Sunday, March 8, 2009

A week is a long time in politics. And Dili.

A full week in Dili and I’m left with all sorts of impressions. There are a lot of street vendors, selling cigarettes and telephone cards, or ones with tricycles selling water and soft drinks, along with cigarettes, chips and noodles. There are a lot of roadside canteens selling basic necessities, and at least along the main drag a lot of Indonesian and other food places. I’ve been in a couple and you get a very good lunchtime feed for not that much money. Others find the vendors an annoyance – I’m glad they are doing something, anything, to raise a quid.

Hypocritically, of course, I am not consistent. Taxis beep malae (foreigners) as a way of saying ‘You’re walking, surely you want a lift’. By the twentieth beep in a 10 minute period, I get pretty jack of it. But as I say, they are only trying to make a crust. It’s not their fault I’m so out of condition that I need to walk everywhere. As penance, I’ll hire one soon to take me to Christo Rei, the huge statue of Christ that overlooks the harbour, and back. It’s about a 4-5 hour round trip on foot, and I will walk it at some stage, but I figure there’s going to be one lucky taxi driver.

A kid came up to me today to sell me a baseball cap with Timor Leste and the flag on it. I actually had been looking to buy one (or more) and was told that they cost US$3-7 depending on how hard you wanted to bargain. I was going to the ANZ machine as I was low on cash, but I asked him how much. “$5, I mean $10” he said. I laughed – the greed play was so over the top. By the time I came away from the cash machine the price had dropped to 4 hats for $10, without my saying a word. I pulled out my wallet (the cash machine was broken) and discovered $2. Total. I’ll get my hats another day.

I walked out to some of the stores along the way on Sunday, including to the Cormoro markets where I bought turmeric root – mmm. Betel nut was on sale and I noticed more of the red mouths than I had seen before (betel nut stains everything bright crimson). There was meat on sale – I wouldn’t have touched it in a pink fit – flies all over, no refrigeration, definitely whiffy and that’s not even taking into account what the animal’s health was like to begin with. At One More Bar, where I’m currently living, the owner is a skilled butcher. He kills the animals and carves them, makes his own sausages and has a smokehouse as well. Sunday roast is a bit of a treat. This week it will be beef, pork, turkey, chicken and duck. One of the other hotels has gone into direct competition, with ‘traditional Aussie roast’ ever so coincidentally on Sunday as well. I have the vague feeling that One More Bar is going to come out on top, on this round.

More joyously, as the only meat options are frozen meat or market meat (urrgh!), the owner has agreed to sell meat to me – fresh, wholesome and tender. I’ll empty my freezer soon, but I intend to buy his sausages, which are not specially spiced or anything, just a plain good ol’ snag.

I had dinner with Fully Loaded the other night. We put away a fairly nice bottle of red that I had managed to secure and gossiped about work and the people there. His partner managed to turn on a bit of a feast including some delicious chicken. Fully Loaded attempted to find out how it had been cooked but apparently got stonewalled. I guess it was a case of 11 Secret Herbs and Spices. Speaking of which, there appears very little in the way of real roadside cooking – I’ve seen it once or twice only. That may be a function of the ‘warungs’ – the roadside cafes that are everywhere here.

I understand more barbequing goes on down at the beach area, which is about a half hour hike from my place. I’m more or less on the shore, but the beach restaurant strip is a little way away.

Xanana Gusmao is my near neighbour. For those a bit hazy on Timorese history, he was jailed for some time by the occupying Indonesian forces, became the country’s founding president and is now the Prime Minister. It’s kind of cool having a sub-prime-ministerial address, but you know it when his convoy comes through – high speed, sirens blaring and weaving through the rapidly clearing traffic. I want take a photo of his gurads, although I don’t have a camera. It’s not every day you see the National Guard carrying AK-47s (which also appear on the national crest).

I attended my first hash, in the hills above Dili. The scenery was breathtaking, truly gorgeous and other superlatives. Insert your own and be in the running to win a prize of a free, no-expenses-or-ticket-paid holiday to East Timor. You can stay with me if you don’t mind sharing a bed.

The hash master, Daisy, is a tall, long haired, tattooed hoon. He also supervises Rotary projects here and is apparently the only paid Rotary project manager in the world (it’s his full time job). Rotary has troubles raising interest and effectiveness here, which is disappointing as there is so much work to be done. I’ll attend next Thursday to see what I can do to be of assistance. The Dili hash is less tuneful than the Honiara hash, which I hadn’t thought possible. There needs to be a greater involvement of locals – few or none attended with about 50 running and walking. They also desperately need a choirmaster. I may volunteer for their version of the mismanagement committee. Hash horn, OTOH, actually managed to get a tune out of the instrument.

There are four really major supermarkets here – Landmark and Leader (about 90 minutes walk away), Cold Store over the back fence, and Lita, next to the PM’s house (i.e nearby) and across from some pretty spiffy fruit markets. Landmark and Leader are the big ones, but it’s a bit of a case of needing to try them all to find what you need. And prices are SOOOOO variable. I saw DVD machines on sale recently – not Aldi prices, but OK. Until. I got closer and read carefully. They were actually VCD machines and I’m not sure if anyone even makes VCDs anymore. The DVD machines were a little further on and went for US$200 a throw. Minimum. On special. Sheesh! I saw gas BBQs for $US500 plus. I was stunned and not tempted. I think I’d sooner eat at warungs every day.

All is going well at work. I have, ever so infrequently, been accused of being opiniated and pigheaded. Fortunately, Fully Loaded makes me look mild in a number of ways. Maybe I should be Slick Willy. I’ve been getting on well with my new boss, who for the purposes of this journal will bear the sobriquet Nixon, partly from a sonic congruence, partly because he is truly political and definitely not as a reflection on his morals or standard operating procedures. By the end of my second week I should have a work program ready for approval by all, and hopefully by the end of the following week a staff development plan.

And I’ve got to learn Tetun, the local language.

In summary, a jumbled, confused, satisfying and accomplished week. I’m happy, healthy, hale and hearty and I’m off to eat some roast duck. And beef. And pork. And chook. And turkey. And gravy. I’ll lose weight tomorrow.

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