Thursday, October 20, 2011

Life on Addu Atoll

Rather than boring you with more minutiae related to the day’s weather, it might be nice to take a break and describe life on Addu Atoll. I have not been taking many pictures of atoll life yet (partially because I am always a bit nervous about taking pictures of people). But hopefully I will have ample opportunities in the next week or so.

A map of the atoll is posted in Daehyun’s October 15 post. The islands on the west side of the Atoll from Gan to Hitadoo are connected by a main road with occasional causeways over the channels between islands. My daily commute has recently involved riding a bike from Gan to Hitadoo where the S-Pol and SMART-R are located. On these trips, I have gained a greater appreciation of atoll life. The most pleasant part of the commute is getting off the main road and taking the side streets through the neighborhoods of Fedu and Maruda, where waving and smiling children are found all about who say “hi” and otherwise try to engage me in conversation. Some neighborhoods are surprisingly dense, with many blocks of one and occasional two-storey houses, mainly composed of cinder blocks with metal roofs. Except for the main street, most of the side streets are made of decomposed reef material (very much like the consistency of decomposed granite), and contain many potholes that quickly fill with water after the intense tropical rains. Tropical plants, large and small, mingle among the houses. I pass occasional stores in the neighborhoods, including salons, small grocers, and clothing stores. Islam is the only religion allowed in the atoll and I pass a mosque or two on my ride. The morning call to prayer near Equator Village usually wakes me up before 5 a.m. each morning (in addition to occasional tropical downpours thundering on the metal rooftop). Given the Islamic influence, most (but not all) women wear head coverings. As far as sports, soccer is big, and I have also seen volleyball and tennis being played at both schools and at parks.

Addu Atoll is not a wealthy area by any means, although some of the amenities of modern life in the developed world have penetrated into the Maldives, such as cellular communications (I am sending this from a cellular modem bought locally). Water is scarce in the Maldives. While some islands of the Maldives have desalinization capabilities, contaminated groundwater from septic tanks has led to severe water shortages. On Addu Atoll, enormous black rain barrels provided by the UN can be seen almost everywhere. This is the major means of drinking water for much of the Atoll, apparently.

One cool thing about the Maldives are the bats. There are two species of so-called “flying foxes” that are enormous fruit bats having a wingspan much like that of a red-tailed hawk or bald eagle. They even fly about during the day, and riding my bike through the neighborhoods having these enormous bats swooping about and soaring above is a fascinating experience. Apparently these bats are endangered in the Maldives because they destroy fruit orchards, and hence people concerned about their trees kill them. I don’t see that many birds, except for terns and intermittent other sea birds. There are geckos in my room!

However, not all is idyllic on the atoll, as trash seems to be a reasonably big issue. Since water is scarce, plastic bottles are relatively common, and so you see a concentration of these bottles in places you would prefer not, such as beaches and forests and along roadsides. A few of us have talked about possibly doing a small-scale clean up of some of the beaches near the S-Pol radar site.

I’m sure that I will relay more information on Maldives life in the next week, so stay tuned! I have yet to explore all parts of our portion of the Atoll.


  1. I really like the idea about the small-scale cleaning up! This is because I felt similar uncomfortable feeling.. You're going to do a good job, great.

  2. Thanks Daehyun. I will need to see about the logistics of this, as I will need to do something with the trash after cleaning it up. I could take it to the dump across the road I suppose.