This article originally appeared on ‘Miss L in the Maldives’. Republished with permission.
We play volley every day.
Seven days a week, for the last seven months, provided it’s not already raining, we play volley. It’s never referred to as volleyball, just ‘volley’, and it has become such a huge part of our lives that it deserves a blog post all of its own.
It was The Boy who started it. We had always known that there were people who played volley on the sandy area next to the football pitch but it had not really occurred to us to get involved, nor would it have been right to charge in and invite ourselves along. Participation for foreigners is by invitation only. And so it was, in April, that we first donned our volley clothes and ventured along.
The daily routine goes something like this: at around 4:20pm, 20-odd 20-somethings rock up at the volley court. Two teams play against one another. The winning team stays on and swaps sides, and the losing team goes off to be replaced by a fresh team of competitive individuals who want to oust the current champions from the court and stay on for more than one game.
While it brings out everyone’s competitive spirit on-court, volley is essentially a social affair, presenting a perfectly legitimate excuse for us all to ditch whatever we happened to be doing up until volley time and hang out for a glorious hour and a half.
When we’re not playing, Bella and I mostly sit on the wall and give a quiet but highly-finessed fashion commentary on everyone else’s clothing, hair styles, and chosen facial hair of the day. We have it down to a fine art.
We’re aided by our collection of nicknames, bestowed upon our volley-playing friends at a time when we had absolutely no idea what their real names were. And here they are, the Volley Crew: The Boy and Coach, Handbag Man, Ali Mansoor, The Tank, the Oomper Loomper, Red T-shirt guy, Goat Man, The Gooseberry, Daddy Longlegs, Cheeky boy, Dhonbe, Yummy Mummy and Yummy Daddy, Nappy pants, Junior Team Member, Afro Man, Yellow Shorts guy, The scrawny one, Vin Diesel, Twiggy, the Accountant and, occasionally, Captain Haddock. There are others but their names are perhaps best left unpublished!
Aside from our own private set of nicknames, volley has its own language:
Outoo = out
Bodu outoo = badly out
Charlotte, ready?! = Charlotte, are you awake and ready to hit the ball?!
Receive, receive! = Wake up team and make sure one of you returns the serve
Back! (as uttered by the Tank) = person in the middle smash the ball back across the net
Saadha-game ball = 14 points to the winning team and it’s game ball
Ethere = in
Egaara = eleven
Ehvaru = equal/all e.g. eleven all
The final three words in the volley vocabulary are easily confused, and if you’re not careful you find yourself shouting “eleven!” when trying to tell your team that the ball was in. Volley was also the forum in which we learnt to count in Dhevehi. Most of the time we play to 15 points and so for a long time our Dhivehi counting went like this: eke (1), dheyh (2), thineh (3), hathareh (4), faheh (5), hayeh (6), hatheh (7), asheh (8), nuvaeh (9), dhihayeh (10), egaara (11), baara (12), theyra (13), saadha (14), game ball, much to the amusement of everyone else.
The events that take place on court during a game, the interactions between team mates, and the stances adopted by each of the players are a social science study all of their own. Most of the time play is extremely good-natured but from time to time a team member will be roundly chastised for screwing up a shot.
Occasionally there are altercations and you can usually tell if someone’s upset The Boy because (much to the delight of Bella and I) he begins to puff up like a rhino about to charge.
Seven months of careful observation have led to at least one conclusion: humans the world over find other people’s misfortunes funny. On an almost daily basis we will be crippled with laughter as some highly improbably shot sends the ball flying in an extraordinary direction, bopping an unsuspecting person on the head as it lands. And when Maldivians find something really funny, they have to sit down. So you’ll be in the middle of a game and something ridiculous will happen and suddenly everyone is creased up and sitting cross-legged in the sand.
It is widely accepted I am crap at volley and generally not to be trusted with the ball. Despite my indignation their beliefs are not unfounded. I often find myself paraylsed, rooted to the spot, unable to move into the path of the oncoming ball nor out of it. In a moment of bravery I will stick my arms nervously in the air to receive the ball, only to second guess myself at the last minute, leaving my team mates to dive for the ball and avert another lost point.
I am also unfortunate. One of my baby fingers is now a completely different shape to the other as a result of two ill-judge catches, which mashes first one joint and then the other. And until recently there’s been something wrong with the angle of my scoop shot, causing me to send the ball flying straight into my own face, instead of back across the net.
On more than one occasion I’ve ended up in a heap on the ground after tripping over the lines.
Then there are the injuries sustained as a result of poor positioning. The Boy has a killer spike. It’s his party piece. The setter sets the ball; the Boy takes a run and jump, and comes down on the ball, wham! Sending it flying across the other side of the court. It’s terrifying for anyone to be on the receiving end but it just so happens that my head is in the direct trajectory of the ball if I stand five paces back from the net.
The first time it happened there was outrage that he could have slammed the ball straight into my forehead. For my part, I was stunned – literally! The second time it happened, there was nothing to do but laugh. The chances of the unfortunate incident occurring again were so remote that it was hilarious. And so, it was to The Boy’s horror and my incredulity that just that other day I got in the way of yet another killer smash and sustained the sprained wrist that delayed the posting of this very blog.
I could go on, but I have to stop. I can only hope that I have done some justice to this dearly beloved aspect of our island life.
Charlotte Lamptey is a volunteer teacher working on Ihavandhoo in Haa Arif Atoll.
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