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  • iaindryden1

our greatest gift...

An atoll last visited by ‘pale’ people, as they called us, 500 years ago. A lost place where adults ran from us, terrified we were reincarnations of nightmare Portuguese raiders who had been used since 1498 to frighten naughty children. But Feevah was different, they traded with India, they interacted with Sri Lanka. Waves heaved our 15m craft into the air, plunged her deep between waves. Struggling to balance, we somehow we managed to offload our awkward equipment into small canoes bobbing dangerously alongside. Gripping everything we needed, splashed by salty waves, we endured the fraught 200 metre journey to the enticing security of the tiny island.

Our bared toes squeaked the white, white sand from which the intensely hot, hot sun bounced back, boiling our bodies. The relief of reaching cool, cool glistening palms, to be absorbed by their trunks soaring to an unbroken canopy. A long neat and wide path well trod, firm red soil rather than the ubiquitous white, white sands into which your feet usually sank as you walked.

An ancient grave, a prophet, they said. The ruins of a temple, Buddhist, they said. Bird song. Such peace, such harmony. Ha, how perfect. Further along, Buddhist remains bashed down, upon them a concrete mosque built with Saudi money loaded with strict religious demands.

Banana plants in well tended circles of improved earth, vegetables carolled within walls of raised soil. Wow! Other islands were bared of agriculture, people ate dried fish, white rice. No wonder life expectancy was 40, but here on Feevah they were long lived and healthy.

Houses beneath the palms. Chaos as a crowd of gaily dressed women whipped C away. I was taken by one man in white and deposited in the school which our project had built. A drab concrete shell of waist high walls sprouting pillars holding up a coconut-thatched roof. The teacher, my translator and I discussed the curriculum. And then C arrived with the rest of our project and we sat upon the half-walls to discuss the day’s activities.

At the end of the meeting, C and I moved to sit together and we announced our engagement. Silence. Total and utter. Anger at me, the bouncy newcomer who had stolen the saintly saviour of many lives. Those the people we worked and lived with stood up and walked away without comment. Bar Hameed. Delightful Hameed, charming, educated, from the capital, a political prisoner sent to stew of boredom in that remote atoll and who worked with us to relive his, “Deep and miserable existence here.”

The island chief too had waited. Grasping us in a hug, holding our hands, he rushed us off to enjoy the greatest treats in their world, a fizzy cola and sugar biscuits as his family celebrated our joy. We were pulled off to another house, then another and more and more until we could no longer dink the sweet stuff nor bear another biscuit, nor the tea and plain crackers given in less affluent houses.

And this weekend, content to be together even after after thirty two incredibly testing years, we stayed the night in a gastro-pub three miles from this troubled house we are still renovating. Relationships, the greatest of gifts.

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