The run-in to New Year

Ten days away from the road to Christ Rei and things change.  The Balinese Paradise restaurant has packed up and gone.  It looks like it has been vacant for 6 months.  The “guards” just said the lease finished.

I should have noticed earlier but the GNR (Portuguese military police) have moved out of Hotel Dili 2000 and moved to premises across the road from Camp Phoenix in town.

The old Coolspot night club is still under renovation but getting closer to completion.  It looks like it will be a cut above anything seen anywhere else in Dili.  There is a large open ground floor bar emerging in modern trendoid fashion.

I wouldn’t want to be the US ambassador who once had sweeping views of the sea from the residence.  His/her views are now soiled by a new bus station now taking shape across the road on the seashore.

I could be wrong but it feels like fireworks are the big new thing this year coming into the Christmas/New Year period.

Security message for Santa

Its hard to know just what many people outside Timor-Leste think about the state of personal security here. It would appear that there are no English speaking reporters based here to paint a continuous picture on this.

I also get the feeling that the Timorese government do not want security issues to be seen as the most important issue here. (Most governments do not like advertising negatives.)

I suppose I have just become accustomed to the new reality. At least there are no armed personnel carriers patrolling the streets – that stopped months ago. Chopper work reduced a month or so ago but it is still a surefire indicator of trouble somewhere around town if you hear one circling. There are definitely more UN police around now so you know one is never far away.

Many expats operate under movement restrictions courtesy of employers directives. Some are not allowed to use vehicles after dark, some are not allowed to use taxis, some have been directed to move their place of abode to safer parts of town and to premises with higher security (eg behind walls and guarded).

I was talking to one of the many Filipinos working here recently. He couldn’t understand what all the fuss is about. It happens every day in Manila and worse. But I pointed out that the security issues here are affecting government stability and anyone could be affected.

On Sunday, I was going to a friend’s place at dusk but Comorro Road appeared to be blocked near the OZ Embassy so I just took an alternative route. (The police were just tidying up after the big dust-up near the mosque on Sunday.) Earlier, I had been to to the Tasi Tolu races and had a great day but I was told of another expat who had been at the beach at Tasi Tolu that afternoon (perhaps at Dili Rock). He was threatened with a machete and had his car windows broken. I can understand why you might spend a bit more time at home after that. You note these things and move on.

The word is that the number of security incidents is falling but the average severity of the incidents is increasing. The rumour mill has it that there will be an increase in security-related incidents in the New Year. But of course, if you expect it and prepare for it, it might not actually happen. A couple of weeks ago, the F-FDTL (Timorese Army) returned to the streets of Dili with loaded weapons and they are not obliged to take orders from UN police or foreign military. I know this makes some people a bit nervous.

One disconcerting feature that has appeared over the last week or so, is the regular sound of fireworks – some of the home-made variety.  So if it really was gunfire, it would be easy to dismiss it as fireworks and not get excited at all.
I think I have developed a 6th sense. The eyes and ears are on alert for anything out of the ordinary. In general, you are out of trouble if it is more than 100 metres away. You don’t rubber-neck, you just move on. Try not to appear to be Australian, Portuguese or Indonesian. Icelandic is a big winner.

So Santa, I will leave the the full specs for my new digital camera on the fridge door – got it ? Just leave it and move on. Sorry, no gin this year.

Nativity Scenes

Every year, nativity scenes pop up at this time. My impression is that they are going up a bit later this year and maybe not quite so many.

In general, families, larger family groups and small neighbourhoods will often construct a nativity scene out of local materials. They will usually have a palm leaf roof and if big enough, provide cover from the rain at this time of the year. The bigger ones are almost like bus shelters in size with the smaller ones with barely enough room for one when raining.

Last year, I promised myself I would do a photo shoot of as many as I could find this year. But the numbers of them seem down and more critically, my digital camera “pointed the toes” * about 2 weeks ago.

I hope to rectify the camera problem by early January and hope enough of the nativity scenes are still intact to make it worthwhile. I suspect the later arrival may be due to the possible targetting of nativity scenes by gangs as a way of getting at their targets. I could be wrong.

* “point the toes” = when dead and lying on one’s back, the toes are pointed upwards.

Indonesian Bazaar 23 Dec 2006

The Indonesian Embassy in Farol-Palapaso (2 blocks from the sea at Farol across the road from the fragrant canal) is hosting an Indonesian Bazaar on Saturday 23 December (10 am ?)  Clothing, handicrafts, handbags, shoes and food will be on sale. There may be music.

I am told the goods are cheap.

