Saturday, December 22, 2012

Wind down for staff – Christmas nativity - bike siting – one volunteer to Darwin then home – paying the price for no mudguards after rain – Christmas lights - Dinner

Blog ending Saturday 22nd December 2012

This last week has seen the final exodus of expats to their country-of-importance and Friday saw the beginning of local people heading back to the districts. Many people need that ‘extra’ money for the Christmas break and they were lining up all week at various financial institutions for payouts. I saw one of them, right next to Tiger fuel and I thought it was a political gathering, an end-of-year get together or some other celebration/social occasion. Wrong on all counts. The ANZ money machines around town were not working including one  of the two at the main bank itself, so I joined the queue before the machine ran out. The ATM in Lita still has the software upgrade warning of late August covering the dead screen and the one at Leader is apparently out of action as well.

There are many small huts-cum-shelters going up- around town. They have wee fences and are variously ringed with lights, artificial grass and attendant watchers to make sure the statues/profiles that make up the Nativity scenes are not tampered with. I took some photos of one very large nativity scene erected in the Defence building compound. It was covered in lights and quite impressive, even from the road 250m away. Less than five days later it was gone – maybe not military enough?

One fellow volunteer had to go to Darwin, on Friday, for a blood test – something to do with blood sugar. Now they have been sent back to NZ for two weeks(!). A surprise Christmas back home. Hopefully it’ll be all sorted & they can return in January.

My bike now has a carrier, but that it is not good enough to keep the mud off me when I cycle. After work yesterday, I went, watched the afternoon rain shower then wore a nice white shirt to the Dili Beach Hotel – cycling. I nearly got there OK, before passing through a puddle and getting black spots all over my front :-(

While in Brisbane a couple of weeks ago, I bought some Christmas lights – not as good as the flashing ones here that also play Christmas carols with an Amercian accent, but nice lights anyway. They are now draped over the porch in front of my door and protected from the rain. Since I am cycling 122km to Baucau in a few hours time and won’t be here to turn them on at night, I bought an extension cable and threw the loose end upstairs to the land lord’s place so they could do the honours whenever they wished to.

Yesterday, we volunteers organised a Christmas dinner at one of the houses and had a suckling pig + a variety of goodies prepared by different people. Secret Santa involved swapping your present with others and I managed to get a magnifying glass and a mini pool set that I have given to the local children.

Merry Christmas (where did this ‘Happy holidays’ rubbish come from? Are people afraid to acknowledge the origin of this festive season?)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Hera loop reverse - bike paid for, finally - Wet roads and running - a week in Brisbane - expats to the rest of the world - Finding Santana and a clear piece of road - new digs - animals (reminds me of that Pink Floyd albumn)

Blog ending December 16th 2012

This morning Helen and I cycled the Hera loop in reverse, a nice change from going via Becora. We passed a man and woman running the other way and I was impressed that they would be running 20+km in the heat. People were still walking along the road in Hera, dressed in their Sunday best – it was about 07:50.

Yesterday I finally paid the $500 for my new bike. The money had been moved from safe place to wallet and back again before I found out that the recipient, Tony, lived in a yellow house near ‘Beach Side’, down on the coast; so I cycled there after taking a morning coffee at the Darae cafĂ© – a 50 minute cycle uphill. Tony was out, but someone else was there to take the cash. Later in the day I visited Obrigadu Barracks, where the UN was based, in Caicoli. They apparently had a notice board in the PX, with bikes, cars, motorcycles, electronics and other stuff for sale. They sure did but I couldn’t find the PX and then security sent me back for an ID check and a pass. Seeing as they had about 6 people + a metal detector there, doing nothing, it gave the place a little bit of life. Nearly all the UN have left for good and many of the remainder are out of Timor, so it is a bit of a ghost town.

