Meet Hussan, the betel nut-fuelled trench digger of Fua Mulaku
Fua Mulaku is one of the largest inhabited islands in the Maldives and the one closest to the Equator.
I spent some time there on my big journey around the equator, the trip that will become my book, Going Around In Circles.
When I visited foreigners weren’t allowed to visit the island.
I had to forge a letter from my university saying that I needed to visit as part of an imaginary doctorate.
The island didn’t have a port then either.
A large wooden ship from Male arrived once a week and dropped anchor just beyond the reefs. A flotilla of local fishing boats rowed out to meet it, ferrying passengers and cargo ashore.
Fua Mulaku was about to be dragged into the modern world, however, with the introduction of electricity.
Cables were being laid across the entire island and locals, like Hussan here, were drafted in to dig the trenches.
Hussan told me he was going to spend the extra money he earned on betel nut.
Betel nut is the stimulant of choice in these parts. Wrapped in a leaf, with a bit of slaked lime and cinnamon for flavour, chewing it gives the same buzz as six cups of coffee.
Sure, chewing it rots your teeth and leaves what’s left stained red and black. And your chances of developing oral cancer are increased tenfold.
But with alcohol effectively banned in the Maldives it’s the cheapest, most effective buzz you can get.