We all believe to know Maldives. We all have a friend, a relative who has been there; They mean white coral sands and crystal waters. "Our Maldives".
And yet, how many of us would ever imagine that it is a Muslim country with the highest number per capita of ISIS foreign fighters? A country whose ordinary citizens get nothing of the $3,5 billions of tourism revenues which goes to a five, six well-connected businessmen.
The 100.000 inhabitants of Male, one third of the total Maldivians, experiment impossible life conditions. A small, overcrowded island of poverty, heroin, street violence, where you are routinely said: "Anything is better than Male. Even Syria".
The quality of life improves only in the 200 smaller inhabited islands thanks to fishing and small craftsmanship.
Nevertheless, landing in places like Himandhoo, probably the most Islamised island, in Ari Atoll, is disorienting if you're not prepared ... wild, humble, women wearing Niqab glimpsing aloof at you or just refusing your gaze ... children playing in the sandy streets, baby-girls wearing niqab … only old men seating out of their houses, the younger are out in sea for fishing or working in the near resorts.
The muezzin calling for the prayers marks the time. Everything so simple and wild, disorienting and fascinating, humble and noble ... “Their Maldives”