The shifting sands

I was woken by very loud chopper noise this morning (from the heliport) which seemed to go on for an hour between 5am and 6am.  I thought oh, oh … but then it was different.  It seemed quite static.  Troop movements, I thought ??

As far as I could tell, the day was relatively quiet, except for the shift in emphasis to the districts.  I guess it was only a matter of time.  I don’t know any details but I guess I will know by mid-morning tomorrow what the new deal is.

So Major Alfredo is in Same and there is some form of stalemate (or was when I last heard).  The UN has raised its security and the OZ embassy has been quite specific about Same in their advice.

As for me, I decided that it was OK to go down to Cristo Rei for exercise this evening – first time for a week.  When I left, apart from a number of GNR, I was the only white face.  On my way back, a fleet of UN Police seemed to be headed down that way, but none of the usual civilians.  Maybe I made a strategic error – but I don’t think so.  This part of town is pretty cool.  But it reflects a heightened security environment.  I cycle past an IDP camp that not one week ago, was flinging rocks at passing vehicles.  I wonder if I am getting a bit blase about it all.

The western part of town is not so good.  FatOldSod seems to have some choice neighbours.  The airport is a barrel of laughs.  The Delta area not crash hot either.

The UN election volunteers may have the more interesting lives at the moment.  I smelt rice cooking today so there must be some out there now.  The Leader ANZ ATM is down again.  Traffic lights are on but compliance is variable.  Yogurt is back.

Funeral day

I encourage anyone who encounters anything of note today to post a comment here.

Last Friday’s shooting at the airport carpark by the airport IDP camp seems to have sparked up the anti-foreigner feeling amongst some of the locals.  The incidence of stoning of vehicles driven by foreigners seems to have increased.  Although first assumed to be anti-UN, it seems to have morphed into anti-OZ and even anti-anyone foreign.

I know people who drive around everywhere (or so they say) who have never seen an incident but others who confront this stuff every day.  There seems to be more of it west of the heliport which is an area I try to avoid.  The OZ embassy has been a particularly bad spot for some time, so diversion around the alternative beach road has been my preference for a while.  However, last week even that route was a bit dodgy given that one of the rice warehouses is on that road.  As per last year, the closer you are to the seashore, the safer it seems.

The traffic lights have created problems by stopping vehicles which are subsequently stoned.  I think the general rule is to ignore the traffic lights now.   They should be turned off.

There is a funeral today for one (or both ?) of those who died last Friday.  The word is to practice extreme caution today as anti-OZ sentiment is expected to be high.  I have no plans to get amongst it today and I know several government ministries have pretty much closed down due to repeated rock throwing incidents aimed at their offices.  Some have moved out computer equipment to play it safe.

Lets see how the day pans out.

PS – Teresa – keep reading.

My great gin failure

“Fat Old Sod” over at XananaRepublic has provided the perfect gin and tonic recipe, no doubt the result of many trial and error tests.  Unfortunately, I have to report that I have had to resort to some drastic measures.

No matter how many Omega-3 fish oil tablets I pop, I can’t retrieve the little bit of forgetfulness I encountered last weekend after a few lunchtime g&t heartstarters (and the odd follow-up beer and wine).  I am sorry to say that I have now moved to a self-imposed “no gin and tonic before 5pm” regime until I lift my game.

I am but a novice when it comes to drinking spirits, partly because I hardly drank the stuff before I came here.  Sorry, “FOS” for letting the side down.

23 February

Yesterday was one of those days.  Got off to a flier when there was trouble at the airport at 8:50am and one person was shot and killed by ADF (OZ Defence Force).  The SMS waves were thick with warnings for a while and it was bunker down until a few more details emerged.  The mobile phone system was swamped and unusable for voice calls by mid-morning.

By lunchtime, the security forces claimed things were back to normal, but not before civilians had ramped up all sorts of precautionary measures.  Most expats probably get to the airport quite regularly, either coming or going, or to meet and greet, or to farewell.  It was my turn at lunchtime.  There were a couple of FPUs (formed police units which to us novices, look like riot police) in their special riot vehicles and in the background, about 40 AFP soldiers, who were called away around 1pm.  Otherwise, business as usual.

I guess a complete story will come out in due course, but in the meantime we are stuck with the official story from the ADF and the rumour mill.  The reality is that there are groups that seize on these sorts of incidents and use a bit of truth flexing to fire people up in opposition to the foreign security force presence.

Personally, I don’t believe that OZ defence forces just wade into conflict situations (like an IDP camp) and do stuff without provocation.  But nevertheless, the guy who fired off the fatal rounds is probably going to need counselling for a few weeks as he comes under the hammer.

