Written by Monica Camozzi
When you hear the word Maldives, what comes to your mind? Atolls like water lilies in a pond, manta rays brushing against you as you swim, palm trees, sun, sea. But has anyone ever wondered what lies beyond the resort?
For the Maldives is not a resort.
They are a republic populated by people, with a culture, a modus vivendi, and values that no one ever thinks of exploring, dazzled by luxurious interiors, giant crab claws, lush nature and marine life. We spoke to a person who lives by showing tourists (but it would be better to call them travellers, ed) the true soul of the Maldives. Not just sea-sea, sun-sun, resort-resort. Her name is Paola Pesce, nomen atque omen. Italian by genesis, Maldivian in heart and in deeds.
Paola, you have been living in the Maldives for decades now: escape or conscious choice?
Conscious choice. Up to a certain point! It all started with the classic family trip and falling in love, after which my now ex-husband,my children (who were small at the time) and me decided to move. The hesitant one was me: then I was the only one who stayed.
What made you decide to stay? To radically change your life?
Their way of life was slow, serene, and peaceful. We saw a smiling population, full of positivity.
The Maldivians taught me that there is no need to fret, to stress, that to every problem there is a solution, it is part of life. Anxiety does not exist here. Things are approached with a different spirit.
“You will never see a Maldivian parent shouting at a child. Calm and respect are inherent in people here’
Is there more beyond palms?
I would say that beyond the palm trees and the resort there is something unique. And this is what I do: I take people to Maldivian families, I invite them to get to know this culture where appearance is secondary. Here no one will judge you if you are overweight or have white hair. The value of the family is fundamental in society. There is the natural inclination to respect the father and mother, who are called upon for important decisions. There is the centrality of children, who are also cared for by older siblings. There is the love transmitted by the parents with a serene, non-aggressive inner and educational approach.
Sounds like a recipe for serenity. I’m afraid to ask how you see Italian people.
Last time I was in Italy it was in June 2022. I found you tired, bored. I saw very well dressed women, perfect manicures, but little joy. Here in Vashafaru, life teaches you to cherish what you have, to value it. If the iron breaks, you don’t order it on Amazon for the next day: we are 18 hours away from Malé by boat. You need someone to buy the iron, to put it on the boat that one time a week when it comes to your island.
“You have everything and you don’t realise this. Back in Italy, I saw so much superficiality’. In which case would you return?
For my children. When they were teenagers, I sent them to Europe because I want them to try different experiences and choose what kind of life to lead. I now consider myself Maldivian. It took me a long time to really settle in, it’s all good in the beginning but then problems emerge, like the distance in hours by sea from the capital. The lack of raw materials. Or the fact that there is a general medical clinic but for more serious things the hospital in Malé, although very modern, is quite expensive. Here people go to Sri Lanka for treatment. Or the rubbish problem. In short, it’s not all a bed of roses.
How do you find tourists?
I do social activities. My structure has existed for a long time now. The nice thing is that they come prepared, they often bring me cheese, coffee, things that are not easily found here. And when they leave, just as often they tell me that this holiday has opened their minds. Just recently a customer told me ‘it’s as if you were thrown back in time, into a reality you don’t expect and it’s a very strong emotion, an experience that regenerates you’. People remain serene and eager to return.
And if there are no tourists, how do you spend your day
Well, I work a bit because if you don’t advertise online, the tourists don’t come! I read a lot and towards late afternoon I go out, chat with people in the village. Here we are at the equator, there are 12 hours of light and 12 of dark, you go to bed early.