A popular Maldivian Instagram figure from Fuvahmulah sat down with me and shared her experiences as a diver and the story behind her journey.
I had no intention to be a diver; it was never even an option, let alone a career or path for me. I was an athlete for 23 years of my lifeHamna Hussain (Sanfage Dhiya)
- Can you share the story behind Sanfage Dhiya?
When I was about 13 or 14, there was a song by Shiuz, a Fuvahmulah singer, that became quite popular in Fuvahmulah. It was called “Sanfage Dhiya,” which means “daughter of Sanfa,” and my mother’s name is Sanfa.
So, this song describes a girl with curly hair who wears a tight dress and walks by so when this song was released about 10 years ago.
Whenever I’m walking down and anyone sees me, they start singing this song so it used to be really annoying to me but after 4 or 5 years it just stuck with me so I thought I’d own up to it and made my Instagram name.
There was a sports tournament in 2019 or 2020, and I wrote the same name on my jersey; since then, people have known me as Sanfage Dhiya.
- What made you want to become a diver?
I had no intention to be a diver; it was never even an option, let alone a career or path for me. I was an athlete for the first 23 years of my life, so in school I was a sprinter and I got a really bad injury, and then I started playing volleyball and I played volleyball for the national team in the male city for 4 years.
At the time, I was a certified fitness instructor, personal trainer, and rehab instructor. So, I used to work at the gym. Before moving to Fuvahmulah last year, I lived in Male for about 6 years.
For me, working in the ocean was never a viable option. I never imagined being a part of the ocean, but in 2020, Covid hit and the Gym closed down, and since my mother and siblings live in Fuvahmulah, I decided to come here for a week to visit family because I wanted to come back and visit them.
So I came here for a week, and then what happened was that gyms dismissed their instructors, and I was one of them. I lost my job, and there were some issues with the national team, so I left the team as well.
I came to Fuvahmulah for a week, but my entire life had come to an end; there was nothing to do, Covid was getting worse, there was literally nothing to do, and I was wondering what I was going to do. I didn’t want to stay at home, and I saw some guys surfing, so I decided to give it a try.
Because there were no fins in my size, I was the only girl on a boogie board wearing large men’s fins and surfing. That’s when I met Inah, the owner of Pelagic.
Inah is also a distant cousin of mine. He encouraged me to move here and get my divemasters; I said I’d think about it, but I knew I’d never become a diver. Later, even surfing was no longer an option for me, so I was forced to return to doing nothing.
I was in a bad place at the time, so I made an impulsive decision to return and possibly change my career path, do my Divemasters in Fuvahmulah, and maybe work in a resort. So I came here and started diving. I decided to stay after my fifth dive because I was crying and thinking to myself, “Yeah, this is what I’m going to be.”
- How did diving influence your life?
Diving has completely transformed my life. Everything has changed for the better, from the body to the mind to the soul. I had depression and sleeping issues for about 6 years. When I started diving, my sleeping problems went away.
I feel like diving teaches you to be mindful, to value life and what’s out there, and it humbles you and reminds you that you are nothing special, that you are just a part of this integral balance of life, that you are just a part of it.
You are neither superior nor inferior; you are simply a component of this cycle. It has enabled me to become more self-sufficient. For me, diving is a form of meditation. It has altered my personal and professional life.
I never expected I would be looked up to or someone would take me as an example. Diving has introduced me to amazing people who are doing amazing things for the world, the ocean, and sharks, such as top scientists and photographers. All of this is thanks to diving, which has transformed my life in such a short period.
- Did you have any mentors?
Hisaan, my dive instructor for the course, taught me everything I know about diving and how to be a good diver. He has had a significant impact on my life, and then there’s Inah, the owner of Pelagic, who has pushed me to be a good diver and shark safe safety diver.
They would come to me after every tiger dive and be so hard on me for the first six months. They will tell me, “No, you’re not good enough,” or “I don’t think you can do this,” and this will motivate me to improve.
I had to learn everything from scratch, and because I am a woman, I had to keep up with these all men and their expectations because I can’t let anyone tell me she can’t do that because she is a girl.
- What’s challenged you as a diver?
Actually, I nearly quit twice. Because I am the first female diver, first female divemaster, and sole female diver in Fuvahmulah.
Fuvahmulah is a world-renowned diving destination. There isn’t another female in the room, so things get challenging. I am used to working in male-dominated fields, but diving has been by far the most difficult.
People underestimate you, don’t understand your point of view, and say hurtful things to you simply because I am a woman, and it sometimes catches up with you no matter how hard you try to ignore it, especially if you are a new diver.
Normally, people do their divemasters after years of diving experience; however, I had just finished my DSD and then came here to be a divemaster, which was extremely difficult for me.
I had to learn how to dive, as well as how to be a divemaster, and then I was working with people who had years of experience, like more than ten years in this field. I had never worked in the tourism or hospitality industry before.
- What gets you excited as a dive master?
Taking people out to sea, seeing their reactions, and sharing my passion and diving experiences. When we come up after some dives, I think I’m more excited than the guests.
So I’m sharing my passion or love for the ocean with others. To be honest, working with tiger sharks is the best thing I’ve ever done.
