Before you arrive somewhere for the first time, no matter how much reading up you do or how much people tell you, the “feel” is always different.
I think overall, the feel is within my range of expectations, but there are some things that are better than anticipated and some things which are not. There are also things that you had never even thought about.
I admit the general state of the streets is lower than I had expected. This is partly as I had seen a number of photos which were probably 2 or 3 years old. Combine that with the total absence of any road maintenance and the result is the roads must be worse for wear. And the almost daily rain now, really makes a mess of things. Even the bitumen roads seem to get covered in mud.
Although warned about the vagaries of Dili’s electricity supply, the reality makes it even more essential never to drop your guard in this area. The Hotel Timor has its own generator, so one is shielded from the worst of the electricity problems. The reality is that black-outs occur on a daily basis and variable voltage, power spikes and other electrical nasties are frequent. I am nor studying up on the theory of electrical nasties so I can purchase the appropriate gear in the knowledge that I know what I am getting and what to expect.
Mosquitos, malaria and dengue fever are a severe problem here. I have seen the expected swarms of mosquitos but people who know better, tell me not to be lulled into a false sense of security. A Chinese diplomat recently died from cerebral malaria. A fast medical evacuation to Darwin failed to save him. Earlier in the year, there was a severe outbreak of dengue fever, and dengue fever (although not usually fatal) has no cure.
Depending on where you look, Dili has a population of around 200,000. From a westerners stand-point, it feels like a city of 30 to 50,000. That’s based on traffic, the size of central Dili and the number of shops etc. Again from a westerners stand-point, it seems clear that the western influenced components of town are decreasing. With the reductions in UN people leading up to the final UN withdrawal in May 2006, a lot of foreign spending money is disappearing.
This leaves foreign aid workers, foreign volunteers (there are a surprising number of these) and foreign diplomats. But even then, the British Embassy is closing down in July 2006. I suspect aid workers and volunteers have nowhere near the spare cash that UN workers do.