Q&A: French tourist Mary Kivers

Minivan News interviewed French tourist Mary Kivers, a travel agent visiting the Maldives from France. Kivers came to the Maldives interested in seeing local life, and she shared her perceptions of a country that is both a world-class vacation destination and a unique victim of climate change. Kivers was randomly chosen for the interview, and nothing was known about her or her travel plans in advance.

Eleanor Johnstone: What made you decide to come to the Maldives?

Mary Kivers: When I’m traveling I just look for the cheapest opportunity because I have a promotion as a travel agent. So I saw Male’, and I thought, “Maldives, it’s one of my dreams to go there”, especially because I am a diver, so I decided to go. But then it was pretty hard to find accommodation at a good price.

EJ: How was your trip planned?

MK: I looked on the Internet a lot, and I knew I wanted to go to a local island. I found three websites: one was rather expensive and another never called back, but the third did a package with activities including a boat trip, and full board on Guraidhoo in South Male Atoll at a great price.

EJ: What was your first impression of the Maldives?

MK: When I arrived, I thought it was really nice. First, I went to a resort because I wanted to go diving. So I spent two days and two nights in a resort. I knew I wouldn’t like it too much though, because tourists stick together and it’s a honeymoon destination, so as a girl traveling alone the resort scene can get boring. But I talked to the staff who were very friendly, even though work was hard for them during Ramazan.

I talked with some Sri Lankan staff, who said they spent seven months here and three months at home, which seems very hard for them. But otherwise, the beach was clean, the nature is perfect and the sea is really amazing. Two days, though – it was enough.

EJ: Can you tell me about the local island experience?

MK: Well, when we arrived on Guraidhoo the manager took us to see the tourist beach. There’s only one beach for tourists to wear bikinis, which is hidden away from islanders. Everywhere else, you have to be appropriately dressed for the culture.

Afterwards, every day we took boats to see inhabited islands. But it’s a pity because there’s a lot of garbage and plastic bottles, shoes, everything really, everywhere. There are no trash bins anywhere, even on the local islands. There’s a large amount of garbage, and sometimes they burn it, but it’s right near the sea. There’s the beach, then the sea, then the garbage.

EJ: Where does the garbage come from?

MK: From the people on the island. At first I thought it was all from the boats, but on my last day I really wanted to see the village and local inhabitants so I decided to go there instead of taking the tourist boat. It was really great, I was walking around and everyone was inviting me to sit with them or eat in their house.

Even though it was Ramazan, they gave me food and drinks. They were very nice, even though they don’t see many tourists. It’s funny – children speak English but the older people don’t speak English. It’s now two years since they got a ferry, so before that there wasn’t a ferry or a teacher. Now it’s getting better. In this island for example they have two schools – one for ages 2-6, and the other for ages 6-14. After 14, they have to go to Male’ or another island. The government will pay for housing on another island. But because they have many children, I think it can be hard to get everyone educated.

EJ: You’ve seen the resort side of the Maldives, the local island side, and now you’re on the capital island. How would you describe Male?

MK: Big city, lots of buildings… it’s funny because people look at you  weirdly, because I think as I’m a woman alone so I stand out. But they’re very nice people. Yeah, it’s a nice city but it’s built above garbage, they put the garbage anywhere, there’s no trash, no bin. It’s funny because we who live abroad think that Male’ will be an example for the world about pollution and everything, since global warming is important here. But when you see the inhabitants in the Maldives, they put anything into the sea. It was funny, on Guraidhoo one of the girls had a diaper, you know for the baby, and I asked her where she was going. She said, “I am going to the bin,” and she went and threw it in the sea.

EJ: Really?!

MK: Yeah, I know! I even talked a little to the people about garbage, recycling, pollution, but I think it will be a long time for that change to happen. But it’s too bad, I think the sea is so nice, but when there is trash it distracts from nature and the sea.

EJ: So overall, how would you recommend the different parts of the Maldives to other travelers?

MK: Well for me, I prefer local islands for sure. Because you can really get into the culture and see how they live, and it’s more alive. Resorts are like a postcard. It’s just right, perfect…. but it’s not the real country. I guess if you like luxury and honeymoons it’s perfect, but for me it’s a little bit dead. Tourists aren’t smiling much, and I don’t like that, personally.

