Returning home / farewell and thank you Maldives
Day 3,530 since October 10th 2013: 203 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home, min 24 hrs in each country and 1 pandemic!
(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross which I represent as a Goodwill Ambassador).
The journey home begins
The past week’s have been eventful as ever. But mostly I have been busy with emails, messages, and interviews. Then finally the journey home began. That’s a different kind of feeling.
Last week’s entry: Maldives and beyond / MV MSS Graphene – passenger no. 1 (and 2)
Let’s start off where I left you last week. I joined the ferry from Male to the exotic sounding island of Thilafushi. Actually, I’ve developed an internal joke with a lot of Maldivians as I refer to the island as “wonderful Thilafushi”. Most smile or giggle when I say that. Some simply question if my pronunciation was correct or if I meant a different island? The joke is that Thilafushi is an industrial island and home to a landfill with an approximately 40m (130ft) tall garbage mountain.
Venturing deeper into Thilafushi. See that hill up front?
The white bundles are sorted trash which is ready for the waste to energy facility. Notice the excavator up on the mountain?
So why on earth would I head to Thilafushi?!? Well, it all started when my friend Hasse, an old colleague from a project we worked together on in Bangladesh back in 2011, sent me a message asking if I needed contacts in the Maldives? Back in 2011 Hasse and I worked for a Danish contracting company called MT Hojgaard. Hasse still does, and wanted to connect me with their workshop manager, Mr. Palle, on Thilafushi. As it turns out, MT Hojgaard has been present in the Maldives since 1999, where they offer a wide variety of services. More than 35 islands in the Maldives carry their footprints in the form of coastal protection, harbors, resorts, roads, or bridges.
I’m grateful and thankful to the entire MT Højgaard team for providing me with kindness here in the “last country in the world”.
My container home at the workshop. Pretty good!
In spite of being in a rough environment I really felt like I was in the best place I could be. I remember that when I first arrived to Thilafushi I was picked up and told that “this island has no women”. We then drove past rusty containers, warehouses, piles of rubbish, heavy machinery, boats lying on their side, and a very impressive mountain of garbage! The highest natural elevation in the Maldives is Mount Villingili in the southern district. It stands at a modest 5.1m (17ft). This “garbage mountain” is simply impressive in comparison. We all generate garbage. In Denmark the average person generates around 2.3kg (5lbs) of garbage per day. In Japan it’s around 0.9kg (2lbs) per day. It all accumulates! I’ve heard that Thilafushi’s “garbage mountain” used to be even taller. But the Maldives has big plans for the future with a waste to energy facility set to start operating in 2025. Much of the waste has already been sorted and bundled so it is ready for the 2025 facility. Things are moving in the right direction.
The guys at MT Hojgaards canteen took good care of me :)
One evening Palle and I headed over to Hulhule Island Hotel near the airport. They serve beer. We were meeting with Jesper from an MT Hojgaard project in the south. Good times!! We returned back to the workshop in "Maria" which is the workshops speedboat. Almost like James Bond would have done it.
Left: Gunnar and Jacqui. Right: Fariu and Naya :)
The ferry ride between Thilafushi and Male was only 11 rufiyaa (USD 0.70) and took about 20-25 minutes. As such I felt well connected to “the world” but had the comfort of my own undisturbed quarters at the workshop. With my local simcard I had 4G network and could do all the many interviews from my airconditioned container. Most days I would sit down with Mr. Palle in his office and have a cup of tea and a chat about the world. He’s a good man with a wealth of experience from having worked and lived in many countries.
Hulhumale, a short drive from Male.
