Driving – Dili-style

During the week, UNPol announced that they would be clamping down on cars without licence plates, unregistered cars and unlicenced drivers. They were also going to target riding on the roof of microlets (mini-buses) – a very common sight outside of Dili.

The roof riding practice is a bit dangerous, particularly on some of the mountainous roads around the place. UNPol refer to the high accident rate but I would like to see some statistics on this.

One day, the infamous new traffic lights will actually be switched on and this is likely to cause quite a bit of trouble. People do not bother with give-way rules or stop and give-way signs so it will take some to time to become accustomed to a new road discipline.

My general feel is that speeding is the most dangerous form of driving here. Supposedly, the Dili speed limit is 45km/hr but I would think that apart from taxis, this limit is exceeded by most drivers most of the time. But I am not talking about drivers doing 50 kph but those sprinting down Dili streets at closer to 100 kph. When I am on my bicycle, I don’t like it.

Although I have never had a dangerous moment, I have withdrawn off the road a couple of times in the face of vehicles overtaking and coming straight for me. They had plenty of time to adjust their manouevre but elected to press on. I had plenty of time to move off the road and on the odd occasion, have enough time to make rude hand gestures and curse their mothers. There is just a bit too much overtaking on urban roads for my liking.

That brings us to “Whitey”. I don’t know “Whitey” but apparently, he was a well-known local fixture in the building contractor game. While riding his motorbike on New Years’ Eve, he encountered 2 F-FDTL army trucks seemingly racing down the beach road near the Ocean Harbour View cafe*. He was hit badly and sustained very serious injuries. The army trucks did not stop and I am unaware if there has been any success in finding the trucks or drivers.

I believe “Whitey” has had a number of operations in hospital in Australia and I know a number of people here are thinking about him. It is worth noting that there is no insurance system in TL, so unless his employer has some decent cover, it could be a bit of a problem financially.

* I often make the mistake and call Harbour View the Ocean View which is of course the other end of town.

11 thoughts on “Driving – Dili-style

  1. Interesting blog. I just got back from East Timor about a week ago. was amazed by the dilapidated state of Dili’s roads, in fact the whole of Dili, and personally saw the intallation of some of the new traffic lights and pedestrian crossings. You’d be taking your life into your hands to step out onto those crossings trusting that the traffic would stop at the red light (which may or may not be working given that there are power failures for anything up to 12 hours, almost every day of the week in Dili!!!). I was also amazed that, although the traffic in the capital is pretty crazy, the the two trips we made out of the capital on “anggunas” (public trucks) were quite stress free. The young Timorese drivers were very careful, and negotiated the narrow and potholed roads very carefully.
    I look forward to keeping up with the news on ET via this blog. Thanks.

  2. By the way, I was one of the unfortunate “melai” (foreigners) in Dili, who lately have been the target for the disenchanted, unemployed and angry young men who hang around the town. I was attacked on the 3rd Jan, by 3 “gang members”, while riding a motor bike (with my friend who is a volunteer in ET) – only half a kilometre from her house. We were sprayed with capsicum spray (purportedly sold to the locals by the Malaysian police when they left the country). We fell off the bike and sustained cuts and abrasions but succeeded in saving our bags from being stolen by tugging at them and screaming at the top of our voices, which brought some locals to the scene and resulted in the robbers turning tail and running off. I’m just wondering if attacks such as these are becoming the norm????

  3. From what I have read assaults on the streets are becoming more common. The other day 2 ladies were robbed while walking in the beach area. I myself was assaulted, but in my own room and was not able to defend myself. They took whatever they pleased. Damn! What is the effect of that capsicum spray?
    About the driving, lets be honest in saying that its not just the locals speeding up. While I was there I saw many internationals driving too fast and not careful at all. And this was not just at night time, when you can use the excuse of speeding to avoid getting a stone in your face through the car window(s).
    I am curious about how the traffic in Dili will be from now on. Squatter if you can take photos …

  4. I certainly agree that the speeding is just as much an expat problem as a local one. I heard about an OZ girl who was cut off on her motorbike 2 weeks ago. They got her bag and her bike which left on the back of a vehicle. And this was very close to the Castaways Bar and during the day.

    I have taken to using a trimmed-down wallet now as others seem to be doing a similar thing. I was with a guy last night who left his mobile phone and wallet in his car and who later found both missing when he got back from eating at the Dili Club. I would never leave such things in a car anywhere on the planet.

    You can bet I will have my camera with me when the traffic lights are commissioned. There is nothing that will stop me ! However, I may be welding the camera to my rib cage for safety.

