Researcher stranded on Maldives dream island for months

16 Jun 2020

Radboud lecturer Bart Knols (54) is stranded on one of the most beautiful islands in the world. He flew to the Maldives, a group of islands to the south of India, at the end of February, for research. The research – a project to make an island free of mosquitoes – was to have lasted four weeks. That was four months ago. Because of the corona outbreak, the medical entomologist and lecturer in Health and Innovation is not allowed to leave the island.

Stranded on the Maldives, how are you holding up?

‘Almost everyone I speak to says ‘What a fantastic place to spend lockdown.’ I’m in paradise here, of course, let’s get that out of the way first. Wonderful coral reefs, turquoise sea, palm trees, beautiful weather. I’m staying at one of the loveliest resorts in the world, on the tiny island of Medhufaru. The resort is paying me, because of the project. There are no other guests. But it’s not all perfect.’

Why not?

‘As long as this island remains free of corona, I’ll be okay. But if the virus strikes, I’m in trouble. Because there’s little or no healthcare here. There’s one hospital with one respirator for all the islands. Which makes you think, what if…?’

Do you miss the Netherlands?

‘Today is my mother-in-law’s ninetieth birthday. My son finished secondary school last week. A good friend of ours is gravely ill. And I can’t be with any of them now.

‘I joke sometimes that I’m Tom Hanks, in Cast Away (film in which Tom Hanks is stranded on an uninhabited island, ed.). I’m sitting here in one of the most beautiful resorts in the world, it’s won prizes even, but my toilet paper ran out a couple of weeks ago. My ten-euro reading glasses from the Hema are being held together by super glue. I only had a few pairs of trousers and a couple of shirts with me, and they’re starting to fall apart. It’s all becoming very basic. There’s toilet paper again now, and I was incredibly happy to get soap and a tube of toothpaste.

On the other hand, I go off on my bike now and then to the most southerly point on the island, to lie in a hammock and read a book. And then I have one of the most wonderful views you could possibly imagine. That’s why I have such severe mood swings. One moment I think it’s fantastic here and the next I’m thinking damn it, I want to get away from here.’

Photo: Bart Knols

Why can’t you leave?

‘I got an email from the Dutch government in March: ‘We are in the process of repatriating Dutch citizens who are abroad. Do you wish to return?’ After I said ‘Yes’, they offered me three flights in the space of four weeks. And three times, the flight was cancelled. That was six weeks ago and I haven’t heard anything since. There has been a corona outbreak on Male, the main island where the airport is, so that island is in lockdown.’

So what now?

‘Just wait. The airport may be opening the second week of July.’

How are things with your work?

‘The corona situation threw a spanner in the works as far as the project is concerned. We lure mosquitoes in traps filled with sugar water and yeast. There are 200 traps and I need 700 grams of sugar for each trap. At a certain point, sugar became rationed here. Luckily, there’s more than enough again now. I have six students at Radboud University whose Master’s theses I’m supervising. I’m trying to do as good a job as I can. Using Skype or Zoom, that’s actually going quite well.’

Hopefully, you’ll be able to get home soon.

‘Yes, and then I can drink a nice glass of wine. The bar here is only open three days a week and the alcohol is rationed. There’s only beer left.’

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