A Bittersweet Encounter

I was with Iyya and Thoami at the Sultan Park (we need to clean that place. It’s a heritage site, and it’s disintegrating right before our eyes), after a busy day. We sat down on one of the benches and just when we started enjoying the place, a random guy comes up to us.

‘Do you have a cigarette on you by any chance?’

Thoami handed him a cigarette.

‘Thanks’, he says. ‘It’s so nice to meet people who don’t resort to judgment on first sight’.

I could see exactly what he meant. He was skinny, his hair was long and he didn’t seem like he had showered at all the whole day. His t-shirt was inside out and his feet were dirt covered. His teeth yellowing and stained from smoking, he talked to us with a deep growl and he was barely conscious – it was without doubt that he was already on something.

He grabbed a brick which was lying around, fashioned a seat for himself with it on the dirt ground and sat down in front of us.

‘I’m very new here. A week since I got here from abroad. So I thought I’d go out for a walk… you know, to check things out’ he slurred. He asked our names one by one, and had a difficult time remembering them. Mid sentence, we would have to remind him of our names.

‘I apologize. I’m really bad with names. Also, I just came back from jamming at a friends place. Been writing and composing some music’. He gestured with his hands, like he was playing the guitar, and I saw that he had marks on his hands that were clearly injection sites from recent using of drugs.

The conversation then went onto our favorite musicians, where he elaborately discussed how local musicians are. We then went onto our favorite local musicians. He seemed so animated and passionate about music.

‘Can I sing to you some of my own music?’, he said out of the blue.

I would say it would be a safe assumption to say that the three of us were reluctant to say yes to this – but we did.

He cleared his throat and closed his eyes. He began to sing, and I was not surprised to hear a pitchless croak – ‘Ooooowowww’.

I tried to keep my face straight and perceivably enthused. However, as he went on, I noticed that his songs were comparatively much, much better lyrically and rhythmically than the usual dhivehi music we hear. I began to realize that he was a lyrical genius when it comes to Maldivian poetry. By the end of the song, I was so engrossed in the lyrical ingenuity in the song, that I ignored his singing.

He finished the song, and let the last note linger for a bit and looked at our reaction. I enjoyed it, I said. And I meant it, to be honest.

‘I came from Bangalore just recently. Was forced to go there by my family. My brother is a parliamentarian and my uncle is a state minister. But see how I have to live my life though?’, he said sadly. ‘I used to have a girlfriend too, you know’, he said gesturing to Thoami and Iyya. ‘But she passed away, and I haven’t had a girlfriend since then…’.

The more he talked, the more I knew that he was someone who has been neglected throughout his life and had experienced severe loss. He talked of his addiction, and he seemed to be genuinely regretful about ever trying it.

‘To be honest, this world… it’s not for me. I don’t belong here”.

That statement almost broke me down. I realized that he was so lost in this world and had no one to take care of him. The frustrating bit was that he was such a nice guy (well-mannered too), and had so much potential to be a positive influence on the world. But it was apparent that the world (especially his family) had no intentions to nourish him.

He sang us a couple more songs, including some covers of some of the classic Maldivian songs.

‘Thank you so much for listening to me. I really appreciate that you stayed here long enough to listen to what I had to say. Can you please give me your numbers? I would really like to meet with you later and hang out with you guys’, he said. We gave him our numbers without hesitance.

‘Lastly, I have a request from you guys. I still do not own a phone. Could you give me some money so I can buy one? It won’t be something that fancy. I would appreciate anything I can get’. I saw the look of hesitance on my friends, but I gave him a 20. He took it, said thanks and walked away in a slow pace out of the park.

I was left bittersweet – I knew that it was very probable that he would use that 20 Rufiya on some kind of drug, that would end up in his blood stream.

This is just one of those stories. There are countless others in this country who struggle with addiction and the stigma that follows with it. Despite what you may believe, it is inhumane to disregard their suffering. The least you could do, is lend an ear, to listen to them.



Highest Divorce Rates in Maldives? Not Surprised… At All.

It’s remarkable how everyone in the country is talking about how we ended up on the Guinness Book of World Records as the country which has the Highest Divorce Rate in the World.

While this is plain embarrassing to read, I have been aware of this information for quite a while. The Department of Judicial Administration released a statistics book in September 2012, which revealed a lot of dirt. (Sorry, but I couldn’t link you to the online document of this publication, because apparently our judiciary does not find the need to put them up on their website or make it accessible to the general public at all).

Marriage Divorce Rates

According to these statistics, in 2011, 6015 couples tied the knot, and 3016 couples got divorced – meaning that, our divorce rate was at 50.41 percent. Which means, for every two couples who tied the happily tied the knot, one couple would sever knot – talk about utter sacrilege. What’s even more depressing, is that this number increased to 52.83 percent in 2012 – and it’s bound to rise, I believe. To have a thorough look at the statistics, go here. 

As embarrassing as this is to discuss, I believe we cannot sweep this under the rug any further. Divorce is considered sacrilegious and incredibly frowned upon even in the Muslim religion. How is it that a 100 percent Islamic state, end up with the highest divorce rate in the world? What are the factors behind this sad phenomenon?

The 2011 and 2012 Statistics from the Department of National Planning indicate that, the age group which had the highest number of marriages were between 20 – 24 years, while the age group between 25 – 29 had the highest number of divorce rates. In a country where there is such pressure to get married (for women, more than men, in general) due to our religious beliefs and societal norms, these numbers do not surprise me at all.

We grow up hearing about how women should not stay single for too long ‘because you won’t be as fertile in your 30s’, or how men should get married as soon as possible because their sexual needs must be met – or else, they shall commit adultery. I find these rationale so humorous.

The same statistics also show that the city of Male’ has the highest number of divorce rates in the country. This, of course, the sensible mind would believe would be because Male’ has the highest concentration of our population. But what people don’t understand is how this is possibly correlated to high divorce rates.

In a city like ours, which is the 45th most densely populated city in the world (according to wikipedia), with poor housing, rising inflation rates, 28% unemployment rate and rising and not to mention, increasing gender-based violence, this is quite expected. It’s quite apparent, even from that one sentence, that Male’ is not a city worth living in – especially be married in. However, it’s also understandable why people from all around the country flock to Male’ by all means – it’s quite simple, really – Male’ has what other islands don’t.

Unemployment Rates

What other reasons could there be, which contribute to these figures? What needs to be done to address this?

It’s really high time we think about the broader picture, instead of sitting at home twiddling our thumbs and playing the blame game. Maldives does not have the highest divorce rates because we are sadistic people who love handing out divorce papers to each other. It cannot be easy for couples – especially the younger couples – to get divorces.

There are reasons – valid reasons – why people get divorces in the Maldives. I am not embarrassed at the fact that people have an affinity towards divorce in my country. I am more embarrassed that our country is not well-suited and to be brutally honest – quite uninhabitable, if you want to get married.

Dear new government, are you listening?