Last week we had rain on the Wednesday afternoon and I was intrigued at the difficulties locals had driving in the wet afterwards. I was headed out to the Beach Hotel for a H3 evening run and observed motorcyclists riding with one foot hovering just above the wet road. Cars went a little more slowly and carefully. My bike is a mountain one and I know how to ride in the wet, so I went at full speed through slow train of vehicles while locals lined the side of the road to observe the results of their fellows’ efforts. I was cheered, but I didn’t work out why until later, as keeping a good line and braking in a straight line are kind of obvious. Apparently not to those who are used to driving any which-way in dry conditions. There were, apparently, several accidents. Not surprising as some of the younger guys insist on traveling at speed though the traffic as though they were skiing slalom. Results are predictable.

Yesterday's H3 run was near the Santa Cruz cemetery and went up the hills to the south east. Great views once the scrambling had finished. There was thunder and lightening, but only light rain on us. The coolness was really nice instead of the close humidity.

Two weeks ago, I and Richard spent a week in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane learning all about a product called ‘Abacus’. It is the financial system we are rolling out here in Dili and country-wide. It was nice to be in a different place for a while, as I’ve been here for 6 months now and really appreciated having a break, of sorts.  I’d ordered computer parts plus some snorkeling gear and had it delivered to the accommodation. Nearly everything arrived except for some RAM (PC memory) and even though I left a registered letter behind to forward it all onto Dili, the security here for mail actually ending up and staying in, a post box is flaky.

All the team at work have left for ‘home’ (Latvia, Philippines, England and Holland) in the past three days. There are people still here in town, but most have gone elsewhere for the annual celebrations. Some of us are planning on going to Atauro island and I haven’t been there for 6 years. Maybe a good time to take my outrigger paddle over and have a crack at a local canoe.

The traffic around town has been getting increasingly worse in the past weeks, with sections shut by the police for 'events', visiting dignitaries (Australian Bob Carr) or funerals. One, last Tuesday 10th, was for the exhumed remains of a resistance leader & fighter from the 1990s; Santana (see earlier blog about the book by Jill Joliffe). There was a big gathering in front of the Fretilin headquarters in Comoro road. The police simply closed the road while trucks loaded with people, some in traditional dress, parked outside, waiting for the official convoy to begin. I was on my bicycle, so I managed to get through everything and make my meeting at Gios, Timor Plaza

 I’m living in a new place in Bairo Pite and it's really nice, even though much smaller than before. I have two ceiling fans (I just had two small free-standing ones before) and two air conditioners. The settee + comfy chairs still are padded and not collapsed vinyl-covered ones that one might sit the subject on before interrogation began. I have excellent access to animal life; directly outside the front door is cage with a rooster with a morning clock beginning around 05:30 and a dovecote with residents that know to be fairly quiet and not poo around my entrance. Outside the living room window is the fence to neighbours and their 3-4 pigs. The latter are vocal most of the time; especially so in a terminal way, occasionally. I know I grew up on a farm, but it takes getting used to. We volunteers are going to share the cost of a suckling pig for a dinner around the 22nd – just remember kids, your food has to come from somewhere and it isn’t merely from a foam tray at the supermarket!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Hash run from Timor Coffee Cooperative – Mass exodus of Dili to Same – Agriculture Graduation on Wednesday + celebration – Beach run – ‘Bloodshot’ film + director and familiar faces - UN create website fo/for Timor Leste

Ending Friday 30th November

The Saturday afternoon Hash started for me with a 10minute cycle ride along Comoro road, over the main river bridge (being widened) and then to the Coffee Cooperative compound where we chatted (you’ll see we have members from all around the globe and this was the first time we had someone from Sudan) then off we went, in two groups: walkers and runners. I ran. Tough going, without any cooling breeze and just the ever-present heat and humidity. Naturally the Timorese are fine with the conditions – just a malae problem . At one stop I checked my back pack and found an open pocket…oh dear, another phone gone. Then someone rocked on up 30 seconds later and said “I just found a phone on the road!”. So nice things DO happen occasionally. Photos here:
Me arriving in fourth place and rather rubbed in the chest, :

