ALI THE KALAIDHOO MECHANIC
Ahmed Ali is a self taught 46 year old mechanic, born and bred in Kalhaidhoo, Laamu Atoll. He built his modest home and mechanic’s garage on a 1,300 sq ft plot South of the island. Ali enjoys watching his 2 boys play football on the play grounds in front of the house every afternoon. His wife picks bananas and breadfruit from the trees in his compound to make supper. Ali’s greasy hands rustically repairs motors and engine parts in his garage, bringing honest money to his family. Ali always has a repair job on hand at any point in time, a mechanic is a rare find on an island like Kalhaidhoo.
NEWS OF A TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM
One day, the MDP government announced that it was soon going to award development of an inter-atoll transportation system in Laamu to a private company. And that people could travel from one island to the next for just Mrf 15.
It sounded too good to be true thought Ali, because to start with, it will cost atleast Mrf 100 and more to travel even to the nearest islands on a boat.
TRANSPORTATION NETWORK = A SENSE OF FREEDOM UNLIKE NO OTHER
But then, Ali was proven wrong. The private company did start the transportation network as the government said and it was only for Mrf 15 to ANY island in the Atoll.
The ferry was a big hit with the islanders of Kalhaidhoo, and even the pessimistic Ali was soon to be found smiling, soaking the sun, the southern wind on his face, riding the inter atoll ferry, island hopping from one inhabited island to the next for Mrf 15.
It gave Ali a sense of freedom he has never experienced in his life. Elders from other islands like Isdhoo and Maandhoo, old enough to be his grand father sat next to him on the ferry rides all by themselves with Mrf 15 in their hands, visiting age old friends and relatives on other islands whom they have not met for long.
TRANSPORTATION BECOMES PART OF LIVING
After a month or so of touring and leisure riding the ferry, it no longer became as exciting as it felt the first time for Ali and his family. But nevertheless, the network was now a part of life they could not live without.
Ali’s youngest, Mohamed, got chicken pox, and Ali was able to take him to a good doctor at the hospital built by the Red Cross on Gan island. The hospital there is so much better than the one in Kalaidhoo.
On the way back from the hospital, Mohamed had seen the beautiful school built using aid from Qatar. For 2 weeks non stop, Mohamed nagged his father to enroll him. Ali finally gave in when Mohamed went on a hunger strike as a non-violent protest to remove him from his kalhaidhoo school. Ali enrolled his son at the Qatar school in Gan on condition that Mohamed promised to go to school everyday on the ferry.
AN UNFAMILIAR FEELING
After a couple months of having the transportation network in Ali’s life, an unfamiliar feeling started to settle in. He felt this the first time he took Mohamed to school on the ferry while a record breaking storm hit the Atoll. It rained for days and even the elders could not recall a time when seas were that rough.
Ali started to wish he lived on Gan island. Wouldn’t it be so convenient, Ali thought - Mohamed’s schooling is there anyways, the hospital is better, he can start a garage in Gan which has more vehicles and boats than Kalaidhoo. “what if” Ali dreamed as he dozed off to sleep every night since then.
ENTER HOUSING UNITS - THE BEGINNING OF THE SLOW DEATH OF TRANSPORTATION NETWORK
It was almost as if Ali’s wishes were heard by MDP. In June 2010, the government announced relocation of Kalaidhoo people to Gan as the island was no longer considered safe to live due to after effects of 2004 Tsunami.
The transportation network that brought convenience and joy to Ali’s family was now an inconvenience and a thing of the past.
The new house on Gan given to Ali by the government was smaller, but nevertheless it was a new house with 2 bedrooms built by the red cross using modern materials. Familiar faces and friends from Kalaidhoo lived next doors.
The house brought another wave of that warm feeling to Ali’s chest, it was the same feeling the first time he rode the ferry for Mrf 15. Going to bed every night with this feeling manifested in pregnancy of his wife with their 3rd child on the 3rd month in Gan.
HIGH LIVING COSTS AND COST OF LIVING WITH STRANGERS
Life on Gan was a bit tougher than Ali imagined, the electricity bills were higher as there were more lights and electrical appliances in the new house. Water was from the grid and it did not come cheap. Food had to be bought from local stores, Ali no longer had the space to grow his own fruit and vegetables inside the compound.
Ali was now working for a local garage until he was able to save some money to rent his own space to set up shop. His wife was 8 months pregnant and her needs were to be attended even at an additional cost.
Tensions between the villages were at its peak on Gan. The native people of Gan island were jealous Kalaidhoo people got more modern facilities. Gang wars erupted every week near the Red Cross housing area.
4 Kalaidhoo teenagers were stabbed by unknown attackers within 3 months. There were arrests but no charges were made. People say the attacks were in collusion with the local police.
Ali didn’t know what to think, he was not the protesting kind, but perhaps there was a lesson to be learnt from his son Mohamed, pressure of living costs were now becoming unbearable, his family’s security was in threat and he had to voice out his frustrations.
Ali finally visited the Province office and met the local council members to protest against high living costs and poor security for Kalaidhoo people. The council was corrupt and was in no mood to help.
It had power over all resources in the Atoll after the decentralization bill passed and the members were squabbling for deals to make them rich in the short run in order shower money to those who matter in the next round of elections.
OUTCRY AND PROTESTS
The people of Kalaidhoo finally had it when 2 Kalaidhoo teenagers died from 6 puncture wounds in a random gang attack. Everyone ganged up to protest outside the province office. Stones were thrown and council members were hit.
The news was covered on national media, photos of the murdered children leaked on the internet and Ali had given an emotional interview on DhiTV that sensationalized the news for a 2 week run.
A DECENTRALIZED GOVERNMENT TRIES TO STEP IN
The MDP’s executive branch was no longer as powerful since decentralization bill passed. Once upon a time, the government gave a transportation network and homes for Kalaidhoo people. But now, Laamu Atoll was ruled by a PA majority council and MDP’s agendas were met with outright aggression. The council was intent on seeing MDP’s little plan fail whilst the party was in seat of government.
What becomes of Ali and his family now? He wished things were back to the way it was in Kalhaidhoo. Watching his sons play football on the playground in front of the house, his wife picking bananas and breadfruit from the trees in his large compound.
What if, Ali thought as he slept every night fearfully wondering what the next day would bring.