Bye Henry

I was told this week of the passing of Henry, one of those Dili characters that FOS over at Xanana Republic speaks of in his own personal farewell.  I met Henry in 2006 when I was looking for an electrician … and I mean someone who actually seemed to understand what he was doing.  Some of the local alternatives (not always local either) did not inspire confidence.

So I meet up with this guy one day and ask him if he is interested in doing some electrical work.  I had been told he had other things going on in his world like looking after the Dili Backpackers and the Venture Hotel.  He grizzled and cursed but finally said alright.  And so started an irregular relationship usually kicked off by electrical and/or generator problems.  I recall texting him to see if he could come over in a hurry and got back a 2 word response “f*** yes”.  That was Henry.  I kept that text on my phone for over 12 months and from time to time, showed to others.  It always gave me a laugh.

Sometimes I would bump into him at the bar at the Backpackers (the Smokehouse) and sometimes wave as he passed in his beat-up ute.  I remember I once asked him to write a little report detailing the problems he had encountered and the work required to fix it.  The response was “aw f*** !  Can’t you write it”.  I never asked again … and I did write it.

I invited Henry to my own farewell.  He came in his usual dishevelled state – shorts, boots and over-used shirt – looking (as usual) like he had just got out bed.  He grizzled to me “What am I doing here ? All I have done is fix your electrical problems.  I don’t fit in with these people … these are your friends.  I won’t stay long.”  He was the last to leave and I spoke to him longer than anyone else.

That was the last time I saw Henry.  I think he actually felt chuffed to have been invited.  No Henry, I was chuffed that you came – like every other time I had a problem.  You usually grizzled, nearly always cursed but you always came.

Dog 1, Me 0

Nothing much happening really.  Lots of afternoon rain lately.  Lots of roof leaks.  Yesterday, a foul smell started emanating from the house.  Today, the smell is now in the bedroom and very suggestive of a dead rat festering away in a pool of water in the ceiling.

Got bitten by a dog recently.  Lots of blood.  Bruising like I have been beaten with a baseball bat.  Even more colourful language of the lumberjack variety.  Rabies booster.  Sore leg.  Poor sleeping.  Mood swings.

Otherwise not much happening here.

The sod break-in and general fluff

I must say I feel quite let-down after hearing about FOS’s Christmas Eve break-in at Chateau Sod.  I had a fairly full and event-free Christmas and was quite emotional at the end of the day.  But the scroats (as FOS calls them) are definitely increasing in number and starting to get smarter.

For those that don’t know, most expats live behind some form of walled property with windows ranging from iron bars to heavyweight mesh grille to lightweight mosquito netting. Many window frames are made from unseasoned wood and a good shoulder would do a job on some of those. But there are other failings which include having the hinges on the outside and some pretty weak closing/locking apparatus. It is not uncommon to see walls with spikes, razor wire or broken glass set in concrete but also not uncommon to see a simple weak point in such setups.

Forget the peaceful scene of palm frond huts and no form of security at all. The only way you could get away with that is to employ a trusted guard, either by employing one from one of the two big security companies (Maubere and APAC) or by co-opting a friendly neighbour. By employing a neighbour, you may be able to gain respect as a decent (and perhaps only) local employer and thus get full neighbourhood protection. You might rent from a landlord who also provides the service and who knows that losing a rich foreigner following a theft is not a good long-term arrangement.

Unfortunately, FOS lives in an area which has many scroats and I am not sure if he is able to co-opt locals. And yes, Doris (the dog) lets you know when you approach the premises.

There have been incidences of supposedly trusted local staff (like guards and cleaners) suspected of participating in inside jobs with their mates, although this is NOT widespread.

Anyway, it is a wake-up call that it is best to do all the right things and lock doors and windows. And it now seems that one ought to install mesh over windows and some form of “climbing over the wall slow-down device” such as razor wire.  And keep cash in used underwear in your sock drawer or something like that.  It is sad really – who wants to live in a Stalag ?


Today and tomorrow are public holidays here in TL. Toothpaste. I have become a “Darlie” toothpaste convert. My chance to support political correctness in toothpaste. Absolution through ablution.

Power problems

Us foreigners will often live where backup power generation is available.  This means life goes on and if you can’t hear the generator, it has little effect.  At work, it may be different or it may not.

The current power problems are definitely at the severe end.  I reckon the power cuts over the last 24 hours to be at 11 hours where I live.  So a good generator should cover for that you would think.  Then the AC problems start … a few computer problems as well.  I try to find out what is going on.  I get my lecture after my 10,000 questions.

I am no electrician but it goes something like this.  Even when the power is there (from the grid – did I just use the word grid for here ?)  it still may be ratshit.  So the voltage drops way down from the standard 220Volts.  It may fluctuate a hell of a lot and the little UPSes give up and go onto battery.  The lights, fridge and everything else still run but the UPS may switch to battery.  And when the power finally gets bad enough to require the generator, the UPS battery doesn’t enough guts left to do its job.