June 3rd came and I made my way to the Maldivian Red Crescent HQ on Hulhumale, which is a partially artificial island connected to Male by the newly constructed China-Maldives Friendship Bridge. If you know the relationship between China and India then you might laugh when I tell you India is now constructing a bridge to connect Male with Thilafushi. I sat down and had a nice meeting with Secretary General Fathimath Himya and Mr. Ibrahim Shameel, marking the very last National Society in this journey. In fact, a historical moment within the Red Cross Red Crescent as we have through Once Upon A Saga connected more National Societies in an unbroken journey than ever before. Apart from that we have raised awareness and funds for humanitarian work and I have personally donated blood on multiple occasions across several countries. Unfortunately, this momentous undertaking has mostly gone unnoticed by the Danish Red Cross and the International Federation of the Red Cross Red Crescent (IFRC). Nonetheless I was very pleased with Secretary General Fathimath Himya and Mr. Ibrahim Shameel who treated me with much kindness. They were clearly well informed and on top of the humanitarian needs across their country. But they we’re also lacking attention. Resources are generally forwarded to those places you tend to hear about in the media: Ukraine, Afghanistan, Yemen etc. The Maldives is regarded as one of the worlds safest tourist destinations and while the country does experience monsoon rain, they are not subject to typhoons.
Together with Secretary General Fathimath Himya, Mr. Ibrahim Shameel took the photo and afterwards he took me on a tour of the neighborhood and we sat down for coffee. Good people.
I looked through the annual report and the Maldivian Red Crescent, along with their active volunteers, are clearly doing a good job and getting the most out of what they have to work with. Something surprising to some, might be that a humanitarian issue in the Maldives is loneliness. I guess Denmark shares that with the Maldives. In their case a lot of people move towards the larger settlements and in particular Male, which is home to around 210,000 of the countries 570,000 beating hearts. Hulhumale has a population of more than 50,000 and is planned to house 240,000 in the future. So, what happens to those who get left behind on the outer islands? Some are well taken care of but others experience grave loneliness. The Maldivian Red Crescent sets in to combat that and activate those less fortunate. Much as the Danish Red Cross does in Denmark. If you’ve ever experienced real loneliness then you’d know how painful it can be. Oh well, that is only one of the many things the Maldivian Red Crescent deals with.
I noticed a lot of skinny Maldivian men with long curly hair in Male. Couldn't work out if it was fashion thing or related to something else. Most men wore their hair short though.
I was invited to visit the MT Hojgaard office in Male and ran into Krishantha from Sri Lanka. The two of us worked together on the same project in Bangladesh back in 2011. He is a designer. Good to see him again after all this time.
I was expecting to leave the Maldives around June 11th but was told that it had been pushed to June 13th. It would have been really nice to make it south to Addu which lies in the Southern District of the Maldives. Mr. Fariu of Maldives State Shipping found a private cargo ship which could have brought me down to Addu in 2-3 days. However, there was a lot of risk in regards to delay and we had no real plan for getting me back to Male in time for the return voyage to Sri Lanka. The uncertainty partially rooted in the weather surrounding the monsoon. Jesper from MT Hojgaard told me that they were expecting a tugboat from India at his worksite near Addu. They were in contact with it when it was 200nm away but then they lost contact for ten days!! The current had pushed it 1,000nm out to sea and the tugboats engine had not been powerful enough to do anything about it. The tugboat eventually made it back and delivered a barge to Fuvahmulah, where MT Hojgaard has been contracted for a coastal protection project. Yeah – so I’d better not gamble with the time schedules. I was soon after told that I would be leaving for Sri Lanka on the 5th, the 6th or the 7th of June – and not on the 13th.
Villingili, Maldives. You won't find pidgins on the road in Male. They would get run over in a second!
With little time left and a desire to visit a local island I did the best I could. I headed to Villingili, which is located between Male and Thilafushi. That might not sound like much of a getaway but you’d be surprised. Male is as hectic and alive as just about anywhere I have been. Thilafushi is not exactly as charming as its name. Villingili used to be a resort but has instead become a charming and very quiet island, which those living in Hulhumale and Male enjoy visiting on weekends. Weekends are by the way Friday/Saturday and not Saturday/Sunday in the Maldives. The ferry ride from Male to Villingili is less than ten minutes but it does feel like a completely different world. There are hardly any vehicles on the roads, the busses are electric, many of the motorbikes are electric and I even spotted an electric police car.
