Maldives: Hell for expatriate workers?

I've watched for the past several years while the expatriate worker population in the Male' grew steadily as the "rich" Maldivians increasingly give up various jobs (going lazy?) and replaced it with imported labour from nearby countries. We have 100-US$-per-month foreign workers to dig up and pave roads, to clean up and maintain the sewerage system, to construct and maintain our buildings, to clean up the mess at home and office, to work as waiters and cooks at food outlets etc. The list goes on and it's not restricted to any particular sort of work or speciality. Heck, even the President's Office employs expats to clean up and water the plants that surround the building. No wonder we now have over 35,000 expatriate workers living amongst the 100,000 Maldivian heads in the 2 square kilometre island of Male'!

Sadly, the presence of such large numbers of expat works in our small communities has lead to a worrying situation on ground. One needs to look no further than the latest news headlines:
- Attacks against expatriates almost a daily occurrence
- Chained Bangladeshi man found inside Male house (see photo)
- Another shackled Bangladeshi expatriate found inside Male’ house
- Ten Maldivians arrested in Adhaaran resort after fight breaks out between locals, Bangladeshi man
- Bangladeshi murdered and mutilated 2 3
- Expatriate security guard in Villi-Male’ ATM booth attacked
- Teacher caught red-handed molesting 8-year-old
- Expatriate worker beat up after being suspected of raping island girl (in Dhivehi)

We (supposedly) once were a tolerant country, welcoming all sorts of people and treated them with due respect. But things have changed and for the worse. Notions of equality and humanity has been devalued to such an extent that xenophobia seems almost universal in the country and racism is building up like never before. As such, mistreatment of and disrespect for expats is a truth many are well aware of. People often treat the many unskilled/semi-skilled workers as "subhuman". I might be tempted to go as far as summarising the prevalent attitude as being a combination of viewing workers as non-tiring machines, incapable and devoid of emotion and feelings and their lives worth no more than a pet cat! They are given accommodation in tiny enclosures made of tin roofing and little ventilation with more workers packed into such places than sardines in a box. They are harassed on the streets and harassed at work. Too many a time do you see workers beg and cry themselves wet over salaries unpaid. Sometimes months would go by without the employer paying the workers their full wage (if at all!) - which the workers often send to their starving families back in their home country. Few regulations keep employers in check - facilitating them to overwork their employers through day and night and give little consideration to the health and safety of the employees. What more, when their "official" work ends, the workers are often made run personal errands and chores for their employer - they really are slaves to the whims and desires of their "master". I was shocked to find the word "owner" used in the popular local newspaper Haveeru, in reference to the employer of the recently murdered Bangladesh worker in Kulhudhuffushi! (Owner? Isn't that slave mentality??)

Such attitudes towards expat workers are often "justified" on the excuse that they come from societies that treat them even worse. They are deemed as too stupid and too gullible to understand the "modern life" Maldivians enjoy. This attitude is further strengthened thanks to miscommunication arising from expat workers not being able to speak neither Dhivehi nor English. But none, absolutely none, of these warrant sanctioning any of the ill-conditions and abuses expat workers are subjected to. I agree that expat workers do ill and do commit crimes. No one would or should deny that. But even that is not an excuse to not extend them some decency and treat them as humans with equal rights!?

Accomodation for expat workers made from tin roofing and about 5 feet high floors

Big meteor last night!

There I was gazing up aimlessly into the sky last night when this brilliant white dot showed up out of nowhere. This object was much larger and much brighter than any other object in the night sky these days. I paused for a split second, discounting the possibility of it being an airplane, before I settled on what it most probably was: a meteoroid!

I stared at this relatively rare sight, as the meteoroid moved rapidly across the sky painting a short but very strong streak of light on the dark sky which we usually call "shooting stars". What was really amazing is that the meteor exceeded all the stars in the sky, both in size and brightness, by several magnitudes. The brightest object in the Maldivian night sky these days is Jupiter which can be seen right overhead around 8-9pm local time - imagine something brighter and atleast thrice larger! The famous Perseid meteor shower occurs this month and I suspect this one I saw was among them. However, the peak of the shower (July 25 - August 18) passed earlier this month.

The last time I saw a sizeable meteor was about 10 years ago. I vividly recall that meteor as being very blueish, extremely large and bright and traversed the sky in a blink of the eye to disappear into the horizon - it might have even crashed into the sea somewhere in Male' atoll!

Meteoroids are space debris in the solar system - essentially tiny bits of dust and rock left in the wake of comets in orbit around the sun. The Earth regularly comes into contact with these when it crosses the path of these debris during its orbit around the sun. The debris burn up almost entirely when they hit the Earth's atmosphere leaving that tell-tale streak of light commonly referred to as a shooting star (or "ginihila" as known in Dhivehi). Some of the larger debri may not burn up entirely and pass through the atmosphere to hit the Earth's surface as meteorites. Well, that's the scientific explanation... :-)

IETF: The twelve networking truths

Whether you are a network engineer, a technician or just use computers for the occasional game and porn, the Internet Engineering Task Force's RFC 1925 is a must read. The Network Working Group supposedly produced this indispensable memo to document a few things about networking that almost every networking and computer training course happily skips on.

- Check out IETF RFC 1925 ;-)

Explore the sky!

