A Travellerspoint blog

The Book Thief

You might be thinking, this entry is a book review. I did read Marcus Zusak's 'The Book Thief' earlier this year, in fact. (Quite good.) But no. This entry is about another book thief. Me. I have become a book thief.

Oh dear.

Look, this is how it happened. We went to the warung for dinner on the Friday night, like we had on Thursday. But we got turned away: ‘No food’ (not unusual, apparently).

So, we headed down the road to the ‘restaurant’, a restaurant by virtue of the fact that it was in a slightly bigger shed than the ‘warung’.

And, in the restaurant were books. Many books.

I was excited because I’d only brought two books with me and I’d already finished one (stupid!). When we asked if we could borrow books, the answer was a flat no. We were disappointed. I thought to myself, man, I know they think people won’t bring the books back, but seriously, I’d pay them for a book. Oh well.

Anyway, I thought I’d look through the collection. And what a collection. Any anthropologist circa 1985 would have been very proud (in fact I suspect that the original owners were just that – probably got here and left their books behind because they were too heavy to cart home). I wrote down some titles to share with you:

- New Guinea Body Decoration
- Antiquity and Survival New Guinea
- Oceanic Art
- Canoes of Oceaniea
- The Island Civilisations of Polynesia
- Gods and Rituals: Readings in Religious Belief and Practice
- The Material Culture of Kiribati
- String Figures of Papua New Guinea
- Archaeology of the Dreamtime
- Micronesian Customs and Beliefs

In fact, it was a little disconcerting. Someone with an abiding passion for the cultures of developing countries had put this collection together with care – carted it 5 hours from Dili or Baucau to Same – and there wasn’t a single book *about* Timor in it. 1985 was ten years into Indonesian times, when the pattern of no one goes in and no one goes out was well- established. And in the 70s, when cultural anthropology was huge in all these other places, Timor was dying a slow death thanks to the Portuguese - which was suddenly ramped up by the Indonesians. So nothing was being published about Timorese people or customs (or incidentally the Indonesian invasion, but ho hum move along nothing to see here, folks) at this time.

Anyway, I chose a couple of interesting-looking books and settled in to read while we waited for dinner (you might be the only customers in the restaurant in Timor, and it’ll still take an hour for your meal to be cooked).

As I was reading, I happened upon a couple of paragraphs of information on brideprice – my thesis topic.

Interested, I flicked through the rest of the chapters. OMG! Two on marriage! One on marriage customs! I *need* to read this book for my literature review, I thought. I haven’t got ANY other published information so far. Maybe I could come back tomorrow and copy it out? But... it’s like, three chapters. Hell.

And then, I looked around. There was only our little group of four, with the other three chatting away in Tetum while I read, and another two Chinese – Timorese looking guys drinking coffee on the other side of the room. No one was looking at me.

I slipped the book into my shoulderbag.

Nobody noticed.

And just like that, I became a book thief.

Next night, I came back with a bigger bag. And took two more books that had chapters on brideprice customs in the Pacific. Sure, it’s not on Timor, but I need to be broad about my lit review, because as I said, there’s not much published.

When I’m done with them, I’ll put them into a proper library collection. And I won’t steal any more books – unrelated to brideprice, that is. I promise!


I guarantee every single member of my family who reads this entry will say ‘Only YOU would steal a BOOK for your THESIS’.

Posted by timortimes 18:49 Comments (0)

Being away from it all... almost

I really enjoyed the quiet and calm of Same. Sure, there were roosters, motorbikes revving, and I even saw a billiards table under a lean-to on the side of a house. But none of it was within metres of my bedroom, so I slept a lot better than I usually do in Dili (despite Elfrina’s incessant late-night texting). Same doesn’t even have electricity – a few lucky places, including the guesthouse where we stayed, had generators running between around 6.30pm and 11pm, so there was light in the evening, you can charge your mobile, etc.

What? Charge your mobile?

Yes. Your mobile. I discovered that my mobile had service on the Friday evening, when I got a text from a friend, asking about the room in my place (welcome news). It seems incongruous, but in places of poor sanitation, wet season floods and dry season starvation (i.e. lots of developing countries), mobile phones flourish and are an important and common tool. Landline communications infrastructure, rather like roads, takes a lot of maintenance. Maintenance which governments like Timor’s couldn’t hope to keep up with. The rusting, broken telephone pole, across from our guesthouse, that was drunkenly leaning on its neighbouring pole, is the perfect example.

But, the infrastructure required for mobile phones is a completely different matter. All you need is to be able to set up the towers in appropriate places to reach the majority of the population in an area, and even in mountainous places, they can get great reception. (Take note, idiots running phone companies that provide ‘service’ in rural and regional Australia.) The key, of course, is that a huge part of the costs are offloaded to companies (who make the phones) and citizens (who buy the phones). All the government has to do is make sure there’s a phone company and towers (and come to think of it, I have no idea if Timor’s sole communications company, Timor Telecom, is government or internationally owned).

Of course, there are negative side effects. I discovered one that affects me: almost all calls I make for work, I have to make on my own mobile, and of course I can’t claim calls because my Timorese mobile is pre-paid, and anyway I think it’s a volunteer thing. So I spend way more on phone credit than I would just texting mates and family.

Posted by timortimes 18:48 Comments (0)

Tiny Timor

We detoured by the beach on the Saturday afternoon. I was really weirded out by this as it hadn’t occurred to me that a 4.5 hour drive into the mountains might take us to beach one hour on the other side, i.e. the south side of Timor. I really am used to the enormousness of Australia, I just can’t get my head around how tiny Timor is.

Posted by timortimes 18:47 Comments (0)

Sharing a room with Elfrina

Was fun: she’s a lovely fun thing, and I didn’t mind sharing a double bed with her for the four days, either, because we’re both quite small. We stuck together a lot and had a great time. We worked out we are both Capricorns, and I think if I had a sister, she would probably be a lot like Elfrina: we’re similar but different. Both speak without thinking, both like to disappear into books; but she is more bubbly, outgoing and heedless, the way a younger sister might be (I’m guessing, here). In any case, I didn’t hate her after four days of sharing a bed, which is not something one could say of many people, I believe.

At the same time, we did bug each other. She is a bit too attached to her mobile, I think: she sleeps with it next to her head, and her texting in the night woke me enough to the point where I told her to turn it off. The next day she laughed at me, saying ‘I missed my Daddy in the night! I wanted to text him! But you are funny malae, you tell me, No Karen*, turn it off! Haha!’

It’s lucky for cranky me that my Timorese friends think every time I say something crankily that it’s funny. I get them to laugh by doing an impression of myself being serious / angry. ‘Stop singing in the office! Turn that music off!’ Ha ha, ho ho, they’re rolling in their seats. Because why WOULDN’T you just sing in the office, or play music, or text your dad at 3am? Haha! Crazy malae, cranky for no reason!

  • Elfrina tells everyone she meets (especially malae) that her name is Karen, and malae always tell her that ‘Elfrina’ is a beautiful name. So we compromise by calling her Karen half the time and Elfrina the other half. I realised after writing the entry I’d done my usual thing and called her both names within 30 seconds, and thought I would explain rather than trying to use just one, because I’m bound to do it again.

For her part, Karen claims that ‘Elfrina’ is a ‘bad name’, like for a ‘bad woman’. Hmm.

Posted by timortimes 18:46 Comments (0)

Did you know there was such a thing as black rice?

I didn’t!

People claim it tastes great, but I did a blind taste test on myself, and I couldn’t tell the difference at all.

Posted by timortimes 18:45 Comments (0)

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