I’ve found myself on an island somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean in a country most people couldn’t point out on a map much less have even heard of. I don’t really know how but here I am. It all happened quite fast. It was Christmas night and rain thrashed on my window in my dark room as I watched silent lightning illuminate white amorphous and pulsing light beyond a black oceanic abyss west of Colombo.
The next day I had dinner and drinks with a few Sri Lankan girls and listened to a band play in the back of the Dutch Hospital. A day later I’m wandering aimlessly in the middle of the capital city on a remote island. It’s quite small, the island, as I’ve already circled its entirety. There are people milling around doing normal island things. Whatever those are. Sitting outside of a shop hugging the shade while chatting with their neighbor in a language I’ve never heard before. I definitely stand out here. People take notice of me as I seem to be the only one walking towards the beach and they’re all walking in the opposite direction to the center of the island. I definitely don’t see any other more fair complected people among them. Of all the people being greeted at the airport by hotel and resort staff, I’m the only one on the entire boat boarding for Malé. I’m not surprised as I expect they all head straight from Ibrahim Nasir International Airport to one of the countless other islands with $2,000 a night resort villas out on even further remote waters extending from postcard beaches.
There are several people mooring and cleaning boats on jetties. Overall it looks like a peaceful island city with hardworking and humble people. I take notice of all the energy watching planes land and depart on the island less than a mile away. Small island hoppers and boats all depart most likely taking passengers away from any of this culture and onto the aforementioned, exclusive islands.
I’ve walked into a park and into the shopping district wandering aimlessly down one street and turning down another until I find the national museum. I’ve never seen anything like the writing system here. The museum is closed so I continue to wander. It’s in the later part of the afternoon and it appears people are starting to thin out. Each corner rounded leaves less people before me. At some points I feel like I can see down the street and across the entire island. I must be on Majeedhee Magu Rd. Just when I turn one more corner and onto a four way stop, I’ve somehow found myself completely alone. I’m not sure what’s happening but I do feel it’s getting a bit eerie. Coming to another four way stop, I finally see a small family rushing along but they quickly enter a building I assume is their home. The streets are deserted and the island is silent. What do these people know that I don’t?
Walking back towards the jetties, where the taller buildings are and hoping to see other people, I turn another corner and find myself in a small and shrouded graveyard. Ancient gravestones on tall dark grass all around. How strange that I’ve somehow find myself surrounded by the dead on what seems to be turning into a deserted island. I’m on my way to the beach at the east end of the island and finally see a few people in the distance but even they’ve stopped whatever they’re doing. Some are even kneeling towards in a specific direction looking to be northwest.
I look out to the water and up into the sky then suddenly hear singing I’ve heard before blared from a rusty speaker hanging by a thread of a black cord on a cracked, ancient wall in Istanbul. Something I first heard for myself enshrouded in flurries of snow, another time over primordial sands, another incredibly high above a modern city, again shopping in an ancient market and now heard staring out at endless blue under pounding sun. I somehow missed all the signs of a crescent moon on the country’s flag and on small monuments around the city. I learned something new today about the Maldives. I look at the clock on my phone and as I’ve learned from my travels, it’s Asr, the afternoon Muslim call to prayer.