It happened to be a prosperous year, 2009. The Equator Zone was in full operation and rather peaceful. Hotels came up, services opened and tourists arrived. Flights touched down at Gan International Airport and it was a dream Addu islanders long waited to see. Roads were showing vivid colours and signboards directing the tourists to their backyards through sand-filled narrow lanes, quiet and empty, sometimes dusty. Major roads were under construction. For a second time in history since the British left, white man walked the roads.
By October 2009 most of the major hotels were open for the winter season in Europe. Among the ten foremost bids Hilton, Shangri-La, Hyatt and One & Only were leading international groups. Hundreds of hotels and motels under four star categories came up in the locale settlements that belonged to private enterprises and shops sprung in Hithadu, Maradu and Fèydu. Some showed up in Huludu and Meedu on the separate reef but not in great number.
In the administrative island of Hithadu, hotels and motels appeared along the main road called Gazi Magu that leads to the coastal Link Road to connect Gan after crossing several tiny islands. Most of the services abreast Gazi Magu appeared fairly dispersed. Islanders at first brought the services on the main road close to the airline offices and the banks. Then at hurried speed signboards directed the tourists to the attractive villas in the brushwood where islanders set gorgeous spas, bars, pubs, restaurants, cybercafés, in peaceful entirety. Private companies sprung of travel agencies, excursion services, safari cruises, diving centres, water sports, taxi and ferry services, guides and escorts and all that to do with tourism directly and indirectly.
Correspondingly in Fua Mulak all these services got introduced but because the island was big it took a while to know how widespread. Two main areas in Fua Mulak grew rather popular in tourist activities on Dandimagu Street and on Funad beach.
Sad things happened at the beginning; a tourist girl was raped in the undergrowth, another child was molested by a local guide in a snorkelling expedition. Some guesthouses overcharged tourists and cheated of services, parté disturbances by night, hooliganism and radical mobs throwing stones at visitors. Some services were closed down for carrying out illegal activities and of poor hygienic standards. Ministry of Tourism strictly applied a code to standardise services open for tourists, categorised star hotels, registration of guesthouses even outside star category, licensed liquor sales in facilities rating above a four star category.
A tourism police was established in the Equator Zone with ‘villifulus’ outposts in locations of Addu Atoll and Fua Mulak. In the recent decade this nation faced a growing youth society and troubles mounted from parté culture to create street fights and mobs, dopers and sex offenders, political outcry and radicalism. Outrage from parté groups drove the nation into heightened hostility of cutting bodies, chopping, stabbing, homicide, suicide, thefts, orphans, sex, crime and drugs. Advancement in technology getting connected through the Internet and chat rooms from handheld mobiles catered a vital factor to initiate and stimulate violence.
Another important zest for the tourism police to exist was to observe abuse of liquor, not to mention skyrocketing drugs that already colonised the islands. In recent times parté had grown to outwit the policing strength. Therefore police sought means of intelligence and appealed for funds from various sources to install surveillance cameras in the Equator Zone.
It all changed when the community benefited from tourism to profit and earned good income. Natives began to interact with the tourists in foreign tongue to make deals. Money talked. The radicals shut their doors. Drugs and sex never departed the scenes of southern streets but crime rate decreased.
Estado Mello completed two hotels and running in operation; one in Kào Herà and the other one on Gan Island. Estado Mello Kào was located in the northern tip of Hithadu; miles of beach before it, island undergrowth behind it, no settlement in the vicinity, no hotel around. It was the perfect setting for a grand retreat, somewhere close to the famous beach of Koté where Addu islanders spent picnics. This luxury hotel was a twelve-storey twin complex with 600 rooms, swimming pool and numerous other facilities. A façade entrance, gate and lobby, faced the undergrowth and a passage to Forte Road falling to Gazi Magu further inland connected to the Link Road – seventeen km drive to the airport. The surrounding area in Hithadu enclosed stunning mangroves full of birds in Odessele like the waters of Fen Muli: an environmentally preserved spot.
Estado Mello Gan was located in the southern coastline of Gan Island designed to a concept to serve transfers and stopover accommodation, facilitated with swimming pool and the point of rest while waiting for the Equator Cross subtrain, forthcoming station located not far from the hotel, a seven-storey complex with 250 rooms.
