At first Male does not seem to change as you walk through, it is a relentless sequence of streets full of small businesses; offices, shops, workshops or restaurants and cafes, but gradually you see the different things and the subtle differences. I started coming across small squares in amongst the high rises, maybe with a banana plant or a palm tree. There might be a playground set in some trees, or a temple set back from the pavement.
It never took long , though to reach the coast again. On the south side of the island, the wave action was stronger and most of the coastline was protected by huge concrete structures, tetrapods, that reminded me of the jacks in the game of the same name. Their angular protrusions broke up the wave energy more effectively than a solid wall, but it really makes Male look like a fortress. They rise higher than the level of the promenade and you can barely see the ocean beyond. However, if I stood on one of the concrete benches along the harbourside, I could see the next set of islands in the distance, the Male South Atoll, and the little pinprick of streetlights showed me they were inhabited.
I wondered where the boats got out of this harbour; these tetrapods right along this coast. Looking later on Google Earth I realised the nearest breach was nearly a mile to the west near where my office was. Any boats at this end would have to weave between countless other vessels before even reaching the open sea.
Tetrapods beating off the waves
We passed through village after village where life was going on – funny how so often in African villages the routines never seem to change. If you didn’t consult your calendar, you would have trouble working out whether it was the weekend or not. Men always sit under trees or close to bars and drink, there are always women cleaning clothes or cooking pots, kids either doing chores up at the water pump or carrying wood or shopping or containers from A to B, or else when you pass by they are distracted from their games and grin and wave. Only the increased amount of church or mosque could indicate what day it was.
Villages en route
As well as the dozens of villages, we also passed through several towns; Maputsoe, Hlotse and Butha Buthe. This last one was a substantial city which contrasted strongly with Maseru, and shows why in my line of work why you should escape the capital. The types of people I tend to have meetings with are going to be government officials or heads of agencies and NGOs. Their offices are either large brick or concrete blocks in the centre of the city, or leafy compounds, or grand villas in the upper class suburbs of the city. Apart from the little pieces of ordinary capital life you get as you drive by, you get a very distorted image of the country. You can start believing that the capital is the only thriving location – everyone in the rest of the country either longs to travel there or has already migrated. While the little villages and towns may seem like little hick locations in comparison to the capital city, I can see the civic pride in some of the larger provincial cities like Butha Buthe that sort of say “Yeah, Maseru is the capital, but who needs all that hassle when we have everything we need here”. Butha Buthe has that air about it, even from the vignettes you observe in the ten minutes or so it takes to drive through.