The big kahuna

From time to time, you get big ships visiting here but few bigger than the hospital ship USNS Mercy.  It is parked off Dili for 2 weeks providing specialist medical services.  I believe it is concentrating on cleft palate operations on this its 3rd trip to Dili.  Hard to believe there is more medical grunt on that ship than the whole country put together.

On Wednesday at lunchtime, a supply ship provided entertainment by airlifting supplies by chopper to the Mercy.

It is also noticable that there seem to be more oil exploration ships passing through.  Maybe its just because I know what one looks like now.

Someone said to me recently, “there’s gotta be a market for dry cleaners here”.  Funny how you only start noticing signs advertising laundry services – at the Sands Motel and the new Sealion Laundry next to the new “Pinoy Grill” restaurant.  This may be a new incarnation of the Pinoy that existed in the old Fat Boys premises.  Its on Comorro Road between the heliport and the OZ Embassy.  And there is a new Vietnamese restaurant across the road.

Cultural events

It may be a bit late but this weekend at the Mercado Lama building, there is a “Home and Garden Expo”.  I have been and if you are souvenir hunting, it is the place to go.  More than half the stalls are selling tais (from everywhere) and the woven grass products (from Maubara) and I would have thought all targeted at the malae market.

Yes, you can buy plants (as you can every Saturday morning across from Tiger Fuels anyway), hardware items and the odd bit of brick paving.  It feels exactly like the “buy Timorese” expo held at the same venue about a month ago.  If this were monthly and they had a bit of a coffee shop with the top shelf stuff and some bakery items, maybe a bit more furniture, I could imagine it extending into something quite worthwhile and enduring.  Freshly roasted coffee, freshly roasted peanuts, freshly toasted foccaccia  😛 …

Over the next week, there is also a photographic exhibition across the road from the Australian Embassy by Gavin Cooper (closes 6 July).

This is the funniest thing I have heard for a long time.  You had to be there but imagine a group of people in jovial mood being told that one of their (malae) number had just failed their Timorese driving test.  There was that completely uncontrolled outburst of laughter that I have not heard for a very long time – many tears.  You had to be there.

Jackie Chan and the frigate

If you have nothing better to do, Jackie Chan (a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador) will be “interacting with youth” at the Dili Stadium from 4:30pm today.  And if you see a naval vessel down at the docks, it is a French frigate on its annual goodwill tour of the region.

Lots of goodwill today.  I bet the best restaurant in town is parked at the Dili port.

The quake

The media is swamped with articles about the big shake here in Dili.  In January 2006, I commented on a big shake at that time.  But I have a less inspiring story this time.

I was mooching around the house this morning doing stuff and left my morning shower until I had done a bit of sweating first.  There I was showering away, head in a lather doing the shampoo job when the more attractive half of the house rushed in to share earthquake experiences.  Apparently the place swayed and shook and all loose items had a bit of a sway/shake/rattle.

Being in the middle of a good shampoo job on my head, I knew nothing about it at all.   Nothing broke, no tsunami, I must have been on the Planet Zog.  That’s some good shampoo !!

The return of the President

This is the time to be brushing up on the old Ben Hur movie as tomorrow’s welcome back for President Ramos-Horta is looking like it could be bigger than Ben.

Tomorrow has been called a “day of tolerance” and I believe this means tomorrow morning is a public holiday which might mean not much going on in government offices.

The President arrives at 8am which will be followed by a brief Press Conference.  The population are being encouraged to line the roads to welcome back the President.  I think it was decided it would be a good thing not to encourage people to swamp the airport.

Meanwhile the next move in the rebel stakes is that Gastao Salsinha has promised to hand himself in on 27 April.  I am not sure of the significance of this date but it may mean the “state of emergency” will continue past the current 22 April finish date.

The President’s return has been a magnificent thing for the roads from town out to his residence near the Christo Rei statue – except if you actually wanted to use that road during the roadworks of the past week or so.  I used that road on the weekend and can only say I am looking forward to the final result which in theory, must be finished by 8am tomorrow.

This is but one way to schedule roadworks.  But you need a lot of Presidents if you want the whole country done.

State of siege

I believe the “State of Siege” has now been extended by 30 days. I presume this means the curfew goes along with it, so no night-time movements until 23 March. I decided to look up “State of Siege” in the english version of the constitution (a 68 page downloadable PDF file). I am still not clear and all I could glean from this document is :

  • Suspension of the exercise of fundamental rights, freedoms and guarantees
  • Can only be enacted for a maximum of 30 days at a time
  • Parliament can not be dissolved during this period
  • The constitution can not be changed during this period

I think it would be handy to get a bit more detail on what rights, freedoms and guarantees have been foregone. We sort of know that there is an 8pm to 6am curfew and rallies and other public meetings are not on.

I had thought that some of the bar/restaurants would do OK but I am told this is not so. Some restaurants simply are not bothering to open at night and some are taking holidays. The bar/restaurants with accompanying accommodation will probably do better than others. This is going to hurt the food and beverage sector.

The “6 o’clock slam” will probably be institutionalised over the next month, some people will get more sleep and there will probably be a bit of curfew syndrome. I have already heard the term “stir crazy” mentioned several times. A good time for expats to take holidays I reckon.

