From tourist to expat, what life is like for a single British female in the Maldives
When people discover that I live in the Maldives, they always imagine that I am living on a beautiful tropical island, resplendent with coconut palms and white sandy beaches and that life is based around relaxing with a cocktail in hand. The reality of my Maldives lifestyle, however, is quite different to their imaginings but it is still one that I am grateful and privileged to have been given the opportunity to enjoy.
I discovered the Maldives almost 20 years ago, visiting as a scuba diver in search of mantas and whale sharks. My love and appreciation of the country, its people, its culture and traditions was almost immediate and resulted in me visiting the archipelago on over 30 occasions in the years following. In 2012 through a chance meeting over coffee, the opportunity to relocate arose, so I swapped my corporate life in the UK to living and working in one of the most dreamedabout places on Earth, promoting sustainable and local tourism.
Moving to the Maldives seemed the most natural thing in the world to me. I was fortunate that I had an established circle of local friends and an insight into day-to-day life, but I can imagine for others it may be a daunting prospect fused with excitement and intrepidation.
Certainly, living here regardless if it’s on a local island or in a resort, is very different to the experience of visiting as a tourist. For me, moving to the Maldives was always about experiencing the Maldives as a local, however, for those who want more, there is now a sizeable expat community living and working in the Maldives that provide a network for social events and gatherings.
As a single female in an Islamic society, many think that life must be difficult or challenging. To the contrary, with the exception of ensuring I dress modestly and respectfully, I have always felt I have lived my life as I would have done so back in the UK. I feel safe, at ease, welcomed, and respected. Living locally, you may see and hear things that you don’t necessarily agree with or are not in line with your own personal values and beliefs. My belief, however, is that no country is perfect. While it is my choice to make the Maldives my home, that does not automatically give me the right to criticize or express an opinion on how others should live their lives.
Working in the Maldives has meant adapting to a slower pace of business and I have learnt to accept that responses and action may come tomorrow or maybe next week! In fact, I probably create my own pressure and stress while everyone around me appears to have no care in the world. It has meant adapting to ‘on the way’ meaning ‘will be there within the hour’, that when it rains, everything comes to a standstill, and that locals don’t understand why I am not married and have no children!
My home has always been the island of Hulhumalé. Connected to both the airport and also to Malé by the Sinimale Bridge, Hulhumalé forms part of the capital area. Whilst it does have a beautiful long beach, it is not the idyllic image of the Maldives depicted on the internet and in travel brochures. It is what you would describe as suburban and still very much a developing city. It has been an interesting journey to watch how it has grown from a small community with only a handful of cafes and local shops to a bustling neighborhood.
Hulhumalé is certainly not short of local coffee shops, barista-style cafes, and a range of restaurants including a sushi bar, steakhouse, Moroccan, Indian, and Thai. There is a one-screen cinema, a sports track, gym and fitness facilities, banks, hospitals, local shops, convenience stores, and a supermarket. My daily routine is not really dissimilar to how it would have been in the UK, albeit a beer at the pub is now a coffee on the beach and I know not to guarantee to be able to find the same products/brand in my local convenience store from one week to the next!
Like everywhere I have lived, I tend not to always do the things that are on my doorstep. I dive much less than when I visited as a tourist but whenever I do find myself on the water, traveling by speedboat or ferry to visit and explore other islands, I do look out across the aquamarine water and reflect on how lucky I am to call this tropical paradise home.