Saturday, November 29, 2014

Monster post

I swear I am going to start a new blog. Currently I have to go into a years-dead identity, linked to a now non-existent ISP, to log on. Because Google knows what my current identity is, it helpfully  logs me into that instead and refuses access to this. So I have to do it via an incognito window - cumbersome, but I can do it, so enough complaining.

I've been in Timor for a month and it has changed in some ways and remained very much the same in others. Despite the huge turnover in advisors and diplomats and aid workers, I'm pleased to keep running into old mates. Long term expat friends are also a pleasure plus I'm making new friends.

I have been as busy as a one-legged man in a bum kicking contest, trying to find accommodation, buy a car, learn Tetun and put in a decent week's work while learning the ropes. Also I have absolute nightmares with Google, IT and networks, so forgive the lack of communication until now.

The rains came today (it remains to see if they last). At 4 pm it felt like 45 degrees C, at 4:05 I was wondering if I was too late to build an ark. (And where would I get the animals, two by two? Dili's not London and it hasn't a zoo!) By 6 pm 2 inches of rain had fallen and the roads were largely dry. Muggy is too mild a term for how it feels, but the temperature has dropped to about 30 and the humidity can't be too much above 98%.

I'm working in a Ministry which at least for now shall go nameless, helping them strengthen their financial systems. I'm getting used to the pitying gazes when I say that, and the surprise when people realize that I'm not here for the cash, I think this can be done and I am the bloke to do it. Not the only one in the world, obviously, but uniquely qualified all the same. And I really have some great people to work with.

(As everyone knows, I don't discuss matters properly the business of the Timorese government, the Australian government or my employer here on my blog. Apart from anything else, it would a betrayal of confidence and totally unprofessional.)

I smile and say the greeting appropriate to the time of day to many people on the street (I walk nearly everywhere which is great for fitness but has led to a couple of bad sunburns). I get the occasional thousand-yard stare, but usually at least a smile and/or a verbal acknowledgement. Quite a few times young people (and I remind readers that the Timorese are rather beautiful, with the most stunning smiles) have walked along with me. I have spoken in my fairly stumbling Tetun, which their English generally puts to shame.

I have to admit, I was rather worried about the intentions of some of the young women, but it seems that they just wanted to talk to a friendly malae who was at least trying. I realise that very few foreigners do try. A couple of the young men did want to use me as a contact with the embassy to help them access the 'working in Australia' scheme, but I managed to persuade them that I was not in the embassy and had no influence on their selection processes. They gave up with reasonable grace, and as with everyone else, I thanked them for the Tetun lesson.

In talking in Tetun, direct questions are asked, although indirect replies often given. Questions not considered nosy when talking to someone for the first time include "Where are you going?", "Where are you [originally] from?", "How many children do you have?" and "How old are you?". The answer to this last question nearly always shocks them, in that I am so old (they wouldn't have guessed) and that I only have two children, none returned (i.e. died before the age of 2). I get my own share of shocks. One girl I was walking with turned out to be 22 (somewhat more then I had guessed although I had been misled because she was still at school) with two children.

Oddly, your name often is asked last, or not at all.

Tonight I am sitting in the restaurant in the place where I live. The food's not great. Apparently it used to be then both chefs left. I had fried eggs the other morning for breakfast. Possibly deep fried. The staff are friendly but need just about a .45 fired over their heads to get their attention. Like much of Timor, busy work plus a fair bit of wandering back and forth and taking mobile phone calls occupies them. This is not a slur, It is an indication that 400 years of occupation where initiative was punished takes its toll on even the proudest people. But it is something that can, in time, be adressed.

And that will be part of my job, in a country that has always known the stick and rarely the carrot.

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