People come here because they are afraid of sharks and diving, and then I take them on a dive, give them a good briefing, and when we come up, their entire perspective on sharks has changed, which is the best thing. I love that feeling.
- Most memorable marine life encounter?
That is a difficult question. I’m going to say three, but I have so many. The first thing that comes to mind is the dive that convinced me to stay; it was my fifth dive.
I had just started my advance and it was my first deep dive, so we went to this dive site called “Fari Kede,” which is similar to a blue dive. In a blue dive, you don’t see anything; you’re just floating in mid-water, and everything is blue; you have no idea what’s to your right, left, up, or down.
It’s as if you’re floating in the middle of nowhere. So, there I was, with 15 other people, and someone was banging on the tank and pointing at something. When I saw this black thing approaching me, it grew larger and larger.
It came up to me and did a 360 flip; it was a huge oceanic manta twice my size, and it stayed with me the entire dive, and I forgot about the other divers because I was so mesmerized.
I couldn’t believe it existed, and when I came up from the dive, I couldn’t explain what I had seen; it was so emotional for me that I couldn’t hold back my tears. That was the dive where I decided to stay.
My first encounter with a whale shark would be the second. I set a goal last year to see a whale shark before the end of the year.
Everyone else on the boat sees a whale shark on every dive except me, so it was my dream to see one. It happened for about four dives, and I would come up and pray even during my bedtime, oh God, send me a whale shark tomorrow.
The year came to an end, and the new year began, with no sightings of whale sharks, and I gave up hope of ever seeing one. Then my family tested positive for covid, and I had to spend about ten days in quarantine.
On my ninth day in quarantine, one of my colleagues texted and said, “We saw a whale shark,” but I thought he was mocking me, so I told him, “You’ll see, I’m going back tomorrow, and I’ll see a whale shark.”
Then we went out on the first dive, which was pretty good; we saw a thresher, a hammerhead, and as we were nearing the end of the dive and everyone was heading to the reef, I was thinking to myself how cool it would be if a whale shark showed up.
I saw the leading guide motioning for me to come closer to the reef, so I just looked out into the blue one more time and saw a whaleshark. At first, I thought it was a hammerhead, but it kept getting bigger and bigger as it came towards me and inches away from me. I noticed his eyes moving and looking at me; our gazes locked as he moved and I was still.
The third would be one of the tiger dives. We had about 30 tiger sharks, and it was the most insane experience I’ve ever had. I was so hyped up the entire day after my first dive with tiger sharks because of the adrenaline rush.
- What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen or experienced?
I’ve seen Whalesharks which behave very differently than Whalesharks we usually see. It was very strange, and it got very close to the divers. It was very amusing and stayed with us for about an hour.
There were numerous occasions when I had to redirect tiger sharks that were very close to me. It was the most bizarre experience I’d ever had.
There was also an unforgettable dive where I came across a massive school of scallop hammerheads. There were over 100 hammerheads.
- What are some of the best and worst parts of a typical day on the job?
The best part would be sharing the experiences with everyone and seeing their reactions. It reminds of why I do what I do. The worst part would be that I am the only female diver, and working with all men is difficult at times, with people’s comments and strange stares.
Diving has now become a way of life for me. For me, diving is a form of meditation or peace, and it is my main source of happiness.
- Proudest diving moment or achievement?
I’ve only been diving for a year, but I feel like I’ve already accomplished a lot. Being chosen as a Girls That Scuba Ambassador is a significant achievement.
The second is Fuvahmulah’s woman’s week. Divers from around the world have gathered in Fuvahmulah to dive with me and empower the locals. I was invited to be on an episode of the popular scuba podcast. A lot of strange things have happened in such a short period of time.
- What is your favorite dive site in the Maldives? What’s so special about it?
“Fari Kede,” I’d say. Because you never know what you’ll find in Fari Kede. Within 15 minutes of diving, we saw 100 hammerheads, 2 thresher sharks, 4 tiger sharks, a huge school of barracuda, a huge tuna the size of me, huge jackfish, and a whale shark.
I’d like to visit and Dive in Raja Ampat in Indonesia, Socorro and Baja in Mexico.
- What’s next for you?
Right now, I’m focusing on taking things one day at a time and not worrying about the future. But I’d like to get my instructor’s license so I can take people diving for the first time.
And I’d like to start my own expedition company where I can lead trips all over the world. Right now, it’s my dream.
- What is your message to the women who want to become divers?
I’d say just do it. Getting involved in scuba diving or other ocean-related activities would be the best thing in the world. It does not have to be diving; simply getting in the ocean if you want to surf or study marine biology, just do it.
People, it appears to me, are more afraid of the unknown than they are of the sea. Knowing it is then the only way to overcome unknown fears.
So, take things slowly at first. Go swimming, snorkeling, and if you’re up for it, go diving. It will change your life.
For women who want to be dive professionals, I want to say that I see your struggle, I know how difficult it is for women to make it in this industry.
And I want to tell everyone that you are not alone, if you want to reach out to anyone anytime every single female diver I know in the Maldives are so supportive.
Even though I don’t even know them they have helped me become the person I am today and if anyone wants to know anything or be a dive professional don’t hesitate to reach out.
We have a huge and supportive female scuba diving community.