Those expats who live in modest accommodation with no cooking facilities may do it hard. The One More Bar is offering sleep-overs so you can watch the rugby or whatever then pass out on the floor. Not for me.

AMENDMENT (8:17pm) :  The curfew hours have been altered to 10pm to 6am.  Bars and restaurants rejoice.  Alas, the “6 o’clock slam” may not be quite so exciting.

What’s up Friday PM

Not much really. It is as dead as a dodo out there. I am told that the curfew is really being treated seriously so if you want a visit to the police station, just get on out there.

During the day, it really is quite normal. The increased security presence really does overwhelm any thoughts of activities as experienced in 2006. I can’t see how it is possible.

The international press are now swarming all over the place. Major Alfredo’s funeral and PM Kev’s visit have given the lads (a gender neutral term) a good couple of days. I guess the hotels are full.

I am increasingly confused by all the reports, conflicting observations and speculative conclusions. One thing that one should consider here is that it is a small place. Sometimes it seems that every Timorese you know is related to some other Timorese. At times, it is quite disconcerting. So when you read of “guards/witnesses recognising attackers”, you better believe that it is quite possible.

So when a close to lightning raid happens and people escape, it was no surprise to hear that 20+ people are already on arrest warrants/lists. A lot of local people seem to know these things.

My cyclist mate has been interviewed and I am convinced that reasonable police investigations have been carried out so it is just a matter of time before some real information is released – hopefully.

Meanwhile, the events of the week destroyed Valentine’s Day organised dinners (cop it Cupid) and I believe the Atlantic Grill had intended on an opening night bash tonight. Think lunchtime parties this weekend.

Not the Spice Girls

At the moment, I am just reading the news like everyone else but there are still many conflicting views.

I have heard/read “Alfredo shot in a bedroom/shot at the front gate”, “shooting started at 6:50am versus Alfredo shot 30 minutes before the President”, “kidnap not assassination”, “PM Xanana knew nothing about what happened 40 minutes before / made fully aware”, my cyclist friend has been elevated to diplomat but downgraded to jogger etc. etc.

I am sure the UN police know enough to knock some of these on the head quite quickly but they probably will not say until they believe they have the facts worked out sufficiently. There are arrest warrants to be issued etc. etc.  And of course, they are fighting their own battle re. claims of being slow to respond and reluctant to enter the shooting area.

Meanwhile we await if the “state of siege” will be extended by 10 days. There seems to be some degree of uncertainty. But if it presses ahead, the bars will receive a hit. I rang a friend at 7pm last night (to discuss a work issue) and found the friend in a bar operating at full swing. I am not old enough to have experienced the (now historical) Melbourne 6-o’clock swill * but I detected an element of that in the festivities.

The last 3 nights have been very quiet. The HMAS Perth arrived Tuesday morning and is roaming up and down the Dili coastline. On Tuesday, ABC TV reported that OZ troops and police arrived “secretly” at Dili airport. That raised a chuckle. There are only about 2 plane movements a day at Dili airport and the only jet is the lunchtime turnaround of the 737 from/to Bali. So when the 4-engined jet nearly blew the roof off late afternoon, “oh, they’re here”. Even the Spice Girls could have arrived more secretly.

* The 6 o’clock swill was the term used for lining up a number of beers at the bar prior to the cessation of bar service at 6pm. The law at the time was designed to put an end to the male breadwinner drinking all night in bars. So he just bought 3 or more beers and lined them up, which might keep him going until 8 o’clock. I would love to have seen it – purely from a sociological point of view of course.

Gunfight at the President’s Corral

A friend who lives near the President’s home (about 5 kms east of the centre of Dili) called me at about 7am this morning to tell me that there was gunfire which had been going on for about 15 minutes. It appears the gunfight started at around 6:30am but perhaps the confrontation actually started earlier. Within 1/2 an hour, the security warnings apparatus came into play and it has been like that ever since.

I rang another friend who usually goes for the ritual Jesus walk each morning and yes, the President was out on his regular morning walk as well. He walks regularly with his small security team. Reports from here (and cross-referenced with what ABC radio has reported) have differed slightly but it would appear that some sort of gunfight actually started while the President was on his walk. My friend said the President got on his phone when the gunfire started and continued walking home – probably something like 1/2 to 1 kms. A 2nd flurry of gunfire occured a few minutes later. To put this into personal perspective, I did the Jesus walk last Thursday morning at 6:30am and passed the President on his.

Later reports suggest that the President was in “convoy” but I presume this to mean this was his “on-foot” group as they were walking up the hill to his home.

The line on the map below is 2kms long. It shows the President’s house, the Cristo Rei statue and the road up the hill to his house.

TL President shooting general location map

It now seems certain that he was shot and that he was taken to the Australian military hospital which is located at the heliport. Note that the heliport is NOT the airport which is some 5 kms on the western side of town. The heliport is also just west of town and NOT near to the President’s house but some 6kms across the other side of town.

I have heard ambulances but have no info on the ABC reports of up to 20 wounded or if Major Alfredo was amongst them or indeed killed, as reported.

Basically, this has put a lot of expats on hold until accurate information comes through and more importantly from a personal security point of view, what the reaction will be from the Timorese themselves. The average Joao in the street is keeping off the streets becasue they don’t really know what will happen next.