Month 1, Days 4-5 - Weekend of 20th and 21st December
So this weekend has been a whirl of grocery-buying, barbecue (buffalo!) and swimming (at the barbecue! at the AusAID Minister-Counsellor's place, who has an awesome saltwater pool in her backyard!) and drinks at our place for new friends. I do like having drinks on our verandah. OK... I don't like the mozzies. Everything else is great though. Cute tiles. Comfy seats. Big trees in the background. Chooks pecking around the yard and cute dog licking your feet (I know everyone else hates when dogs lick them, but I like to take it as a compliment, even if I know they are only doing it because my feet are sweaty and taste like a delicious salt lick).
Also of note is that I finally worked out how to wash our towels so they are not STINKY RAGS any more. Expensive stinky rags from Kathmandu, but stinky rags they were nonetheless. NOT ANY MORE. Matt called me a goddess for fixing the stinky towel problem, which I figure is fair exchange for the effort he put in with getting the airconditioner the other day.
On a more serious note, it is very interesting to compare different accommodation and conditions for foreigners around the place here. Volunteers like us get regular houses amongst local people (ours is v. cheap at $400 USD), or sometimes go to live in the hotels (if they can kick in extra cash on their own - it's a bit expensive, say $6-800 USD a month, but that's not nearly as high as it can go). I like our little house, it is comfortable and indeed quite luxurious compared to what many Timorese, even middle-class Timorese have. (Yes yes I know I need to put pictures up.)
Man! So going to this barbecue, we got to check out Palm Springs, basically a gated community for expats who are here doing the wellpaid jobs. It seriously looks like a little suburb straight out of Brisbane or Canberra. Biiig houses with biiig kitchens, some with own swimming pool out the back, as I mentioned. This is the real luxury stuff. And you pay for it. More than $1000 USD a month... and you pay a year in advance. The DFAT compound is also extremely nicely set out. I have seen the complex but not the inside of any of the houses. It is just like being back in Australia and you totally forget you are in Dili... apart from the broken glass and razor wire topping the security wall, I suppose, but I digress.
I am interested in this stuff because I thought hard about all this a long time ago, when I was trying to decide whether I wanted to leave AusAID for the Office for Women, to work on domestic gender issues instead of just a little international gender issues. I'll be honest and hope that it doesn't serve me ill. I deliberately decided that I wanted to get overseas experience as a volunteer because I wanted to have the experience of working with local people, preferably in a women's ministry. I thought that being happy about the work I did and getting to work with local people would outweigh the comforts you get from the accommodation and money that organisations like AusAID and the UN offer (or that my job offers back home - I have taken a substantial pay cut this year, about $50,000 AUD). So far I feel I have made the right decision. This is one year out of my life and one month has passed already, I want to make the most of it.
This is *not* to belittle that kind of work, or those organisations, or the people who decide that they would like to work over here and live in a secure compound. On the contrary - it is all necessary and important, and I would work for them again in the future, if a position I was interested in came up. Also, people do have a right to decent accommodation and compensation for being away from family, friends and our very high standard of living in Australia. It's just that I thought I would prefer this experience, and so far I do. We have looked longingly at the pools in the different complexes, but really (touch wood) in terms of insurance and medivac etc we are looked after to a good standard by our volunteer organisation, and we miss little else (now we have airconditioning - ha).
Sure it would have been nice to have an uplift of all my furniture and books etc over here, sure these gated communities are very tidy and pleasant, and I loved the pool and the big kitchen. But man, I came to this country to work with the people, I don't want to shut them out when I go home. I don't need to feel I am back in Australia. I like walking home along my road and saying 'Botardi' to all the kids that walk past. I like working in the Office for Gender Equality with all the Timorese staff, seeing how their Public Service works.
I like it here.