The last 200m before my house are an inferno. Leaving the cafes on the mainstreet, or the Singapore grocery, I can find shade, under the veranda of the various stores or coconut palms. But after I round the corner, past the tire shop, then the Evangelical Church, and then the Coffee Warehouse there is no shade. Not a bamboo shoot wide break from the tropical, overhead blistering sun. In general, my body after four months sweats slightly less than it did at the beginning, but it begins sweating vigorously at the beginning of this stretch in mere anticipation of the sun. My neighbors sit in the shade of their ministores, mango-trees, burned out cars, watch me slide by, no doubt noticing the gleaming layer forming on my skin.

By the time I extract the key fob from my burning black bag, and open the door, I begin stripping. Turn the radio on and just disrobe in front of the fans. Sometimes the nakedness, mixed with power pop, or Angolan music leads to dancing on the white tiles. If only the prudish family outside knew. Today I emerged with a towel going into the shower, and my landlady asked, ‘have you left today, or are you just waking up?’ I appreciated her naïve noisyness, and chuckled, no I just got back from the office (and I’m dripping with sweat goddamit let me into the shower).


My overgrown toe-nail scratched up against metal. I remembered I was floating in an angular pool about three bathtubs big at the bow of the Central Maritime Hotel, which itself was floating in Dili Harbor. This was an unexpected day, of self-referential pop videos on MTVAsia, sparkling white sheets, hot water and excessive air-conditioners. On the tails of four months of intermittent electricity, emaciated dogs, and cocky roosters this pool was quite amusing. The pool smell, the wavy mesh pattern of sunlight on the blue bottom, I clung to the side, recoiled for a backstroke racing start.

Floating belly up, alternately letting the sun scorch my belly and the water cool it, I could not get the 20 year John Walker, out of my mind. Fellow American who forced himself outside of his “open-minded” uppermiddleclass life, testing the world. Figuring out what it meant to be American, unable to deal with it, masochistically allowing himself to be brain-washed by the Taliban. Now as I floated in a hotel pool on a boat in East Timor, he sat in a US warship, bearded, shackled, awaiting trail for treason. And he is younger than me.

I myself could not avoid the eerie feeling of “joining” when I began working for UN Agency. As if I had some how finally given in to the inevitable. Coming here, I wanted to be an observer, not necessary “independent” or “objective” but I did want to maintain somekind of mental autonomy. And showing up the same time everyday, repeating the same development-speak and office email etiquette, I often feel like I’ve lost all personal direction or motivation. The question that troubles me most here is what am I doing here?

As scary as it sounds, I understand this kid John Walker. He felt alienated and apart from the materialism, the sick power of individualism over community, and the smothering weight of racial and class privilege. What happens when you try to express how excluded and outside of everything you feel you have become? You’re either ignored or told you are too extreme. And for some emotional people like John Walker, the only way out is to find a group to join. One that defines itself negatively, that works between the cracks.

If only John Walker had read Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and not the Autobiography of Malcolm X. Ellison’s power is his ability to find a sympathetic string, one that sounds the anger and hatred of another string, but incorporates it into a liveable human drone. Ellison could incorporate and articulate the rage and violence that he and others felt, not discounting it, but counter-balancing it with a love. Love is equaled by hate, it is a constant discipline to maintain their equality.

Around six oclock the kids living in the shacks across from the shiny UN Agency building come out with their military action figures, cars on leads, and make-shift soccer balls and take over the streets. The sun starts to go down over the hills behind the UN building. Men lean against the food stall, smoking, drinking and watching the foreigners trickle out of the building like the condensation off of their beers. There is a feeling of ease, of relaxation to this time of day. Nighttime is either pious or raucous. The day is just too hot to breathe, to think about anything but shade. 6pm is the hour when it is cool enough and light enough to do whatever you want. A girl was reading today, intently, unmolested on her front porch, as the neighborhood kids streamed by. What might seem a common sight, but inspired such a feeling of tranquility.

Finding a taxi, not surprisingly, at this hour is quite difficult. Everybody is headed home to enjoy the delicious interval between work and darkness. I often stand for 5 minutes waiting for an empty taxi to pass. Drivers are more talkative at this hour, always testing my Tetum, wanting to know where I’m from and what I think of Osama Bin Laden. If I had my way I would lose myself in the blur of rust and banana leaves, and breathe in the cool air.

I often find myself most incredulous that I live in East Timor during these taxi rides. Walking I’m too busy balancing fight or flight instincts. On a bicycle it’s just constant reflex following. Nothing more. But in a car going 20 miles per hour where communication with the driver is exhausted 2 minutes into a 15 minute ride, there’s time to look up, notice the range of blues the sky or look down and see the inescapable brown of poverty.

Certain moments I recognize how desensitized to poverty I’ve become. Brown kids playing in dirt, half-naked, surrounded by mangy animals. The only clean part of their landscape are the arching waxy banana tree leaves, that channel water down their long spines every afternoon. The walls, the floors, the clothes, the food stay dirty. Clean means impermanent – bleach whitens, but it destroys. These kids may be clean, but only once every other day or once a week. Their legs are covered with intermittent sores, their mouths occasionally fully of dry ramen noodles or steamed rice.

Walls are going up everywhere in Dili. The most shocking – at least to the foreign eye – is one across the street from the “best” restaurant in Dili, Delicious Blue, known for its Mediterranean ambience. We sit eating french toast drizzled in maple syrup tapped in Vermont, remarking at the ugly face of inequality: walls. This particular wall, about a foot deep and four meters high, currently a cement color, now surrounds a weed-filled yard, formerly grazing grounds for goats and horses, right in the middle of town.

The first thing somebody does now when they resolve a land claim, it seems, is to put up a wall. Now the whole Dili beach-front road from the Port to the Christ-statue road is just one fence after another. Some chain-link, some just below eye level, and some iron bars. Security and fence building seem to be the biggest growth area in Dili.

More and more in the local population, we see wealth accumulation in the form of nice shoes, cars, motorbikes, and various house improvements including paint, and windows. Timorese with fancy mobile phones, eating at overpriced restaurants. Slightly poorer people accumulate wealth and buy heaps of household and universally needed items like crackers, candles, shampoos, and drinks to sell outside of their houses. But those who can do even this are very small in number. Most carry what the have to sell tied hanging from a bamboo rod. Usually fish, greens and fruits.