In an expat environment like this, regular farewells are frequent. Most expats are here 6 months, 1 year, 2 years and in a few cases, a bit more than that.

I have been to 2 such farewells this week. One for a couple who have basically been here before and after the troubles of 1999/2000. Some people just get hooked. Others do their stuff and move on.

Tonight, I went to a farewell across the other side of town. For a reason that probably would escape most, I decided to cycle it. It was fine getting there just before sunset. But it sure was interesting coming home at 11pm.

There is hardly a car on the road after 9pm, so cycling is not a problem. But you have to remember the location of potholes otherwise life is not worth living. I did have my flashing red light on the rear but didn’t bother with a front light. Thats not to say that the street lighting is any good, thats more a statement of my confidence in the road ahead.

It took about 20 minutes to get home. On about 3 occasions, voices from the dark yelled out “bo noite” (ie good evening). I waved back. It really is not a problem here. A bit of common sense and you can feel perfectly safe. Yep, there is a purpose to drinking Melbourne Bitter – makes the ride home so much more enjoyable.

See ya, Andrew and Jo.

Pig Races

On a weekend in Dili, there are no football games (apart from a few local games on dirt), no sailing regattas, no car races, no horse races, no squash courts, no bowls, no rowing, no track meets, no cycling velodromes, no wineries, no relaxing Sunday drives and no tea and scones in the hills.

But every now and then, there is pig racing. For a bit of a hoot, every month or so, the Monkey Bar puts on pig racing. Modelled on the greyhounds with four starting gates and a short 20m track, the four porkers dressed in racing numbers make the dash after a bowl of swill carried by a nimble hare.

Beers are consumed, no money changes hands and it sure is different.

Water – can I have some ?

I think I have had enough. Its 2 weeks of next to no water in the house. It varies but it seems if you run the shower for 10 minutes in the morning, it will eventually come good. I have measured it at 5 litres per minute at its best. Apparently low-flow shower heads are in the range 7 to 12 litres per minute back in the real world. And high-flow shower heads (as my mother preferred) run at up to 20 litres per minute.

But at night, water will run for about 20 seconds then disappear. Nothing from any tap. Outside, there is a tank full of water and a pump which should be an on-demand pump but it runs 24 hours 7 days a week. There is a big problem. Either the pump is buggered or there is a huge leak somewhere.

Anyway, so I arrive home after a day of intense physical activity. No water. So I decide to try filling the bath from a hose directly from the water bore. I get my Milo, come back and find the bath half full of dark grey water and it smells of diesel. I suspect someone’s diesel tank for their generator has polluted the underground source where we have our water bore.

I contemplate converting to Buddhism again but realise that taking lives is not part of the deal so Buddhism may not be my best option.

Postscript : After careful analysis, it appears that the 3rd segment of hose that I added, had been used to siphon diesel.

St.Patricks Day

Three pain killers, coffee, a shower, food, exercise, more coffee and still the headache remains.

Yesterday was St.Patricks Day and while it is a great day for the Irish, it is also a great day for the Guinness drinker here in Dili. The usual Guinness available in the shops is made in Malaysia and I am afraid it bears little resemblance to Guinness at all.

By absolute chance, I came across news that the Irish Embassy had shipped in a special consignment of genuine Irish Guinness in cans with a widget. Next mission was to get an invite to St.Pats Day as I had absolutely no doubt where that consignment was going to end up.

As Dili is so small, its actually not that hard to arrange these things but I felt a little out of place initially. It didn’t take long to work out that half of Dili had been invited.

Now when you have been pining for a Guinness for a while and the genuine article is put before your eyes (not even the Australian-made version) and the Irish government are paying, well, you take your chances, don’t you ?

I managed 6 pints of the good stuff, talked the leg off a chair, danced like Fred Astaire and possibly made some new acquaintances. But I blame the 2 glasses of red wine after all that for the headache this morning.

I’m with the pigs !

Quoting from Agence France Presse

Dili’s stray pigs must go: East Timor’s FM
DILI, Feb 20 2006

Stray pigs roaming free in East Timor’s capital are a disgrace and must be dealt with before they affect foreign investment, Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta said Monday.

“I have never found another place in this world, especially beaches, crowded by pigs that roam freely and foul public spaces like the beaches” in Dili, Horta told a press conference on a new hotel investment here.

If nothing was done to rid the coastal capital of the beasts, “it could possibly discourage interest of enterpreneurs to invest in East Timor,” Horta said as he called on the city’s mayor to take action.

“Dili is a capital. Dili is a barometer of the economy of Timor Leste because about 80 percent of economic activity takes place here,” the minister said.

Well, I am with the pigs. No mention of the dogs who wander equally aimlessy or even the goats and chooks. Sorry, Jose. First it will be the pigs, then the goats, then the chooks, then the dogs, then no street peddlars, then cleaning up the rubbish bins, then fixing the potholes, then no lean-tos and tents by the beach, then no selling of fish by the roadside, no coconuts, then comes traffic lights, then high rise buildings, then speed cameras, microlets will be replaced by buses. Then no-one would want to visit.

C’mon Jose. Don’t follow – lead. The other countries allow dogs but only with a licence. Lead the world. Introduce pig licences. And what about pig shows, pig obedience classes, fetch the stick Oinki – Jose, just do it !

The Rat

Well that does it ! The rat has woken me for the last time. I am angry.

The ceiling of the renovated house is just simple plasterboard with no insulation or anything fancy up in the roof. My friends sounds like a Rottweiler up there.

I guess he comes in at night for a romp or something but last night he clearly took a flying leap from a rafter onto the ceiling above the bed. I nearly had a heart attack, thinking someone had fallen through the roof. I couldn’t get back to sleep.

