Canal rooted, no more Mr.Grumpy

I guess it had to happen, but my tooth eventually went ballistic and I was in a lot of pain. But with no dentists in TL and certainly no dental X-ray machines, it was either go for tooth extraction locally or endeavour to get out of Dili and have it all handled properly. I chose the latter but not before getting THE doctor to load me up with anti-biotics and painkillers for a couple of days.

It wasn’t easy but I eventually got an appointment in Darwin, where (like many other places) dentists appear to be in short supply. I hadn’t actually had any dental work done since I was a kid and I was expecting some sort of discomfort. Having someone spend 30 minutes working away in your mouth with the mouth wide open is not exactly comfort, but once the anaesthetic kicked in, I felt no more pain.

The root canal job was done and I was told that once the anaesthetic wore off, I could experience some severe pain. I still had my smorgasbord of painkillers so I believed I had everything under control.

I decided to celebrate no more mouth and jaw pain with a lunch. However, my mouth/face was still under the influence of numbness. I ordered a noodle dish which had the suitable softness required to protect the temporary filling.

I warned the waiter that I might dribble uncontrollably and had to guide the glass of water to my mouth with both hands so that I hit the target. The food was great. By the end, my face was coming out of it.

And I never experienced any more pain at all once the anaesthetic wore off. Ball-tearingly brilliant !!!

Atauro Island

Over the Easter weekend, we went with a group to Atauro Island – the large island dominating the view to the north of Dili. Despite getting a lot of “stick” from my crook tooth, I decided that suffering in Atauro was probably going to be little different from suffering at home here. (Note : no medical or dental services were expected to be available in Dili or Atauro over Easter.)

Atauro is 30kms to the north of Dili and covers about 140 square kms. As I read the Lonely Planet guide, Atauro (unlike TL itself) is more Protestant than Catholic. The biggest village Vila (where we stayed at the Eco Lodge) has an Assembly of God church and we heard regular singing coming from that general direction.

There is a short narrow 4km stretch of bitumen road from the small wharf at Beloi (where we were deposited) to Vila. My guess is that the island has about 3 or 4 motor vehicles and maybe 10 motor cycles.

We took a fast “dive” boat to get from Dili to Beloi which took about 1 hour 15 minutes across the Wetar Strait. We saw none of the hoped-for whales or dolphins on the way, but many flying fish. Wetar Strait is well over 3kms in depth at its deepest points and is said to be popular with submarines making their way from the Pacific to the Indian oceans.

The Eco Lodge is about the only formal accommodation available. It is straw huts by the sea, no refrigeration, limited lighting and no sign of radio or TV. Simple beds with mosquito nets were provided and 3 meals a day at around US$15 per day plus the US$24 per day accommodation. They provided some quite respectable long-drop toilets (with toilet paper) and a quite nice mandi (ie large water basin with pitcher for washing purposes).

The sea is only metres away and most of the time, as hot as a warm bath.

The standard means of getting around is by foot and one of the planned activities was a hike up to the top of Mt.Manucoco (995m). Of the larger group that set off for the top, only about 1/4 made it all the way. It took them 9 hours in 35 to 40 degree heat (4 hours to the top) with insufficient water by any measure. I was the last of the pikers to pull out after 2 hours walking uphill on small rough mountain tracks. My pathetic excuse was the general malaise caused by my chronic tooth problem. The other half was a member of the small group that made it to the top.

As for cost, 2 nights plus all food and transport came in at around US$125 per head. The only way to do it cheaper would have been to take the once a week ferry from Dili each Saturday. Private charter is the only other option.

And the sunset that greeted us on our return to Dili harbour was one to die for.

Although it was a couple of days away from AC, it was extremely relaxing and stress-free. No newspapers, radio, TV, traffic, noise … it was also a welcome relief from the hustle and bustle of Dili. Hey, did I just say that ?

Taps and Football

Well, we got taps installed in our bathroom basin on Monday. It has been a long haul getting to this point. Our general water supply problems at home have basically been resolved, even though we know there is a leak somewhere.

