Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Article excerpt

Moofushi, Maldives

We clambered aboard a dhoni , the sturdy wooden boat that the Maldivians use for getting about the islands, and motored across from our high-end 'all-inclusive' resort to a 'traditional' island village for a guided tour. Maldivians are devout Muslims and it was suggested to us that we dress modestly and behave respectfully when there. Our guide was Mohamed, a self-confident 22-year-old fisherman. 'Ask me anything. I know everything,' he said.

His village was called Himandhoo. According to Mohamed, it means 'fishing village'. He led us first to the village school. The writing on the classroom walls was Thaana, a peculiar script resembling a cross between shorthand and Arabic. Words are read from right to left; numbers from left to right. 'How many letters are there in your alphabet?' someone asked him. Our omniscient guide had to think long and hard about that one. 'I don't know,' he said. 'I think between 28 and 36. I was not very good at my language at school. I only got a C. I was better at English and got a B.' He then related with great pride how he often used to climb out of the window when the teacher had his back turned and go fishing. 'Were you ever punished?' I said. 'Beaten with a cane?' He was astonished by the idea. 'No, no,' he said. 'Certainly not. We don't do that here. Once the teacher made me stand out in the sun at noon for an hour. Another time he made me stand with my arms stretched out and hung a brick on each arm and I had to stand there like that. But no, no beating. We don't do that.'

The sandy streets were narrow and the women we saw walked quickly, their burkas billowing out behind them. Soon we came to a small building painted a vivid turquoise. Above the door was written in English: Magistrates Court. 'Tell me,' he said. 'For what purpose do we use this building?' 'For trying criminals?' ventured someone. 'For marriage,' he said. 'Only for marriage. I myself hope to come here one day. We marry here usually at around 24 or 25.' 'What about sex before marriage?' I said. 'Is it allowed?' 'No,' he said. 'If you have sex before marriage and you are caught, a man will come to your house and hit you 80 times on your behind with a bat. …

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