Summer in the city

Yesterday was an extremely tense day in Dili.


Maybe it seemed more so because we had started the day in peaceful old town Baucau, where the running water, cool air, and distance from politics felt so good.

Got to Dili after the typical bus ride surrounded by bags and bags of rice and baskets of overripe tomatoes. The first thing I noticed was a swarm of taxis. I wondered if they were all lorosa’e people, or if the loromonu taxi drivers were actually making like bandits with the new bus “terminal” on the beach.

People were not happy to find out that the malais would not need a taxi. I said, “My taxi has two wheels,” and pointed to my bike. Nobody laughed.

Back to my digs in Lecidere, where everything seemed calm. I took a shower, had a coffee and some Oreo cookies.

Just as I was about to head out, got a message from Professor saying that the UN reported a young man stabbed in Kolmera. Rock throwing in Obrigado Barracks, in front of the UNMIT mission compound. This all before the hottest hours of the day.

I asked the Timorese staff if they had heard, they said, “yeah, hours ago.” So I guess Timor’s word of mouth network is faster than the UN. Big surprise.

But I walked out onto the street and noticed that life seemed to be going on as normal. People were on edge, it’s true. But basically taxis go about their business, navigating the bad neighborhoods based on word of mouth information.

I rented a taxi for an hour from a young man wearing a “Robinho” Brazilian jersey. He called himself John Smith. I asked him if he was Mormon but he didn’t get the joke. He’d lived three years in Australia. Said that Timorese people were all stupid and would end up killing each other off. He owned his own taxi, which was extremely clean.

But I noticed his time in Australia had not changed his driving habits. He drove like the true Timorese taxi driver, nearly stalling at every turn, refusing to downshift or give the car some gas.

I spent the late afternoon trying to arrange my trip to Uatocarbau with Pedro, the longtime friend and hostel owner. He seemed to think bringing the bike was a good idea, and that we would approach Uatocarbau from the south coast (the long, mostly paved route), but that I could bike down from the old Portuguese Uatocarbau, around the base of Mt Matebian, and catch a dump truck or a bus back to Baucau after about a week. That way I could talk to some of the people who Diplomat indicated near Baguia.

Pedro offered me some beautiful ripe figs. He said he never liked them, but I had a feeling even if he did, he wouldn’t be too interested in eating them right now, such a bitter time.

Later in the evening, around 6:30pm, Tourist and I tried to head out towards Professor’s house after waiting for fastfood from “My Fali” (a Timorese-owned fastfood joint!) It just seemed like we had missed our window of opportunity for a last taxi when a sullen young man came up and asked our destination.

He refused, shaking his head. This was apparently a bargaining technique. We offered $2, double the normal price, and he accepted.

After dinner, the choppers were incessant over the city, probably circling over Obrigado Barracks. We decided to make an early night of it, heading back across a silent town in Professor’s gigantic Landcruiser.

It was great to sleep in my nice, hotel-like bed here with the AC on. I have to admit I am extremely soft, I hope my time in the mountains next week will toughen me up. Headlice and diarrhea will not be necessary, though!


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