Mini Tour of Town

Over the weekend, I travelled around Dili including runs (by car) to the airport and around the suburbs.

Since the airport trip, the Comorro area has further deteriorated and I would avoid that trip at the moment. The Comorro Road in the vicinity has been blocked on and off over the last few days.

Elsewhere, it appears things are slowly returning to “normal”, if you call foreign troops and vehicles normal. The base for the foreign troops (and OZ troops) is at the port, while the NZ troops have taken over the nearby ex-Thrifty rent-a-car site next to the Hotel Timor for their base.

It is now not uncommon to hear large military vehicles rumble down the streets and the odd chopper fly over. There was a flurry of chopper activity last night and on some other days, pre-dawn.

On Saturday, there were no open shops in the Colmera shopping area and quite a few “youths” milling around. I was on foot and moved on to the Ministry of Agriculture building (Fomento building). As far as I could tell, the whole place has been looted. People were filing out with desks, filing cabinets, stationery and I had been told that earlier, the more choice items like computers also filed out. Again, I moved on.

There was paper everywhere as little kids were hauling away stacks of printer paper which were breaking open and littering the streets with paper. There was no sign of any foreign troops – I wondered why.

An afternoon drive around revealed about 4 of the normal 54 shops in the Audian shopping street were open. I am told that has further increased since.

As for general damage, I did not see a lot. What damage there was, seemed targetted to me. A local told me a lot of the burnt-out shops were premises owned or run by relatives of the Prime Minister and in one case, by an Indonesian.

In the suburbs, I saw areas near Comorro (ie Fatuhada) with a selection of houses burnt down. I was told the village chief pointed out the houses owned by easterners and it was these that were burnt down.

There is definitely a shift by people to get back to work so that they can earn money to buy food. For many, they may still be going to work from a “refugee camp” and many others have no home to go back to. I am impressed with the apparent acceptance of the situation by many but concede I do not really know just how much the locals are hurting inside.

I am currently trying to find out the source of a news story which suggested that one of the well-known expat bars had burnt down. This came from a friend in OZ who mentioned it was in a news story there. I checked the bar and no problem, so I am baffled where this stuff comes from.

I do know a disco/bar was burnt to the ground on Comorro Road but it is not one frequented by expats.

I read one foreign newspaper piece (no names) where I just happen to know the details and the story I read was one of the worst cases of misinformation and fabrication I have ever seen. I considered a nasty letter to the editor but I believe others more closely affected by it, have already beaten me to it. It was a disgrace to journalism. No wonder relatives keep checking to see if I am alright.

Domestic Supply Situation

Central Dili is becoming much safer and I expect the expat supermarkets to resume normal operation shortly. However, if they do not, it is not because it is inherently unsafe, it is because their staff have safety problems back at their homes. These supermarkets are built like Fort Knox anyway.

There is no problem with beer or gin supply or in fact, bogroll supply. The bogroll situation at home has been rectified. The gin bottle is nearly empty and we are back to beer and courtesy of astute planning, there are 2 slabs in reserve.

The Dili Club has been open at least since last Wednesday. Phil has no problem and he feels (as I do) expats are not a target at all. He is limiting his hours and pizza home deliveries not for safety reasons, but because he does not have enough staff. Most have headed for the hills.

I now have no problem regarding access to supply of stuff. The Cool Storage supermarket has been open throughout, even though one has had to knock on the front gate. Until the local markets get going again, fruit and veg are the main issue, but paradoxically, over the last few days, street-side stalls have popped up in suburban areas outside houses, so it is actually easier now to buy fruit & veg.

With the mass exodus of so many expats, I would guess the supermarkets are struggling to move stock and are concerned about perishable items.

The general expat safety problem has passed, although I would limit night-time activities when there may be more likelihood of not seeing my skin colour. However, I guess it is a bit like “riots in Redfern … 3 course dinner in Neutral Bay” – parties in both areas are oblivious to the activities in the other. (Note : this is a Sydney thing. For Melbourne, try Springvale and Carlton.)

At the moment, moving about in the daytime in central Dili is OK. But in the current political climate, one has to be aware that things can spiral out of control extremely quickly. The gossip mill is lightning fast and the spread of information amazes me even though the details are often exaggerated.

Catching Up

When I came here, I thought I would be spending a relatively quiet and perhaps career-stunting period but I am also no great fan of living in your typical western suburbia.

Dili is now turning into a military town and I presume it is going to be like this for quite some time. I guess there will be a shift in the economy with a few more goods and services directed to the 100s of troops who will be around the place.

For the moment, I believe the troops are operating “dry” but one day, things will be more normal and they will have down-time just like the rest of us.
The international intervention force (or whatever it is called – lets call it IIF) has moved its base to the Dili dock area near the Hotel Timor. The many ITDs (I am told internally displaced persons is the correct term, not refugees) who were at the docks have now been moved out. There is a park area across the road and open space on the seafront to the west, stretching down to the Motael church. It remains to be seen just how many will stay in this area and for how long.

The huge numbers of ITDs that lined the access road to the airport have dissipated but it is assumed that the move of the IIF headquarters away from the airport implied a lower level of security.
There is no doubt that food supply is a problem, even for expats. The expat supermarkets have been closed for nearly a week except for Cool Storage near the ANZ Bank. I believe Lita Store and Leader Supermarket are operating by appointment only.

The ANZ Bank opened on Wednesday.

As far as my own personal safety is concerned, I had a little moment on Saturday but otherwise have remained clear of any problems. It really depends where you live and the vast majority of expats live slightly apart from the local community (ie hotels, guest-houses, long-term serviced accommodation and the like).

As far as I can tell, expats are NOT a target at all. The press have been inserting themselves quite close to action at times and I don’t believe they have encountered any trouble. But I mean if I were a thug and arsonist, I might get a little annoyed if a camera crew got in the way and I might want want to give them a slap.

A number of expats live amongst the locals and those expats run the risk of collateral damage if a particular area is targetted. Or perhaps, be seen to be taking sides.

Some areas of town have remained untouched. I do not fully understand but I think some areas have very strong local communities and some “vigilante” groups have been strong enough to deter roaming gangs. I was told the Comorro area had such a strong group but it seems that has broken over the last few days.

I have a friend who has operated as per normal, driving between home and work each day without issue apart from one day when he got inquisitive and decided to have a look at Comorro Road. He encountered a small group of machete boys. He stopped, preparing himself to turn around but the lads grinned and waved him through with smiles on their faces. I doubt he will do it again, but I believe that is the current feel out there. Of course, that could all change if there is an incident with any of the troops but I believe they are very well-disciplined.

I have also spoken to an expat who has been here a while and he says he has had no problems at all and is not worried. He has driven past marauding gangs who have waved and smiled at him while they have been torching houses.