You know what it feels like to wake up from a dream? Your mind is still in another place while your body is in the physical reality. That’s what it felt like when we set foot on Malé, the capital of the Maldives. We stayed on the island for two nights before boarding the dhoni and docked there on our last night so we had one more chance to wander the capital.
The life on Malé and the inhabited islands is completely different than the luxury resorts frequented by visitors or the dhoni —where rules were pretty much nonexistent. We could have a cocktail or two (or three or four) if we wanted and didn’t have to adhere to any particular dress code.
For the locals, the rules are much different. This sign confronted us at the airport with those regulations:
We’ve known about the no pork and no alcohol rule from our Muslim friends back home, but this is our first time visiting a predominantly Muslim country where these regulations are enforced.
Considering that almost half of the country’s GDP comes from tourism, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to us that exceptions were made on our dhoni and the resort islands, but it still remained a strong contrast.
Sherm informed us that if he were to get caught intoxicated in Malé, he would face a large fine and if he was actually holding a container of alcohol, he could face up to several years in prison. Our hotel owner in Malé told us he’d be put in jail for serving us bacon when we inquired about the chicken “bacon” that fooled us into thinking it was actually pork.
We thought about how we’d fare if we had to stick to these rules. No bacon? (what would be the B in BLT?) Yes, we could have a Bible (just not two or more), but the inability to worship openly? (yikes) No beer? (yikes again)
While walking from the fish market to the beach we heard running and soon a parade of people rushed passed us and we realized that it was a relatively calm demonstration protesting the coup that recently forced former President Mohamed Nasheed from office.
When we finally reached the shoreline we witnessed many people cooling off in the water but unlike what we’d experienced before. Just a couple miles away scantily clad women grace the boats and resort beaches but here most of them wade in the water fully dressed in their abaya.
This is the way of life for the people we met and most of them don’t follow these rules begrudgingly. It’s a practice that they embrace because it’s part of their faith. Our feelings of sympathy for them soon turned into respect. While we may not completely understand the hows and whys of these practices, we appreciate the differences.
Malé may not be a typical stop for people visiting the Maldives, but seeing the inhabited islands allowed us to better understand the country. Visitors and locals alike watch the same sun rise and set and bathe in the same turquoise waters. All of us may not share the same belief system or moral code, but what we love about the Maldives is that we can all embrace its beauty.