There are many love stories which are connected to the Maldives and its beautiful shores. Some are filled with tales of lovers meeting on our beaches, making promises of forever, others about lovers coming to us to celebrate their matrimony or love, to spending a honeymoon or introducing their little ones to this special place. One such tale that touched our hearts deeply is the story of Allen and Marian Hartigan, a British couple whose life got inseparably intertwined with the Maldives.
We were on a tight schedule on a trip to Addu City when we heard of Marian who had visited the City and stayed in the famous Equator Village Resort in Gan a few dozen times, most of those visits accompanied by her now deceased husband Allen. This story of such a frequent repeat visitor to the Maldives piqued our interest, and we requested to have a chat with her. Marian gracefully accepted our request and met us at the reception of the Equator Village from where we walked to the beach area, chatting about the weather and such, trying to find a quiet spot away from the tourists, who were scattered here and there basking in the glorious midafternoon light.
We settled under a hut with a traditional Maldivian swing (undhoali), where Marian shared how the couple began the tradition of visiting the Maldives annually, pouring her heart out about her connection to the Maldives, especially the Gan.
“My husband was here, at the Equator Village Hotel, which was the base for the royal air force from 1970 to 1971 during World War II. He was a sergeant, and his room was 101. During this time, I was in the UK, working as a teacher after completing my masters. The main reason he volunteered to come and work here was so we didn’t have to borrow any money from the bank to build a house. Once he began working here, he fell in love with the place from the first moment on.”
Recounting how her love story was intertwined with the Maldives, Marian explained her husband used to write love letters to her every day from Gan, describing the beauty of Maldives. She fell in love with the Maldives through those letters, long before she ever set foot here.
Marian explained Allen left Addu in 1976 with the emancipation of the Maldives from the British, and that it was after this that they got married. She recounted, with fondness, their first trip to Maldives in 1986, during which they did not know they could stay in Addu, so they stayed in a resort in the north.
“We didn’t know we could visit Gan during our first trip, so we went to a resort in the north. But two years later, we found out that we can, in fact, visit Gan. And from 1986 to 2001, we visited Gan every year for two weeks annually, either during our summer or Christmas holidays. We also made the decision that when we retired, we would come to visit Maldives for six months. He planned to work as air traffic controller at the tower in Gan Airport for free. Because I have experience in food sciences, nutrition, and chemistry, I have a broad CV, and I knew I could get involved with the schools because I’ve been in education for 40 years. We thought we would give something back to the Maldives”
And then Marian shared another detail of their unique love story with us that literally gave us goosebumps. That the room she and Allen shared on their first trip to Equator Village Resort, which was the RAF base, was also the room they have always stayed in since 1986. Room 101. She said that Allen never mentioned his room number in his letters but during their first visit to Gan together, they were assigned this same room, and that was when he told her about this coincidence.
The couple made it a tradition to visit Gan annually from 1986 to 2001, but unfortunately in 2006 Allen passed away. Despite this, Marian continues to visit Gan and stay in the same room she shared all those years with her dear husband. After 2006, she recounted spending some 7 years in total in Gan, with the exception being during the brunt of the covid crisis, when she was forced to stay away for 18 months without visiting her second home.
Marian says she was never a typical tourist, and for her it was more than just snorkeling and laying by the beach. Even from the beginning, she would get a bicycle and ride across Addu searching for different things, learning, and helping locals in any way she could. She is a self-proclaimed citizen of Addu, who has worked with many NGOs and used her experience in education to help teach children. She also lent her expertise to local farmers in the country while travelling for work across Maldives, especially in islands in Laamu Atoll in farming projects as a consultant.
But Addu is still where she comes to wind down, spend time with her adopted family, who incidentally helped Allen send Marian the love letters all those years ago that helped her fall in love with the Maldives. Marian said Allen’s washer boy during his RAF time helped dispatch the letters, now a member of her adopted family in Addu. The bond she shares with her Addu family is strong, she explained, noting that they are her godchildren and grandkids.
Throughout her visits, she loved the people, culture, tradition, food and even the language, noting that she understood Dhivehi, spoke a bit of it but had difficulty saying words difficult to pronounce with her native dialect, like “Bulhaa” which means cat in our local language.
She had a huge smile on her face throughout our chat and was full of compliments towards us and our country, repeating her sentiment that Addu was her favourite place to be and claiming that she was half-Adduan.
Her husband may have passed away, but their memories remain within the compounds of equator village and the whole of Addu, and the Maldives. Room 101 is still where she prefers to stay each year when she visits the small paradise she found to be her second home. She joked towards the end of our chat that even in her last name, Hartigan, there is Gan, and that there is nothing to separate her from this place.