Racing at Tasi Tolu racecourse

It cropped up too late on my radar screen to pre-notify (see below for future meetings schedule), but this afternoon the Dili Racing Club held a race meeting at Tasi Tolu. Tasi Tolu is the place where many houses were destroyed back in May, is the location of a major F-FDTL army base and has generally not been an ideal location from a security point of view.

But it does have a racecourse and the last meeting was scheduled for May but had to be postponed. The course itself is naturally occurring compacted fine sand and is pretty hard. It is 1400 metres in length and has a quite decent railing on the inner and outer parts of the track. There is no finish post or grandstand but for the day, temporary “stands” were erected for/by sponsors with perhaps seating for 50. The track was graded and the rails painted just prior to this event.

There were no food or drink vendors apart from one or two push carts at the eastern end but I saw no-one use them. There were about 500 Timorese in attendance and about 30 expats. I suspect most expats knew nothing of this event but I accidentally came across it in a Prime Minister’s press release on Friday. There was no organised betting although I was told it was happening on the side.

There were 5 races. The races were divided pretty much by horse size, with the very small local horses running in the first 3 races, followed by 2 races with imported horses from Australia. The largest field size was 5 which is probably not far off the manageable limit given no starting stalls. The first 3 races were basically bare-back riding and I have got to say, breath-taking given the obvious danger of riding flat-out and bare-back on horses who were extremely feisty prior to the start. Stirrups and saddles were more the norm in the last 2 races with older (and heavier) jockeys doing better on the larger horses.

Most of the jockeys looked to be around 10 years old with only a couple who may have been nudging 20. Seeing a tiny kid of maybe 40kgs riding bare-back with no footwear, no helmet and no obvious safety gear is truly breath-taking.

A young girl of miniscule stature rode in race 3 and looked completely at sea when the horse was stationary as it lashed out and generally caused trouble, but once the race was underway, she looked every inch an accomplished jockey. She came a good 2nd in a 5 horse field.

The Prime Minister’s horse won a 2 horse race #4 and it was clearly a class above it’s rival, even though the win was close (and perhaps staged slightly). Winner’s prizemoney was US$1,000 – not to be sniffed at.

I can see this becoming a very popular event with the expats, particularly if they move towards providing a bit more on the refreshment side of things. Even without it, it was non-stop entertainment, even though getting a 10-year old sliver of a jockey on a fiery steed reminded me of Evel Knievel gearing up for a motorcycle jump over 20 buses. One jockey in the last race came off several hundred metres after the finish and was taken to hospital.

Meetings are of a couple of days length so the current meeting has not finished yet. Racing continues on Thursday (21/12) and Friday (22/12) with the Peace Cup run on Saturday (23/12).

The 2007 Program includes planned meetings for 20 May, 30 August and 28 November.

Orphans Christmas Party

This morning, the Rotary Australia Liaison Office in Dili held the annual orphan’s Christmas Party in the grounds of the Asian Development Bank.  Rotary groups from New South Wales in Australia put together around 1,000 gift boxes which were handed out with the assistance of the Dili Hash House Harriers.

A big thank you must go to Rotary members in NSW who contributed and to Rotary’s Dili Liaison Officer, Daryl Mills for organising the event, Asian Development Bank for providing the venue (the grass area at the front of their offices) and the hash house harriers for organising kid’s games, cooking over 1,000 sausages, managing the feeding and distribution of gifts to the orphans.

And to Andy who spent 2 hours in a Santa costume dishing out gifts to up to 1,000 children in hot and humid conditions – legendary.

Other blogs

I originally started “Dili-gence” after an exhaustive and mostly futile search for blogs on Dili that might tell me what to expect, what to bring etc. That was early 2005. Apart from Nick Hobgood’s dive site and fantastic underwater photography, there wasn’t anything of note that I found. – Timor-Leste’s Underwater Wonderland” by Nick Hobgood

A result of the crisis period (let’s say that is May to July), has been an influx of foreign military/police and a resurgence in the foreign aid and foreign volunteer presence. I have found myself reading other blogs more than feeling the need to write much myself.

tumbleweed in timor lorosae” has been around since mid-2005. She is an aid worker who has the odd tale to tell. “Dili-Dallying (2 years in Timor-Leste” has also been around since mid-2005. Both of these have been quiet of late but may be on holidays.
“Nomad Lachy” appeared in May 2006 and I was reading this only last week but it is no longer there at blogspot. She was running the free Pilates classes at Temptations and is into diving. I believe she moved the site somewhere else.

Dutchpickle” provides small picture postcard views of things he/she has encountered. I am going to take a guess “he” is a freelance photographer.

Beyond Teresa” from Lisbon writes mostly in English on whatever takes her fancy. She has some interesting insights into events that paint a little more of the picture of what it is like living here.

