Welcome to 2009! Matt and I were up early because he had a flight to catch that left at 9am – back to Darwin, then almost 24 hours and another flight to Brisbane, and then a drive to Bundaberg for his cousin’s wedding.
I was sad but we had a pretty amusing time taking photos of some kids in our street who were up early (everyone in this street goes to bed late and gets up before dawn, I swear). A boy called Joni, probably about 10, is the standout – he’s such a forward little guy. Posing, flexing his arms, climbing a tree, so Matt can take photos of him – meanwhile the littlest girl would smile, shake her head and run away when I tried to get her photo. Little cutie.
But in amongst all this, I am starting to see on a daily basis how much easier our lives would be if we had access to a vehicle. We called an English-speaking taxi driver here (note: no taxi company, just randoms who have taxis and charge $2 a ride) the night before, and he agreed to come... but 6.30 came and no taxi man. Matt texted him, only to get the response: ‘Sorry my friend, I have a problem, I cannot come.’ Yeah yeah, I know what problem you have mate, it’s the one we expected at 6.30 on New Year’s Day. So we walked up the road... around the corner... down that road... and finally a taxi appeared as it started to rain (this is the first time I have ever known it to rain before midday in Timor. Thanks for the insult added to injury, rain.) I walked home with the kids and got soaked. But, Matt made it to the airport, so yay.
Maybe I should explain this a bit more. Taxis here are only around during the daylight and only if it’s not raining – the potholes and puddles are too much of a hazard for the clunky, low sedans. The bikes are good but we have to be able to chain them up, they’re not good in the wet or the dark either, and they’re also no good if you’re sick and need to get to the doctor (as I am at the time of writing this entry).
So we walk places most of the time, it takes hours to do simple things like get the groceries and we get exhausted. I know that we chose this experience, to live a bit more like locals – because of course not everyone has cars here – but the problem is that we have a different cultural setting. Most families here who wouldn’t have a ‘family car’, do have friends / family with cars and scooters, who they wouldn’t hesitate to ask for a lift. We don’t have the language skills or the family members for that. We do have friends with cars, (Matt was offered a lift to the airport, we were given a lift home from the New Year’s Eve dinner) but we have a different cultural background: I feel uncomfortable with the amount of times I am dependent on someone else for a lift home, partly because they are not good friends. They’re all lovely, but they’re not responsible for Matt and I. In Australia, it would really be seen as taking advantage. Plus, Australians value independence more highly. I do find it difficult knowing I’m dependent on other people to get places and that I’m limited in places I can go on my own at night time.
So what is the solution? I don’t want to go into debt for a beat up old car. One volunteer we know just bought a sedan for $3000 (that’s US$, remember) which I would probably pay, oh, about $300 for in Australia. A 4WD, even a small one, which is what you really need to deal with the roads or get out of town with here, would be much more. People say that you can usually sell your vehicle for pretty much what you paid for it, but what do you do if it needs repairs in the meantime and you already spent your savings?
Of course to get out of town we can rent a vehicle for between $60-$100 per day. That doesn’t help us with getting to and from the supermarket, or a friend’s house at night, though; and if we did that once a month it would end up costing us well over $1000 for the year.
What would be best, I think, would be if we could lease a vehicle for a lower monthly or yearly rate, but this doesn’t exist, of course.
... I mean, that would be best, *apart* from the fairy godmother suddenly deciding that all AVI volunteers get a $10,000 USD car allowance.