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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Mr A. Writinghawk's LiveJournal:

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    Sunday, February 23rd, 2014
    11:35 am
    Occasionally I find that a thing for which I have some well-defined slot in my brain is actually two different things, sharing the slot like Cox and Box. They might have different names, but since I only ever hear one of the names at a time, I don't notice the duplication.

    A few months ago I went with a friend to hear a storyteller telling the rather amazing life of Richard Burton, the Victorian explorer and orientalist. In perfectly good faith I mentioned afterwards that Burton had also written An Anatomy of Melancholy. Well that's true in a way, of course, except that it was Robert Burton in the 17th century.

    There's a weird feeling of the world shifting when the penny drops. It happened this morning when I realised I'd done it again with that famous classic film musical that everyone's seen except me, the one about the nanny. You know, the nanny who can do magic and helps the family escape from the Nazis. I'd just never really noticed before when people were talking about it that sometimes it gets called The Sound of Music and sometimes it's Mary Poppins.
    Sunday, June 9th, 2013
    12:26 pm
    Since sitting on the roof terrace of the lovely Hotel Djoloff in Dakar last night, I have taken ten contrivances in series to get home.

    1. A taxi to Leopold Sedar Senghor International Airport (which, incidentally, easily takes the record for the number of times my passport has been checked in any passage through any airport); 2. a coach from the terminal to the plane; 3. an Iberia flight to Madrid; 4. A swish driverless train between terminals at Madrid Airport; 5. a connecting flight to London Heathrow; 6. the Heathrow Express to Paddington; 7. the Underground (Circle Line) to Kings Cross; 8. a train to Royston. As usual on a Sunday there are 'engineering works' which mean the line beyond Royston is closed. What it is about the stretch of line between Cambridge and Royston that has needed so much maintenance for twenty years and counting I doubt I will ever know; 9. a rail replacement coach to Cambridge Railway Station; and 10. a bus to Drummer Street. I omit the miles of escalators and elevators and Trav-O-Lators at the assorted airports. It feels like they would multiply the total by 30, but that is an exaggeration, I dare say.

    Oh yes, did I mention I went off at short notice to Senegal on another mission to promote the gospel of Open Data? Dakar is a neat place. Ask me about it some time.
    Thursday, May 23rd, 2013
    8:00 am
    Under the volcano
    At fairly short notice a colleague was unable to go to present about open data to the Asian Development Bank, in Bangkok and then Manila, so I went. Since it is ethically most unsound to burn all that jet fuel just for two or three days in each place, I extended the trip by a couple of days extra at each end, a much more environmentally satisfactory arrangement as I'm sure you'll agree.

    Bangkok: The absurdly swish Intercontinental, where the breakfast buffet is all you need to eat all day, and flunkeys hang around to do nothing but open doors or press the lift button for you. A game to try and get to the door (or button) before they notice and do it for you. The skytrain and skywalks in the middle of an otherwise mostly characterless area of tower blocks, though with the odd feature. A Visit to A, a Buddhist monk whom I knew when he was doing postgraduate study in Cambridge: he is in the midst of organising a conference on Buddhist education. I go with him in a taxi to the University where it is being held where he has various fettling to do, and find myself doing the voiceover for a publicity video for the university being put together for the event.

    The laughing boys love red FantaCollapse )

    Manila: When you arrive at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, and as you stand in a dingy queue waiting to go through passport control, an enormous sign on the wall carries a stern warning: NAIA IS A NO 'WANG WANG' ZONE. PLEASE FALL IN LINE. CCTV MONITOR IN USE. As you stand in line, nervously wondering when you will be in Naia and whether you are committing wang wang, you remember what you've heard of Manila: a horrible city of 10 million people, ten-lane freeways everywhere, road barriers and no crossings, no pavements, and ugly tower blocks, unrelieved by anything of character. At first glance it's true; at second glance, it's still true.