Estado Mello Heré was under construction and interrupted because of the approaching date to hold the opening ceremony of the Equator Zone on the New Year Night. Another obstacle rose from unclear waters in the lagoon overgrown of weeds and it required reclamation. Same method applied earlier to reclaim the site in Kào Herà and the machinery been moved to Herétheré.
The Equator Cross submarine-way was to begin construction. Survey conducted in mid 2009, diving in the reef and studying physical composition, had proven a railway track on concrete foundation along the barrier reef between Gan and Meedu was quite practicable. This track would be 70 to 100 metres deep, 12 km long and facing the outward sea. A cutting-edge design of a train had been developed with a flat bottom to hold buoyancy that reduce its weight on the track while carrying freight and passengers, also supporting exterior pressure and supplied interior with oxygen and other safety research work done in Brazil.
It was planned for the sector between Gan and Meedu, the power station to be located on Gan Island. If it required extending north to connect with Fua Mulak, a track could be impossible. In that case driving technique on track would change to cable. A second series of dives between Malé and Hulumalé confirmed a track method applicable to connect the capital to Hululé (the airport island) at 1.25 km in distance and along the 3 km reef to link with Hulumalé. Gerardo Mello wanted the first train to run the sector between Gan and Meedu put to groundbreaking test before undertaking a heavy load underwater link in the capital.
President Capricorn insisted to carry on with the safe and cost-effective track plan after observing the models set at the President’s Office.
Project Officer Ibthisham Gir stayed overnight to reach Brazil a world away. She was astonished to find her contact at the other end knew about her. Catalina Veloso knew she was Hythem’s half-sister, the family in Vilufushi, religion and that she failed to obtain citizenship in the Maldives.
In December she was at the airport to fetch two sets of models of the prototypes because Gerardo Mello wanted to display the Equator Cross system at Estado Mello Kào during the opening ceremony. Everywhere the house was full as Christmas and New Year turned up. She cleared the co-mail and the test samples from the customs and arranged transport for the models to be moved to Kào. A staff called to say that she was booked at the hotel to spend the weekend with Mehdi and to receive him in the afternoon.
She got stuck in a road jam on the Link Road. A crane hovered to lift a ‘Welcome to Equator Zone’ neon display over the new gate. Taking her time in the front seat of the truck she quickly shuffled through the pages of the model manual. She found that the tanks got to be filled with water and the subtrain could be manoeuvred with a remote control.
Mehdi arrived to see how things were going on in the Equator Zone for the grand opening. Among the VIPs and invitees, Gerardo Mello was expected to arrive with a group of businessmen.
Shangri-La on the island of Villingili was chosen to hold the main function for security reasons set aloof from the reef of islanders but celebrations would take place all over Addu and Fua Mulak.
After the models were set in the access hall at Kào, between the two main complexes, they filled the tanks and Mehdi tested them with the remote control. The model subtrain moved flawlessly on the track circle climbing to stop at the dry dock station and continue to descend into water. And with a click of a button on the remote it demonstrated how she floats to water surface after the clutch wheels to the underwater rail untangle. “Now comes to the manual operation, it’s just standard procedure,” joked Mehdi seizing the model to replace it on the track. “Perfect. Fill white sand to track level and remove access water. Ibthisham, we need to place some tiny freshwater fish, very tiny fish, so it does not distort the scale of the model.”
“Yes sir,” she replied, “I’ll check the aquarium shop tomorrow for some tetras and mollies.”
“Plentiful mollies...and now we go to the beach to collect some tiny bits of coral and shells.”
“Okay.” She had a busy day, two runs to Gan.
A moment later, out on the beach they got busy picking tiny shells. There were plenty of colourful shells and coral absorbed in the wet white sand for the trained eye. This site was strikingly beautiful, an endless stretch of beach and an incessant horizon. In many months she hadn’t stepped on to the breezy side of the hotel during its construction phase, particularly not after the facelift treated here to landscape the reclaimed area.
“Shall we get into the water for a swim before sundown?” asked Mehdi.
“No sir. I don’t like swimming.”
“What shall we do after dinner?”
“I’m going to town, pack few clothes, drop in at the office, pick some things there I have to bring here. I check my mail. I’ll be back very late.”
“What about a swim early morning? It is good for health.”
“No sir. I have things to do in the morning.”
“I’m expecting cement and chemicals shipment to arrive at midnight. They start unloading immediately. Work goes on non-stop through the New Year.”
“I asked Nalin to release you. You are supposed to attend the gala dinner at Shangri-La.”