I would recommend people stay on a local island. I think I will do a post online about how someone can do that, because it was so hard to find a place where I could stay. So if I post on a forum and chat about where to stay in the local islands of the Maldives, maybe I can make it easier for other travelers.

EJ: What do the people you know think of the Maldives?

MK: I met a group of French people on the local island, and I think they were just happy to stay on the boat. They didn’t seem to really want to see the locals and the traditions.

EJ: Thank you, I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay, and have a safe flight home.

MK: You’re welcome.

Tourism is the biggest contributor of foreign currency to the Maldives, bringing in over 700,000 visitors each year. Some resorts, such as Soneva Fushi, appeal to the eco-minded tourist by providing environmentally conscious services. But waste remains an issue for the Maldives. In 2009, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported that 330 tons of waste are transported to Thilafushi island for processing. Thilafushi is now commonly known as ‘garbage island’.


25 thoughts on “Q&A: French tourist Mary Kivers”

  1. Here's one important observation from this article:

    "But because they have many children, I think it can be hard to get everyone educated."

    This is an important reminder to current and future generations. Firstly, there's the problem of large families, which leads to more and more demand for the few resources we have as a country. I know that during Gayyoom's rule, there were various attempts at reducing family size. I'm not sure what happened to that; probably doesn't exist anymore. Families need to be educated about the need to reduce their size; i.e. it's a bad omen for the country when every family has 6 - 10 children!

    Secondly, with little access to the vast majority of these children, we can see a bleak future. They will grow up with few skills and turn increasingly towards crime. We already have that on our streets. The drug dealers, users, thieves and murderers marauding our streets today belonged to these large families, not very long ago.

    In order to progress, and avoid failling into another destitute overcrowded, South Eastern developing country, we've got to address this very fundamental issue! I hope someone in autority in this country wakes up and takes notice.

  2. Just reminded me to say that Gayyoom's family planning program had some success at the time, but clearly not enough. Gayyoom recognised the need for families to be able to afford a viable standard of living and that meant having the right amount of children they could afford to feed and educate!

    This is an important lesson we should not forget.

  3. As a person who work at the enviornment sector let me tell that its not so easy. For the tourist she was concerned that wastes are thrown to the sea, while buring (though take place) is also not a favourable practice. We do wish to have good waste management. But its simily so difficult. The mere transportation cost from taking waste from one island to a place appropriate (for now only Thilafushi which is not appropriate, though it is hoped it will be with the engineered concept coming up). I have met many foreigners who say such comments. Unfortunately even the foreign consultants who come and research have not been able to give practical immediate solutions as yet. Research was done if waste to energy can work, but was found that the waste produced in islands of Maldives except the connected islands in Addu and Male region can only be even viable for such a technology because of the high cost. Few islands have been given small incenerators, but even for that fuel cost is extremely high. The islands do such things not because they want, but simply dont have a practical solution yet. I work in environmental organisation, and im honest to tell that the challenges in maldives, because of the dispersed nature of the islands adn other features of islands, soem islands are so small with a dense poulation. So please do not judge simply like that. There was an initiation by MIFCO to collect cans but the cost of transporting them adn the very little wage that were given in return made it uneconomical for most. Please be proactive when it is criticized. Suggest a practical way instead of just saying to recycle and and so on. Honestly I feel sad when people dont understand that effort is continued to be given, though a practical solution has not been found yet.

  4. “But because they have many children, I think it can be hard to get everyone educated.” With large families it can actually give an opportunity for better education. In Maldives population growth has been decreasing. In some islands each year so few babies are born. That means at school, in each grade so few students and benefit of economies of scale is received. I would say the opposite, large families can benefit more in the Maldives, particularly if education/ health example is taken cos they require economies of scale. There is also a "think" in the statement. Therefore need to research before a judgement is made.

  5. Regards the amount of rubbish found on the islands[any of them],surely educating the youngsters at school about recycling,should be one of the priorities..Each island council should provide large containers for bottles/plastic/paper/clothes etc.These are a standard thing in every village and town in the UK..If the Maldivian people want tourists to come into their villages to spend their money,the tourists don't want to climb over piles of rubbish to get there..I read most days about the unemployment in the Maldives,,well there is the opportunity to get some people employed in the collection of the rubbish/recyclables,and in doing so make your homeland the envy of the world..

