Butler training

Maldives the Way only the Maldives Can Be

I was sorry to leave paradise Mauritius style, so imagine my surprise when I alighted off the plane in the Maldives (another full-day trip courtesy of an 11-hour layover in Dubai airport and routing via Colombo, Sri Lanka) and was taken by a one-hour boat launch trip on my own (spent on the deck at 30 knots with such a wonderful spectacle of the Milky Way as I had not seen so clearly since a child thanks to light pollution) and arrived on Reethi Rah (Beautiful Island in the Maldivian tongue) and found … another paradise with an exclamation point! The kind of place that one associates with paradise…crescent-shaped beaches outside the door of one’s thatched roof hut with palm trees waving in the breeze…yup, they do exist.

Which brings up the point I am usually asked: where on earth is/are the Maldives? They are about 1,300 islands (some are so small you could walk around them in one minute) south of India, in the Indian Ocean. They are among the peoples of the world not too happy about global warming, as the islands I saw could not have been more than 6 feet above sea level at their highest points. Luckily for them, global warming is not happening, but I won’t spoil everyone’s fun with fixing global warming. Although it might be more useful to address the huge continents of microscopic floating plastic in the world’s oceans, for instance…now, that would be bad news for the Maldivian tourist industry and fishlife.

Reethi Rah is unique, in that Saul Kerzner leased it for his One & Only chain and expanded the island six-fold in size by the simple expedient of dredging sand from around about. Nothing else was used to build this island. And that is why the island happens to be a whole series of crescent-shaped beaches from one end to the other…it was built that way, and then hundreds of palm trees planted to stabilize and create shade and, well, the right ambiance for paradise.

Occasional storms roll through, but mostly it is sunny. Partial view from my villa window

Here, the butlers are dressed in light trousers, shirts, and sandals and go about the island on tricycles. Guests travel either on bicycles provided or golf carts, chauffered or self-driven for the larger villas. Villas are separated from each other, except the water villas, which are clustered three in a group at the tip of each crescent.

The training was for about 30 butlers, which was done in two groups so they could continue to service guests. As many butlers are from Maldives and thus Moslem, and as we were there during the holy month of Ramadan during which they fast from sun-up until sun-down, the challenge was to keep the training lively enough to overcome their lack of sleep (they have to pray and also eat at night) and lack of food during the day; but we had a pact with the students that they would sleep at night after prayers and eating, rather than mucking around, and it worked out fairly well. I was impressed that a small mosque had been built on the island for the staff.

Frank Mitchell, one of our South African trainers, was with me at Mauritius as well as Maldives. He is an extraordinary fellow; he looked at the front of a golf cart that had been jazzed up and said, “’58 Buick.” A Buick is an American car, so how he, a South African, could tell from the design of the front of a ’58 that it was so, is impressive; but not as much as his intimate knowledge of all things Rolls Royce. I doubt there is a single element of any Rolls Royce built that he does not know. He even sent me an article he had written on how to choose a Rolls Royce wisely when considering purchasing second hand. So you might be thinking uncharitably, “What a geek!” That would be an erroneous conclusion, however, because there is little about any subject in our profession this walking encyclopaedia does not know. He has terrific poise and is a butler through and through, and I look forward to the next time we can do an assignment together.

When I train, I am pretty focused. I train, I eat dinner, I work on my computer running the businesses, and I enjoy about 4 hours sleep. You have to be pretty nuts to be in Paradise and not enjoy it, so I would rise a few minutes early, run out onto the beach, do some intense swimming for a few minutes and run back. Big compromise, that. But I also went boating to some reefs on one day off, where I snorkeled and drank more sea water than is generally good for one.

But this time particularly was busy keeping in touch with two trainers working on a project in Mauritius, one in Florida, one in Malaysia and Indonesia, and one in Russia. And then there was the request from Hollywood to make a film of myself answering “a short list of questions or possible scenarios that you could address extemporaneously” for presentation to producers wanting to create a series (about which more I cannot say right now). The idea of sitting in front of a camera and spouting off about various issues seemed a tad bit boring, so I spent half an hour working out a film script with lines for myself and instructions for the cameraman. We used my embarrassingly small hand-held video camera and the cameraman was Mr. Frank Mitchell, who was not daunted at never having been a cameraman before. The following morning on our day off, we spent an hour shooting the scenes ( and the day before, the video was being downloaded in Hollywood. (Reethi Rah is one hour ahead of the capital of Maldives, which is 12 hours ahead of Los Angeles, so the video was sent at 11 am our time and arrived 10 pm the day before). I make no apology for having made this clip, it was fun and creative to do and that is reason enough to do anything. Having said this, it is not the normal image I would project of myself, but I suppose these are the little quirks and weaknesses blogs are meant to uncover. The point is that it created the necessary impact on viewers in Hollywood, so whether it goes anywhere or not, my debut as a script writer/actor/film director can be considered a success.

We enjoyed eating at the three superb island restaurants (one Moroccan and one Japanese) and being enthralled by the breadth of knowledge of the sommelier (I had no idea there were so many varieties of sake, as many as there are Inuit [language of the Eskimo-Aleuts] words for “snow”). We enjoyed a night at the island bar on my last night with the staff to say our farewells. It was past sundown, so they could drink (no alcohol) andeat. It might seem idyllic to live on paradise, but they do go stir crazy after a while and cram onto the boat ride to the “big island” on their days off. Otherwise, they have to make do during their days off with snorkeling, sailing, beach soccer, swimming, running, sunbathing…tough life.

And so, the first element of the training complete, it was time to leave Mr. Mitchell in Paradise with all the Paradisians putting it there (literally, they are like a large, landlocked ship responsible for everything on the island) to complete the training. Next stop: South Africa (you guessed it, with a ten-hour layover in Dubai—and by now you may have worked out I was flying Emirates…an airline I can recommend for attention to detail and excellent equipment and service. They may have an advantage over most other airlines [very cheap fuel and rather rich bosses], but they have put the effort and intelligence into creating a world-class service and I look forward to the day other airlines [particularly in the US of A], can achieve the same.