This followed reports of F-FDTL soldiers firing weapons into the kampongs near Hotel Esplanada on the previous day.  Courtesy of that reliable source of information (the bar) I was told they responded to having their vehicle stoned.

All this comes after a bit of trouble at rice warehouses and subsequent targeting of UN vehicles, which seems to have extended to any foreigner.  A few car windscreens (ie windshields for you northerners) have copped a pounding and any foreigner without shatterproof film on their cars has probably put it on the shopping list by now.

Again courtesy of “the bar”, locals who work at the airport and tend to know a bit of what’s going on down there, have told expats that the funeral is this morning and to expect trouble after the funeral.  The UN police will know this, so things may or may not happen.

A good day to start learning macrame.

Lions and buffalos

This is an appeal to the masses.

Has anyone seen a real live bottle of local Buffalo or Lion beer lately ?  I would like to acquire.
Does anyone know the history of these two breweries ?

Don’t worry, I have no intention of actually drinking them.

A week all over the place

For me, the last week has been pretty confusing and all over the place, like flies at a BBQ. (How did I post an article twice – I don’t know !) Hopefully, the last of the big power problems have fizzled away. But the violence appears on the increase again. Election dates have been called and the election campaigns are starting to wind up. There are chronic rice shortages and a perplexing lack of coordinated effort to sort it out.

I received messages yesterday to avoid unnecessary travel due to trouble and the absence of diners at lunchtime at the Beach Cafe or Castaways was a sure sign. (Bicycle now tucked away at home for the time being !) I believe someone from the OZ embassy had their car stoned on arrival at the embassy yesterday. Rock fights and stoning of vehicles reported near City Cafe and One More Bar – places I happily cycled past yesterday. Troubl;e near the Bebonuk rice warehouse. The Fomento building (Ministry of Agriculture) has come under sustained rocking over the last 36 hours. (This is the building that was comprehensively trashed last year.)

I believe the UN police suggest that it is the worst they have experienced since they arrived last year. (Keep in mind they arrived a number of weeks after the military forces had subdued the more serious stuff of last year.)

Rice shortage

The rice shortage has been known about for weeks but nothing much “seems” to have happened. The shops do not have any at the moment and this is a local staple. The World Food Program (WFP) warehouses are said to have stocks but it has also been reported they have been looted. There are other reports that the looting was politically motivated and I have read assertions from both Fretilin and its opposition inferring that the other may have been behind the looting.

When out east a couple of weeks ago, it was quite noticeable that the rice paddies near Baucau were drastically short of water, with perhaps only about 5 to 10% of the paddies in operation. It seems generally accepted that the wet season is about 6 weeks late, with more regular rain only over the last week.

Commission of Truth and Friendship

The international news has tended to concentrate a lot on the Commission of Truth and Friendship at a time when ironically, security issues here have been deteriorating. It seems to have grabbed a bit more attention but I am sure the events of the last 24 hours will swing the action back here again.

Traffic lights

The traffic lights came into operation about 2 weeks ago but at first, for short periods only. I have never seen anything grossly offensive but admit to driving through a red when no traffic was around. Others have reported being overtaken at a red light and today, I was told that no-one is stopping for fear of being a target. Some have dutifully stopped and then been rocked. No, it is not the time to be sitting down and doing a photo shoot on the subject.

The Presidential election

I believe a couple of candidates have put their names forward, with the current PM Jose Ramos Horta expected to so by the end of the week. People were suggesting that the PM was angling for Fretilin backing, but it was not to be as the President of Fretilin Lu’Olu is now the Fretilin candidate.

The Parliamentary elections

The date is still unknown but the real political fight is this election. Australia’s “Age” newspaper reported that the current president Xanana Gusmao was going to be a candidate under the resurrected CNRT party. We will have to wait and see on that one.

UN Police

Well the boys are doing it tough right now. Dare I say the unsayable, but it is pretty obvious that an integrated force from over 20 countries is a bit of a shambles. Command structures and communications are said to be a bit on the disorganised side. We all know how inefficient things get, the bigger the committee.

Weekly Summary

In general, it feels like things have reverted to the way things were in May last year. Lots of ad-hoc security problems and a feeling like things may still get worse. Once the streets get too unsafe, movement of goods and services will start to suffer, fresh fruit and veg supplies may be affected and general food distribution could be a problem for everyone.

As long as the elections are on the forward planning calendar, one feels that we are in for a roller coaster of a ride. And no limes at home … again.

