We have just received a couple text messages asking if we are okay. We assumed the requests were referring to the earthquake we felt last night. It was in the middle of the night, and we awoke to feel the bed shaking. We felt it a couple of times, but when Dru stood up to look outside, he no longer felt anything, nor could he see anything. I stayed in bed, and it hardly woke me. I started writing this family and friends letter before I received the requests for information from Laurie, and a Male resident who is on vacation in Sri Lanka. Without a television, we had nothing to be concerned about. We woke up in the morning saying we should go to the internet to find out what happened, but you know how that goes, Ike was coughing so hard he puked, so then he needed a bath. Lou made breakfast, Ike and Dru fell asleep, I started this letter, you know, just regular stuff. Here, the electricity has been on, we ve assumed the phone service is okay, but haven t called anyone. We did just receive the two text messages via our cell phones. And, the construction work on the neighbouring buildings has been continuing as usual. We did receive a phone call from a man traveling away, that he was unable to fly due to flooding on the runway. You d think we were more curious than that, and go to the internet, eh? Dru may go to work tomorrow to find all the planes run up out of the water, today we re not sure. His work has his cell phone, but no calls specifically for him. We ve stayed in the house, Ike being sick, and this being the day after Christmas, so we’re pretty clueless about how bad it is. So, for us, it s not bad at all.
So, now I will return to the original letter.
It’s good to know we have family and friends back in Canada, and a few other outlying areas. We miss you all, especially in this Christmas season, where there are so few of us celebrating. A week or two ago, I started on the project of sorting through the digital photos that have been accumulating over the past 5 years. My brother Tony loaned us the use of his camera frequently over the years, until we got one of our own. Tony, we sure appreciated that. It was especially fun to visit with many of you as you appeared on my screen. And to put a little thought into, you know, like what year was that photo? How big are the kids there? Which house did we live in, well that would make that photo from 2003, then. Now that they are so nicely organized, some of you may want to have copies of some of the photos. When we visit next, I will let the more computer literate in the family handle the sharing of the photos. We have various Easters, Christmas, and family get togethers. Notably, we have lots of photos of the family camping trip where we celebrated Grandmas 85th birthday.
We have been asked several times if we can give you our mailing address. I’m afraid that I will have to decline receiving any mail. We do have an apartment, but it is above three levels of warehouse, so I don t know if we can expect mail delivery here. Also, if we give you Air Taxi as a mailing address, we are running the risk that the person sorting the mail will not recognize the name of an engineer among four hundred employees. Also, I have not checked into general delivery. And, the last big reason is that postcards and packages that I have sent from here to Canada have taken about two months to arrive. The package I sent to Laurie from Canada took three or four months to arrive. So, regretfully, we will decline the receipt of any mail.
However, can we send out some mail to you? For some, I have already arranged to have the Maldives Tourist package sent to you. It s a lovely big package, with lots of resort details. In it, you will see lots of resort photos, all of them beautiful, without any pricing. (If you have to ask, you can t afford?) If you would like to receive this big lovely package that will have you wishing you could afford a visit to a tropical island, please send me your complete mailing address.
I think I mentioned that we have finally gotten used to the weather. Perhaps not only have we acclimatized, but our home is also on the fifth floor, with a lovely big deck. Only stairs, no elevator. The breeze goes through when there is one, and we are above all the neighbours. We can see the ocean, if you are looking out the specific windows, and the new construction that is going on all round us is only now starting to tower above. Now, you folks all know us well enough, that although we have a big lovely deck atop a building, it is not exactly a penthouse. We wouldn t trade it in for anything else, but we were hesitant to take it at first, because it really is a one bedroom apartment. The kids sleep in the living room. But, the master bedroom has a sitting area, so that offers us more living room options, and the deck of course, is our outdoor living area. The roof extension offers shade in the morning for part of the deck until noon, and the big buildings to the west offer shade from about 1:30pm. We were fortunate enough to purchase second hand a couple of large inflatable pools. There are certain maintenance issues, but overall, we are very pleased with our pools.