  6. Although Guraidhoo is south Male’ atoll vicinity to Male’ the people are not educated. During the begging of 80’s it was very much exposed to tourists. They had about fifty rooms catering for tourist. So the island was exposed to tourist. If a European wishes to experience Maldivian way of life and culture they should visit other atolls of Maldives.
    I believe Maldivians will not stare at European women, maybe this lady assumes all brown skinned men in Male’ are Maldivians.
    Bangalhis and Indian stare at women in Male that way! The local girls complain of similar situations.

  7. Maldivians are a very disconnected people. The government has done close to nothing in our local communities to raise awareness about global warming and educate people on basic scientific principles. This is evident in our failure to understand that individual actions can have an impact on the environment, and our lack of respect for nature.

    Instead of actually addressing these issues and remedying it, government officials usually just go to the UN and play the pretend game of environmental integrity. But this is a global problem, and it's not unique to the Maldives.

  8. Too much garbage. Exactly the same thing a friend who visited Maldives asked me. Seems like we Maldivians a blind to it now. It seems normal while it's not.

    Would very much like to read other interviews if possible.

  9. This article has highlighted two very real issues. Education and waste management. These are challenges but solutions can be found.
    @Mohamed! Perhaps resorts should be persuaded to deal with the waste from nearby islands. Quantities are small at the moment and we need to manage a number of these small amounts!

  10. From my experience, most of the waste I see everyday on my island is water bottles, coke cans and bottles etc. Why can we not simply approach coca cola, the manufacturers and ask for a solution, why can they not invest in a way that helps resolve this problem. Years ago te bottles used to be class and were returnable, why can the plastic bottles not be returnable? Another problem is local island councils simply do not have the money to buy the waste bins, maybe some of the new GST tax can be used to help with this.

  11. Mohamed,
    I just can't fully agree with you.
    It's the Maldivian way of life "It's too difficult, we can't help". Everyone is able to contribute to a better environment, with even little or no money.

    First of all, the government from Gayoom's time FAILED to have a proper garbage disposal system on the island. Even before we can talk about the transport being a problem, we have to set up public garbage bins.

    Where do you expect the people to throw their waste if there are no bins and no system to empty them on a regular basis? And dont give the excuse that "we tried but it didnt work"; other countries do it too and yes, it's a challenge.

    You havent found a solution, but it means you havent searched for one long enough. Any small advance is a huge step in the Maldives, because the current scenario is a disaster.

    Please, no more excuses from the environment ministry. we want to see dedication and actions. geta public garbage bin & managemtn service in place, and then start educating people.

    No matter if tourists visit or not, the islands should be clean.

    And: what did gayyoom do to reduce family size, can someone explain me this? i also think the less children, the more time, education, money and love parents can give to them.

  12. What a really good pagefull of comments,,with everyone agreeing that waste-management should be a priority,,that is>waste-bins,recycling-education and a commercial enterprise being developed..The solution>>government subsidies!!! On that subject I wish you good-luck....

  13. Larry,

    Until recently, Maldives generated very little waste and most of which was biodegradable. Now with all the imported stuff it has become necessary.

    Fortunately children are more aware than parents, however not littering could become something which is only practised at school. They will never accept it as a principle even if the Environmental Science text book says so as long as their parents set such a bad example.

    I hope tourists speak up more often, this will be more effective than any awareness program.

  14. Eh, I'm confused with this article, are we talking about Guraidhoo here?

    ".. even though they don’t see many tourists..."
    What? As I remember safari boats and resort boats stop on Guraidhoo all the time, there are many people live there make a living from tourism, there are gift shops, guests houses, and now a dive school catering for tourists!

    "It’s now two years since they got a ferry, so before that there wasn’t a ferry or a teacher" I've been many times to Guraidhoo, if there was no ferry before 2 years, then what were the two boats leaving Guraidhoo every morning to Male', and going from near jetty number one every afternoon? I know they now have a more regular daily service, but before that they still had a ferries!!

    No teacher on Guraidhoo-I'm sure the headmaster of GM and his teaching staff wouldn't be pleased to hear this! What about the ex-pat teachers working there, or do they not count?