Bicycle rage 101

Maybe I was on the angry pills last week. But usually, I don’t have any trouble driving around and rarely have much trouble on my bicycle but one day last week, I must have popped a bad pill or something.

How can someone on a bicycle get road rage ? Well, if you cycle back from Cristo Rei not long before sunset, you will find yourself cycling west against a stream of vehicles heading for a sunset drink down at the “Caz Bar” or “Sol e Mar” (or a bit of exercise). The road can just fit 2 vehicles and is quite rural at the edges.

But 3 times, oncoming drivers attempted overtaking manoevres just as they were about to pass me. The first time, I was too late to get out a suitably aimed string of invective, but the 2nd guy copped both barrels. You can imagine how it went. I am wary of this stream of traffic, warning systems on alert and say to myself, “you are about to overtake right now aren’t you?”. And he did.

The 3rd one happened in slow motion outside the Lita Store. Another string of invective and my hand went into the air in consternation. The UN police driver following the offender, merely threw both hands into the air as if to say “what can you do?”.

Two minutes later, the piece de resistance occured next to the Palacio do Governo where the traffic was filling both lanes on the one way system. My way was blocked by a group of Timorese trying to cross the road at a “pedestrian crossing”. They were stuck, creeping out a few steps then retreating and I could not get around them unless I veered out into the traffic. I stopped, pondered the situation for 10 seconds then I snapped.

I got off my bike, walked out across the traffic (on the pedestrian crossing) holding up my hand to stop the traffic and herded the group of shocked Timorese across the road, while offering constructive suggestions to the drivers shocked into stopping at such a critical moment in their driving day.

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.

Coffee report updated

On 19 November, I reported on the local coffee industry but didn’t give figures and I should give a likely correction as well. 19.11.2006 The Coffee report

Firstly, oil income has probably now displaced coffee as the primary source of export earnings.

Cooperative Cafe Timor is the biggest coffee producing entity in the country so the figures I have are from them. Delta coffee elected not to get involved in the 2006 harvest due to the security problems. I am unaware of what exporting Ensul coffee may or may not do.

As for CCT figures, the final figures for 2006 are :

  • Production was 2300 tons which is down from over 3000 tons in 2005. Security issues were the main cause of a reduction and it is estimated production would have been around 3000 tons.
  • Three critical weeks during harvest time were lost due to unrest.
  • CCT employ around 700 to 900 workers (mostly women) at their dry processing facility in Akadera-hun in Dili, around 300 workers at their drying facility in Tibar and another 20 at their premises in Comorro.
  • The delayed rains in the 2006/07 wet season will most likely lead to a reduction in the 2007 harvest to around 2500 tons.

Yesterday was the first significant rainfall of this year. I can recall about 3 separate heavy rains in December but so far, that has been it this wet season.

The Thai food explosion

I like Thai food (and Indian and Italian and Turkish and …).  Unless you live in Dili under a rock, you should have noticed the steady growth in this segment of the eating scene.

I finally got around to going to the Thai Pavilion near the Pertamina wharf.  Looked flashy, looked a good candidate for a big let-down, but no, I give this one the big thumbs up.  I will need to go a few times to give the extensive menu a good (chili) workout but looks good.

You can eat inside in the air-con or on either the lower or upper floor balconies.   There is a waiter who can actually describe what you might be considering eating.  If you regard this as a good thing, it joins the 2 Burmese restaurants plus the Golden Star Chinese in Audian.  You also get a real cloth napkin and cloth tablecloth … plus large LCD screen for karaoke.

The main thing is that it felt so uniquely different than anywhere else and the prices are not excessive.  I have marked my card for the $5 lunch buffet, but I will not hold that against it if is not as good as a la carte.

“Thai Foods” near the Esplanada Hotel has now moved into the old Paradise restaurant premises across the road from Hotel Dili 2001.  Based on the significant increase in after work road traffic in the Cristo Rei direction (ie east), it may be a good move.  The old Thai Foods premises is currently being re-worked into a Filipino restaurant just as it was before Thai Foods appeared.

If you like “padh thai” noodles, you can now get them at Bangkok Thai, Bangkok Spice 2, Dili Club, Thai Foods, Bagan Beach Cafe, Thai Pavilion, Harbour View Cafe and Dili Beach Cafe.

With the Thai Pavilion adjacent to the “new” Comorro fruit and market, it struck me that I could return to going to the market on Saturday morning and following it up with a good cheap lunch in relaxed setting, just like back in OZ.  Now, all we need is the delicatessen with the cheeses, fresh pasta, freshly sliced pastrami, espresso coffee, continental butcher and …  Drats, just dribbled on my keyboard.