There was a huge celebration in Same during the week. Same is about a three hour drive to the south. Apparently there was a man who led a rebellion against the Portuguese in 1911 and then surrendered in 1912. It all took place in the Same area. So this was the official 100th anniversary commemorating his fight – I think it parallels the independence struggle against Indonesia. Many people and officials went to Same for three days of festivities. Wednesday 27th was an official public holiday and tied in with the anniversary. The Government also had Thursday as a holiday, while NGOs missed out :-(

My counterpart and his wife graduated with a degrees in agriculture, also on the Wednesday and that area of town was packed with students in gowns and sashes, he and she had a deep bright green colour. Scooters were parked everywhere and the traffic crawled. I had to leave work at 12:30 to get to the presentation ceremony and I was then invited to go back to their parents’ house for a food and drink later. So I was there, near the Cathedral, at 3:30 and introduced to everyone and given a seat up in the porch area. There was a large banner erected on the house wall with carefully cut out letters congratulating the graduates and announcing ’Knowledge is Power’. There were also about 50 other people being friends, relatives and families. Food and drinks were served. Quite a day for everyone. Americo actually won a scholarship to study Agriculture in any of about five different countries including Cuba and Portugal. I asked if he would and he said ‘No’, he was going to stick with computers. I wonder if there was also a challenge with managing two people in a foreign country and the associated costs.

Thursday morning I got Kate to go for a run along the beach past the airport. It is much easier now that someone has cleared away the rusted perimeter fence that had fallen across the route. A difficult and delicate stepping exercise each time. There were ten fishing boats out in the bay; most with a single paddler + nylon net. I hear that because there is no navy nor functioning inshore policing, that foreign ships are helping themselves to the fish off the south coast. There are some larger Zodiac-type craft pulled up on the beach across from the Palacio in Dili central, but I hear they are non-functional due to lack of fuel. If there is another reason, then I shall edit this entry at a later date.

Thursday night was film night at the indoor theatre – the only one I know of in town. The producer of ‘Bloodshot’, Peter Gordon, was there to talk to the sell-out crowd. Three of us had managed to grab some ‘primo’ seats 5 minutes before everyone else had decided to knock back their wine and head on in. This film was a recap of the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre film clip + how two of the film crew had stayed in Timor: Kirsty Sword (married Xanana Gusmao) and Max Stahl (made more films). They visited parts of Timor in 2011 and reviewed what had happened since 1991 and 2002. There were some excellent interviews with Timorese affected and impacted in different ways, from ex-fighters to victims, to parents who had lost their children to the violence. Xanana and Ramos Horta also had important things to say. Several people featured in the film were also present in the cinema. One of them was a medical student at the time and met Peter Gordon on a beach in Bali, twice I believe, in 1991. I thought to myself, ‘I know that face!’. After listening and watching I recognised my ‘boss’ from 2006-7 when I worked at Ministerio de Saude (Ministry of Health) when the man, Dr Rui Araujo, was Minister of Health. I said hello afterwards, he remembered me and we exchanged cards.  

Tomorrow I am off to Brisbane for a week of IT training, on a product called ‘Abacus’. Designed especially for microfinance organisations such as ours. Is it possible to get a good coffee in Brisbane?

I just noticed a report released just over an hour ago. It covers a new web site created by the UN of and for Timor Leste. My initial check out is of some really neat photos. I'm sure there is a lot more depth than just photos. Have a look:

Friday, November 23, 2012

Successful quiz evening - Garden88 no more - 1st Lady Run - Scooters and riders meets eachother, the road & pedestrians in various combinations - Max Stahl

