Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Walk to work

My usual form of exercise is to walk to work. This takes between 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how hard I push it, and I carry a 7-10 kilo pack. I start before dawn and walk to the Palacio. I usually go past it, down to a local cafĂ©, where I meet a few work friends and discuss the day’s issues before heading off to begin the actual business of sitting down and producing.

I decided, despite my poor camera skills, to actually record this. With my normal good timing I must have picked one of the haziest days I have ever seen to do this. The smoke on the air largely smelled of wood, rather than plastic, which was nice.

I started at my front door (the photo is the view looking out from there), then I basically stopped every 5 minutes and took a photo and then moved on.

However, the camera work slowed me down to the extent that I’m unlikely to do it again, so here’s the walk on Flickr.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Good news, bad news.

The good news was that like most of my work area, I was excused from ‘Limpeza’ (the Dili emu parade) this week.  The bad news was that, unlike the rest who were on a training course, I had worked till late the previous night.  I then worked early through to late on Friday, and was going to have to work all Saturday. 


However, the good news was that my first boss said the Saturday work would just be facilitating meetings.  The bad news was that it was Ministers of Government who were meeting and I don’t speak the language that well. 


However, the good news was that one of my co-workers will be there to translate, assist and for me to help her as well.  She’s sharp, well qualified and a subject expert on much of the material.  The bad news is that she doesn’t want to be there and may not turn up.


However, the good news is that my other boss says that I’m not facilitating the meetings anyway.  The bad news is that my first boss doesn’t know this. 


However, the good news is that I’m not being forced to take a position, just agree with whoever spoke last.  The bad news is that the situation is a bit like two dogs with one bone, and I’m the bone. 


However, the good news is that the meeting will define a lot of our strategy for us and help us aim things in the direction that the Government wants.  The bad news is that this will involve a shed load of high pressure, tight deadline work.  Which will inevitably fall on the shoulders of malae advisors.


However, the good news is that I am alive, healthy and happy.  After that, there can be no bad news.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mothers Day 2009

We went out to Bob’s Rock for Just Add Water to just add water to her sadly dehydrated physiology.

I took photos on the way (set on Flickr) but most of them were blurred. Some things stuck with me, however. There were goats on the beach, a heavily pregnant pig which desperately wanted to pinch all our food and a couple of dogs, similarly motivated. Sometimes the pig would start to make a move on the food only for the dog to warn it off – a bit of an amusing game, all said.

Also we drove through an IDP [internally displaced persons] camp. This was a bit of an eye opener. I had expected UN supplied tents and folks sitting around doing nothing. Neither was the case. They had constructed huts out of local materials, the roads were lined with stacks of firewood and there were little canteens and such selling the necessities of life. Commerce was quite active. The denuded hills behind the camp pointed to the source of the firewood. These people are refugees in their own country, displaced largely in 2006 in the most recent round of significant civil strife. The Government is trying to resettle them back in their villages, but problems remain.

At Bob’s Rock, Just Add Water spent 90 minutes underwater on each tank, which is really low air consumption – good value for money, too! I just sat and read, as my initial snorkelling plans were derailed by murky water and a report of strong currents.

On the way back, we saw an accident near where we had dived, but the ambulance was approaching and we had no room in the car. Then we were diverted, as a UN car had apparently fallen off a low bridge just coming in to Dili proper. Then we were diverted again near the Royal Thai Embassy, for reasons that were not clear, but involved swags of police.

I later found out that, apart from these accidents, two young Timorese men had drowned that weekend, swimming near Cristo Rei in Dili. Unlike Just Add Water’s dive at Bob’s Rock, there are treacherous currents in front of Cristo Rei, the two men did not have scuba tanks and they were not Dili locals. Both left behind young families and one had just graduated from university with a master’s degree in international relations – a tragic loss for both his family and the nation. I had met him at several Rotary meetings. The other turned out to be a friend of my Tetun instructor.

Although this sounds fairly alarming, I mention its more by way of assuring people that this sort of thing is not normal. I see very few traffic accidents, despite the often carefree approach to driving.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Just for Fun…

[i]Hau nia naran Diak Malae.  Hau nia ferik-oan nia naran Just Add Water.  Ami iha ona-mane rua, sira nia nara Three Strokes ho Fidget.  Hau hela Timor-Leste fulan rua ona, e hau ho Just Add Water atu hela iha fulan sanulu liu nia laran.


