The Netflix series “Our Planet” is the latest in the David Attenborough wildlife adventures with an increasing emphasis on its fragility and need for preservation. Soneva Fushi introduces a slate of its own budding guides to the natural world of its own little plot of sand in the middle of the ocean with its Change-Maker series and the efforts they are undertaking to preserve this little corner of our planet…
“Films that highlight how we’re recognising and tackling some of the issues greater than ourselves; told by the Change-Makers of Soneva. These amazing individuals represent everything we stand for – recognising that it’s their role to be part of the positive change we want our planet to see. From Ellie Butler, Soneva Jani’s Marine Biologist tackling ocean plastic to Chef Kevin Fawkes, who creates dishes beyond our wildest imagination with ingredients from our organic garden.”
When Soneva Fushi announced their recruitment for a “Barefoot Bookseller” it was one of those fantasy jobs right up there with “Professional Cuddler” and “Ben & Jerry’s Flavour Guru” as one of the best jobs on the planet. The lucky bibliomerchant is Aimée Johnston. Her bio reads…
She studied History and English Literature at Trinity College Dublin and was part of the University of Tokyo’s AIKOM programme. Since graduating she has worked in the publicity department of Penguin Random House Ireland, managing campaigns for Irish and international authors including Tara Westover, Yrsa Daley-Ward, Aoife Abbey and most recently, TwistedDoodles. She loves open water swimming, travelling and factor 50 sunscreen.”
Maldives Complete was able to catch up with Aimee for an interview about her life as a Laccadive lady of leisure literature…
What prompted Soneva Fushi to open a bookstore on their resort? Soneva has always been a great innovator in the field of luxury travel, always pre-empting the needs and desires of guests and always willing to test an unchartered terrain, like their very own bookshop! For a lot of people leading busy lives, the only time they can sit back, relax and read for pleasure is when they are on holidays, so how brilliant to have a carefully curated bookshop on the island.
Where are you from? I’m from Antrim in Ireland but I moved to Dublin for college and fell in love with the city. I had been living there for seven years before moving to the Maldives.
What is your previous experience with books?
I adore reading and always have. I loved literature so much that I decided to study it in college and when I left, I knew I wanted to get a job in the publishing industry. I’ve been lucky enough to work in the publicity department of Penguin Random House Ireland for three years. It’s a brilliant job. You get to work with fantastically talented authors, promoting their writing as far and as wide as possible.
Do people come into browse or are they more looking for recommendations?
Both! Sometimes people come in with a blank slate, willing to be inspired by what they see on our shelves. Other times people can be unsure about what to read and I love nothing more than chatting to them, establishing their reading tastes and interests and finding the perfect book for them. It’s an amazing feeling, to know someone is walking away with a book that they’ll love.
What is the most popular genre? It really varies. Soneva Fushi guests have such a wonderful range of interests that every visitor to the bookshop is different. Generally though, our non-fiction piques a lot of interest. Guests want to feel informed, whether that’s by Peter Frankopan’s The New Silk Roads or Rudie Kuiter’s Fishes of the Maldives. Often our visitors are thrilled to see such an impressive collection of books on wildlife and sea-life that speak to their immediate environment.
What are you doing more of than you expected on the island? I’m doing a lot more eating than I imagined! Our staff canteen is simply amazing, and our chefs are brilliant. They can whip up a mean omelette that’s worth waking up early for!
What are you doing less of than you expected on the island? I’ll admit that there is a little less sunbathing than I naively fantasized about! There is so much to do on the island that I find I’m a lot busier than I was expecting, trying to do as much as I possibly can. It has been a lot of fun.
What book are you reading now? I’ve just finished reading Not Working by Lisa Owens. It follows Claire Flannery just as she’s quit her job in the hope that by taking some time out she’ll figure out what the ‘perfect’ job for her really looks like. I loved it. It has all the heart and humour of Bridget Jones but so totally original in its story. Claire’s quest for her ‘dream’ job was the ‘will they won’t they’ romance I didn’t know I needed! Next up on my reading list is The Woman in the Window by controversial author A.J. Finn, which is our first reading choice in the Barefoot Book Club.
I wasn’t quite sure what to call this recognition, but I knew I need to call out Kuramathi’s exceptional touches to old fashioned relaxation. Kuramathi was the first resort that I ever posted for its distinctive bed-art marking. They have clearly made it a resort trademark, in fact taking it up a notch with the latest generation of bedroom artistes.
All of the creations shown here are the work of 24 year old room attendant Adam Naseer. Kuramathi shared these details about his work…
“Adam has been working in another resort for about two years after he found out about Kuramathi on the internet and from some friends (who also work here) and decided to work for Kuramathi, this is now one year ago. He works at the Thundi area of the island and takes care of about 4 to 5 villas per day. His favourite part is decorating the bed or even the bath with towel art including flowers. It is his passion to make the guests happy and to see their smile on their face as he always receives a grateful feedback and the guests always want to have a picture with Adam and his designs. Mostly he likes to make heart shaped or honeymoon designs.”
