Mr A. Writinghawk (writinghawk) wrote,

I now pronounce you unprintable

There was a world-wide news story about a Swiss couple who had a ceremony to 'renew their wedding vows' in a Maldivian resort ('Vilu Reef'). Resorts would dearly like to conduct weddings but the Islamists have kept the lid on the idea, but a 'renewing of vows' has no meaning so of course they can and do offer them. In case you have been on another planet in the last couple of weeks, the 'celebrant' was a Food and Beverage manager (apparently F&B is a standard appellation in the trade. What the hell is wrong with the word 'drink'?) who solemnly incanted a filthy series of epithets in Dhivehi - 'You're not the kind of people who can get married, you're foreigners with some made-up god and you probably don't even believe in him, you eat pigs, you're like pigs yourselves, etc', and then read from a liturgical document which was in fact a staff circular about employment terms before going back and adding a few more choice insults. Everyone was happy, but unfortunately someone filmed the event and put it on the web where it gained English subtitles and became a media sensation.

What I find slightly odd is quite how big a story it was. Surely everyone who's ever known anyone in the hospitality industry knows that this kind of thing happens all the time? It's hard to imagine Basil Fawlty passing up the opportunity to execute a similar prank, toned down of course in keeping with his family audience. (One thinks of The Germans.)

There was disagreement in the comments thread on Minivan News as to whether Sun Travel Shiyam, owner of Vilu Reef, is visible in the video. I don't know if this is true but I am very reliably informed that he has known perfectly well for years that this goes on - he's from Kudafari - and indeed that in about 2004 an older brother of one of my students was a Transport Manager at a resort who conducted similar ceremonies in similar ways.

The ceremony is sold as a traditional Dhivehi get up but there is no such tradition, and the resorts can't get in 'real' celebrants because there are no such people - the formal part of a wedding here is a perfunctory affair in front of a magistrate - and though it is a standard package, it can hardly have enough takers to justify a full-time employee. So any old member of staff is roped in and has to make something up out of whole cloth and keep it up for several minutes. In the circumstances it would be almost surprising if they didn't use the occasion to vent, safely they might suppose, some of the exasperation integral to the trade, particularly the very high end where the gulf between the waiters and the waited upon is extreme, and particularly, I imagine, where the latter are the precious kind who want vow renewal ceremonies.

I don't know much about Sun Travel Shiyam, though I did recently help the school Principal write a funding proposal to send him for a school computer lab. It's said that he's had four wives, and that he recently divorced the latest one to marry her daughter. It is certainly true that he's an MP for the DRP, the main party in an opposition that has a stranglehold on parliament and is quite openly using it to deliberately sabotage any attempt by the government to do anything at all, in the hope that people will thus be dissatisfied with the President and vote for their crony next time. On the whole the parties differentiate themselves by personality rather than policies, but in so far as there is any bluster about the latter, the governing MDP align themselves with the UK Conservative Party, so the DRP make noises about workers' rights - utterly topsy turvy since the DRP MPs consists mainly of resort-owning millionaires and suchlike, few of whom could care much less about the rights of their workers, mostly cronies of the (DRP) dictator who held sway for 30 years until 2008. The government has been trying to push through a modest business tax - there is no tax in the country but the government is nearly bankrupt while the tourist resorts rake in money - but of course, hell will freeze before this gets through parliament, where it has already been stalled for a year or so. You may wonder how the DRP gets any popular support and so do I - no doubt there is an alternative narrative I don't know - but they do. There isn't much on this island, but on the neighbouring island of Malendhoo I saw a public meeting under a tree by the harbour which turned out to be a DRP meeting, quite well attended, the women wearing headscarves in blue, the party colour. (The MDP is yellow.)

One thing the government has managed to do in the wake of the story is make some regulations about these wedding vow ceremonies, with stiff penalties for this sort of thing, something it has apparently wanted to do before but was politically problematic until the Vilu Reef story exploded. Again it was the Islamists objecting, and they are still objecting but the government has obviously judged that in the current mood it push them through. Adhaalath is an Islamist party that is part of the government coalition. I don't understand this - there was some kind of deal with them before the presidential election, as a result of which they now have control of a newly-created Islamic Ministry with power to meddle in everyone else's affairs, despite having gained not one seat in the subsequent parliamentary elections. Why the President, who is no Islamist, hasn't ditched them, I don't know. It may just be that he is an exceedingly honourable man, or it may be that he feels he continues to need their support, but they make things difficult at every turn. Their threat to 'reassess their alliance with the MDP' sounds like a threat to shoot themselves in both feet.

Perhaps the best thing to come out of the whole affair is a video response to the original celebrating the real Maldivian way of life. It's humorous and pretty accurate.
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