Step up AirCon unit.  When on street power, it goes through periods when no cooling comes out of the thing.  Then it comes good again.  When this happens in the middle of the night, you don’t sleep too good.  Then it is explained.  When the voltage drops too low, the compressor (ie the bit that provides the cooling grunt) can’t hack the pace and eventually fails to perform any useful function.  The fan may still run but further power drops lead to strange grinding noises as the fan tries to cope with the crap power.  Eventually, if the gods be willing, the power drops out completely and the generator can take over.

Electricians please correct me where I got this wrong but the UPS thing and the AC thing have been driving me crazy.   Now that I understand, it is not so bad.

The new cock

It appears that the next-door neighbour has acquired a new rooster. If you usually live in a bigger city, you think that roosters do their crowing at dawn, thus saving on the necessity of having an alarm clock.

No-one told this rooster of the morning wake-up call requirement, nor has any Timorese rooster been through the same rooster school. They crow at any old time.

Add on the usual goats grazing in the streets (and the pigs who concentrate on the rubbish bin around the corner) and the only thing missing is milking the cows in the morning.

The real power struggle

There are a couple of power struggles going on here – in the “corridors of power” and in the “generators of power”.  Who knows what is going behind the corridors of power but behind the generators of power is some sort of battle which is being realised as continuous rolling power cuts.

If you are fortunate to have a generator, then you may not even notice too much but if you happen to be located near to a generator that sounds like a Mac truck idling under your bed, you tend to notice.  Particularly when it runs all night just to keep your body temperature at the cutting edge of sleeping efficiency.

I still do not know the real story but I have heard two takes on this.  One is that the diesel fuel supply was contaminated with water and the other that a cheap (and bad) batch of fuel was purchased.  And with no fuel testing facilities here, it seems to be taking a very long time to resolve.  I did see that some sort of government committee made a special inspection of the generating facilities in a response to all this.

There have been about 3 weeks of rolling cuts now, anything from 3 to 6 hours per day with the odd day much more than that.  It will of course, depend where you live and I am unsure if both the generating plants are affected in a similar way.

For many people, this is not even a discusson point any more.

Dangerous Mangoes

Over the last couple of weeks, mangoes have hit the streets in big numbers.  The tree hanging over the back fence had been bulging with ripe fruit until today when some of the local kids got up into it and harvested as many as they could.  They did a lot of shaking and quite a few landed on our side of the fence.  Thanks guys.  I ain’t climbing up into a 15m high mango tree.

Just yesterday, I had been speaking to a volunteer doctor who had told me one of the most common injuries at this time of year is kids who have fallen from mango trees. It is always kids and there are few safety measures put into practice.  At this time of year, there is no lush greenery so wherever you fall, it is hard.

Whereas I am happy to wait for them to fall, when it comes to the potential income hanging up there in the tree, why wait when someone else may nab them first.

I just wish mangoes were easier to eat, instead of being like a slippery bar of soap. But I just lurv mangoes.

The Power Cuts

Three weeks ago, the Dili power supply encountered problems and there have been numerous and lengthy power cuts right across the city ever since.

Now this is OK if you have a generator supplying backup power. Generators are quite common here but domestically, tend to be available at hotels, some restaurants, serviced apartments and the numerous smaller accommodation complexes around town. Outside that, it is pretty much for the elite. Many expats enjoy the benefits of these generators.

I am in the smaller accommodation complexes category. This is good except the generator has been failing ever since this round of cuts started. For the last 2 weeks, the cuts have been daily and usually between 7pm and midnight and averaging about 3 hours.

You might think it is just a matter of calling a mechanic and the job is done. Well, local Timorese mechanics were unable to solve the problem, so a search went out for the best man in town. However, the best man in town was in hospital in Darwin.

Eventually, about the 5th person to look at the generator found a loose wire and re-connected it. Problem solved ! Hopefully, 2 weeks of candle power are over and I can remember the 1st half of the book I was reading 2 weeks ago.

Power struggles

There has always been power cuts – like x number of times over the weekend.  Its the way it is here.  If you are an expat and you do not have a generator servicing your work or home, it would be driving you crazy at the moment.

If you do have a generator and it is well-silenced or a distance away, you may not even hear it and only notice a couple of seconds cut before it kicks in.  Or you could have a noisy generator that constantly reminds you of its operation.

Lately, the power cuts have become highly aggravating for those without generator access.  The cuts have been pretty much daily (and usually in prime time of evening) of late and this weekend the worst I have known since my arrival.

My understanding is that sometimes the electrical authority runs out of fuel.   Generation is by 6 diesel generators located at 2 sites (I think) and if they lose one, power cuts are a certainty.  I believe they are one down at the moment but I also thought demand was still only 50% of what it was a year ago.  Questions, questions …

During the troubles of May/June, the streets may have been deserted and security a problem but electricity supply was pretty good.  Demand was down to 30% which I guess made maintenance much easier.

But I know a guy (a long-term expat) who recently had his first child and the nightly cuts drove him insane.  He acquired his own generator but nevertheless complained about paying for an electricity supply that lately has been pretty unreliable.

Some tips :

  • Invest in uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) if you have a computer
  • If re-setting your TV and recording settings on your VCR drives you insane, get a UPS for that too
  • Curse anyone who gives you an electronic clock/radio for your birthday
  • Forget about ever setting the clock on a microwave