Excuse Me! But Where’s Maldives?
Filed Under: Music & Film, Opinion | Posted: 01/10/2008 at 8:48PM
Comments | Region: Maldives
Hailing from a country that is barely recognizable on most world maps is quite an experience. You are asked interesting questions, for instance. Then there are the bewildered expressions and the amazed looks when I say where I am from. I don’t blame them.
When I meet people from different parts of the world, they casually ask me where I am from. Well, that’s usual. I simply answer them that I am from the Maldives. The Maldives! Uh-oh! That bewildered, baffled and perplexed expression again. With great interest, most of them reply back, “Never heard of that place.” It’s my turn to return them a bewildered look. I can’t help it, but at those times I feel like I am from some other unheard planet or another universe.
So where’s this mysterious place called Maldives, they ask. I precisely tell them that it’s a very small, tropical country comprising of chains of islands situated in Indian Ocean, just beside South India. At this stage, they will be even more awe-struck. Tell me about great surprises.
The best I try to explain, I could tell that most of them get more confused and ask me strange questions like whether Maldives is a part of India or the other way round. I laugh. At those times, I use the only best explanation I could possibly think of at that time – the Maldives looks like a chain of dots scattered across the map near India. I also warn them that it might not appear in every single world map. I wonder how many of them actually got my concept or tried to look up in the internet to find this mysterious little place.
For a little while, I had cherished the thought of accompanying a world map that has Maldives on it whenever I travel abroad so that I can easily show it to anyone who cared. I even thought of carrying a globe with me wherever I went despite how hilarious I would look.
At first, it was hard for me to understand why some people have never known the existence of Maldives. Then it hit me. There must be many places I have never heard of on this planet. So it must be the same for whoever asks me about Maldives. But again, it feels different for being a native of a place most people in the world have never heard of.
When I went to Indonesia in November 2006 for a brief vacation with my friend Yuvi, I met her friends who asked me where I am from. Maldives, I answered. They all looked baffled. I explained them the best I could where Maldives is. But until today, I doubt they ever knew where Maldives is.
I remember a time when I was in India; one of my Indian friends asked me do flights operate to Maldives. I didn’t know what to say. If I didn’t fly to India at that time, how was I with him in Mumbai?Strange.
It was clear that despite my explanation, people find it hard to grasp the picture. Probably because they never knew a place such as Maldives before I told them. He probably thought that Maldives look like that scattered chain of dots I explained to him earlier and how a plane could land and take off from (literally) a dot.
I wonder whether he still tries to imagine how planes could ever be able to take-off and land in “dots,” which I explained to him as islands. I now regret telling him and everyone else that Maldives looks like scattered dots on maps. But it is the truth.
When I was in London in 2004 for attending a Reuters training program, some of my fellow course mates were awe-struck when I told them that Maldives is in South Asia and how small it is. Some of them probably thought my country is off Caribbean or somewhere near Mauritius.
It again bothers me that many people know about Mauritius, while they are totally unaware of Maldives. I thought it was strange. Both are island nations and I sometimes refer Mauritius as Maldives’ cousin. Sometimes, even they get the picture wrong by assuming Mauritius is indeed Maldives.
It wasn’t long before I found out the reason. Mauritius is apparently more famous among tourists across the world until they eventually found Maldives, which over the years has become a favorite holiday destination among tourists, all across the globe. Thanks to the tourism promotion boards and travel agents who extensively woo tourists to the previously unknown paradise on earth as known as among them.
The Maldives’ discovery as a tourist destination helped me a great deal in explaining whoever asks me the inevitable question. And to my utter surprise, when I reply that I hail from the Maldives, they exclaims “wow” and ask me whether it’s the tourist destination that everyone’s talking about. I was speechless at these moments. At least, some of the people are getting to know the place. Of course, half of them still don’t know where exactly Maldives is located.
In my first semester of studies in Malaysia in 2006, I did a presentation on Maldives in the hope of telling my classmates and lecturer what Maldives is like. I made it a point to show them the runway strip where all planes take off and land. Needless to say, all my classmates were more than impressed. They were totally stunned.
Now looking back at those days in which I try my best to explain people where Maldives is, it all now seems totally hilarious. Now I hardly hear the ever so familiar reply of “never heard of that place.” It has been replaced by “Oh, I know! That’s the awesome holiday place my aunt or uncle or cousin or whoever has been last winter and is telling me about all the time” or “Can’t wait to get there.
Andmost of the time, I receive the comment that makes me feel quite proud of the country I hail from. “Oh, Hamdhoon! You are just so lucky to belong in a paradise like Maldives.” Indeed, it is. But who knows, you might be now wondering where exactly this paradise is just like so many others had wondered.