    Exploring ManilaCollapse )

    On my last day a trip to Taal. By van to Tagaytay, let off just before the city to take a tricycle scooter to a 'resort' whose oily owner charges me double the going rate for a boat over to the island; I realise that Tagaytay is high above the lake as we turn a corner and start to descend towards it, a beautiful green valley with the big, long, snaking, mountainous island rising from the middle of the lake. Arriving on the island, which is an active volcano, surprised to find a small village: to live here is dangerous and officially forbidden, but to these informal residents the incentive is too great of offering guides and ponies to tourists going up the trail, where neither guide nor pony is needed. Tiny children play in the village by easily riding tiny ponies. In a desperate attempt to interest me in a ride, the first local to collar me tells me it is a two hour walk ...Collapse )
    Friday, April 5th, 2013
    2:25 pm
    Sutra is an astonishing, moving, funny, gripping piece of work. It's performed by monks from the Shaolin temple - whose discipline blends Buddhist contemplation with highly-trained martial arts - on a set by Anthony Gormley, with choreography by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. I am no frequenter of dance shows, so I have never heard of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, but quite possibly if I were his name would be as arresting as those of Gormley or indeed the Shaolin temple. It's about belonging, loneliness, authenticity, compromise, non-self, the quest for meaning, enlightenment - that kind of thing - and in so far as it has a star performer, it's a novice monk of about 12, like the adult monks in the show a performer of incredible virtuosity. The show was devised in 2008 and some of the younger adult performers previously played the child part.

    Did I mention that it's funny?

    It's been all round the world, and if it comes anywhere near you, I advise you to let nothing prevent you seeing it.
    Sunday, March 24th, 2013
    8:18 am
    His Tenebrous Majesty
    I almost never remember dreams, but sometimes when I'm very tired my brain goes into a kind of weird uncontrolled random mode and comes up with odd things. I've just come down with a nasty lurgy, presenting the perfect conditions for this. Just now I found myself seeming to recollect some recent news article about a historian who had discovered the existence of a shadowy and previously unknown king of England. It could now be revealed that he was called Mugar, and he reigned in the dark ages, which in this scenario extended up to the seventeenth century, when he lived. Shakespeare was one of his children. Go figure.
    Friday, January 11th, 2013
    4:50 pm
    For my last three days in Male' it rained solidly, as I scampered round under an umbrella trying to buy assorted curiosities and round up as many people as I could to say goodbye to. My erstwhile colleague jasminefegredo wanted a coconut-scraper, I wanted a set of the characteristically Maldivian turned wooden chessmen, all so confusingly similar, and since my flight back was just in time for Christmas, I planned to get a variety of local foodstuffs as presents.

    The chessmen proved a much greater challenge than I had expected. Read more...Collapse )


    Most of the foodstuffs that I gave at Christmas to assembled family members had become familiar to me while living here; a few were new to me when I saw them in the local market. In no particular order, they were:

    Mas mirus
    Dhiyaa hakuru
    Foah (with foah-valhi)
    Heerapanna nuts
    Addu bondi
    Gaily-coloured rice crackers - whose name I never discovered
    Fried drumstick leaves

    Read more...Collapse )


    The morning of my departure I took a taxi through the rain to the jetty, my bags stuffed with all my improbable purchases, and hurried awkwardly onto the airport ferry. Throwing together the last items in a hurry, I had suddenly wondered whether a jam-jar type twist-off metal lid is safe in the unpressurised hold of an aeroplane. Uncertain and short of time, I put the dhiyaa hakuru, and a jar of rihaakuru, in my hand luggage. Rihaakuru is the thick brown fish by-product somewhat like Marmite, and very much the last thing on earth you would want leaking all over your clothes and other possessions.

    But in my hurry I forgot that, modern airport security being what it is, my bag would go through a machine at the airport designed to ensure that I don't have any 'liquids'. Both of these jars are 'liquids' within the meaning of the act, and the machine did not fail. 'You have some liquids in your bag,' said the polite but efficient security officer, and my heart sank as I suddenly realised what they were. But when I rooted around in my bag and found the rihaakuru and the dhiyaa hakuru, to say nothing of telulikeyo and bondi peeping out at every orifice, she could hardly help laughing. 'Are they presents?' she asked, sympathetically. She consulted briefly with a colleague, and told me that though I was not really allowed the jars, they would let me keep them this time.

