It does not often happen that way, but occasionally experiences happen when you’re lying around doing absolutely bugger all. This one involved lobsters and a canoe, on the Maldivian island of Dhiffushi.
That day I was tucked under a massive beach umbrella on a sun lounger during a most enviable layover on the Maldivian island of Dhiffushi. I had decided to take the guest house dive master’s recommendation to relax on the quieter (formerly local) beach, rather than the more established tourist beach near the jetty.
Aside from baby reef sharks skimming the shore, and a pair of eagle rays who did not seem to have a sense of personal space, I was completely alone with my Kindle before a bright blue lagoon. Several times I contemplated going back to the guest house. The Maldivian sun was punishing at midday, and the unwieldy umbrella constantly needed adjusting. I propped it against a weedy-looking shrub.
But the prospect of hauling the umbrella all the way back in the heat was less palatable than simply acquiescing to the situation.
That was when the children found me. Two thirsty boys at first, in a canoe they were manning like a raft, drawn to my water bottle. Then a group of them, playing ball on the beach. Before long I was absorbed into their posse by the eldest girl, a teenager called N–a. (I promptly discovered that swimming after whale sharks day after day did not mean I had the cardio for running after a ball on the beach on a hot day.)
The lobster sump
It all began because of rays. As it was sighted, the children scampered out of the water (by this time the ball game had transitioned to an aquatic sport). The play momentum faded.
However, leadership thrives in moments like these, and the intrepid N–a gazed upon an unassuming concrete sump out on the water and announced, “We shall look at the lobsters.”
I pointed out that we would need a vessel of some kind, to which she replied a canoe would be commandeered momentarily. She promptly conscripted her siblings R–a and N–u, dismissed the remaining children, and in short order returned with a serviceable fibreglass canoe.
Unfazed, the teenagers began rummaging in the flotsam and undergrowth, and produced for our seafaring needs, push poles in the form of sturdy branches and the spine of a palm frond. I paused for only half a breath. Obviously there was only one thing to do: defy the odds and attempt that sump using nothing but branches!
An hour later.
We made a final push and tried to drift to the sump when the water column grew too deep for the branches. I lost count of the attempts.
The current kept trying to push us back to shore. We were constantly either running aground, or lost contact with the bottom. Seamanship is definitely a thing. Which we did not have, save for possibly R–a, who could at least use a push pole with any kind of predictable outcome.
But the canoe finally drifted and collided against the sump. And we held her steady. As the visitor, I had dibs on rising up gingerly to observe the prize. There it was lurking in the corner, doubtless confused over the sudden clamour.
And then we slowly drifted back to shore well-pleased. Well-pleased.
I thought then, of a friend who is far from me now, who once told me of how he ended up hauling the day’s catch from the sea with local fishermen, just by happening to be there. He was right. I wished very much then to tell him this story. But not all wishes can come true.
The second Dhiffushi lobster expedition
In a past life N–a must have been a conquering empress. For upon that shore, fresh from victory, the indomitable girl cast her eyes on the other end of the beach where there was not one, but two sumps. And she said, “We will now go there.”
And so the second lobster expedition, even more questionable, began.
The younger siblings were despatched to replenish pole supplies, the palm spine and one of the branches having broken in the previous voyage. She stood contemplating her target. I mentioned a matter of some importance: unlike the first expedition, the current is flowing away from these, and so we would need to push off much further along the beach.
But between her English and my (lack of) Dhivehi, the implications of this were set aside in the more convenient spirit of the moment.
And so once more we pushed and pulled the canoe, from a position deeply unlikely to be predictive of success. The indefatigable R–a often disembarked to drag it bodily, otherwise seemingly determined to move it forward by force of will alone. N–a and N–u alternately bickered and poled in the background, the boy cheerily chanting “Yes we can do it!” and as for me, I resigned myself to my quixotic fate and put in all I could.
“Yes, we … can’t”
However, the sun continued on down. The sumps were no nearer than when we began. N–u, in the water and pushing from behind, was still grinning cheekily, but now his chants were “No… we cannot do it..”.
N–a proved herself a gracious commander. Noting her exhausted team, she acknowledged that the current prevailed over her that day. But another day?
Who knows. For that day, ice cream salved all wounds.
Sometimes the attempt means more than the outcome.
*Addendum: I had meant to ask the guest house owner what these sumps were actually for, but never did. To this day I am left wondering as to its purpose.