The Disenchanted

Before I arrived in Dili, I had a healthy dose of sympathy for the Timorese who had been serially shafted by the Portuguese then the Indonesians.  It didn’t really give them much of a chance to get their house in order.  I never did quite believe the head of the World Bank praising TL as a shining example of how a country could pull itself together.  Nor that the UN was the vehicle bringing on that success.

Then it all came crashing down.  After a few weeks then a few months of continual turmoil, I certainly started losing that sympathetic edge.  Then I noticed the same disenchantment coming from others, then for me it was a definite trend.  A few people mentioned how they noticed that “earnest” edge was being knocked off some of those more dedicated aid/volunteer workers.

Then what convinced me it was no longer to be ignored, was the chat I had with an acquaintance who was seriously questioning with “what’s the point anymore?  … everything I have done here is back to square one … do I just re-start everything again … it will take 10 years before it will feel like progress is being made and I can’t wait that long”.

All I could say was “how was it different to before? … you were always pushing against negative forces … where would it be if you weren’t here at all?”.

Hardly inspirational but this is what holidays to Bali are for.

4 thoughts on “The Disenchanted

  1. I spent two and a half years in East Timor and felt the same as you even though I was watching the “success” story. The reason was most people with open eyes and common sense was saying that the bad times would be back and “the place will never come good.” There is no commitment to actually working hard to build the country by the people themselves! Recently, I saw what was reported to be a quote from Romas Horta saying something to the effect “If they don’t want me I’ll quit! I didn’t want this job to begin with!” What dedication to his country! If his job doesn’t involve traveling the world giving lame speeches like his recent BBC participation, staying in posh hotels and/or chancing NGO girls he doesn’t put in any effort! What kind example does that set? If Blair, Howard, or Bush ever made a remark like that they would be out of office! Not a single East Timorese person, from Xianna on down, knows that building a country take work! And the UN is just as much to blame as the East Timorese!

  2. The “success story” was a myth. As the saying goes “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”, and you can’t rebuild a nation on a shoestring. If East Timor were as important as Iraq, then there’d be US multinationals queuing up to rebuild the infrastructure to a high standard.

    I’m sure you’re hard-working (Dili-gent) professional people, and I know other expatriates who are. But I’ve also dealt with many who are, quite frankly, a waste of space and money. And no, they’re not from Portugal, Brazil or Angola, but from Australia, the US, and the UK.

    Here are some gems – you couldn’t make them up:

    Exhibit 1

    Making a phone call to East Timor from overseas can cost up to US$3.60 A MINUTE. Timor TeleCon tells me this is not its responsibility, but you don’t need an economics degree to know that if you wholesale something for $2, you can’t expect somebody to retail it for $1! Many telcos have still never heard of East Timor, let alone ‘Timor Leste’! Telstra has a lot to answer for – it didn’t use East Timor’s 670 country code for calls to mobile phones, and overcharged for calls to landlines, which nobody really noticed until Portugal Telecom (one of Western Europe’s most sclerotic telcos) took over, and introduced 670 for all calls (which should have been done in the first place).

    Exhibit 2

    A friend in Dili wanted to get his own PO Box – he was told that the Post Office had ‘run out’. Under the Portuguese, there were over 2000 in Dili, while under the Indonesians, there was home delivery. I’m not a stamp collector, but it would be nice (and inspire confidence in the postal service) if letters from East Timor came with local stamps and postmarks, not Australian ones.

    Exhibit 3

    When I saw the Prime Minister’s Office website, I noticed that it didn’t have a fax number. When I emailed to point this out, I was told BY THE MEDIA ADVISER that this was because there was no fax machine. ‘DUH! Well, the Foreign Ministry and many businesses in Dili have them, as do all embassies, so why not join the club? By the way, according to the PM’s website Mari Alkatiri is still in charge, but don’t bother emailing because the email addresses don’t work.

    4 The Foreign Ministry website hasn’t been updated in two years. I was told by the expat moron responsible that there was no mechanism to update it. There is pal, it’s called doing your job. “The website is not ugly”, he said. – that’s beside the point, it can be as ugly as sin as long as the information is up to date. The contact details for the Embassy in the US are not, and I had to phone up Dili to get the contact details for the Embassy in China.

    Portuguese sloth +
    Indonesian corruption +
    UN maladministration =

    As the Yanks say: ‘do the math’!

    The saddest thing of all is that many young East Timorese see no future in their country, and are taking advantage of Portugal’s lax nationality laws to get passports, and come and work in other EU countries, like the UK. (I visited Dungannon in Northern Ireland, and it was like a little Dili!) Would Australia and New Zealand let them do the same?

    However, the trade-off is that they are sending badly needed money back home, just as migrants from Ireland once did, and migrants from Somalia and the Philippines do now. Another former Portuguese colony, Cape Verde, now has nearly twice as many citizens living abroad as it has living in the country itself.

    Rahun di’ak ba ema hotu
    Cumprimentos a todos
    Regards to all

    Malae Oan

  3. Everybody here knows that the UN propoganda machine told excessive porkies about the successes here. I had to laugh when the World Bank’s Paul Wolfowitz (a man with a “prodigious” pedigree) extolled the success of TL. I am not in to believing what high powered people say just because they say it. They usually say things according to an agenda.

    The UN ought to be doing a whole lot better. They pay their people top bucks, protect them as if they are made of gold, pay them danger money and they are the first to go missing when things get tough. Hard words but true. While UN people are cowering in the barracks, there are volunteers out there earning miniscule amounts of money, trying to do something.

    I have heard it enough now to totally agree but it seems any Timorese worth their salt, just wants to get out and go somewhere else. They can do better for themselves, while many UN people actually do better being here.

    The UN is proof positive that the bigger the management committee, the lesser is the result.

    I known I may have gone political in the previous paragraphs, but no, I am just stating what I see as the situation here. What does it take to “do something” ?

  4. Loron diak! I’ve really enjoyed going through some of the comments – nodding as only one who has exprienced the chaos that is Dili/TL can – the dirt, dust, expense, the lunatics who seem to revel in anarchy and the all-around crappiness of the place. Despite all this lovely stuff, I’ve been blessed to have been associated with TL for five years this November which has put my own life and background in perspective. Yeah it guts me to have to start all over again in many areas, but I also get to work with some great people who DO actually want to get a life. Viva Timor Leste!

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