My favourite is his birthday greeting complete with towel birthday cake (see photo at top).
“What an artist is trying to do for people is bring them closer to something, because of course art is about sharing. You wouldn’t be an artist unless you wanted to share an experience, a thought.” – David Hockney
At most resorts, the staff give at bit of themselves every day to make the visit by the guests memorable and distinctive. At Amilla Fushi, this investment is expressed indelibly in a unique exhibition of creativity and personality.
The Mystique Garden is a chef’s garden where you can enjoy special meals prepared and served for you al fresco. But your nook is more than the lush greenery of an equatorial paradise. It accented by a collection of striking art works suspended in the tropical canopy. These pieces are the works and gifts of the resort staff themselves.
When the property was near completion and the new team of staff being assembled, the management got everyone together and presented them with a challenge to design and produce pieces of sculpture to adorn the Mystique Garden. The resort provided any tools and materials that they needed. The staff were assembled into department teams as the project was a way to bring the group close together prior to the opening with a focus on thrilling the impeding guests with something out of the ordinary. The teams worked for over a month and the top pieces were selected for inclusion in this open air gallery. The pieces featured and the teams that created them are…
Chandelier by Management
Morovian Star by Engineering
Peace Sign by the Spa
Dodecahedron by the Front Office
Silver Mobile by Recreation
I’ve been to lots of chef gardens in the Maldives (in fact, with this post, I am adding a new tag for them “Chef Garden”, but Amilla’s is a bit extra-magical, surrounded not just by the natural beauty of the location, but also by these inspired pieces which offer a personal welcome from the hearts, minds and souls of the resort team to their guests.
World Sea Turtle Day today. And there are few better friends to the sea turtles’ in the Maldives than the Coco resorts Coco Bodu Hithi and Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu. They have been long-time supporters of the Oliver Ridley Project with fund raising and public outreach, but this past year brought a pioneering, first ever in the Maldives “marine veterinarian”. Marine Biologist Dr. Claire Petros (from the Oliver Ridley Project) was appointed to operate turtle rescue centres at the resorts. Coco resort described their work in the blog…
“Guests of Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu and Coco Bodu Hithi have been incredibly generous in their efforts to support the project by donating funds directly and by purchasing signature Olive Ridley turtle toys at the resorts. In May 2016, we received the target of the funds required to start construction of the first rescue centre at Coco Palm….As planned, [the centre includes] a dedicated veterinary surgeon has joined our team to look after the rescue centre!”
She provides treatment and ever surgery to ill and injured turtles at the resort turtle rescue centres. Hotellier Maldives also did a profile on her work focusing on her clinic…
“’My main role is to care for the injured turtles that we find around the country with the intention of being able to release them when recovered as quickly as possible.’ Injured sea turtles are not a rare sight in the Maldives waters. Though turtles are a protected species in the Maldives, their foes range from abandoned fishing nets, and people, who are hungry for their meat, eggs, and shells. Ghost nets are nets that have been discarded, abandoned or lost in the ocean. They can continue to entangle endangered and vulnerable animals such as marine turtles, birds, sharks, rays, dolphins and whales, long after they have been discarded, abandoned or lost. ‘Turtles are very attracted to ghost gear as it often contains an easy meal, but unfortunately during the process of trying to eat the fish entrapped in the nets, the turtles themselves become entangled,’ she explained. ‘Sadly, the effort to escape is so great by the animal that it exerts enough force to break its own bones and the extent of the injuries suggests that turtles may suffer for weeks before dying, or hopefully be rescued’.”
We caught up with Christopher to tap into a few of his tips and insights into playing in paradise…
How did you find yourself on a Maldives resort? I work for TROON golf who operate the Academy here Velaa. When I was asked by them if I was interested I practically bit their hand off at the opportunity.
What was the most luxurious course you have played prior to Velaa? Many courses, what I classify as my second home would be Praia Del Rey in Portugal where I spent 6 years as the Professional.
What is your favourite caddie tip for people playing the Velaa course? Be conservative with your approach shots, if you take on shots and don’t play them to perfection you will be punished.
What’s your best score playing the course? When we have low handicapped players in residence we play a very tough formation my best score around that formation was -2.
What are people most surprised about playing the Velaa course? The quality of the playing surfaces and the beautiful landscape
It’s not just the aroma of the soup, it’s the atmosphere. And one of my most enjoyable bowls was served at Coco Bodu Hithi’s “Aqua” fusion restaurant because of its garnish of sea sounds and sights.
For starters (literally), it and the rest of the meal was served on our own private deck. Such a set up was something I mused about way back in 2011. It makes meal time a sort of microcosm of the whole tiny island experience – dining nestled in an intimate nook surrounded by water (and there were these particularly peculiar fish circling the platform which had us reaching for our fish guides, though we still couldn’t figure out what they were).
