Next morning we had to be up early to travel to Thulusdhoo, a populated island to the north east of Male. We crammed into a small taxi with our field kit and inched our way through the morning traffic, across the main shopping street and almost back to the wharf where I first embarked from the airport.
It was there that I got the first jolt against my presumptions of living on small Maldivian islands. Many of the people who work in Male do not live on Male. From several directions we could see bus like boats crammed full of commuters. They slipped into the harbour with ease and discharged their human cargoes on the already crowded streets of Male. There was no pushing, squabbling, hardly a noise save for the low whirr of the boats’ engines; but still hundreds of people at a time, dressed smartly in shirt and trousers, suits, dresses, saris and burqas, would stream off the gangplanks in a serene harmony.
We were waiting for our local project manager, Mohamed, to arrive, and also waiting for our own boat to Thulusdhoo. The boat was obvious; from the north a large white cruiser entered the harbour and made straight for us. They had clearly been told to expect three Brits and since we were the only (relatively) tall and white people on the hard the helmsman headed the boat straight for us.
Mohamed, a young, quiet but authoritative and knowledgeable man turned up soon after in light blue trousers and an open white shirt, cool shades and a fresh haircut. He had a satchel slung across his shoulder and he greeted each of us in turn. Within a few moments we were aboard our cruiser – four of us spread over three rows of seats at the rear of the boat, and we were being steered out to the open water.