I still remember the time I first saw the planet Saturn, with it's glamorous-mysterious rings, on a borrowed low-end refracting telescope. I had spent hours tuning and adjusting for better focus while scouring the sky for that normally elusive close-up of one of the most sought after beauties that the heavens hold. I stood awestruck as the dot-in-the-sky got magnified enough times for my eyes to feast upon. The huge planet floated there in deep dark space peacefully minding its own business - just as it had been since Galileo set his sights on it. The planet was within the grasp of a single eyeful on the telescope yet knowing that it was hundreds of times larger than the Earth (Saturn's volume is over 700 times larger than that of Earth) made the experience all the more surreal!

The whole event changed something deep within me. Looking at Saturn from my telescope on that quiet, dark night made me feel like I was looking at myself on the surface of the Earth from afar. It made me realize how SMALL and INSIGNIFICANT I was! The universe was bigger than me - it was even bigger than the 2 km2 island of Male' that I had lived all my life. Heck, it was much bigger than the distance to the furthest place I had travelled. There were an unimaginable number of planets and stars existing for a time much much longer than my (statistically) expected 75 years on Earth. There I was, a mere blip both in space and in time. Till that moment, I had been an arrogant human being just like most others, walking tall and claiming the universe as being almost subservient to my random wishes. The apparent meaninglessness of being a random replicator that infected the surface of a random planet in a random galaxy, in a universe that could boast to contain millions upon billions of stars and planets, is just too overwhelming to be said. Yet, in that moment of understanding, hints of something very elegant, with purpose and more beautiful a meaning than I had supposed shone through brightly.

I would encourage everyone to dish out for a telescope and start gazing at some of the wonders that are out there. If you can't afford one quite yet, then do read up a little about the universe and our solar system and grab a copy of a sky map to help you identify the stars in the sky so you know which is which. The stars would soon loose their role as mere dots of light or hanging lamps on the black canopy of the night sky and become real, tangible objects - as real, as meaningful and often grander than the planet we walk on.

I wish there was an observatory in the Maldives for the public - an amateur one at the least. I surely would build one myself if I had the funds. It would do so much, I believe, to instil a sense of wonder and a much needed appreciation of science (as compared to technology!) in the country and hopefully make people a bit more aware of just how "significant" they really are. Sigh...

PS: Google has added a brilliant new feature to their already awesome Google Earth software - maps of the SKY! Traverse the visible universe on your computer ;-)

Amusing words in the Radheef

Here are a couple of entertaining entries I found while meddling with the online Radheef.

ފިނދުބެރު ("findhuberu")

ފިނދުވީދައިގެންކެއުން ("findhuveedhaigen keun")

ފަރުޖުމޮހޮރު ("faruju mohoru")

There, you now know three more words from the (dying, rotting) Dhivehi language which you probably wouldn't ever need to use except for the amusement value of the words themselves...

Back from Makunudhoo

They say time flies when you are having fun but I reckon time flies even faster when you are bored shitless - like when I've been since arriving back from Makunudhoo two weeks ago...

I had a terrific time in HDh. Makunudhoo, exploring the island itself and the neighbouring three uninhabited islands, all of which lie within the same 17 mile long reef. Makunudhoo is amongst a natural geographical atoll called "Maa Makunudhoo Atoll" which sits situated all by itself in the North of the Maldives, displaced slightly to the West from the typical Maldivian North-South stretch of atolls (see map).

Makunudhoo is famous for being the home to President Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom when he was sentenced to banishment during President Nasir's rule. The owners of the house he stayed in then, infact, now proudly hang pictures of him on their walls! The island also played host to the infamous Bodufenvalhugey Seedhee who gained country wide fame for his supposed supernatural feats and healing powers - abilities which led to the "Seedhee" title. He is (still) well-respected by the elderly for feats as "walking on water" across the seas, instantaneous travel, healing the sick, "helping" the infertile conceive etc. His long abandoned house in Makunudhoo now lie in ruins.

The sea, the reef and the lagoon of the atoll were nothing short of being deliciously exquisite and as a Maldivian who'd been away from these beauties for a number of months, I was simply overwhelmed! I hadn't seen starfishes, jellyfishes, different kinds of rays, turtles, dolphins, eels, sea cucumbers and multicoloured fishes and numerous weird sea creatures for ages and it was a thrilling experience to see them again while snorkelling in the reef and/or while strolling along the beach. Most notable was the presence of turtles in and around the atoll. We even sighted turtles cruising in the shallow waters near the beach. I also got to travel to the west-most piece of land in the Maldives - which is one of the uninhabited islands in the Maa Makunudhoo atoll. Exploring along its beaches and lagoon made it clear that the island was slightly different from the typical rest I'd seen (but then again, I haven't seen much of Maldives!).

I was pretty sad to hear that the island people still do catch turtles, which are a protected specie in the Maldives for fear of extinction, for food and that too on a regular basis. I'm not a particularly big supporter of the animal protection schemes but these animals, if they do disappear, are something I would miss indeed. There were other sea animals that had depleted significantly as well - including sea cucumbers and "raakani" (English name?) - which were aplenty in the atoll when I visited the place 10 years so ago!

I've uploaded some of the photos from the trip to Flickr. Check 'em out!

UPDATE (18/08/2007): Azeem has uploaded a lot more beautiful pictures from the trip to his Flickr gallery as well.

West-most piece of land in the Maldives
The west-most piece of land in the Maldives!