There are still a few outstanding issues like “when will the contractor fill in the hole in the back porch outside and re-tile it”. But basically, we are finally over the hill and in theory, it will get easier from now on.

The biggest gain over the last week has been the installation of satellite TV with access to the IndoVision satellite system. It provides most of your standard world-wide satellite stuff (eg BBCWorld, CNN, HBO, Star Sport etc.) It also has the Australian ABC AsiaPacific service which provides a fairly boring menu of older programs BUT replays around 6 or 7 Australian Rules Football games in full every weekend. I am in some sort of football heaven, given I have not had access to this sort of wall-to-wall football for well over 5 years.

But I have learnt one valuable lesson. You do have to be careful commenting on your own water problems (or electricity etc.) to other expats who may in fact, not have very good water of their own and who have accepted their lot as being as good as it is ever going to get.

Nehan-moras (or toothache)

I have always rejected buying lottery tickets as statistically, you have more chance of losing rather than winning. Now is obviously not the right time to start either.

So the gods decree that I must have a toothache. I have not had one of these since I was about 10 years of age. About 7 months ago, I had a dental check-up and was told “these are the best looking teeth I have seen in a long time”.

I have flossed my teeth a zillion times, used mouthwash 10 times a day and popped pain killers regularly. The first signs appeared about 3 days ago and it has got worse. At times, it is excruciating.

So I should go to the dentist, right ? I believe there are a couple of dental technicians in TL, but there are certainly no dental X-ray machines. I was told that the answer to all teeth problems here is extraction.

It is possible it is an abscess and it is even possible I pinched a nerve in my jaw (during a particularly ferocious yawn last week). So I will go see the doctor first and if he says go see a dentist, I will be winging off to Bali or Darwin.

Bairo Pite Clinic and Dr. Dan

Before you get to Timor Leste, if you try to do web searches looking for web sites here, it is a bit of a struggle. Apart from some of the government department sites and a couple revolving around tourism, there is not much else.

I found the Bairo Pite Clinic web site a long time ago and as an information resource, it didn’t seem too bad. But I do know that the information is a bit dated now.

But living here, the Bairo Pite Clinic comes up regularly in conversation. It is actually a medical clinic run by the (locally) infamous Dr. Dan (Murphy). It is a private clinic run by Dr. Dan, who while some may say is a bit on the eccentric side, he sure is on a determined mission to do what he can for the Timorese people.

I actually couldn’t contain myself and had to see for myself. I had met an expat volunteer who works there and had a long-standing invitation to go and have a look around.

I hopped on my bike and headed for the clinic. It was only 10 minutes away but initially, I actually cycled straight past. It wasn’t quite like what I expected. Not helped by the sign falling down and little else giving away the real purpose.

But one couldn’t help noticing the 50 or so Timorese waiting outside for treatment. (The sign at reception says in Tetun “maximum 100 patients in the morning and maximum 70 in the afternoon”. I was told they do more than that. Dr. Dan does most of them himself.) Both the consultation and any required drugs are provided free (as far as I know). To many, Dr. Dan is a god. To some in the traditional medical community, he cuts too many corners. As in all things, both views are probably as correct as the other, depending on which side of the spectrum you are on.

I suppose the real point is “can anyone else treat so many people for the same price”. I will bet “no”.

To be honest, the clinic is pretty rough by western standards but I was impressed with the pathology laboratory (mostly because it had one at all) and the pharmacy seemed pretty well organised.

I know another volunteer at the national hospital so will stick my beak into that one as well. After these 2 medical institutions, there is bugger-all else. Bugger-all except for the quite extensive medical clinics provided by the Cooperativa Cafe Timor – the coffee growing co-operative. But thats for another day.

Freshly Ground

I finally managed to obtain freshly ground coffee beans today. I suspect this is the first time I have achieved one of my main caffeine-induced aims. I am hooking into the first brew right now and instantly notice several things compared to previous batches of beans.