    It's nice that Mary wanted to see local traditions but she was staying on an island with locals going about their daily business, not a resort where bangali's rake the beach at 6am every morning. There is going to be rubbish-it's a local island and they struggle to dispose of it, and are uneducated in doing so (through ignorance or choice is another debate).
    Guraidhoo locals who worked on resorts always used to invite tourists from their resorts on 'free trips' where they came to dive and collect rubbish while they were there. A nice idea except most of the rubbish was found on the beach and about 10m into the sea, and the locals were just too lazy to make their island clean for themselves!

  15. Mohamed,

    It is ludicrous to say our culture of tossing anything and everything everywhere is because of the high cost of waste management.

    Making excuses does not make the problem go away.


    Garbage bins are very important but the peoples' attitude is even more important. I have seen tourists in Male walking around with empty cans and bottles, looking for a bin.

    Forget a soda can, think- how many Maldivians would take the trouble to keep the chewing gum wrapper or supari packet in their pocket until they reached a rubbish bin?

  16. The views of the tourist are just normal for a visitor. Shocking and worrying. But then there is also the reality on the ground. One point is that enough efforts have not been put in the past and even it continues today. Individuals may not have a choice but to recourse to the dump set aside on one side of the island and on the other hand practical solutions have not been introduced due to costs and other logistical difficulties.

    Oh well..are we cursed and stuck at this? I think we are. But I hope not. Its a pity to see the amount of plastic bags and now plastic bottles, jugo tumblers, supari and other small snack packets conveniently thrown around on the streets.

    Did anyone also notice the new trend in delivering food to construction labourers and the expatriate population? The “dubbawala” concept? Well of course this has to be done, but then who is responsible for all the extra plastic packaging materials involved in this? some of them are just thrown away...worse with perishable food inside.

    Some countries in this region has at least imposed the ban of plastic bags in many parts and I still don't see our environment ministry or the EPA addressing this general issue affecting all of us everyday every minute. We cannot educate a whole nation in a week but at least it’s time to monitor such habits and impose fines. We live in a beautiful country and it’s sad to see the issue of garbage still not solved after so many years despite two “environmental Gurus,” one having ruled for 30 years and another who is currently in power! “ITS NOT EVEN CLOSE TO BEING SOLVED.” 🙁

  17. Talk about going carbon neutral.. I am yet to see even one dustbin around the city of male'.

    Talk is cheap Mr.President.

  18. peasant
    Children may be more aware if the school mentions how to behqve, but en back home, or even on the way home from school, students observe misbehaving. how many times do i see parents/adults throwing rubbish out of the ferries even though there are now small compulsory bins on all ferries? even the captain doesnt use it (my pers observation).

    Garbage bins, yes it's the behaviour, but first we need bins, then we need awareness, and at last, we need fines. This country will not change without fines. See singapore?! It's strict but hey, it's clean!

  19. ahaha, Lady la francaise, vous a vais trop curt votre vacance, e a Guraidhoo ( south male) il ya ou deka long temp de turist, aussi lecole y vous racont naporte qua , le gent! And your joice Guraidhoo was not the best!
    It’s now two years since they got a ferry, so before that there wasn’t a ferry or a teacher. What you Guys writing here? ferry exist since years!! okay not only for teacher!!
    Guraidhoo the manager took > I didnt know Guraidhoo has manager!! since when is Guraishoo is resort? Reosrt manager....:-)

    Male is not build on built above garbage!only part of it !
    They look at you because you are wring wired clothe je pense! 🙂 Read book since long time were white People in the Maldives!
    Nice try Minivan, do you realy think the goverment will garbige bin and they will collect? eheh then you guys are dreaming. first MDP (sorry) filling there house, then very close freinds , see hololeMale land given! to who try to find out. or You MDP who started study has houses, Land appartment in KL. ect ect they like your money , not you !! eheh look the salary of the waiter at the resort , shame on the goverment! Health care ! nothing much. Education well only for children who has the liquid. Now is $ comanding not the Humans .

    You been talking to a Manager talk to a worker !!! 1 month only!!! ooo Madam vous reve vremaont!!
    I talked with some Sri Lankan staff, who said they spent seven months here and three months at home, which seems very hard for them. Is ther joice on the end !!