    Sitting in the plane as it started taxiing towards the runway, the rain still falling, I heard my Maldivian mobile phone ring for the last time. I didn't recognise the number. 'Hello? Who is this?' It was Moosa, the carpenter. 'Hello Moosa! I found a set of pieces!' Click! He had hung up. I suppose he was ringing with news of some other set - perhaps real or perhaps another wild goose chase. Hanging up abruptly was not a sign of pique, but of Maldivian phlegm. There are no formal niceties - no native words for hello or goodbye, or please or thank you. When there is nothing else that needs to be communicated they get up and leave, or hang up. It is a little unsettling at first, but it has its attractive side. I switched off the phone, and the plane edged out onto the runway.
    Friday, December 14th, 2012
    4:43 am
    Addu and Foammulah, the two atolls in the far south - south of the Equator and quite a distance from most of the country - are quite independently minded. They seceded briefly - the Suvadive Republic lasted three years in the 60s. The British had a base on Gan in Addu at the time and their inconsistent and lukewarm support for the secession was a local sore point, but despite this, it seems most people regret the passing of the British - it provided employment with good pay and much better infrastructure than other islands - and the foreign influences perhaps gave people a somewhat different and broader outlook. Several people suggest to me that the British should have stayed, and considering that the alternative they adopted was to behave so disgracefully to the Chagos islanders, I am inclined to agree.

    I'd heard a lot about these atollsCollapse )
    Sunday, December 9th, 2012
    5:30 pm
    I've had no internet lately, so no time to talk about the three weddings in the space of two weeks, or learning to make short eats, or the overnight picnic trip to the uninhabited island of Vattaru with half a dozen guys, or the fact that I'm now back in Male' and am flying down tomorrow to the southmost atolls of Addu and Foammulah, which I hear are interesting and worth seeing. It will be my first ever trip south of the Equator. Then a couple of days back in Male' before flying home.
    Thursday, November 29th, 2012
    7:31 am
    Cigarette Greenpeace
    A local environmental 'NGO' ('club' would be a more accurate word perhaps), spearheaded by the island youth and rather grandly called Kaanu Greenpeace, is having its grand opening this evening. The deposed president is supposed to be coming. There have been ongoing preparations for some time rising to a frenzy the last couple of days. The Community Centre is the centre of operations where an endless stream of stencils are being cut and banners made, some in English and some in Dhivehi, and draped on nearly every street corner on the island (examples: 'BE PROUD OF MY KUDAFARI', 'WE DO RESPECT OUR ELDERS', 'TREES ARE FOR HUGGING', 'FRESHWATER AQUIFER DEPLETION THREATENS WATER SUPPLIES'). My favourite is in Dhivehi - someone read it to me - and says simply 'fehifehi mage kudafari', 'Green, green, my Kudafari'. Invitations to the grand opening tomorrow night appeared yesterday at every house, which really is advance planning: party invitations are often taken round to houses but only ever, in my experience hitherto, on the actual day (this was true even for last week's double wedding). On the beach a pier-cum-stage has been built out into the sea from scaffolding poles, carts go back and forth carrying things, a group of boys take a sack of empty Foster Clark's glass jars down to the shore to scrub them clean with sand to make lanterns to hang in trees, beaches and roads are swept, and stout bamboo poles have been lashed together to make bicycle racks all over the island. These will be populated in time with bikes which you will be able to take and ride to another rack. It's nice to know that this scheme will be undisturbed by even the slightest hint of bike theft (bike locks are unheard of here), unlike a similar scheme in Cambridge in the early 1990s masterminded by the totally bonkers Simon Sedgwick-Jell where all the similarly unsecured bikes, entirely predictably, had vanished within the first 24 hours of the scheme, set up with billboards and racks at great expense. The Kudafari bike scheme is an attempt to head off an increase in motorcycles, which are of course entirely unnecessary on the samll island, though there are already one or two.

    Kaanu means 'drain', I understand, but the name comes from Kaanu City, a kind of loose youth group and the name of one of the many football teams on the island. The word was adopted as a code word at school by the cohort that left school a couple of years ago or so, to mean 'cigarette', then a forbidden item to them (once they turn 16 all the boys smoke almost without exception). It doesn't strike me as the most auspicious etymology for an environmental organisation, but let us hope it transcends its carcinogenic origins.
    Sunday, November 11th, 2012
    3:27 am
    Old haunts
    Spent several days this week on Kendhikulhudhoo, the nearby island where I also lived and worked for a few months before transferring here. It's a much bigger island, long and thin, and in a stupid arrangement has a village at each end, so getting about is a drag - particularly as most of my friends are in Kendhikolhu, where I was staying, whereas both the main cafes are in Kulhudhoo. The school, health centre and harbour are on the main road between the two villages, in the middle of nowhere. The harbour was half-built when I lived here but has now been finished - fortunately before the coup in February since when all public works have been cancelled and even the electricity and phone bills for government buildings have all gone unpaid - and is now a handsome addition to the island instead of a bit of an eyesore, as is the new school building, which was previously a part-constructed concrete shell.

