A Travellerspoint blog

December 2008

King Kate's Christmas message

1 month, 7 days - Tuesday 23rd December

So! Merry Christmas, kids! Today is my last day of work before a break until the 5th of January, yay! I am going to take photos of all the awesome nativity scenes around the place tomorrow - that is after I sleep in - I went for a run this morning and wasn't that a dumb idea?

Different things about Christmas here:

  • Government employees get a 25 kilo bag of rice as a Christmas present (I wasn't sorry to miss out - I hate rice)
  • All Government departments make their own professional Christmas cards and send them to other departments (this is awesome)
  • Government offices, businesses and some private houses go all out with decorations. The Palacio de Governo has a giant Christmas tree (flanked by two life size Santas in full northern hemisphere gear) in the middle of the courtyard (the courtyard is probably 500 m long) that is taller than the Palacio, which is two stories. The Palacio is covered in k's of flex wire lights arranged in dazzling patterns and outlines.
  • As aforementioned, nativity scenes with bigger-than-life-size wooden cutouts, stars etc abound around the streets. What I particularly like about these is the fact that they are made from any old thing around: I've seen a couple lined where the back wall is lined with cement sacks.
  • There is an even bigger Christmas tree (than the Palacio taller-than-two-storeys one) created out of a fountain and fabric at the airport roundabout. Has to be seen to be believed. Rumour has it a group was given $80,000 to do it, they've spent $30,000 and they don't know what to do with the rest.
  • Little lojos - the little corner shops run out of sheds - to big department stores all sell Christmas decorations. (We picked up a little tree with decorations for $4.)

I have commented on all this to other people who've been here longer than I, and they say that it's new, all this stuff, that Christmas stuff is bigger and brighter this year. The general opinion is that the Timorese are feeling ok about celebrating - that they're feeling less scared. This has also been a comment I've heard in conjunction with the comment 'there are lots of people hanging out on the streets these days'.

If that is true, then that is fantastic indeed. Merry Christmas everyone, and merry Christmas Timor-Leste.

Posted by timortimes 17:06 Comments (0)

Damn financial crisis

1 month, 6 days

So I have taken a hefty pay cut to come overseas as a volunteer for a year. However, that is not what I am complaining about, because I expected it and that is the tradeoff for an awesome year living overseas and working in gender and development. What I am complaining about is this:

Before I left Australia:

  • I had a car loan, and interest rates were skyrocketing.
  • I had a car, and petrol was so expensive the government decided to have a FuelWatch program to appease the masses.
  • I had very little savings, so the skyrocketing interest rates did nothing for me.
  • I couldn't travel, and the Australian dollar had a very high exchange rate (well above 90USC and not dropping below 75).

Now the financial shit has hit the fan, and I live in East Timor:

  • I sold my car, and petrol is cheap again (hell this is not good for the environment either).
  • I paid off my car loan, and interest rates have been cutty cut cut cut cut.
  • I have a decent amount of savings, but because interest rates have been cut, it's earning jack all interest, even in a 'high interest' account.
  • I am living in a country which uses US currency, I get paid in Australian dollars, and on a good day the dollar is worth 68US c. On bad days we worry it will drop to 50 US c.

AAAAARGGGGHHHH!!! My only hope is that the property market will fall through the floor, and then I can pick up some deals on my return to Australia. Housing is waaaayyy overpriced in Australia.

On the bright side, somebody told us the other day that they think that we have picked a good time to do the volunteer-overseas thing. We agonised over coming here in light of the finance stuff (this is months ago before it hit the news - Matt and I have been reading the signs for a while), so it was nice to hear that opinion.

Posted by timortimes 17:03 Comments (0)

Weekend fun and reflection

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.

Posted by timortimes 19:20 Comments (0)

AIRCONDITIONING: Greatest invention ever

Month 1, Day 3 - Friday 19th December

OH HAI I totally forgot to mention the AIRCONDITIONER that Matt had installed in our room on Thursday. THANKYOU MAAAATTTTT. It makes our lives soooo much happier. And cooler. Icy cold. It is a wonderful thing.

The funny thing is that we actually don't have it on all the time - mostly it gets turned on after we've come home from a jaunt in the midday sun.

It's a bit of an odd situation with our neighbours because obviously, we are renting, but they didn't mind if we installed an airconditioner - ourselves. There seem to be no rules or directions for what goes with renting in Dili.

Posted by timortimes 19:13 Comments (0)

Summer time is my time

Month 1, Day 2 - Thursday 18th December

You know I miss everyone in Australia. This is the first Christmas I haven't spent with my family on the Far North Coast. Hi guys! *waves* And I always miss my friends at Christmas. *waves at Canberra and elsewhere*

But I do love summer. I especially love the run-up to Christmas - people making plans, trying to finish off work before Christmas, everywhere is always busy. I love that it is always warm (it's PARTICULARLY always warm here). Being near the ocean feels like the place I should be, even if I am not a beach baby*, because it is just gorgeous.

I am planning to have a one-year-long summer over here, which is very nice indeed.

  • Really I should be, my parents tried very hard and should get credit for their efforts. I am just more of the kind of person who paddles for a bit then dries off in the shade.

Posted by timortimes 19:02 Comments (0)

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