No doctor … not again

Well, it seems to be happening all over again. I seem to have acquired a bad throat infection and by the time I decided that this was no normal sore throat, the doctor is on holidays again.

Getting a sore throat is no surprise. In an obviously new environment, there are bound to be whole new strains of germs etc. that the body has never seen before. Maybe I compound respiratory woes by cycling daily. The big surprise is even after 3 days of heavy rain, the city streets are quite dusty.

The dust at street level is not that much different to the stuff I breathed in Beijing at street level, although I am certain nowhere near as noxious.

So I call the OZ doctor and he has just gone on holidays and due back in 2 weeks. Yes, there are some local doctors, some Cuban doctors and probably an American doctor hidden away somewhere but that’s a whole new ball-game for me.

So I go down to the pharmacy and self-prescribe amoxicillin. I get a whole course for US$1 – no prescription necessary. I note the complete arsenal of drugs for all manner of gastric and colonic difficulties. I feel satisfied … I hope.

A Day Out of Town

I have already been on several Sunday afternoon drives – for about an hour out of town to the west, south and east.

I was fortunate to be able to add to this by tagging along with some others on some visits to a couple of schools and to a silk-worm manufacturing establishment about 3 or so hours drive from Dili.

It was my first real taste of Timorese roads and further confirmation that unless some money is found to put into road maintenance, there will be ever-increasing problems in this area. I would have to say that night driving would not be on my recommended list of desirable activities as there are many instances of wash-outs and ever-increasing potholes. It seems that quite a few drainage pipes under roads have failed and on several occasions, one has to leave the road entirely and drive around the offending collapsed section.

Nevertheless, it made for a refreshing break from Dili. Our first stop was a school in Venilale run by the Catholic Salesian brothers. I have to say that given the rather rustic nature of living in the area, it was a surprise to find an obviously very well run school with some (relatively) impressive facilities.

The school had a pretty well set-up library with both English and Portuguese language sections. It even had 2 computer labs, but at this point, some of the problems of location surfaced. One of the labs had been kitted out with new gear in 2002, but it had never fired up as the building had no electricity. The 2nd lab appeared to have electricity but it was admitted that most of the computers did not work as they were riddled with viruses and no-one had the wherewithal to correct it. The school were dreaming of internet access but again, the issue of maintenance surfaces. And how to connect a total of 20 to 25 computers (including teachers computers now) via one very expensive dial-up line. I don’t know much about schooling, but my guess is that the local government run school does not have a computer lab at all.

Prior to leaving, we were shown the orphanage. On a good day with a bit of prepping, I could probably appear tough and macho, but not a chance in front of 120 orphans eating their rice and mashed vegetables for lunch. Many had lost their parents during the war where many were killed in conflict but in fact, many more by the famine associated with that conflict. Humility 100, macho-ness 0.

We moved onto a technical school at Fatumaca and again, I was surprised at the facilities that do exist. The Salesian Brothers are obviously very disciplined and have put together some surprisingly good stuff. We were shown large classrooms servicing metalwork, electrical and electronic teaching. I remember classrooms like this when I was a kid. Perhaps the only drawback is that they looked exactly like they looked like when I was a kid.

Next stop was a quick visit to a silk factory. It was the wrong time of the year to see much action, but it will be interesting to see how they fare. A small Timorese silk factory has a big job competing with the big boys (like Thailand and China) but I’ll keep my eye out as Timorese silk must be a pretty rare thing to have.

Pedals, pedals, wherefore art thy pedals

Now that we have been backpacking for over 4 months, certain aspects of life are getting a tad boring. A couple of days ago, we had a chance to correct this.

For reasons which slightly escape me, the shipping container company (with our belongings plus furniture for our house) wanted their container back. This meant transferring all of our belongings from one container to another. This gave us an opportunity to grab a few packing boxes, even if we had nowhere to put them.

We grabbed our wine as we were concerned about storage conditions inside a sealed container sitting outside in the hot sun all day. The next thing we chose was our bicycles. Although cycling is not big in Dili, the city itself is flat and all of it can be covered by bicycle with ease – potholes aside.

I borrowed some tools and proceeded to open the wrapped bikes with an immense feeling of satisfaction. Within 5 minutes, I was muttering and cursing. Yep, the packing boys had failed “bicycle packing 101” and rather than tape the pedals to the frame, they were obviously packed away in one of the other boxes. Defeated again.

However, a chance meeting with the Australian owner of a local security company led to him organising one of his fellow company directors (an ex-Fretilin guerilla) to obtain bike pedals, which was done with great efficiency. I now know there are about 2 or 3 bicycle shops in Dili, although I have seen very few bikes and none of what I have seen were exactly new. A big win.

Now its off on bike with brand-spanking new pedals to buy the new lock and chain as I failed common-sense 101 by not leaving my lock and chain locked to the bike as I always do.

Driving 101

I am not sure if Timorese have drivers licences, but I know as a foreigner, any old licence is good enough. The traffic in Dili is really quite mild and one should give thanks to the fact that they have not picked up the Asian habit of driving with hand on the car horn.

In general, it is pretty difficult to wind up to more than 40kph around town. I think the speed limit is 45kph everywhere. The main limiting factors are potholes, stray animals and other unpredictable pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and cars. With no car insurance, it is best to accept it and just putter around.

As I have occasional access to a LandRover Defender, it is pretty hard to wind up too fast and it can get pretty uncomfortable thumping over potholes. After a while, you even start to remember the locations of bigger potholes.

Yes, on-coming traffic does cross the centre-line, but this has not been a big issue yet. In general, driving is significantly more sedate than China, for instance, where aggression and staking one’s claim on asphalt territory is very important.

I don’t believe that Timor Leste has any traffic lights anywhere. But it does have traffic police and unlike many other traffic police in Asia, they actually look less imposing and treat cars and drivers quite reasonably. They give everybody a chance and do it well.

There is no doubt the quality of the roads is deteriorating. New and larger potholes have appeared even in the 2.5 weeks since arrival. I understand that money for road maintenance is almost zero and I have never seen any sign of road maintenance gangs and some of the roads sure need it.

Your typical 4 cylinder sedan cops a pounding on some of the rough bits, but if you live in Dili or surrounds, you are within 15 minutes drive of everything. And if you don’t have a car, a taxi will cost USD1 for almost any trip up to that 15 minutes. Taxis are everywhere.