    Read more...Collapse )
    Thursday, November 1st, 2012
    9:13 am
    Koadi: the procession
    The koadi procession finally got under way on Sunday, after two days' delay. (It would normally run for two nights, but whether because of the weather or something else, only one was held this year.) Irfaan rang me up: 'Where are you? Do you have a white shirt? I will come, I will come.' He came to collect me, gave his approval for a white T-shirt with a Notting Hill Carnival design (not a traditional Dhivehi cut; but the whiteness seemed to override all other considerations), and handed me a tasselled and ornamented piece of woven cloth which I recognised as a traditional ceremonial waistcloth or feyli. (A few old men still wear the everyday equivalent or mundu - better known in English as a dhoti.)

    We sauntered down to Shahud's home. (They were both my students and are now finishing A-levels.) Assorted people were milling about; we put on our feylis. Three or four people had bodu-beru and were casually practising beats. Shahud happens to be one of the island's greatest exponents of bodu-beru: his father and grandfather are too, I believe, but I've never heard them play, and in the current generation Shahud is unsurpassed, both for drumming and for leading the songs. When the time seems ripe, and the koadi and the drums and a fair crowd are assembled, he confidently starts one of them and we set off at a stately pace. Everyone chimes in with the responsive lines of the song, and the other drummers take up the beat.

    Traditionally (I'm told) the songs sung would have been specific koadi songs, but no-one knows those any more, and ordinary bodu-beru songs take their place. We proceed slowly right round the main streets on the island. An assortment of young men take turns to carry the koadi, generally guided by an accomplice to help avoid obstacles and the many large puddles. The rest of the crowd mostly follow behind, led by the drummers and singing the responses to Shahud. At times one or two boys will take it into their head to dance for a a little, or more likely to instruct me to do so. The dance style is a kind of cross between the motions of a slightly indecent boogie and an Indian snake charmer, and happily no video footage of my attempts survive. At certain points timed to intersect with major street intersections, the procession will pause for a few minutes, the music come to a fever pitch, and the koadi itself dance by sharp twists back and forth and slight jiggling motions.

    The koadi took several people half a day to make and its procession would be a stunning sight in the daytime. As it is, it takes place at night under only the light of the dim streetlamps, so it is little more than a silhouette. It seems a bit of a shame, but the cover of darkness is required for the final leg of the journey. The drumming stops and the boys in the procession go into a big huddle. When they emerge from it, one is carrying the koadi, no-one knows who, and the others form a tight protective ring around him. The drumming starts up again for the final leg of the procession. Girls and women crowd round, trying to deduce the identity of the koadi-bearer; an old woman gaily manages to get hold of a corner of his feyli so that she won't lose track. Getting into the spirit, I gently but firmly loosen it from her grip. She grins at me.

    Suddenly the knot round the koadi makes a break out to one side. They drop the koadi inside the front door of a house (people rarely shut their doors here) and call out a name, then some shuffle about a bit and others make a getaway through the back door. The koadi procession is over.


    The house, and the name, are those of Samiyya, yet another of my students. Tradition has it that if she can uncover the top secret identity of the koadi-bearer who chose her, he must grant whatever she asks, typically to marry her. When the procession starts again it will be from this house with the girls carrying the koadi; this should be the following evening but is now deferred to next year. (In 2010 I remember two processions, though I hadn't much idea then what was going on.) No-one is ever seen together as boyfriend and girlfriend here, as officially such relations are frowned upon, but in practice of course they do have boyfriends and the identity of Samiyya's boyfriend is no great secret. I presume that he was the bearer who left it at her house. But of course, I cannot say for certain.

    Most of the crowd quickly disperses once the procession is over. The bodu-beru players and a bunch of others make their way down to the fini-maizan for some more songs. Shahud has been leading the singing in the procession for an hour and up, but his voice is as strong as ever as he leads the rest in a series of other songs.