On the more serious side, there is the all encompassing academically oriented “re-publish everything you can find about Timor on the internet” site called “east-timor-studies“. Another usually serious blog is “Living Timorously” which sometimes borders on irreverent but always comes up with a different angle on something.

Adventures with flipflops” tells regular tales of the life of a water and sanitation engineer working for an aid agency. Normally, water and sanitation engineers would extract a collective groan but this guy is out amongst it digging wells and basically getting some decent services in place for IDP camps that are looking at a pretty wet future once the wet season takes hold. This guy usually works out of central Dili and that makes it different.

A new one that “east-timor-studies” put me onto is “Rai Ketak“. This is from a Timorese who left here in 2003 and as a result of a 10 week visit in 2006, decided to re-publish earlier writings plus impressions from his recent visit. I still have a fair bit of reading to catch up on with this one. Written in a very personal style (warts and all), it is a valuable contribution for us non-fluent Tetum or Portuguese speakers.

Speaking of Portuguese speakers, one blog which publishes a lot in Portuguese but some English is the “Timor Online – Em directo de Timor-Leste” blog. It re-publishes a lot of Prime Minister’s office press releases, Fretilin party statements, UNMIT press releases, UNMIT security updates and other press articles. It seems to salt a fair bit of political comment on top of all this and I understand the commentary is largely written by Fretilin party supporters.

There will be more (and the non-English ones) and some obvious one that I forgot.

Reading the pig entrails

Last Sunday morning, there was a ceremony in front of the Palacio do Governo where (amongst other things) Timor’s leaders promised to be nice to each other and “bury the hatchet”.  I watched for about an hour but it was pretty hot and a little slow going.

It didn’t seem to stop the boys getting stuck in later in the day and one Timorese working as a UN interpreter was killed.  At 9:30pm, rocks were thrown at the front doors and windows of the Hotel Timor.  Guests were told to turn off lights and keep away from the windows at the front.

One part of the ceremony involved the symbolic killing of a pig.  Probably in deference to the large foreign presence, the actual kill was carried out away from the Palacio but body parts from the pig are presented to various leaders – eyes to those with a vision for the country etc. etc.  At the same time, a “matan dook” (witch doctor) reads the pig entrails.  I understand the reading was not good – maybe the pig ate a bad prawn or something.  Apparently, this means more upheavel.

Then there is the story of a pig giving birth to an elephant (ie a pig with a birth deformity on its head) which is also bad karma.  And stories of the Virgin Mary being seen talking to children.  Another bad sign.

Apparently, this is all bad news.  But to be honest, I think I need another gin to catch up with all this.

More Restaurants

It has been around about 2 months I think, but I finally got around to going to “Kampai” restaurant.  It is Filipino and very well presented.  At the top for decor (by Dili standards) and the food is quite good.  Recommended.

Food courses are US$2 to US$3 and you probably need 2 dishes if you have an appetite.  You should get out of the place for under US$10 depending on your drinking requirements.  Beers are the standard Dili price of US$2-50.

Went to the “Erli Sun” restaurant down on the road to Christo Rei recently.  Again, a new restaurant with the best decor in this beach strip of restaurants.  To be honest, I found the menu extremely hard to get my head around but there are some good dishes in the Chinese/Macao/Singaporean mold.  I will go again just to try a few more things.  Just a tip on bar/restaurant design – don’t attempt to install a bar and expect the patrons to sit at stools looking into the kitchen !  Particularly when 90 degrees to the left is a wonderful view of the sea and some pretty good sunsets.

Wet Season has arrived

Today and tomorrow are public holidays and a number of expats have chosen to start their Christmas/New Year holidays right now. Meanwhile, for those that stayed there was the opportunity to have a look at a medal presentation for the nation’s independence heroes at Independence Park.

I was occupied doing some domestic repairs so didn’t get to the 2pm start, but went along at about 3:30pm. For the last 3 days, dark clouds have loomed over Dili, thunder has growled a bit but no sign of rain. Today, this all changed and at about 3:45pm, the heavens opened and deposited large quantities of water in quick time for the next 30 minutes. I have seen worse but not for a long time. But it was enough to suspend activities at the medal presentations.

Guests huddled under the limited cover available and a number of more formally dressed guests looked pretty shabby after a soaking. The President remained immaculate in his very smart suit, which he wears very well.

So that was it. The presentations will continue at 10am tomorrow, the gardens have had a good soaking, the dustbowls are now mudbaths, the street drains are blocked as usual, you have to wade through 150mm of water to get to the front gate and the roof at home still leaks.

But it finally rained.