I like the idea of being a Buddhist but I am afraid, I have knocked off too many mosquitoes already and am about to add a rat to the collection.

Is there a Buddhist sect that allows rat extermination ?

Coffee, what’s the drill

You would think that as coffee is Timor-Leste’s main export after Timor Sea petroleum, that the place is teeming with the stuff. Not exactly the case, really.

So when I first arrive, I go to the supermarket. Lavazza yep, numerous vacuum-packed imported coffees and packets of pre-ground Indonesian-style coffee. For some reason, I fail to be attracted by 1kg packets of talcum powder-like coffee of unknown age.

For weeks, I tried to find evidence of a roastery where I might get freshly roasted beans. Nope. There are a couple of coffee roasteries down near the airport but they try to sell you stuff off the shelf. I guess fresh stuff could be arranged but the word is that the airport roasteries get the low quality cast-off beans from the big exporters, who dominate the market.

But my last lot was 1kg of roasted and plastic packed roasted arabica beans for UD2-50 from one of the airport roasteries. Before that I tried a vacuum pack of Cafe Timor ground beans, but they were of the talcum powder fine grind and not to my taste. Before that was the vacuum pack of Delta coffee which is Timorese beans processed in Portugal and re-imported back here. Delta wasn’t bad.

But before that, an acquaintance provided 1kg of freshly roasted beans from an undisclosed source that he uses to supply the freshly roasted article. I haven’t seen him since but I will definitely get onto it.

Until I got here, I drank coffee with milk but I have given up. I am afraid all milk here is of the long-life variety and while it seems OK for use when cold, it performs poorly in tea or coffee. The taste is all wrong.

Timor Sun and the Orphanage

I came across “The Hope Orphanage” blog recently (hopeintimor.blogspot.com/) and it took me a minute before I realised I had actually been there and stayed the night on the floor in the big room which has the kitchen, classroom and recreation room. I slept between 2 desks in the classroom area.

I hope I don’t get this wrong but it is run by an Australian couple Isa and Ina Bradridge. As far as I can tell, they have no religious affiliations and are doing this just because ! Isa is about mid-40s, drinks beer and is a thoroughly worldly and pleasant man.

I had a long chat with Isa about how his 3 months of setting up an orphanage turned into years (can’t remember how many). He seemed tired. I didn’t realise that his day job was running the free weekly English language newspaper the Timor Sun, which unfortunately is holding on by the skin of its teeth. This paper is devoured by all English speaking expats as it provides a few tidbits of local stuff and is the only real place to advertise services to the English speaking community. I can grind my way through the Tetun language newspapers but it is so much harder.

Anyway, the orphans at the Hope Orphanage in Gleno (50kms from Dili) are the lucky ones. Isa has obviously busted his gut over this. He does have some very kind benefactors who can get funds to him directly with no middlemen. The Timor Sun did have a web page once but it seems to have stalled and not been updated for some time.

If you want to say g’day to Isa, I am sure the message will get through via the blog or give him some goss at the Timor Sun via [email protected].

Food Safety 201

Having had a second visit to the doc recently re. my never-ending sore throat, I left with his final touching words “don’t worry, you’ll be back”. What he was referring to was bowel problems.

I was speaking to the owner and chef of one of the expat oriented bar/restaurants recently and he suddenly said “they will kill some one”. I replied “who?”.

He mentioned the main 2 supermarkets which are the central shopping points for the vast majority of the expat community. He specifically mentioned the well-known fact that most foreign foodstuffs were either approaching or past their use-by dates. He singled out the frozen foods as the worst culprits, citing use-by dates, the temperature of the freezers and the even nastier habit of thawing and re-freezing of these items. I also suspect a lot of the food lines have been market failures somewhere else and have been dumped. I also suspect production runs of sub-standard goods or labeling errors etc. to be amongst it all as well.

I must admit that I knew all this prior to arriving and was worried but you tend to forget about it after a while. Most of the expat bar/restaurants struggle to get staff to adopt basic food hygiene standards in food handling. You occassionally cross your fingers and eat out at a more local restaurant (usually run by Indonesians, Chinese, Indians, …)

You always hear stories about so-and-so is sick after eating at “…..” restaurant 2 days ago.

Lets not even mention those who have come down with malaria or dengue fever. A close acquaintance has been bed-ridden for 5 days now and dengue is suspected.

But the doctor was right, like everyone else, I’ll be back.

The State of the Nation

It had to come – starting to sound intelligent I mean.

The UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) have just released the National Human Development Report 2006 for Timor Leste.

It paints a fairly black picture but at least Timor Leste has petroleum income from the Timor Sea and if used wisely, the country will get itself back into shape. But that is up to the local politicians to play a fair game.

Some snippets from the report …

  • Four years after gaining independence, impoverished Timor-Leste remains one of the world’s least-developed nations
  • Half the population lacks safe drinking water, 60 of 1,000 infants born alive die before their first birthday, and life expectancy, at only 55.5 years of age in 2004, is not improving
  • 80 percent of households in Timor-Leste earn a living from agriculture
  • The Government of Timor-Leste has already moved to safeguard any potential oil and gas wealth. In June 2005, the nation’s Parliament unanimously approved the creation of a Petroleum Fund to serve as a single account into which all petroleum revenue will be deposited, and from which all development funds will come
  • Poverty in Timor-Leste is already most severe in the rural areas. The vast proportion of current investment is directed to Dili, the capital, and only one-third of total public expenditure and one-fifth of goods and services target rural districts
  • the overwhelming majority of Timor-Leste’s people work in fields, not cities
  • two-thirds of women and half of men between the ages of 15 and 60 are illiterate
  • between 10 percent and 30 percent of primary school-age children still are not attending school
  • The report can be downloaded here