Horiseik dadeer Just Add Water luku oras ida ho balu nia laran, e horiseik lokraik hanesan.  Nia gosta barak.  Nia haree “juvenile warty frogfish” hanesan “clown anglerfish”.  Iha lingua Tetun, ikun.  J


Sexta koruk iha hau nia servisu fatin, sira dehan katak hau nia xevi ba hosi director iha diretor geral.  Ami advisor sira preciza ajuda Ministeirio agora.  Depois, tenki servisu liu.


Hau aprende Tetun maibee hau comprende ituan ituan.  La gosta la bele koalia lingua Tetun seidauk, maibee hau hela aprende segunda-segunda, quarta-quarta, sexta-sexta.   Hau nia maestri hanoin hau koalia diak liu agora, e nia kontentu.


Yes, I’m showing off, but if you had to work the way I do to make what feels like really slow progress, you might feel a little bragging reinforcement was good therapy too.


Translation follows:


My name is Diak Malae.  My wife’s name is Just Add Water.  We have two sons, whose names are Three Strokes and Fidget.  I have lived in Timor-Leste for two months now, and Just Add Water and I will stay for [a further] 10 months duration.


Yesterday morning Just Add Water did a dive for an hour and a half and did the same in the afternoon.  She was very happy [with that].[ii]  She saw a juvenile warty frogfish, also known as a clown angler fish.  [That translates][iii] into Tetun as “fish”. J


Last Friday at my office, [it was announced][iv] that my boss was [promoted][v] from director to director-general.  We advisors will need to assist the Ministry [to adjust][vi]  now.  So, [we][vii] will have to work harder.


I am learning Tetun, but I still only understand a very little. [I][viii] do not like not being able to speak the Tetun language yet, but I am continuing to learn every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  My teacher thinks [that][ix] I am speaking better now and he is happy [with my progress][x], [xi]

End notes:


[i] Just Add Water is a spoil sport and has insisted on a translation

[ii] Tetun is highly contextual – many parts are not spoken, they are simply understood.

[iii] See ii.

[iv] I have mistranslated/oversimplified this due to my insufficient language skills.

[v] See iv

[vi] See v

[vii] See iii

[viii] See vii

[ix] See viii

[x] See ix

[xi] See vi

Friday, May 8, 2009

Lots of blogging goodness today.

I have now caught up somewhat. Everything was delayed by wanting to get the piece on Kakadu up (in chronological order) and that meant getting the photos on Flickr and that meant getting the internet at home (which we have at last) and that meant getting organised. All of which I have now done. Normal service is resuming.

Some comments have appeared regarding adviser salaries up here, with that expert on running a lean, mean organisation, the Hon Alexander Downer, putting his 2c in. For those of my readers who know him and his track record, my advice is to read his contribution, apply as much belief as you would have to any of his previous statements, and you are all too likely to arrive at the truth. I'm not going to comment further on the issue, as the criticisms have not been based in fact, and responding to them is like putting out a fire by pouring on petrol.

May 1 celebrations

I am told that on May 1 it is a tradition in the villages to hold what Aussies call an ‘emu parade’. You go round sweeping, picking up litter and generally making the place more presentable. On very short notice, the Government in Dili decided that public servants would do the same in public places. So would the consultants. Of course May 1 is a public holiday here, so all the public servants were on overtime. The consultants were unpaid.

Then the Government held a celebration in the just-cleaned area. Three hours work by five hundred people flushed straight down the drain as the crowds gaily threw, and trod underfoot , every piece of litter they could lay their hands on. As I was nearby, I was only grateful that no-one had thought of burning it, as most was plastic.


This Friday, we are being told to do it again. I view it as a bit of a hoot, other malae were less amused. However, no-one could really complain. I saw the Minister for Finance with a broom (see photo), and she can’t walk too well (having had polio), but she was quietly and methodically sweeping away. I am told the PM was also in line for cleaning and that this is part of a “Clean Up Dili” campaign. The old UN administration (UNTAET) apparently used to do the same.
And the streets do look very much cleaner for the exercise. I saw a lot of private companies also taking part near their shopfronts.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


We set off at a leisurely pace, following the route of the tourist bus, but about 3 hours behind it. The first place we stopped was a really wonderful nature lookout called “Window on the Wetlands”. Very highly educational, in a kind of Questacon/Powerhouse Museum sort of way and its upper storey was a terrific viewing platform looking out over a vast wetlands. With free telescope. In fact the whole thing was free!