    In my imagination, in 50 or 60 years' time the island will be built up with sea walls and skyscrapers and noisy bars and cafes and supermarkets and Shahud will be the grand old man who sits grinning in a corner of the ramshackle old fini-maizan, with a huge drum and a handful of other old men and women, singing songs that everyone else has long ago forgotten.
    6:22 am
    Sanbow summoned me to breakfast in the cafe again, where the fare was roshi with rihaakuru. It's the second or third time I've been offered rihaakuru in as many days - I don't remember seeing it all that often in 2010, and much though I love most of the Maldivian food specialities, this one I would be quite happy to see less of.

    When I arrived a couple of weeks ago I brought a jar of Marmite at the request of the expats working on Minivan News, since apparently it is unobtainable here - a deprivation that never troubled me as I find Marmite revolting. Rihaakuru is very similar, only it is derived from fish. A fairly common dish is garudhiya, boiled fish in a watery fish broth. If you carry on boiling and reducing this broth for many hours, apparently, you are left with a very thick, sticky, dark brown paste, and voila! - rihaakuru.

    It's served with minced onion and minced fresh chilli of the scotch-bonnet variety. You mush it together on your plate, squeeze on some lime and eat it as a dip, e.g. with slices of carrot or tender coconut (kurumba) or some small apple-like fruit; or as here with roshi. I cannot really recommend it very heartily. But if you like Marmite, you may take a different view.
    Monday, October 29th, 2012
    1:25 pm
    Koadi: the making
    The dry weather lasted longer on Saturday, with the result that the bashi, the making of the koadi, and the football were successfully dispatched, in that order. But the koadi procession in the evening was again rained off.

    The football match was played between teams of married and unmarried men. Given the tendency to early marriage here, this sets the age bar between the teams considerably lower than for the bashi tournament. There was no score when I left; it is a much less interesting game than bashi. Incidentally, the school sports tournaments for boys and girls are respectively in football and netball; conversely, there is a boys' game that like bashi is peculiar to Maldives, where there are regular tournaments, called baibalaa. Apparently it involves two teams, one encircling the other, and what sounds from rather incoherent descriptions like some kind of cross between tag and capture-the-flag. But I have yet to see it played.

    Koadi is an annual custom at bodu Eid ...Collapse )
    Saturday, October 27th, 2012
    10:09 am
    Concerning bashi
    The boat for Kudafari (and several other nearby islands) left Male' on Wednesday night. It was an overnight trip, fourteen hours in all. I dare say I have described these trips before. The boats are cargo boats with two covered decks and no facilities for comfort other than hard wooden floors on which one can, if one has been prudent enough to bring one, spread a blanket. The improvident traveller may scramble for one of the few places on the joli-fathi (a metal framed rope-lattice seat). But there is no other generally available method of travelling to the islands, and as the cargo boat plies its way back and forth, there are always passengers too on the boat. As this sailing was leaving Male' just in time for Eid, it was in fact simply crammed with people. (Male' empties at Eid, with islanders who are there working or studying returning home to spend the holiday with family, and many Male' natives escaping to an island for some traditional Eid festivities, which Male' itself is now too big, grey and urban to allow.) Often at least these boats have two joli-fathi under covers, but this one had only one, with six spaces, in the open air, so that even though I managed to bag one, when the tropical rainstorm set in after a couple of hours we were all forced inside where people were already crammed in like sardines. I eventually manage to squeeze myself a space on the floor, my bag as a pillow, and sleep there fitfully till morning, occasionally inadvertently kicking or elbowing a neighbour.

    Eid began yesterday on Kudafari as it should, with everyone running around the island eating short eats in house after house and trying to catch their friends unawares to smear their faces with food ink or push them over into puddles. I was uncomfortably full of short eats by the time the rain set in in the late morning. It rained as it only can in the tropics and went on and on raining all day. So the rest of the day's Eid celebrations were rained off: not only the business with the koadi, but the girls' bashi tournament in the morning and the boys' football in the afternoon were all deferred until today.

    I often heard of bashi when teaching English. If the students had to write a letter to a pen-friend abroad (a meaningless exercise for them but one they were used to), one or other of the girls would hope to see their friend soon in Maldives and knew how much she looked forward to playing bashi, which she had heard so much about. Funnily enough none of them ever used the exercise to write the previous letter, where they explained the rules of the game. As I now discover, this is no great wonder as the game more or less defies description. So nothing has prepared me for the sight that meets me as I wander down this morning to what is normally a volleyball court.

    Bashi is played with a tennis net, rackets and balls. On one side of the court, the side further from me, a dozen or so women in headscarves and bodu-burugas are standing or kneeling a few feet behind the net. Their side is marked out as a rectangle roughly tennis-court sized. Today's tournament pits under-30s against over-30s, and on the near side a number of equally headscarved girls mill around, apart from one who stands on a small square marked out roughly in the middle of the court, holding a tennis racket and facing me. The whole court is littered with tennis balls and in front of her is a hopper on a stick with a further supply, which is constantly replenished by an official. With terrifying speed and ferocity, she takes a ball from the hopper, smashes it over her head (backwards) into the massed ranks of matrons yonder, and repeats the performance. From time to time she is allowed to turn and smash one forwards. The women of the opposing team try to catch the ball with their hands (a catch using the body doesn't count) and generally to avoid injury. When they finally succeed, the girl gives place to the next player in her team, and the process continues.

    Haseeb, a grade 9 student when I was here, tells me Bashi was introduced to Maldives ('invented' would I think be more accurate; one can hardly imagine it played anywhere else) by the country's first president, Mohamed Ameen, known as Ameen Didi. According to another source he merely codified the rules of an already popular pastime. These rules, it seems, are roughly as follows. Each team has ten minutes in bat. Twelve backward serves followed by one forward, then three more backward, entitle the team to a point. If a serve is out, or goes into the net, it is simply a no-ball and is ignored, but if it is caught the player serving must hand over to her next team member. The first eleven successful serves are cumulative: if a player's ball is caught, her ball count is passed on to the next player. However the last five serves in a point (one backward, one forward, and three back) must be served consecutively by a single player; if on any of them her ball is caught, the next player comes in to serve with the count reset to eleven balls. Once a point is scored the player simply continues serving towards the next point.

    When serving backwards a player can't see where the opposing team are standing or kneeling, not that it matters because they are in a solid phalanx from one side of the court to the other, so her only weapon to avoid being caught out is the vicious power of the serve, at which the players are staggeringly good. (A forward shot is never caught since the player will aim straight at the body of an opponent who can do nothing except squirm out of the way.) The older team lacks nothing in strength but from what I can make out, which is admittedly not much, the younger team are probably winning, because of the incredible speed with which their best players can serve - delivering ten of the backward smashes in about fifteen seconds.

    Bashi is played only by girls, though at Eid last year, as a special diversion, the bashi match on the island was arranged as a battle of the sexes, boys against girls. Needless to say the boys were trounced by their vastly more experienced opponents.
    Wednesday, October 24th, 2012
    5:29 am
    In Male'
    Back in Maldives for the first time since I finished teaching here two years ago. In spite of the alarming political upheavals, ordinary life in Male' goes on much the same on the surface. (Not far from the surface, the free health care introduced by Nasheed has been reversed, so my landlord is having to pay Mrf1200 per day for hospital treatment for his sick niece, the economy has nosedived after some xenophobic political posturing discouraged foreign investment, and the state-owned TV station and the hospital have been threatened with disconnection by the electricity company for non-payment by the government.) As always the weather is sultry and the traffic maddening, as might be expected of unregulated traffic in a city of over 100,000 in two square miles. Crossing a street is a hazardous undertaking because of the endless stream of motorbikes revving and weaving, and walking along a street just as bad since the pavements, where they exist, are so narrow that two people can barely pass and are often blocked by building works, loading, impromptu meetings, and so on. Traffic lights are rare, even at major intersections, and pedestrian crossings unknown.

    Among all the breakfasts and coffees I have required to catch up with old and new friends, I have managed to buy assorted supplies: a phone SIM (I was told my old one was probably cancelled but more importantly I had left it at home; but my top-up card from 2010 worked fine), a new SIM and some credit for my mobile broadband modem, a couple of razors (I inadvertently left my washbag in my hand luggage when travelling and my razor blades were confiscated), a pair of nail scissors (ditto), a towel, sunblock, a couple of toilet rolls (they are unavailable in the islands), and a pair of sandals, which are vital, but there are many poor ones and I have plasters where the first two pairs I got rubbed the skin off my feet. Luckily they are fairly cheap and shoe shops plentiful - almost incomprehensibly so in fact. I have also managed to find the Atlas of Maldives, a beautiful and useful book but like all books in this bookless nation hard to find: for reference, it can be had in the Novelty Bookshop on Fareedhee Magu. (Like the two or three other 'bookshops' in town it is mainly a stationery shop.) My old copy was with the gear that I left behind in 2010 (when I was planning to be back shortly); since then I'm told it's all vanished without trace.

    On arrival at Male' a standard tourist visa is issued free, lasting 30 days. It can be extended to up to 90 days by the following means. 1. Locate a Maldivian friend who will sponsor your appliation. 2. Download and print the 'Application for permit extension' from, which is 5MB for some reason, or ask your sponsor to do so - he probably doesn't have a printer either but will take it on a USB stick to a nearby print shop. 3. Fill in the section 'Passport details of the applicant'. 4. Discovering that you need a photo, go to a photographic shop to get one taken. 5. Be informed by the nice lady behind the counter that the photo will have a white background and for visa applications, your photo will therefore not be accepted with a white shirt. 6. Dash outside, find a nearby clothes shop and buy a non-white shirt. 7. Return and give the nice lady your name and Mrf 20, in return for a slip of paper. 8. When your name is called, go into an inner sanctum where another nice lady sits you down and takes your picture, ordering you to turn your head slightly this way or that. She checks the result on her laptop screen and dismisses you. 8. Return after an hour and take your slip of paper to the adjacent office where your photographs are now waiting. 9. Get your sponsor to fill in his part of the form and take it, and preferably him, together with your passport, to the Department of Immigration and Emigration. 10. On the way (you are probably riding on the back of his motorcycle), stop at a copy shop to get a copy of both sides of his ID card. 11. At the department, go the office of the superbly named Division of Expatriate Monitoring and Repatriation. It is crowded with people wanting this or that, but somehow your patron knows to ignore them and go up to one of the counters. 12. Hand everything over, getting not even a slip of paper in return. There is a charge of MRf750 but for some complicated reason they don't want you to pay now, but on collection tomorrow. 13. Next morning, your sponsor rings - he has just has a call asking for the money. You go back to the Department, the Division, and the desk, and hand over the MRf750. You don't get your passport, but you do at least get a nicely printed receipt. Hopefully you'll be able to pick up your passport at 2pm.
    Tuesday, June 28th, 2011
    1:55 pm
    Engines of war
    It's been a cold and miserable summer till the last couple of days, which were impossibly hot and bright. It was supposed to break yesterday with pouring rain, but it stayed hot till night. This morning was grey and for the last four hours the thunder has been rolling intermittently; but it's been dry. Perhaps it's because I've just read Zachary Mason's Lost books of the Odyssey, but it's oddly like listening to the gods moving the siege engines around while they plan their onslaught. There've been rumbles interspersed with long silences, perhaps while they discuss the details or wait for the arrival of the technical crew.

    Now there's been a more purposeful series of manoeuvres, and that was a couple of tentative bolts of lightning. I think the attack is due any moment.
    Friday, April 1st, 2011
    7:19 pm
    Uncut and unabridged
    Dear Mr Huppert,

    I am sure you have seen the video footage of peaceful UK Uncut protesters in Fortnum & Mason being lied to by a senior police officer, who agreed on camera that they were holding a peaceful and sensible protest, and clearly said they would be allowed to go, before they were confined by a police line and arrested en masse.

    Whether or not you happen to share UK Uncut's view on the scale of the government's cuts and on tax avoidance, I hope you agree that these are important issues that people must be free to draw attention to in a democracy; and that public spending cuts should not be an alternative to vigorous application of tax justice and enforcement. I am therefore writing to ask you to sign EDM 1146, which "congratulates UK Uncut for the role it has played in drawing attention by peaceful demonstrations to tax evasion and avoidance and to the need for firm action to secure tax justice".

    I was one of the 500,000 or so peaceful protesters marching last Saturday. The scale of the march clearly shows that there is a huge amount of strongly-held opposition to the government's programme of spending cuts. UK Uncut is another important group engaged in the same task - of giving voice to those in society who are most vulnerable and voiceless.

    Yours sincerely,

    Mr A Writinghawk
    Tuesday, December 14th, 2010
    10:58 am
    Return of the native
    On the train yesterday I sat next to a young man and woman, probably brother and sister, with dark shiny black skin. I wondered what African language they were speaking to each other and assorted friends as they chatted, texted and browsed on their smartphones. As we got near Cambridge I realised it was English, which they spoke with a thick and glorious accent. (Hearing him mention 'Feezbwk' while he browsed Facebook on his phone was the key that unlocked the mystery.) Just in time to hear this exchange, when he stood up to gather luggage while she still texted away:

    He: When you press on your phone, it presses back on you.
    She: Well, obviously. We learned that in ...
    He: It's not obvious, because phones don't have fingers.
    She: You're such a geek.


    For yes, I'm back in the UK. How time has flown. I stayed in Kudafari a couple of weeks after the end of term to be present for Eid, the biggest holiday of the year. Everyone goes 'home' for the five days or so for which it's celebrated, which may mean to an island they haven't much to do with the rest of the year, and tiny Kudafari filled up with hundreds of people I'd never met before, arriving in boatloads. It may have been even bigger than usual, happening to fall in the school holidays this year. The celebrations involved a fair amount of processing through the streets in the evenings with bodu-beru drums and a 'coadi', a sort of portable house somehow made of sheaves of palm leaves. Details apparently vary from island to island. Here, everyone assured me the tradition of a boy anonymously leaving the coadi at the house of a girl on the first evening was formerly used as a means of proposing marriage, but is now just a bit of fun.


    Before coming home I spent ten days in Kathmandu. Long-time readers will know I've been there before and have a great attachment to the place. I'd have blogged while I was there if the place hadn't kept me far too busy, but it was pleasant to catch up with old friends and acquaintances. Let me just mention visiting Bouddhanath, the huge Buddhist stupa with the famous painted eyes. A casual google will remind you of the white dome with chain-link red decorations, and the day I was there with a friend of friends this happened to be being redecorated, as apparently it is every few months. The whole thing was done in half an hour by chucking washing-up bowls of whitewash at it, from both the base and the top of the dome. The white is chucked first, indiscriminately over the dome. Then bowls of red are thrown with a careless-looking flick that causes it to land in quarter-circle swirls which join up to make the finished semicircles.


    I'm supposed to be going back to Maldives in February to work in the education department of the local Province Office, where I was recruited by Sambo. Obviously I know nothing about administering education, but no-one seems to mind that, and after all I knew nothing about teaching this time last year. The office is on Felivaru, an 'uninhabited' island whose main human activity takes the form of a fish canning factory. If you have ever bought Waitrose tinned tuna 'in spring water', it may have been canned there - Jasmine and I visited Felivaru for a couple of days and saw boxes of it being loaded up. I have no idea what 'spring water' means, as Maldives has no springs and the general advice is not to drink water from the wells.
    Monday, November 15th, 2010
    7:24 pm
    I now pronounce you unprintable
    There was a world-wide news story about a Swiss couple who had a ceremony to 'renew their wedding vows' in a Maldivian resort ('Vilu Reef'). Resorts would dearly like to conduct weddings but the Islamists have kept the lid on the idea, but a 'renewing of vows' has no meaning so of course they can and do offer them. In case you have been on another planet in the last couple of weeks, the 'celebrant' was a Food and Beverage manager (apparently F&B is a standard appellation in the trade. What the hell is wrong with the word 'drink'?) who solemnly incanted a filthy series of epithets in Dhivehi - 'You're not the kind of people who can get married, you're foreigners with some made-up god and you probably don't even believe in him, you eat pigs, you're like pigs yourselves, etc', and then read from a liturgical document which was in fact a staff circular about employment terms before going back and adding a few more choice insults. Everyone was happy, but unfortunately someone filmed the event and put it on the web where it gained English subtitles and became a media sensation.

    What I find slightly odd is quite how big a story it was.Collapse )

    Perhaps the best thing to come out of the whole affair is a video response to the original celebrating the real Maldivian way of life. It's humorous and pretty accurate.
    Monday, November 1st, 2010
    8:40 pm
    Welcome to Maldives
    james_r flew out yesterday to visit. I told everyone to do this, but besides my mother and brother, he has been the only taker. He was keen to come up from Male' on a local boat, if possible, rather than fly to a nearby resort - a bit cheaper and a much more authentic Maldivian experience, though the boat journey is about 12 hours, as against 45 minutes for the flight. He is getting a slightly more authentic Maldivian experience than perhaps even he wanted.Collapse )
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