I have travelled quite a bit in my life so far and I have lived in foreign countries for long periods of time on several occasions. Therefore, this is not the first time I have found myself far away from family and friends back home for two yearly celebrations that are always highly anticipated and rich in traditions – Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
I left my home country of Denmark in mid-November and as everyone living in a country where Christmas is celebrated can attest to, already at this point in time, you are not able to turn on the TV, use the internet or walk outside without being reminded that Christmas is just around the corner. Consequently, it was inevitable that as soon as I had accepted the position as Volunteer Coordinator at Atoll Volunteers and was starting to prepare for this experience, I was already wondering how I was going to spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
Since the Maldives is an Islamic country, it was evident that Christmas was going to be a very different experience and that we would have to take matters into our own hands to make it a special day. Wanting to make sure that Christmas day did not just feel like any other day here with office work and feeding turtles, our resident marine biologists, Cara and Jordan, and I decided that we should take the day off and go to Kuredu Island Resort on a daytrip. Two new volunteers arrived about a week prior to Christmas so on the morning of December 25th, the five of us hopped on the staff ferry from Naifaru to Kuredu in hopes of experiencing a little Christmas spirit in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
And we were not disappointed! Kuredu Resort was practically one big Christmas display with Christmas lights, Christmas trees, Santas in all shapes and sizes – even one made of sand – and Christmas music accompanying our meals and drinks at the bar. Many of the guests at the resort were families with young children and Kuredu made sure that Santa Claus paid them a visit in true Maldivian style – on a boat. Out of the blue, a small speedboat approached the beach while John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” played over the speakers on the beach. This was Santa Claus arriving along with two of his angels bringing Christmas presents for all the children on the island.
After a lovely Christmas day filled with sunshine, fun in the water, good food, delicious drinks and of course several games of Monopoly Deal, we got the staff ferry back and could enjoy a beautiful sunset as we sailed across the atoll towards our home on Naifaru.
For New Year’s Eve, our biggest challenge seemed to be staying awake until midnight. On most days, working in the blazing sun and draining heat takes its toll on us and staying up past 10 PM is seen as quite the achievement. The solution on New Year’s Eve was a big barbeque that took place by the marine centre. We were a big group as both the international volunteers and locals associated with Naifaru Juvenile took part in the festivities. And it was obvious that what seems to be a worldwide phenomenon is also the case here in the Maldives: barbequing is a man’s job. Issay, Thuday, Kanma and several of the other locals were in charge of the barbeque and everyone’s lips were tingling as a result of Kanma’s very spicy chilli marinade.
We spent the night standing around the barbeque picking the tasty meat right off the bones of the fish and we rang in the new year doing what the locals seem to enjoy doing the most – relaxing with friends in the traditional Maldivian chairs, the jollys.
Overall, it was a very fun experience celebrating Christmas and New Years in these alternative ways and being around such lovely people made it much easier being away from loved ones back home.
Happy holidays from everyone at Atoll Volunteers and Naifaru Juvenile!
– Sarah Nielsen, Volunteer Coordinator