Saturday morning coffee and paper

Woke up this morning rather ecstatic that I live in a house renovated and used by Portuguese people. Why? Because they have a lovely espresso machine in the kitchen. The tekis, the little geckos, greeted me as I turned on the machine and got to work making myself coffee.

This place was tastefully decorated, with a mixture of Australian and local-made furniture, lots of weavings hanging in the dining room, and large photos by Gabriela Carrascalão. My room smells like mothballs. I wonder whether they repel mosquitos, or whether the Timorese cleaning ladies believe it smells fresh.

I have yet to meet the ema boot, the chefe, the head man here. Between his lunch and mine, and coffee with Docogirl, we missed each other. He apparently lives in the west of town, in a rather problematic neighborhood. Interesting.

I went out wandering to take advantage of the morning coolness. Bought the Suara Timor Lorosa’e (STL, The Voice of Timor Lorosa’e), which was a disappointing 8 pages for $0.50. Four of the pages are olahraga, or sports. Another two are occupied with wire stories about Brittany’s baby and Whitney’s divorce.

But the first page confirmed what the morning security guard Carlos told me, that last night there was trouble in the neighborhood I described yesterday. Quintal Boot, right next to Quintal Ki’ik, where we walked through, was scene of clashes last night. It’s probably 2-3km from here. Hence the helicopters buzzing overhead. One person was taken to hospital.

Other STL headlines “Parliament’s activity stopped” (they can’t make quorum in Committees because people come, sign the attendance sheets and head right back home); “Major Alfredo is not the root of the problem”; “Committee F Participates in a Dialogue with youth” (about some Parliamentary effort to bring youth leaders together); “Pakistan parliament reacts to controversial comments by Pope”; “Demonstrations must be known to the Government” (about the plans for big demonstrations in two weeks from now). This is as good a source of information as any here in Dili. I don’t blame STL, but I do think this should hardly be the best that Timor can produce.

People seemed friendly but subdued. Much less “Missus” (derisive or friendly). Quite a few street vendors selling mobile phone credit and newspapers. More than I remember from 2003.

I walked past the University, which already had quite a few students milling about at 9am. Then onwards to Kolmera, the Chinese and Indonesian shopping hub. The electronics stores had grown in size and variety. The street vendors had tons more “fashion” than before, tons of sunglasses, hats, hip-hop fashions, jewelry. The one thing that had not improved was the selection of books for sale. The same shitty Learn English books.

I bought my favorite $1 to-go lunch in Dili, tofu strips, coconut milk rice, half an egg and cucumber at the Aru Bakery. Happy that is still around.

I decided to cut towards Farol, towards one of my favorite places to contemplate Dili’s big blue bay. I sat on the crumbling rock wall there, looking up at the mountains, getting blown around by the strong breeze coming off the ocean for some time. I looked back towards the refugee camps at Motael Church and the nuns next door. (With the nice UNHCR tents.) Tethered goats were feeding on the weeds in front of me, probably refugees’ goats. In one of the camps, next to Motael, a family had laid out a huge 6-8 piece furniture set outside the tent.

That reminded me about the rains. When the rains come, I can hardly believe people will stay in the camps. If they do, it will be a humanitarian disaster.

The sidewalk around Alkatiri’s house has been cordoned off with huge zinc fencing, forcing the pedestrian to walk on the street on the bay side. Word is he’s pretty much holed-up there. Who can blame him.

I walked past my old house in Farol neighborhood, and was shocked to see that the NGOs there have heaps of tents set up on their grounds. Their employees are all living in tents, having fled their homes. Come to think of it, many of the biggest figures in the Farol NGO community are from the East, lorosa’e. It was shocking to me to see the tents, but confirms that the lack of trust and fear has spread to the intellectual elite as well.

Farol is a strange neighborhood. I have always tried to imagine what it must have been like in its prime in the early 1970s. Now it has a sort-of post-post-Apocalyptic feel about it, but still remains peaceful, relatively ordered and with some flowers. Back through the diplomatic residences along the waterfront, I could hear the generators humming.

The lighthouse was covered in rather clumsy posters made by the Australian forces with slogans like “We are here to help” and “Working together to bring safety”. They were taped up on the lighthouse with inappropriate electrical tape. I hopped a taxi back with a lorosa’e driver who said he was living in “Jardim” camp. Have yet to learn all of the camps.


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