Also, I do some chores out on the deck in the morning. The washing machine is on the deck, and thankfully, we have a new one. It is still a washer/spinner, but now all functions work, so we ll hardly complain. For about two weeks, we had to hand wring our clothes. Yikes, what a chore. We are grateful for the spinner. Lots of people have the fully automatic washers, but I don t know of anyone who has a dryer. We had a fully automatic washer in the staff apartment when I first arrived, but the clothes didn t seem to come out clean. After the washing, the laundry is all hung on racks outside to dry. Laundry day has all our clothes on the laundry rack, or on the rope we string from one end of the deck to the other on the days we choose to do that. We re a pretty sight, but, it s more or less how everyone does it here. I have also started ironing outside in the early mornings as well. I used to hate ironing, but it doesn t pay to keep that emotion while living here. Clothes get particularly wrinkly here, very fast. Most locals wear synthetics. Initially, I couldn t believe they would wear the hottest fabrics available to mankind, but as I do laundry, I am starting to see why. Synthetics dry quickly and so don t get smelly if the humidity is high, and synthetics don t wrinkle as easily. But still, us westerners won t leave the cooler fabrics alone, despite what the locals do. Comfort is more important, I assure you. So, we iron, or hire a maid to iron.
The whole laundry thing is quite time consuming, but so is simple daily housecleaning. New construction apartments don t initially have ants, but at some point, if the tenants aren t completely vigilant, the bugs come. So, with our deck house, wide open to the elements, with plants on the deck, and not anywhere near new, we are vigilant and aggressive in the housecleaning to avoid ants. We have to sweep after every meal, wash up every spot, clean every dish immediately, wash down the stove after every cooking event. Food of course, is never allowed anywhere except designated areas. We spray bug death stuff routinely, whenever we notice a small invasion. One day, after being unable to be so attentive for a couple of days running, I was required to empty out all of the kitchen cupboards to spray inside the cupboards. The timing happened to be in the evening before bed. The next morning I returned all items to the cupboards, then washed the floor, sent the kids onto the deck, and sprayed around all doors and windows, and in all corners, around all baseboards, behind and around the stove and fridge. I held a cloth to my face for gas mask type protection, and then we left the house for the rest of the morning. When I see an ant invasion everything else gets dropped, and this chore gets all the attention. Luckily, this has only happened once, usually the regular routine of spraying a little bit whenever we see small invasions keeps it down to a minimum. But again, small invasions override anything else on the agenda.
We made chocolates for Christmas, and we suspect that that has resulted in an ant attraction. Being that I had just sprayed extensively, the invasion was not intense, but no matter how hard you try to clean everywhere, and wipe down everything, it is impossible. Drew has a new strategy. To deal with the amount of house cleaning that is required, many people have opted for maid service. But Drew works with the Sri Lankans, and doesn’t think I would be happy with their level of cleaning. Many people just accept the ants. Instead, we will find a local eatery that will sell us local foods at local prices. This will keep down the time required for cooking, the mess of cooking, leaving us with only the clean up of dishes on those days. The locals eat from the Styrofoam containers, or the newspapers that hold the food. We already have a favourite tea shop, but they sell tidbits that most people eat for light meals or snacks. Now we need to find a spot that will sell us takeaway lunches and supper. They are called packets, and are fish or chicken served with rice. You can get curries, or spiced dishes for about $1.50 per packet. We have not yet found a place, as women do not usually go into cafes alone. The western restaurants are cheap, but still expensive enough to keep us from being able to eat out every night.
We think we found the missionaries here, but don’t want to ask them. They are Americans, and we know they are Christian, but they virtually never talk about religion, unlike the rest of us. Most of us openly discuss what religion we were raised in, what we believe now, and we discuss what the muslims believe, and why we think it s bunk. But not one particular family. I met them on the street, so they are not related at all to Dru s work. They exhibit behaviour that we think is typical of missionaries that are posted in a closed country. They are taking language lessons, have a very limited range of western friends, and have made significant effort to socialize with Maldivians. They are quite immersed. I tell everyone that the husband is starting a boat and jet ski repair business,which is apparently what they are doing. I don t know if I will ever ask her, because if they are they are missionaries, they might not tell me the truth anyway. We enjoy their company, and they have two daughters, the youngest being Ike’s age.