Blog ending 24th Nov 2012

Last night the Dili Hash House Harriers (H3) had a fundraising quiz plus some food  and drinks at the Cazbah, just off the beach, near Christo Rei. I got the questions together (thanks to Andrew at Kiwiz aka ) and we ran through six rounds in the end, with a couple of raffles and auctions thrown in to add variety. The auction featured two mint t-shirts from independence day in 2002; they went for over US$170 each (my opening bid of $20 was swatted aside like a mosquito ) I had to cycle the 6km with a whiteboard (for displaying the results) under my arm, so I was into my first drink fairly promptly. The microphone was dodgy from the start so my voice managed to give loud service to the end of the night. Why was the quiz run? To raise funds for training a kindergarten teacher in Dili. The target was about US$900 and we managed to top that with a total of about $1,800!  I am wearing a grey short-sleeve here: 

Thursday week ago, three of us did a morning run along the road to Christo Rei and we couldn’t help noticing that the ‘Garden 88’ restaurant had been burnt out. I guessed it may have been due businesses fighting over decreasing numbers of customers (NZ and Australian Army withdrawing as are UN personnel). A couple of days later I was told that the fire was probably due to young boys putting fire crackers in the thatching. The big celebration day had been on the 11th and everyone had bought fireworks. Even now they are still being let off at all hours of the night.
Last Sunday was the 1st Lady run. This is a big annual event and consists of a 10km run or a 5km walk. The H3 provide setup, traffic directing and barbeque help. I even managed to run, but suffered a bit in the heat and humidity. My time of 53minutes for the 10km isn’t very good but I managed to do it without walking. After crossing the line there were many blue ‘eskies’/chilly bins of cold drinks. I knocked off about 6-7 of the sport replacement ones (felt sick next day) to replace the sweat and distress. After that, I helped supervise the queue for the free sausages + onions + sauce on a bit of bread. The locals did not like lining up, but preferred to push in. This situation was sorted out in 5 minutes and I spent the next 45 minutes directing line-jumpers to the back of the queue. By then the non-runners (local kids and 'hangers-on') had worked out that they could also get free drinks and sausages so both resources went fairly quickly.

When we were all tidying up afterwards; picking up every piece of rubbish in the area, as well as our own, two bikes were wheeled past me. “Are they for sale?” I asked. Sure were!. A couple of people had donated them to Rotary after finishing the Tour de Timor and the idea was to auction them at teh run. This didn't happen, so they were going back to storage again. I offered $500 on a bike that apparently cost over a $1,000. The offer was accepted and my last week has been great, riding a slick machine with an Italian seat, hydraulic brakes and smooth gear changing. What you’d expect from a bike that only has about 600km on the clock.

Scooter incidences: I heard a story about a scooter accident nearly 10 days ago that involved a death. The teller of the story was driving a truck back from the interior of the island and found two scooters and four  people on the road. Two of the riders on one scooter were drunk and had been riding on the wrong side of the road, no helmets and at speed. When a local nurse finally arrived she flipped the guy with the worst head injury (bleeding from the nose and difficulty breathing) on to his back and put a saline drip into his arm. He stopped breathing almost immediately and then died, despite my friend’s final attempt at mouth to mouth and pushing on the guy’s heart. The ambulance finally arrived from Dili, but had no doctor. It did have 3-4 police with tape measures. They got out to measure up the accident scene and I gather the remaining, living, people were then loaded into the ambulance for the trip back to town – looking after themselves. Hmmmm.

I happened to see two guys on a scooter attempt to drive through the pedestrian crossing outside the  Lita supermarket last weekend. They hit an off duty local policeman who then grabbed the bike and forced it off the road. The pillion passenger quietly and quickly got off and walked away with a backward glance; so much for moral support. Another off duty cop came over and, holding his walki-talki, also started yelling at the motorcyclist. A crowd had now gathered and I though it time to leave. Ignoring the pedestrian crossings is common here.

The weekly films have started up again and next week they are showing a documentary: 'Bloodshot', using Max Stahl’s footage from the Santa Cruz Massacre of 1991. Why? Well people need to see something on the news – images are king. This was a major breakthrough in getting the world to notice East Timor and start the road to change with the Indonesians finally leaving in 1999