  5. Whitey is in the Royal Brisbane hospital. He is pretty banged up but has recently opened his eyes.
    Re the traffic lights. On the day they start operating, get a video camera and just film away, then send all the good stuff to various ‘worlds worst drivers’ type programmes and make a bob! I’m gonna take a picnic and have a nice day out just watching it all.

  6. Teresa, sounds like you were worse off than we were. At least we didn’t lose anything. But the capsicum spray is pretty nasty. I was luckily wearing sunglasses, so I didn’t get it in my eyes (my face stung for a few hours), but my friend who didn’t have glasses on, was temporarily blinded, in terrible pain for quite a few hours, and had sore eyes for a few days. She went to a clinic and got eye drops. Her husband had been held up at knife point only a week or so before too, and had his mobile and money taken. What is your take on this spate of assaults?

  7. Thanks for the clarification! I asked because I was robbed in my room @ night. I woke up with noises in the window, got up to check it, but suddenly fell back asleep. I remember feeling hands touching my feet, but nothing else. Woke up with a punched lip and a thousand less dollars, plus all my IT stuff gone. Major financial loss, but I am grateful that I “only” got the lip hurt … Australian police said thieves sometimes use some gas to put people asleep, but I never found out what really happened. Having your privacy invaded like this takes your sleep away for sometime.
    Worse is that people are now easily robbed in the streets during day time, and that the level of brutality is increasing. As expected, the closer the elections’ date the worse things will get. Politicians begin campaigning; often comments are made that erupt enmities. Opponents try to peril stability and the elections to postpone having their “enemies” in power, to create doubts about the fairness of elections, or just to keep the “donor economy” running. When trust is loss in a country’s leadership a society is more prone to violence and dissatisfaction leads to social problems.
    Assaults can be part of a campaign to re-install insecurity in people’s minds – some martial arts people might have their activities “sponsored” by parties interested in maintaining insecurity. Then there is poverty, high unemployment, and youngsters who have only time in their hands. Great sources of income are the many internationals now working in TL; they carry precious items as money, phones, documents, even the backpacks. Easy targets, easy gain. Less easy is for the Police to catch them…
    However, assaults also occur among Timorese people – killings, rape, fights – caused by ethnic differences, neighbourhood / gang rivalries, cultural beliefs. This is more complicated; a change in the society’s mentality is in demand, but such change takes decades, generations. I’ll keep following ET’s situation and count on Squatter to keep us well informed 🙂

    P.S.: Squatter

  8. Teresa, I’ll try but it would be so much easier if I could just watch the 7pm news and read the newspaper and have a 90% chance of covering all required news each day. Alas, its personal experience and talk around town that fills in the gaps.

    Looks like this week is one of those weeks when the asphalt machine is dusted off and some potholes previously ingrained into the memory have been filled in. What does it say when you actually start missing your favourite potholes ?

    Traffic light countdown continues. The grey steel traffic light poles are now being painted canary yellow.

    Pretty soon, I might have to start naming names. Yesterday, I was holding my hand up like a traffic cop trying to suggest that the UN-named vehicle overtaking and heading straight for me, should actually get back on its side of the road. The driver laughed. I shouted obscenities.

    And not 5 minutes later, waving the speeding military police vehicle to slow down not 50 metres from Lita supermarket.

    And who told me that there are UN police here who do not have a driver’s licence and are “learning” to drive here ? Obviously, I misheard. Gee, isn’t it great when there are no reliable sources of information – you could just make it up.

    And why so early in the morning ?  The generator has been running all night and it is so annoying.

  9. Went and saw Whitey today….. He is pretty banged up still but his eyes are opened and i feel he does respond to things every now and again…. even shows that cheeky smirk from time to time….. prayers go out to Elaine and the family. Can some-one over there please e-mail me and let me know what is been done about finding out who was driving said army vehicles that caused this accident….. if nothing is, maybe some of the people there should start stirring some shit and making some noise about it so something is done….. some-one has to be held accountable for this, and it shouldn’t be allowed to be swept under the rug.

  10. I called a couple of journo’s in Australia, on New Years day, who both know Whitey and who are both very familiary with East Timor, the Australian embassy here and various East Timorese politicians. I explained to them what had happened and, as you say, that someone should be held accountable. As of this writing they havn’t got very far. I’ve also talked with a few UNPOL’s here who are also trying to chase it up but they are also getting stone-walled.
    I’ll call the journo’s again and see if they can chase it.

  11. Cheers wayne, much appreciated. let me know if there is anything i can do from this end. Am going to see Whitey again on sunday…. will let you know how he is doing.

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