    Ye ye come bring Dollar to the Island , since Dollar it is very diffulty to get. ehehe ye MP's member need money for there vacantion. ! now me too

  20. Everyone seem to be having a go at poor old Mohamed because he claimed that the solution to the trash problem in the Maldives is hard. If these high and mighty armchair intellectuals actually think through before commenting, they'd realise that Mohamed is actually right.

    Putting up trash cans and bins is a fine idea. But that's the start of a long chain of processes that cost a lot of money! It doesn't simply stop at the bin. You have to have regular collections and subsequently deal with the collected material. I'd ask one of our overseas commentators, such as Larry to comment on how the UK streets fare when the bins are left uncollected as it happens in extreme weather, for example!

    How can we do this effectively, at a justifiable cost on the vast majority of Maldivian islands? If there is a genius with the solution, please don't hold it back; we'd love to hear about it.

    Any solution will involve massive government subsidies. How can we fund that? Do we charge an "environmental tax" on all importers of non bio-degradable materials? I suspect that won't go down well with the wealthy who have influence over the politics of the country.

    At a more practical level, we need to understand the scale of the problem. How much in $ terms, does each person produce in rubbish per day, week, month etc? What are the common types of waste and the distribution of their quantities? If we can get a study like this done, if not already; it'd be a large step forward. Can people like Mohamed help here?

  21. Keep it up with John F. Kennedy: he once said in a speech to America: Don't ask what America can do for you - better ask what can you do for America!

    Don't ask what Maldives can do for you - ask what can YOU do for your country.

    Think global - act local. Start to act in your family, in your neighborhood.

  22. Dear Ahmed bin Addu...

    The goverenment is paying women to sweep the islands even now. It would be in fact easier for them to empty bins every day rather than spending hours sweeping the streets and e
    cleaning vegetation from cans, food wrappings and the horrible Supari packets and cigarette filters.

    Is there any worse state and behaviour of the people than now? Don't need it? - Throw it!

  23. Hello Ahmed bin addu,,You are right when you say massive amounts of rubbish mount up in UK,usually if the rubbish collectors go on strike,or as like last winter when the country nearly came to a halt with very deep snow,,but I have to say it was cleared as soon as it was possible..Every household in the UK has 2 rubbish bins,,one for landfill and one for recyclable items..My village of 2000 people[and not as many shops as Hittadoo]has 7 extra large collection bins for glass/plastics/paper/clothes etc..Every household and business in the UK,pays rates[money] to the council,part of which goes for rubbish collection/disposal..The councils are subsidised by the government and that is what your nation needs..I don't know where the money will come from,but that is the answer..--I will add that I was an RAF airman on Gan in69/70.There was around 600 of us plus another 300 Pakistani's/Ceylonese and civilians and Gan was absolutely clean,so it can be done...PS I will also add that I have been back on holiday 7 times and I love the place and the people..I would just like to see the Maldives as clean as Singapore,it would be for your own benefit....

  24. Good article and great responses. Except the guy that just wrote 'Christian missionaries'. What's that all about?
    I worked in a resort in the Maldives a few years ago as a marine biologist and the trash problem horrifies me. The resort was top end. Of the kind that gave each guest a clean towel and a new, cold, plastic bottle of water at every opportunity.
    And I wrote a few proposals whilst I was there. The first was to assess the energy usage of the resort (massive!) and calculate what they'd need in terms of solar panels and wind generators to (greatly) reduce their oil usage. Next was the cost and the returns over ten years. I then worked out that they could use the money saved to ship their waste and that of the neighbouring local island to Sri Lanka where it could be sorted and recycled.
    It took more than a little bit of work!
    Anyway, the reaction from the resort manager and head of finance was a shuffling of feet, staring at toes and a mumbled 'I don't think the owners will want to spend that'.....
    Then I basically got a pat on the head and was told to go back to work telling the tourists what a wonderful job the resort was doing for the environment.
    Basically the resorts are all about short-term profit and when the Maldives dissappears under a mountain of trash they'll go find some other island paradise to f*@k up! And honestly, don't get me started on most of the 'marine biologists' that work there. I've since changed fields!


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