I have already been on several Sunday afternoon drives – for about an hour out of town to the west, south and east.
I was fortunate to be able to add to this by tagging along with some others on some visits to a couple of schools and to a silk-worm manufacturing establishment about 3 or so hours drive from Dili.
It was my first real taste of Timorese roads and further confirmation that unless some money is found to put into road maintenance, there will be ever-increasing problems in this area. I would have to say that night driving would not be on my recommended list of desirable activities as there are many instances of wash-outs and ever-increasing potholes. It seems that quite a few drainage pipes under roads have failed and on several occasions, one has to leave the road entirely and drive around the offending collapsed section.
Nevertheless, it made for a refreshing break from Dili. Our first stop was a school in Venilale run by the Catholic Salesian brothers. I have to say that given the rather rustic nature of living in the area, it was a surprise to find an obviously very well run school with some (relatively) impressive facilities.
The school had a pretty well set-up library with both English and Portuguese language sections. It even had 2 computer labs, but at this point, some of the problems of location surfaced. One of the labs had been kitted out with new gear in 2002, but it had never fired up as the building had no electricity. The 2nd lab appeared to have electricity but it was admitted that most of the computers did not work as they were riddled with viruses and no-one had the wherewithal to correct it. The school were dreaming of internet access but again, the issue of maintenance surfaces. And how to connect a total of 20 to 25 computers (including teachers computers now) via one very expensive dial-up line. I don’t know much about schooling, but my guess is that the local government run school does not have a computer lab at all.
Prior to leaving, we were shown the orphanage. On a good day with a bit of prepping, I could probably appear tough and macho, but not a chance in front of 120 orphans eating their rice and mashed vegetables for lunch. Many had lost their parents during the war where many were killed in conflict but in fact, many more by the famine associated with that conflict. Humility 100, macho-ness 0.
We moved onto a technical school at Fatumaca and again, I was surprised at the facilities that do exist. The Salesian Brothers are obviously very disciplined and have put together some surprisingly good stuff. We were shown large classrooms servicing metalwork, electrical and electronic teaching. I remember classrooms like this when I was a kid. Perhaps the only drawback is that they looked exactly like they looked like when I was a kid.
Next stop was a quick visit to a silk factory. It was the wrong time of the year to see much action, but it will be interesting to see how they fare. A small Timorese silk factory has a big job competing with the big boys (like Thailand and China) but I’ll keep my eye out as Timorese silk must be a pretty rare thing to have.