I walked the whole north coast that evening. From the bustle of the ferry terminals with shuttles heading out to other islands every couple of minutes, I passed the relative calm of the Male coastguard boats, and close to the most ceremonial of locations in the city. Under a huge Maldivian flag was a series of small squares and gardens. Children were playing amongst the pigeons while parents looked on adoring their every move. I saw several grand buildings behind the trees including the Islamic Centre with its massive gold dome. I wandered through the area, the Republic Square, for several minutes and then rejoined the harbour wall and headed west once more. The scenery changed almost immediately as I was aware of a massive street market selling all the fresh fruit and vegetables for Male. Where this produce came from I did not ask, but assume it came from far and wide through the North and South Male Atolls to feed these hungry citizens. There must be few places to grow fresh produce in Male – the odd rooftop garden, a windowbox here and there maybe. Maybe a corner of a few of the wealthiest people’s garden plots, but what was on display in front of me was on a massive scale. Orange coconuts, bananas, root crops, vegetables. On the other side of the harbour wall here the water was crammed with an array of fishing craft, small to large with different gears to harvest the myriad of environments around the Maldives from the shallowest coral shelf to the deepest ocean trench.
I sat for a while on the breakwater and watched the activity. Not only were the boats used for fishing, but many served as small cargo vessels. I saw several packed with crates and bags of all shapes and sizes, often with several people perched on top to give the impression it would sink if someone aboard sneezed. Again I was seeing how the average Maldivian never saw the coastline as the limit of their realm; they accessed and used the sea without batting an eyelid. But it made these harbours essential nodes in everyone’s lives. Whether commuting, migrating, travelling to sell your produce or wares or just enjoying yourself, the coast was a vital location, and attracted others to catch the ever passing trade.