Shopping for Christmas gifts was a major pain in the butt. It would have been easier if I just went out and bought whatever I saw, but when you go looking for particular items, you are doomed for a certain amount of frustration. It takes approximately 4 days of treasure hunting to find any particular item. The stores are all very small, and carry a variety of items, so you never know which store will carry something. It took me 4 days to find nail polish remover. It took 4 days to find a mattress pad. It took Becky 4 days to find a quality ironing board. Hence, the average of 4 days. There is very little selection of good quality toys here. When we first arrived, I bought several toys for Ike that all fell apart shortly after arrival. Sure, they re cheap, but also cheaply made. It was frustrating for Ike to have a broken toy so shortly after receiving it, and it was frustrating for me to be unable to find toys that would last more than a few hours. In the end, I had heard a rumour of a shop that sold wooden toys. A friend had the catalogue, but the phone number scribbled on it was wrong, so she could not contact them. Luckily, two days before Christmas, a man handed me a brochure on the street, with the Male address, and I went that night. Ike now has a beautiful wooden three level garage sized for his matchbox cars. I am so grateful. Lou’s gift was also a joy to hunt for. There is a very nice hammock in a furniture store down the road, and we thought the price was 800 Rufiya, approximately $80 Cdn. When we went to pick it up, it turned out to be 1800 Maldivian Rufiya. Yikes. It’s made of luxurious cloth netting with a chrome stand that folds up nicely. So,probably worth the $180 Cdn price tag. We searched for a cheaper one, and, you guessed it, 4 days, no, actually 2 days after starting, found a cheap hammock for 75 Rufiya, $7 Cdn. We bought it,but it was too cheap, though, and we negotiated in the end for the expensive one. We’re quite sure Lou loves it. If not, Drew and I will make a point of seeing that we get our money s worth. Ha ha.
Now, further about the joys of shopping here. Of course, you are never sure what items you will find where. And if you see an item you think you may want soon, you should be sure to purchase it immediately, for it may not be there when you return, and you may not remember where it was that you saw any particular item. I have taken to writing notes for the unusual items that I may want at a later date. Another frustration would be the interruptions from the prayer call. Prayer calls occur 5 times daily, before sunrise, around noon, around 3pm, at sunset, and around 7:30 pm. Once you have decided upon a shop destination, and you walk halfway across the island to go to the particular shop you are quite sure has what you are looking for, you are bound to arrive just in time to hear the sounds of prayer call. What do you do with yourself when everything is closed, and you are halfway across the island from your home? Okay, so one particularly frustrating shopping moment when prayer call occurred at just such a time and place, I recalled that internet cafes are one of the few places that are not affected by prayer call. So, I happen upon one, hoping to e-mail some close friends to make a connection with the world I know. Of course, this would be the day I spend 20 minutes unable to open up hotmail and don’t make that connection. Ah well, at least on that day, I found a way to wait out prayer call. The only time you are sure to miss a prayer call, is if you are shopping between 8 and 10 pm, when many stores are open. Otherwise, the stores may be closed between any two prayer calls. There is no rhyme or reason as to when the stores are open, as far as any westerner knows. The prayer call is sounded from the minarets that are a part of every mosque. Now, the population of Male is about 90,000, and everyone is muslim. So, there are mosques everywhere, and if you are out and about, you can’t miss hearing the prayer call. If you happen to be watching television, the prayer call interrupts your program for about ten minutes. If your apartment is not soundproof enough, it will wake your children. Our home is soundproof, but lots aren t. Enough about that, I think
The first Air Taxi Christmas party was on the beach, for all employees, and was called the anniversary party. The Christmas party for the white folk was held on a deck of an apartment that was to die for. The apartment was very nice, with a very large deck overlooking the ocean. The ocean breeze was strong, the tropical night air not too hot, and we could stand at the railing, overlooking the pleasureboats and dhonis s. There was a dj, and Drew watched Lou and I dance the night away, while Ike slept in the hosts bed.
A friend hosted a kids Christmas party, that I was involved in organizing. She hosted, with treats, another lady brought cookies and decorating supplies, I brought Drew as Santa s Maldivian helper, and I made stocking baggies. There were four ex-pat families of kids, and two families of kids where women have married Maldivian men and are raising their children here.
Christmas Day we spent here at the house. Gift opening was fun. We ate tenderloin, mashed potatoes and peas. Here, a big chunk of red meat is a major treat.
We are planning a trip to Sri Lanka for January. Lou, Ike and myself will leave Male January 2, while Dru will join us a few days later. This will give Laurie and Fahim a little extra time with the kids before we go gallivanting around the island of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka was formerly Ceylon, a British holding, that provides lots of tea. Sri Lanka is a lush country with lots of excellent hiking scenic locations to visit. We hope to see AdamsPeak, where Adam stepped onto earth for the first time. We also expect to see lots of elephants and monkeys, Temples of the Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim faiths, and ancient cities. We will skip the beaches, only because Drew is not particularily suited for beaches, and we live here in the Maldives. We will travel as much as we can by train, which should have excellent views. There is a mountain area central to the island that provides the environment for tea growing, and the excellent scenery.