Firstly, this time, I supposedly have premium grade arabica beans from a medium roast. The consistency of the beans is noticeable compared to previous batches. There is also a distinct difference in the operation of the grinder and the final result. The colour and size of the grind is much more consistent. And most significant of all, a huge crema (ie the frothy bit floating on top). And the taste is noticeably different also.

These beans are “Cafe Timor” beans from the “Cooperativa Cafe Timor” and are certified organic arabica beans made from the uniquely Timorese “Hibrido de Timor”, a hybrid bean found only in Timor.

Having established the supply chain, freshly roasted and ground is the only way now.

Street Riots ?

While in Bali, we heard and read stories from Dili of street riots, trashing of shops and people escaping to Indonesia to save themselves.

I seem to recall cycling home across Dili late on the Saturday of the weekend when all this happened. I saw nothing.

I have tried to piece together as much as possible but lay no claim to incredible accuracy. But I know of no expat who has been involved in or seen any trouble. Most of the talk comes from the Timorese themselves and is based on rumour and there appears to be some degree of exaggeration.

However, there definitely was some trouble and it was fairly specifically targeted, it seems. It appears to have been related to fall-out over the recent sacking of 500 or so military staff from the army. Although this issue was primarily over poor wages, it also uncovered the long-running (and well-known) tensions between those who live in the western half of Timor Leste and those who live in the eastern half.

Some good old-fashioned intolerance rose to the surface and some of the other persuasion found their house or shop the target of rocks and the like. Travel out of Dili was not recommended as cars were being stopped by masked groups and if the incorrect allegiance given, cars were known to be trashed (windows broken and tyres slashed). I think most of the trouble spots were really in the “suburbs” and villages outside of Dili.

More later.


By coincidence, we were in Bali during Nyepi – Bali’s day of silence. We were warned. It would be quiet and we MUST be quiet. From 6am Thursday 30 March to 6am Friday 31 March, no lights, no street lights, no traffic, no music, no TV, no talking, no going out, no leaving the premises.

The night before Nyepi, we went into Denpasar and watched the ogoh ogoh monster ceremony where evil paper mache monsters parade the streets to represent the driving away of evil spirits. The crowds were huge, the atmosphere light and completely non-threatening (and not a drop of alcohol to be seen).

On the next night, I thought a little quiet TV would go un-noticed but the tiniest of light leaks was spotted by the local nyepi squadron who patrol the street to make sure everyone complies. They beat on the door. I turned off the TV. It felt just like Dili. I taped the black plastic bags over the bedroom window (just like Dili) and remained in bed for 12 hours.

Next morning, it was business as usual.

For an explanation of Nyepi, try :

Bali Break

After a few months of domestic hell with water problems and almost daily trooping in and out of “tradesmen” (I use that term quite loosely), an opportunity came up to get away for a breather, courtesy of the other half’s employer.

I imparted the USD284 for a return flight to Bali on Merpati. One hour and forty minutes later, one is in Bali and although I have been to Bali a couple of times before, the feeling this time was quite different. It really felt like the “boy from the bush” returning to the big city. It felt cosmopolitan, the traffic was awful, the shopping opportunities endless (by comparison), the normality gob-smacking. And cheap. Most things are 1/3 of the price of Dili.

We stayed with a hybrid Indonesian/western family and ate fabulous Indonesian home-cooked meals morning, noon and night. I gutsed myself. I did no exercise. And I came back to Dili weighing another 3kgs lighter. I guess it was the sambal* morning, noon and night.

I went with an empty suitcase as one of the main missions was to buy a few household items sadly missing from our house. We came back with plumbing fittings, telephones, cables, bedspreads, shower curtains, cushions, cushion covers, kitchenware and I nabbed a new LCD monitor as my poor old 11-year old monitor seemed to lose focus and intensity after 5 months in a hot, humid shipping container.

The LCD monitor savings over Dili prices effectively paid for my airfare. I could get used to this.

* sambal equals crushed chili often mixed with shrimp paste or lime juice but almost always hair-raising.