December in Dili, 2016
School finished at the end of November so the streets are filled with kids. Many houses in our lane do not have television, so I am assuming that there are no computers and computer games, DVDs, or internet, so no ipads or iphones. No play stations or whatever it is that entertains children in Australia. Dozens of kids play out in the street til it gets dark. A popular game at the moment is throwing crackers at each other. Luckily, the crackers are small. The boys have made bats out of rolled up cardboard tied together with string. They manage to bat away the crackers or hit each other. I watched a ‘gang’ fight in the main road the other day. A group of boys from another street were chasing the boys from the laneway, dodging cars and truck and motorbikes as they took their fairly good natured fighting onto the busy road. Another game is rolling a bike tyre with a piece of wood. Something from the 19th Century!
The kids are fearless. They run around in bare feet all day, play in the mud and run up and down walls. Playing in the gutters is also pretty entertaining for them. The gutters are about two feet deep and two feet wide, full of disgusting black water and rubbish. After a rainy night, the gutters seem to be particularly attractive for these kids. A three storey house is being built in the laneway and when the builders go home, the kids take over. Playing chasey on the top floor WITHOUT railings seems to be their favourite game. These are little kids from about 4 to 9 years old. Too young for the bigger kids to play with. It was very stressful watching them so high up.
I am part of the AVI group of volunteers. Although my colleagues and I have a paid gig, we are looked after by AVI for security and safety. We were finally invited to the Australian Ambassador’s Residence for afternoon drinks to thank the volunteers. Ever inclusive, the New Zealand volunteers were invited too. Considering most of us live in very basic housing, going to the Ambassador’s house was wonderful experience. Very modern, clean, lots of space, lovely furniture, awnings so we didn’t get wet, huge rooms, luxurious bathrooms, carpet, no dust. White furniture, a fridge full of food and drink, comfy beds. I know this because I sneaked inside!
Most staff working for embassies or corporates live in amazing complexes with pools and proper apartments. They never walk in the dusty streets, catch microlets or yellow taxis, mix with the locals, buy fruit and vegies from the street vendors and pulsa (top up cards) from the dodgy pulsa sellers on street corners, shop at a local kiosk, brave the supermarkets or eat in warungs. This is part of Dili that I have enjoyed. I am on nodding terms with the old guy who sells pulsa on my corner. A microlet driver saw me coming the other day and stopped for me! I don’t get ripped off by the yellow taxis anymore and I can bargain the fruit and vegie sellers down to a local price from the ridiculous malae price.
As it gets closer to leaving, I notice more and more what it is about Dili that is interesting and good. Of course there are the negatives. There are so many Chinese shops going up selling $1 crap. Every day there are more and more of these terrible shops adding to the Chinese building supply shops and electrical goods. There are more things about Dili that have not been easy to like.
I have loved walking around Dili. There have been a lot of incidents where women have had their bums grabbed, have been subjected to rude comments, had suggestive comments made by groups of young men or felt generally unsafe. I have only found the Timorese to be friendly and polite. I go walking all the time and have never had any of the above happen to me. Clearly, I am invisible, too old or I scare them by being cheerful and friendly all the time. I always say hello and they are never anything but pleasant. Of course, I don’t walk around by myself at night or walk in dark places.
My favourite walk is along the beach to Aria Branca where there are several cafes with tables and chairs on the sand. This week, we walked further along and up to Christo Rei, the statue that overlooks Dili harbour. It was a long walk but there is a new microlet, the No 12, that now takes passengers from near where I live all the way along the beach and on to Christo Rei. We caught that back to the cafes for brunch.
Unfortunately, I have had problems with my ear since I had Bell’s Palsy and have been trying to see what is wrong. There are no specialists in Dili and the insurance company gave me the good/bad news on the 8th Dec that I would have to have treatment in Melbourne, leaving on the 9th. As I was leaving for good on the 17th, I had to quickly pack up. I managed to organise farewell drinks that night, pack three bags and leave on time. It was a bit of a shock and although I was gearing up to leave, it all seemed so quick.
There were a few tears and saying goodbye to this wonderful community of people who have become my friends over the last five months, was hard. They are mostly volunteers and it takes a certain kind of person to live in the developing country for 18 months to two years on a shoestring. They have all been so welcoming, kind and friendly. I will miss being able to call on any number of people to go out for a drink, come out for dinner, meet for a coffee, go to the pictures (I wish I had done that more often…..movie tickets cost $3.), meet at Aria Branca, have a DVD night, travel to remote parts of TL and just hang out. There is not much to do in Dili, so everyone needs a group of people to make life more interesting.
I got to the airport on Thursday morning with my three bags and knew there would be a charge $65US!!! Didn’t see that coming. I got to Darwin airport and Qantas was going to charge me again for excess baggage. This time $10AU for each kilo overweight. It would have cost me $150. The kind assistant said that I could move some things around because I was allowed extra weight in my and luggage. I took out some small heavy bags and she was more than kind and let me through with no excess. She did ask me if I had anything sharp in my carry on now. I said I couldn’t remember what was in the bags but they would find anything sharp at security. I went through security and it was a wonder I wasn’t arrested. Among that bags I had chosen was my first aid kit and bathroom bag that had two pairs of tweezers, surgical scissors, sewing scissors, paper scissors, a Swiss army knife and a bottle opener. I was sent back to the check in counter to check in my dangerous items. I went to the same lady who thought it was very funny as I put my pile of sharp objects on her counter. She decided I was obviously a hopeless old lady who needed all the help she could get and checked in my small suitcase for free.
Well, there ends my Dili diaries. A great experience and mostly a lot of fun.