“Yes sir, I was told only today. I need one final day to get things sorted at my work desk and handover to Nalin.”
“I keep the orders and waitlists, consignments and track of shipment routes, many things.”
“How long have you been working here?”
“How old are you?”
“Have you dated someone?”
“You are not the outgoing type. You shall enjoy more in this social environment. See those girls?” Mehdi pointed to a couple of girls in bikinis further away.
“I don’t want to look.”
Mehdi laughed, “Are you puritanical?”
“Strictly, in my culture we practice purdah.”
“You marry in caste?”
She nodded, “Brahmin only.”
“Why? You are half-Maldivian, a Hindive. What about marrying a Maldivian?” He caught her around the waist abruptly and drew her into the waters.
“Eek!” she screamed, “Stop it! Stop it!”
Mehdi held the girl knee deep in the bouncing waves instantly soaking her dress up to the thighs. Her dopetta dipped in water. Ibthisham tried to get free. He released and she quickly stepped on the beach.
“Look what you have done? I have nothing to wear. I didn’t have time to get my things from the lodge. I’m all wet,” she complained.
“You look beautiful.”
“Don’t look at me, Mr Mehdi. Damn!”
“Let’s go, we have collected enough,” he offered a hand, “Ibthisham, there’s a tiny island called Innafushi in Holsburgh Atoll. Folks make picnic there but somehow a couple ends up in tying the knot every time, so they call wedding-island. And another island is called Varihura, folks make picnic there too and end up in a couple divorce every time.”
“We don’t ever divorce in our custom.”
Shangri-La hosted the gala dinner on the New Year Night. There were representatives from foreign and local backgrounds, ministers and dignitaries, VIPs and delegates dealing with tourism in the new destination. Some were officers in decorated uniforms from the USA, India or Sri Lanka. Some were diplomats and politicians. A ferry kept busy bringing them from Gan Island. Some chose to arrive in special transfers.
Estado Mello delegation arrived on a speedboat from Kào Herà.
President Capricorn delivered a short inaugural speech presently before dinner. Gerardo Mello and his pretty wife were arranged to sit next to the President. Gerardo wanted to show his delegates from Brazil how important he was to the President of Maldives.
At twelve, midnight, all the lights went out of entire Addu Atoll. Only the oil lamps left flicking on the stretches of beach around. Fireworks lit the night sky over Meduha and Arivana islands, military display of the ‘Equator Zone’ open and wished ‘Happy New Year’ of 2010. It was an astounding sight across the atoll and so did Fua Mulak celebrate this very eve as part of the Equator Zone.
Lights lit up from the gateway at Gan down the Link Road and across Hithadu Reef. It was party time. Islanders came out in pickup trucks, riding on bikes and honking, flashing torches, floats, ribbons and balloons to celebrate a carnival. Fire crackers, music and bodu-beru drums heard in every corner.
Addu students performed dances for the VIPs at Shangri-La. Miss Equator and Mr Equator were chosen among the guests and hosts. Miss Equator happened to be 33 year old, Catalina Veloso, the tall brown girl from Brazil. A Maldivian Night marked on the sandy beaches with music and dancing.
Next day President Capricorn flew to Fua Mulak to watch the sky jump event performed by a faction of Singaporean skydivers. Other events of windsurfing and water sports took place in the strong waves around the island and across Addu Channel.
Back in Estado Mello Kào, Gerardo was satisfied with his investment he waged to start the Equator Zone. President Capricorn paid his courtesy call for lunch at Kào Herà on the 2nd January. Gerardo demonstrated the submarine-way to his guests. It was the first experiment of its kind anywhere in the world. The submarine would appear in size of a Boeing 787 and carry 150 passengers with a bottom deck packed of traffic and cargo. The top deck compartment enclosing passenger seats supplied with oxygen to hold for days. It appeared flat like a bus with bottom clutches to attach twin-railing underwater, driven by electromagnetism. This submarine train got no passenger windows or portholes, except on front and rear cockpits; for it was not designed to watch the sea bottom. Leaving an over water station, it would dive into water and climb at its destination avoiding waves on a rough day, reducing force of the current by design and lessening weight by its buoyancy. In case of emergency, stuck underwater, it could automatically release those clutch wheels from the twin-railing and float over water. The subtrain would be then tugged to dry dock safety.
President Capricorn left impressed.