Slowlife Chats with Malsa Maaz

Malsa Maaz, Barefoot Bookseller, Soneva Jani, Maldives

1. Where are you from in the Maldives?  

I am from Malé, the capital city of the Maldives. I grew up and finished high school there.  

2. Tell us about yourself and your career 

I grew up here in the Maldives, in Malé. After I finished school, I worked at the Heritage Department under the guidance of Mr. Mauroof Jameel,  supporting his work to put six coral stone mosques in the Maldives on the UNESCO heritage list. Just before Ieaving to university, I also worked at Loamaa Resorts at R. Maamigili researching the ancient artefacts in their collection and as a museum guide.  

For my Bachelor of Arts I studied Archaeology and Anthropology and I have just finished my Master of Research in Engaged Anthropology at university in Wales, the UK. My main focus was on the documentation of Maldivian cultural heritage and my fieldwork involved learning traditional arts and crafts such as fangi vinun (coconut thatch weaving), roanu veshun (coir rope weaving) and kasabu viyun (embroidery lace weaving) using traditional tools and techniques. 

After university, I worked on a project as a cultural anthropologist to help   establish a private museum at a resort, researching the pre-Islamic history of the Maldives and Maldives-Chinese relationships to trace the porcelain trade. The resort had uncovered porcelain jars or seenu thashi and our research dated these jars to somewhere between15th – 17th century.  

Working as the Barefoot Bookseller here at Soneva Jani is my first full-time job after university. It’s a true honour to be the first Maldivian in this role. 

3. What does your job entail as a Barefoot Bookseller? 

This job role entails so much more than just selling books and no day is ever  the same. I run creative writing classes, offer private tutoring, make personally tailored reading recommendations for guests hailing from all around the world and conduct reading sessions with those looking for a digital detox and to reconnect with nature.  

I’m also planning to restart the Barefoot Book Club that was started by my predecessors. The Barefoot Book Club  is not just for our in-house guests but also for all our repeater guests. The club creates a strong sense of community and connects members with each other and provides a wonderful platform to share thoughts on their favourite books.
If a client mentions that  they like a particular book then we will try and get it at the resort ready for them on their next visit.  I am really excited about restarting the Barefoot Book Club.  

Together with the Barefoot Bookseller at Soneva Fushi, we will be documenting our journeys with weekly blog posts.  

 4. What is it like working at Soneva Jani? What do you like most about the resort? 

 For me, working at Soneva Jani feels very liberating – it is indeed the place to make a difference. New ideas are readily accepted, giving everyone the chance to grow and thrive. 

I really like the ‘No News, No Shoes’ ethos here which encourages people to disconnect, relax and reconnect with the ground beneath their feet. As the Barefoot Bookseller I am always literally barefoot, and it makes me feel really connected to the natural environment. 

I also really like the fact that Soneva as a brand is about breaking barriers – there is a high percentage of women working here in so many different fields, from marine biology  to engineering. I am inspired by these women every day. 

5. Tell us about the book collections at Soneva Jani.

The Soneva Jani book collection has been carefully curated by the Ultimate Library, UK, tailored to underline Soneva’s values and sustainable ethos, celebrate the local culture and reflect the diverse tastes of its sophisticated, cultured guests from across the world. 

We have an extensive collection of non-fiction, including wellness, relaxation and mindful reading, as well as books on sustainability and eco-conscious living, all which reflect Soneva’s barefoot luxury philosophy. 

There is also a wide collection of fictional books, including thought-provoking contemporary novels, much-loved classics and children’s books for readers big and small. 

6. What is your favourite book from the collection?

I love books about local Maldivian culture, such as The Maldives Islanders and Folk Tales of the Maldives by Spanish anthropologist Xavier Romero-Frias. He has lived and done fieldwork in the Maldives for a number of years and has contributed to documenting our unique cultural heritage and history.  

When it comes to the classics, Pride and Prejudice is one book that I have read time and time again. Elizabeth Bennett is one of my favourite literary characters of all time and I somehow always associate with her as she is not scared of breaking barriers. That inspires me – so I always end up re-reading it whenever I feel like I need a little motivation boost.  

At the moment I am reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt – recommended to me by a lot of guests. I am also reading The Apollo Murders, which is a space mystery thriller by my favourite astronaut Chris Hadfield.  

I have had a lot of requests for the new Bill Gates book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, so we’ll have that in stock very soon. 

7. As a booklover and the first Maldivian Barefoot Bookseller, what is your advice to someone looking to pursue a career in this field? 

As a woman, working at Soneva has been a wonderful experience. It’s empowering to see so many women working at a resort in so many different roles ranging from boat captains to marine biologists. I’d like to think this is the future of Maldivian tourism industry, with women staking equal claim as men. 

For someone considering a career in hospitality I would like to say: it’s okay to be different and don’t be afraid to explore the wide range of career opportunities that the hospitality industry now offers. Always be open to learning from others – the more you engage with different people, the more you learn. And finally, be bold and break some barriers. 

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