option back into fashion, of sorts). Why would anyone endure the tropical heat without the refuge of modern Freon? Well in Rihiveli’s case, to enjoy one of the finest island/lagoon combinations in the entire country with a bit of rustic simplicity and authenticity.

It was indeed a bit toasty at Rihiveli during our stay. That meant plenty of dips in the refreshing lagoon (Rihiveli doesn’t have a swimming pool, either). The big concern was sleeping at night. Especially for my wife, Lori, who describes herself being particularly heat sensitive as a “woman of a certain age”. What we ended up doing was retreating outdoors to our villa lounge chairs on the beach to sleep. They were big, sturdy and comfortable (nice padding). We took our pillows from the bed and fell asleep under the stars with the gentle ocean breezes as our natural air conditioning and the soothing wash of the waves on the reef as our lullaby. If you absolutely cannot conceive of enduring tropical heat without AC, don’t worry. There are 6 rooms that do offer aircon for the very reasonable supplement of $35 per night.

Rihiveli shows you don’t have to serve up gourmet cuisine to offer up delicious and satisfying food. After missing it at our 5 star stays, Lori finally got her Mas-Huni (a bit on the spicy side, but delicious nonetheless). The Thai Red Seafood Curry ($22) was as tasty any you could get at a typical Thai restaurant in the UK. Some of the best baked goods we’ve tasted this trip that could hold their own with 5-star offerings – freshly baked brioche, lemon meringue pie (with soft crust, which I adore, versus the hard, crunchy crust which is the resort norm), white chocolate donuts, King of Puddings and coconut Danish (Best Of the Maldives contender). Shows what you can do with simple dishes prepared well. We were even treated to superb sushi on the buffet.

A major shortcoming for Maldives aficionados is the lack of a house reef. The lagoon is still full of marine life – the aforementioned dolphins, turtles and baby sharks we saw, a family of resident nurse sharks. But some great snorkel spots are a short boat ride away. Really, though, this lagoon is as much a distinction as a drawback. As the tales tell, it offers one of the most dramatic wading in the Maldives (a land of shallow waters). Specifically, we decided to pay a visit to the nearby L’Ile de Soleil Levant just a stone’s throw away. We asked the resort if we should take a boat and they responded, “Boat? You can walk there.” Which, indeed we did, as the entire distance was no more than knee deep.

So many Maldives aficionados yearn for the simpler days of yore. Free of butlers, Jacuzzis and iPad room service menus. What I appreciate about resorts are the ways they make themselves distinctive. Those features may not appeal to everyone, but for those they do appeal to, the resort stands out with memorable and striking uniqueness. Riviheli will be a legendary treat for anyone seeking simple, pure, unadulterated Maldives.

Best of Maldives Online – Visitor Contribution: Francisco Negrin

Francisco Negrin

It just gets easier and easier to work on Maldives Complete because more and more visitors are kindly writing to me with help, suggestions, missing information, corrections. But one individual stands above all his ability to ferret out the most esoteric and obscure details – Francis Negrin.

He has identified new islands, quirky features, and buried website troves of tidbits. Sometimes I actually have come across some of these things and I think he finds it fun sport to see if he can uncover something missing in the Maldives Complete collection. We also have good chats about all sorts of Maldives topics.

And if his current trip is any indication, he stands out in his adoration of the Maldives. Many people feel blessed with one week in the Maldives though if budget and holiday time permits so many people prefer two. Francisco and his friends are going for an entire month during which include Rihiveli (“truly stunning and very very cheap. A gem . The rare find . Way way better than any resort at that price range except there is no house reef”), Cocoa Island (“Cocoa is stunning. I even cried a bit when i got here.”), Dhoni Island, (excursion to Athuruga from there) , Alila Villas Hadahaa, Kanuhura, and Anantara Kihavah.

To add to his long collection of contributions, the Cocoa Island profile is now 100% complete thanks to his snapping me a picture of the fitness centre that I have just loaded up. You too can follow along (if you can tolerate the envy) at his photo-blog http://gallery.me.com/fnegrin#100179.