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Thoughts on our housing experience

Friday 16th January – Thursday 22nd January Two months and first week

I don’t think I ever wrote an entry about why it is difficult to find accommodation in Timor, only that it was difficult. A friend’s very unusual experience today – she arrived Tuesday and found a place to live Wednesday, most people look for weeks or months - reminded me how hard it was for us and our friends, and so I wanted to write about it.

Basically, in Dili, the price of accommodation was inflated very rapidly when the UN rolled into town. The UN and other international organizations can afford to pay whatever people ask, and the local people worked this out pretty quickly. This means that as a foreigner, people happily show you hovels and palatial style accommodation and it can be anywhere from $200 USD a month to $1000 USD a month for a hovel, and between $600 USD to $2000 USD per month for something you can actually live in, to something that’s very nice indeed. Some organizations – the UN, AusAID etc – as I have previously mentioned, also build their own compounds, which have razor wire on the outside like everywhere else, and purified water, pretty landscaping, etc on the inside, unlike everywhere else.

Matt and I, and other volunteer friends of ours, had the additional problem of *looking* like people with money, because we are malae, and white malae at that. Of course, compared to lots of Timorese we are very well off. Over here, though, we can’t actually afford to pay $1000 USD per month, and nor do I want to, not to live in a dirty, burnt out set of concrete boxes out the back of a tiny restaurant without a working bathroom or kitchen (yes, we were shown a place like that).

Matt and I seem to have got the last cheap room in town – well, it’s cheap for the moment – the house is $400 USD per month, split between the two couples, and cleaning is $50 per month, also split and also cheap. Other people we know pay up to $120 per month for cleaning. We were very lucky to get somewhere that volunteers have already been living for a year – the house has been fixed up in various ways and at any given time, most things work. There is a kitchen and two bathrooms and electricity and water, a pretty back garden, etc etc. A different house we were considering, on our own, for 500 USD per month, had no kitchen, was much darker and dirtier, and not much furniture.

However, we pay for this another way – in guilt. The family who own our house are still living on the land, in another much less nice building, which is half shack. We’re living in their house, and this wasn’t clear at first. When we worked it out, it suddenly made a lot more sense why they felt so free to do stuff in our backyard, or wash their bikes at the side of the house, etc. This is common for people in Timor, to rent out their houses to malae and group in with a few more family members.

Our volunteer allowance for housing is based on this level of accommodation (700 AUD) – and it was raised in December. I don’t know what any other volunteers who come to Dili now will do, other than use some of their living allowance (not really sustainable as the allowance is sufficient for living but not much extra, and that’s only if the exchange rate stays reasonable), or use their own funds, to pay the rent.

Based on this and also the fact that it’s difficult for us here without a car, I honestly would have to say to people, Dili is a great place to do a volunteer placement – but do come with at least $10,000 USD of your own.

Posted by timortimes 20:38

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