1000 words on Maldivian Art - Nazaal Shiyam's photograph of a one way sign in Malé

Photograph by Nazaal Shiyam 

Malé is a maze of one way streets and dark alleys. You can drive around it for days, for weeks, your whole life, and you can still feel like you're going somewhere. Perhaps this is why the national sport of my country is driving.

Driving? Why would driving be the national sport of a nation of islanders? Of a country whose borders are filled with water and not land? Why not swimming? Fishing perhaps? Nope. It's driving. Driving motorcycles specifically. And nowhere is the fanbase stronger than good old Malé City.

The stinking heap of concrete is less than 5sqkm in area, yet is home to almost, if not more, than 200,000 people. If you were wondering, no, there isn't a beach. Well there is a rather pathetic little inlet that is rather imaginatively called the artificial beach. And there is the tail section of the harbour does have a bunch of floating platforms hovering above the trash, used condoms and diesel. Oh and perhaps that dandy little 5m stretch near Raalhugandu that's full of broken bottles and garbage? How lush! How wonderful!

Nope, not much love for swimming here. And of course any fish you catch will have been lovingly fed off of the endless supply of sewage. It's the circle of life, and the people of Male' city are full of shit.

So what do you do? You save up and buy your self a fine motor vehicle that's what! Things will surely turn up now! Just look at how shiny it is! You will be the talk of the town! Everybody will be jealous of your sweet ass ride.

Now the cogs of our destiny are really in motion! Oh yeah baby! We'll drive around the city all night!

You'll rest your head against my back. You'll whisper soft kisses into my ears, hearts in a daze from the fumes of our forbidden love. Perhaps your arms will wrap themselves around me, deftly working their way through the edges of my shirt, your warm bare palms radiating love back into my chest.

You arch back and gasp as we hit that bump. Lots of memories about that bump! We almost crashed into a patrol van that New Years; all because of that goddamn bump. That morning, after we made love between the tetrapods, we kissed and watched the sunrise set the heavens ablaze. Or maybe it was just smog from Thilafushi. Who knows. It was a long time ago. All you know is you had a good time.

We pass by the flag, and then speed up as we go through that impeccable section of road they always keep nice for the tourists because their lives are more important than ours. We pass carnival, waving at our friends going the other way.

You wonder to yourself, why are some of us going in the opposite direction? You convince yourself that you, in your infinite wisdom, are driving in the right side of the road. There are less potholes and bumps on this side of the road see.

Dense traffic, and all of a sudden, Raalhugandu! For the briefest moment, as the spray hits you in the face, you feel an odd sensation. The slightly rotten smell of the salty mist. The way the lights flickered across the dark abyss between the Seawall and the planes taking off the runway in Hulhumalé. A lightness. A heightening of the senses yet a paradoxical relaxing of your inner self. You can't quite place it, but you feel it everytime you pass by this magical place. It is as if you can feel your soul gasping for air.

Did you know you were drowning?

As you pass it, you look behind your shoulder, staring back at it longingly like a burning man stares at the asphalt as he falls toward it from the top of a skyscraper, rushing towards the ground faster than the speed of light. As long as you hit the ground before the glass, you will be fine, you tell yourself. As long as I make it to the ground, the fire will be gone, and with it, the pain.


You almost crash into another couple. You tighten your grip and laugh it off. Your laughter makes me feel that way too. You wonder where the other couple were going, and why they were so angry.

Do you think they know where they are going?

As you pass the line of shmucks waiting for petrol (You're smarter than them! You filled your tank at that special time only you know about when there aren't that many people around! Give yourself a pat on the back for this one!), you think to yourself how it's only a matter of time before Raalhugandu swings on back. It didn't matter which inventive route you took, it was inevitable. Always. Forever. All roads eventually become a one way street. You've already passed it twelve times just this night, maybe one day you'll actually get there.