Week One

I’ve been overwhelmed. I’d like to think of a better word, but I can’t seem to find one that does this justice, and the fact that I can’t sums up the last week in Dili.

It’s been just a week, it feels like so much longer than that. 

There’s that usual shock of the heat as you leave the plane, the confusion at border control, the fear you may have packed something you shouldn’t (in fact Australia customs had already had their sneaky hands in Marks bag) then a couple of forms and a temporary VISA and we’re popped out the other side into the carpark.

We’re met by our VSA buddy, luggage into a variety of vehicles and our first stop is the Mall to get sim cards and phones so we’re contactable. The Dili Plaza is LOUD! 

It takes a couple of hours to do the phone, and lunch and to check in to our hotel. It was handy to the office, I knew it was the end of luxury.

The next 5 days were about orientation, moving into our house, buying bits and pieces, meetings at the NZ embassy, cultural awareness conversations, safety briefings, repetition of some of the key things I’m hoping we don’t forget. Take your passport everywhere until you get your special stay VISA, stay aware, stay in touch, don’t freak out, you’re not in Kansas now Dorothy.

We brought a scooter for me, a bigger motorbike for Mark, a wok with a lid, a variety of creature comforts and a 2 dollar chicken that came from Brazil but tasted ok when I cooked it.

Dili has a maze of one-way streets, traffic lights that may or may not work, scooters everywhere, yellow cabs (bad), blue cabs (good), dogs and chickens on the road, some sort of disorderly chaos that appears to work. I rode my scooter home the first afternoon and was in equal measure terrified and amused. I kept forgetting to turn my indicator off and every now and then a Timorese man would arrive at my side pointing. I think it was the indicator…it may have been at the malae (foreigner) laughing hysterically to herself. Fear does that to people.

We live in a house that’s part of a family compound and Grandma Philomena  waves and greets me in the morning. “Bondia, good morning” before lunch, in the late afternoon she says “botardi”. She sweeps the dead leaves away from under the trees at the front and off the steps and then the wind rushes past and drops another sprinkling at her feet. She calls the dog (Melo) over and he ignores her completely. On the first day he growled at me, yesterday he licked my salty calf. I think we may be friends.

Everything seems to take just a little longer and a little more effort in the planning. Because you can’t drink the water you need to have some prepared before you clean your teeth and you have to boil the kettle to wash the dishes. You can’t just dump your washing in the machine. We don’t have a washing machine. The power went off today for 3 hours, the same thing is expected tomorrow. The supermarkets stock things that are strange to me and I failed at making the purple sweet potatoes as edible as they should have been.

The coffee is fantastic. The kids are beautiful. 

Here’re some things we have learnt:

50 percent of all the children here have stunted growth and malnutrition.

Timor-Leste has the 2ndhighest maternal mortality rate in the world.

During the Indonesian occupation around 200,000 people died, many from famine.

The number 2 in Tetun is rua. I feel at home when I hear that.

8 thoughts on “Week One”

  1. Thanks for this, Ruth. I will follow your news avidly. What are you and Mark working on for VSA in Dili? Karen


  2. Wow!! what an amazing first week!! More action packed than the start of an Indiana Jones movie and its all real. What an amazing adventure you and Mark are on


  3. HI Ruth .. Might remember me ? Elisabeth , the French accented Liaison Admin from Auckland (Otago) Love your blog entries and your interview … I finished a 6 months VSA assignment on Malaita (Solomons) last year so I am relating well to your stories … Also did a 2 years stint in South Africa ..many years ago – VSA is such a great organisation and volunteering is such a rewarding experience. Enjoy and all the best to you both !


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