Aqua has 360 degree water for 4 decks and then another 5 decks for 2 couples each with a 90 degree corner seat. An overwater restaurant tables are table stakes for a 5-star in the Maldives and most 4 stars have them too. But the broader platform designs mean that on a few early birds secure the coveted front row waterside seats.
The soup in question was an exquisite chilled fruit soup and seafood chowder. The Indonesian Chef Nyoman (possibly the only female head chef in the Maldives and certainly the first one I had met) had us try her special tuna Carpaccio which is prepared differently than you normally get it in Europe. But the highlight was Indonesian prawn dish, “Udanag Balado”.
Aqua is also one of the fewer places which request smart casual dress. It’s the first time I’ve had to wear long trousers to a meal in the Maldives, but it does lend an air of sophistication to the evening.
For some down island funk, JA Manafaru staff will inspire you with their home-grown boduberu. Most boduberu troupes are professional groups that tour various resorts. But Manafaru’s drummers are all staff at the resort. They perform weekly for the guests as well as enter a number of festivals and competitions. Seeing familiar faces (folks you have interacted with around the resort) performing lent a more intimate and welcome feel to the whole evening and seemed to be more effective in getting guests up and participating.
International Workers Day today is a chance to celebrate the sterling work that the Maldives resort staff provide every day of the year. They do every thing from keep us safe on snorkel trips to making sure that every whim is catered for.
One of my favourite all time roles is Four Seasons Kuda Huraa “sunglasses cleaner” which we saw when we visited there (but didn’t get a picture). He even has a name a perfect as his role…“Dr. Shade”
“Mohamed Shareef, 28, has been working at the Four Seasons for almost seven years… I start work by 1:30 p.m., and I walk around and repair and clean guest sunglasses. Most people love to see Dr. Shade. I wear a stethoscope and a white coat. I have some tools. Mostly I just clean the glasses, but I can fix them if I need to.”
International Women’s Day today celebrates the inspirational achievements of women around the world. One such woman is Aishath Rizuna “Rizu”, the Maldive’s first female boat captain trained and appointed by Kurumba…
Rizu herself comes from a line of strong and active women. Her mother and grandmother are very practical and very sporty. Her mother fixes electrical issues and out swam all the boys while her grandmother still climbs trees…
“From her background, Rizu was born and raised in Funadhoo, Shariyani Atoll. Her father is a fisherman so Rizu has sweet memories about the time when her father taught her how to swim, snorkel and fish in a traditional Dhoni boat. At the very young age of four, Rizu’s father taught her how to drive a small boat, and by the time she was a teenager she was selling small boats in the lagoon of Funadhoo. Rizu’s father (Mohamed Nazim) curiously also worked in Kurumba at a young age thirty years ago and has been a great support to Rizu’s evolving career. We are delighted with the support of our twelve male Captains, who certainly gave her all the necessary help needed for her practical training as well as her theory course. Rizu is still developing her skills and knowledge of the Maldivian oceans, which will take some time. Whilst she will continue her role as Majaa Recreation Supervisor, these additional skills can be used in the future from time to time when guests are looking for a female crew.”
What is the best aspect of your job? – It’s always been a dream to travel around, being a boat captain allows me to fulfil my dream and that’s the most enjoyable part in my job.
What were your biggest challenges as you trained to become a boat captain? – The biggest challenge I had was that every single part in the boats were so new to me. I felt like I was back in school, where I had to learn everything from A to Z, but with the help of all the people around me I overcame all challenges and I am so thankful to everyone.
Were there any physical obstacles that you needed to overcome? – I would say it’s more mental challenges that I had to overcome more than physical ones.
Did your lack of physical strength hinder you much? – The thought “I am a woman and I can’t do that” never even crossed my mind and most importantly everyone around me never tried to put it in my head either.
What were the attitudes of your classmates as you progressed through your training? – Very helpful and positive comments from the start, from the moment I told them that I am going to take the training as a boat captain. These comments pushed me forward and it’s always great to know how much people appreciate your hard work.
Did you have anyone that championed and supported you? If so, was it a big advantage? – Honestly and to be fair I have to say everyone, but I am particularly thankful for the support of my Family, the Kurumba Management team including our Fleet Manager Mohamed Shameem and the whole Kurumba team for being with me.
Did you encounter anyone that was very against you progressing in your career? – No! Only positive feedback.
Now you are a captain, what are your plans to encourage other women to follow your path? – Well, it’s a choice. This opportunity came to my doorstep, why would I wait? My dream is waiting out there. There’s always one thing I would like to say now and I will always say it: “follow your dream until you reach it, never give up and take your chances”.
What next for you in your career after your captain job? – It’s a bit too early to decide anything right now. I am enjoying driving the boats around and working towards my dream, which is visiting each and every island in the country.