Villingili, Maldives. You can see the bridge from Male to Thilafushi under construction.
As such I spent a night on Villingili and had a few meals there before returning to Thilafushi. And I am glad that I did that just for the sake of variety. It has been beyond hectic since I sat foot on Male, at 1:57pm on June 23rd, as we reached the final country in the world in what may or may not be a significant undertaking. I have still to reflect on that. However, there has been no shortage of interest. Much of it has been propelled by friends such as Ann-Christina, Jessi, and Herve, who’ve been busy sharing and translating the press release. I might have done between 40-50 interviews by now. I’m not sure. There are even more interviews out there on account of copy cat outlets that have simply re-run a story they read somewhere else. And I have been sent an AI generated article which was interesting as it was extraordinary detailed on some accounts and wildly fictitious on others. Journalist have generally been kind and interested. The media train is still rolling. I’m not only conducting the interviews but also spending time coordinating them. Many interviews have been back-to-back until late at night. Sometimes when I think I have a break the phone rings and its another journalist. This will eventually come to an end but that end is currently no where to be seen. Maybe the Saga was a significant undertaking?
My SECOND appearance on The Project!! My life is complete!! :)
I was sitting in my container doing interviews when Mr. Fariu sent a message to let me know that the ship was leaving the same day. It was June 6th and it was afternoon. My goodness! Life is certainly like a box of chocolates… I finished the interviews I couldn’t postpone and postponed the rest. Then I said farewell to Mr. Palle who had been so kind to me. Mr. Haneef from the workshop drove me to the jetty on a small motorcycle. It was almost like the good old days with me, all my luggage, a driver and a motorbike. You only get those experiences in certain parts of the world. I made it to the ferry, crossed, got in a taxi, made it to the port, was cleared by the authorities, joined a small tugboat to the good ship, and then I climbed up a rope ladder until I was back onboard MSS Graphene. The ship and crew which brought me to the last country would also become the ship and crew to bring me on the first step of the journey home.
The kind team at the Maldives State Shipping office in Male!
It was really nice to be onboard. I tried to work for as long as I still had my phone signal but around 10pm I was nodding so bad that I had to go to bed. For some reason my alarm wasn’t set for the next day and I only woke at 08:30am when the galley called to hear if I wanted breakfast? 10.5hrs of sleep! Not bad! :) It was really nice to be back onboard with the guys. They are really nice and treat me well. I only had two nights onboard. One evening a few of us sat in the captain’s cabin and watched series. Then late in the evening we headed down to the messroom for some spicy comfort food. The ship was light and the weather was harsher than it had been two weeks before. So, we experienced a fair bit of rolling and pitching. At times I felt at the very edge of seasickness. But I managed. And I slept really well.
The brave crew of MSS Graphene under the command of the kind Captain Shareef.
I can let you in on something. The feeling of approaching the final countries, the feeling of being in the final country, and the feeling of being on the way home are three very different things. I haven’t felt much joy in reaching the final countries. I’ve become far too mechanical, I fear. And while in the Maldives I still felt like I was working on project related things. But heading home feels good. Once I joined the good ship MSS Graphene again I knew I was on my way home. Our friends at Maersk are working on the following option:
“Gerda Maersk” from Colombo 15th June to Tanjung Pelepas, arrival 21st June (Malaysia)
“Milan Maersk” from Tanjung Pelepas on 23rd June ETA Aarhus on 26th July (Denmark)
I have now returned to Sri Lanka and it is good to be back. I have about a week here and I have plans. More about that next week.
I would like to thank our esteemed partners for their invaluable contributions to Once Upon A Saga: DB Schenker Denmark, Kameli, Red Sand Solutions, Salomon, the Danish Red Cross and Ross Energy / Geoop
If you enjoyed this blog or find that I am doing a good job then you can support here below. The Saga welcomes funding. Thank you :)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - on my way home!!!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga