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 http://www.immigration.gov.mv/index.php/forms.html, 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.