My favourite bird, the wedge tailed eagle (Autralia’s largest raptor), inhabited the area in quite large numbers. Unfortunately, my attempts to photograph them failed due to battery failure, and, when the batteries were replaced, they were insufficiently powerful to drive the camera. Getting ahead of myself, on the way back they were too shy or too close to the road (meaning that they bolted as soon as the car approached) to offer a decent photo opportunity. It doesn’t matter too much, it’s a widely photographed bird for those that don’t know it, and for me the pictures will live in my mind.

We stopped at Nourlangie Rocks, which has some absolutely spectacular aboriginal rock art. Photos are on Flickr here. We spent quite some time wandering around and looking at things. We spent the night at Cooinda, where the accommodation was good and inexpensive and the food was passable and hideously costly. The word ‘gouged’ was on our lips a few times.

The following day we arose at dawn to take the Yellow Water Cruise. We saw sea eagles, kites, several salt water crocs, including a largish one about a metre away from the boat and a very big one on the shore. There were other highlights as well, including jabirus in their nest in a tree and a sea eagle pinching a fish out of the water just before the saltie got there! Again, photos on Flickr.

We drove up to Ubirr to look at more rock art and back to Jabiru for an hour’s flight over the Arnhem Land escarpment. It was wonderful, as we were right at the end of the wet season and the waterfalls were still flowing (just). The only downside was the haze as the pre-dry burns were going all across Kakadu. After a pretty full day, we jumped in the car and drove the 250k back to Darwin. For some reason, I was a bit tired that night.

Eventually we got back to Dili. As usual, our first plans didn’t work, but I was back to work in time and Just Add Water came a couple of days later. It is clear that Dili Customs don’t really know how to use their equipment (our overshopping was a challenge and I probably ended up paying a little too much duty), but even that was an amusing, if a little extended experience. It took an hour to clear customs, but we’re home again.

Our excellent adventure

None of us had ever been to the Northern Territory for more than a few days. Even then, it was only me and I’d been there on business, no real time to tour and in any case not recently.

Darwin is almost unrecognisable from 10 years ago, much less from the scenes of wreckage that Cyclone Tracy left 35 years ago. It’s an interesting, cosmopolitan city. All the restaurants are proudly badged with one ethic cuisine or another – Turkish, Indian, Thai, Italian etc. The pubs are open air bars and there is a real pulse to the place. There’s a real racial mix to the population, as well. Along with the standard white Aussies, many aborgines are visible, plus Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian and even African faces.

I’d always thought Canberra was pretty multicultural, but Darwin leaves it for dead. The developing countries I’ve been in usually have something of a mix, especially in the expatriate population. The UN in particular draws its field staff from a wide range of countries. In Darwin, however, you get the feel that these people belong here.

We took off from Dili at an ungodly hour and arrived in Darwin, only to find that rental cars were like hens’ teeth. Apparently all the rental companies are getting ready to sell of their present fleet and very few were available. I’d had no luck booking on the web, but we travelled hopefully and the wonderful woman on the Hertz desk managed to wangle us exactly the car we wanted. Hooray!

One bad thing about Dili is that although you can get most things, the prices are hideous. It is seriously cheaper to buy what you want, fly it back to Dili paying excess baggage prices and duty at the other end rather than buying it in Dili. So we hopped into our rentacar, drove to a huuuuge shopping mall and did in about 2000 bucks worth of purchases. We are still going to have to get it through NorthAir, Customs and Dili Customs, which should be entertaining.

Just Add Water attempted to have her dive gear fixed, but the guy who had taken it apart in Dili had even done that wrong so she didn’t have the crucial bit. An hour later she had a whole new subunit, and she’ll install that herself. Next time, she’ll bring home the right bits and get it all fixed.

We collapsed into our room with our booty in the midafternoon. The first thing we did was to haul out our empty bags and fill them. Yes, we arrived and we packed. Nobody promised normal, alright?

After dinner, we returned to the room and watched Spicks and Specks and the Gruen Factor and laughed ourselves silly, so much so that Just Add Water was worried that we might have disturbed the next door neighbours. I reflected that it was more calming to hear a whole family giggling like maniacs than fighting like savages. A bit, anyway.

Next day, we were off to Kakadu.