From Immigration Control to Salsa dancing to Scuba diving in the Maldives.
I first came to the Maldives in the year 2000 in my official capacity as Immigration Liaison Officer working for the Dutch Immigration Naturalization while based with the Dutch Embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka. We trained customs, immigration and police in passport and visa fraud detection and thus trying to reduce the number of people boarding to our countries with forged documents. In the year 2003 I was transferred to Bangkok, Thailand, as we closed Sri Lanka and maintained regional responsibilities for Singapore, Sri Lanka and Maldives amongst others.
In 2005, while in Bangkok, Tsunami struck and I was one of the only 3 management level staff immediately available when it happened and was called in to assist at the airport with evacuations. After that I was sent to the worst hit area Khao Lak to set up an EU desk in front of the temple of Yan Yao where approximately 3000 bodies were being kept for identification. My mobile phone was the EU help desk! The Netherlands was representing the EU at that time.
My job was to try and bring some order in the initial chaos and assist families to find their loved ones or investigate last sightings. In a bizarre way however I ended up doing documents again. There were a lot of documents being found on the shore or washed up in safety deposit boxes from hotels. For the Thai people a Swedish passport was the same as a UK or Netherlands etc. all “Farang” meaning foreign, whereas for the embassies it was very important to be notified when documents were being found as it would not necessarily tell the faith of a person but would be proof of the fact that the person had been in the area when the Tsunami struck. Many families calling in, often did not know where in Thailand their relatives were staying but it would of course make a difference if they were in the North where there was no problem at all or in the tsunami struck areas like Phuket and Khao Lak. Other than that some documents were found on bodies itself which would help identification. I collected the data from all documents found and informed the embassies.
Till that date, I had always been a very ambitious lady, always work work work who preferred to go to the airport in the weekends and surprise possible smugglers instead of going out with friends and forget about work for a while. The devastation however of what mother nature caused in a split second, the sadness of families torn apart by loss of their children or loved ones made me realize how short life really is and that it can be over tomorrow. So I asked myself the question “if I were to be taken from this earth tomorrow would I have lived the life I wanted?”. The answer was clearly NO!
After more than a week working in Khao Lak, I physically collapsed as I was up almost 24/7 trying to help people and was called back to Bangkok.
A rough time followed during which I found it very hard to get back to my normal routine and concentrate on stopping people with forged documents from traveling.
I received some professional help, as you need to talk about such experiences and this professional encouraged me start doing things I had always wanted to do, like salsa dancing. We are our worst enemies when it comes to not doing something, we will find all kinds of excuses not to do something instead of just going for it come what may.
So I started salsa dancing in Bangkok and lost myself a bit in it. On the dance floor, there were no phones ringing and it was just great fun.
Another sport I had started while in Sri Lanka already but just on and of, was scuba diving. While under water no phones either and just peace and quiet. As a result I increased my visits to the Maldives because of the wonderful diving there.
Mobile phone calls for me till date are related to something negative as a result of my phone ringing non stop when being the EU help desk hotline during Tsunami period.
In 2005 I was transferred to Kenia during which I continued to work with a professional and continued my salsa dancing and scuba diving.
I was searching for what it was I wanted in life and just one night it struck me Salsa, Scuba and Spa in the Maldives. With my hotel management background, I wanted to run a resort in the Maldives and increase the entertainment part with dancing and shows and thus combine my favorite hobbies and set up something unique.
I started doing my homework and traveled several times to the Maldives to orientate myself on this front, however the amount of money needed was beyond my reach.
Plan B however then was to open up a salsa school in the capital of Male and hopefully network my way around and find somebody that would give me that chance. Not knowing that this would happen within 2 days of my arrival in the form of my current business partner. But let me not get ahead of myself.
I decided that life starts as 40, gave up my job and moved to the Maldives on June 1, 2008 after having done extensive training in Singapore with a dance school and obtaining my Diploma to teach Salsa basic.
The place I found for the Salsa school belonged to my current business partner and he invited me for lunch two days after arrival as he was as curious as anybody else what a woman like me was coming to Male for to start up a Salsa School? She must be out of her mind?! Even my family and boss thought I had gone crazy and just needed some time off from work ;-)
Carpe Diem Liveaboard
So I told my business partner, Amir Mansoor, the story and he looked at me and said well would you like to do it on a liveaboard? He told me he had just finished building a boat, was about to sell it off, but if I would be interested we could talk about it. The next day he showed me the boat, just barely finished. She looked beautiful but I did not know anything about boats nor running a diving operation for that matter. Somehow however he had faith in me and a week later we were in business.
The first thing I did was call the boat Carpe Diem, as you will now know why and we started the company Carpe Diem Maldives Pvt. Ltd.
I got really busy, as on August 6th I did the first familiarization trip on the Carpe Diem with friends and family. On the 7th of August we celebrated my birthday in a nearby resort with a dance show from my dance school in Singapore and on 8th of August I opened up my salsa school Majaa Maldives.
With the boat we soon got a break and a 3 month contract, during which I and our crew learned a lot and things started running very fast from there. Before we knew it we needed a second boat and that became the Carpe Vita (Seize Life) which my business partner and I built together.
The salsa school I run for a while, but unfortunately the Maldivian people were not really ready for it yet, so I closed the school after giving a big show in the National Theatre.
I see the school as having been a stepping point towards what I am doing now.
Seven years down the line, we are doing well, are building our 3rd boat, the Carpe Novo coming on line in 2016 plus a possible new project on the horizon. We have managed to build up a brand, which this year (2015) was awarded best liveaboard brand of the year and have lots of returning happy clients.
Our logo in the beginning had a salsa couple and scuba diver, as in the first two years I did do some salsa workshops on the boat during the trips, however I had to take this off as scuba divers often thought we were not a serious dive boat ;-). Now we cater for dive as well as surf charters hence a surfer and scuba diver in the logo.
The moral however of it all is that I am confident that anybody can do anything they set their minds to. Somehow if you believe the “universe” will help you.
Life is too short, CARPE DIEM!