Wait your patience

After 10 days in the seductive tourist bubble of Bali, I was determined not to succumb to post-holiday blues. We were heading back to Dili for a final three-month fling before life in New Zealand swallows us up again. There wasn’t a moment to waste.

My good intentions lasted as far as the luggage carousel at Presidente Nicolau Lobato airport, named after one of Timor’s resistance heroes. Think Hokitika airport, only shabbier. ‘Finis’, said the airport attendant as I peered hopefully at the empty conveyer belt which had delivered Pat’s bag – and everyone else’s on our flight – but not my little blue suitcase.

Presidente Nicolau Lobato international airport in Dili.

Presidente Nicolau Lobato international airport in Dili: think Hokitika, only shabbier.

We made our way inside the terminal to the office of Sriwijaya Air, an Indonesian airline. A smiley young Timorese man sat behind a glass wall. At the height of his desk, a small semi-circle had been cut out of the glass. To explain my problem, I had to bend down, twist my head and project my voice through this opening. To decipher his muffled reply, I put my ear where my mouth had been, all the time trying to maintain eye contact. It was hard to feel that Sriwijaya wanted to hear from me. Continue reading


A day dallying in Dili

6am: It’s dark when Pat and I leave home to walk up the hill behind our house. The roosters are already in full throttle and there’s a welcome coolness to the air. We scramble up a rocky path, past silent shacks, in time to see the sky turn orange above the hills of Cristo Rei. In the harbour below, container ships wait to unload almost everything Timor consumes, including rice from Vietnam, eggs from Singapore and clean water from Indonesia. Not much goes the other way.

Sunrise over Dili harbour

Sunrise over Dili harbour

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The mysteries of mikrolets

Head down, I clamber into the mikrolet, one of the owner-operated mini-vans that trawl Dili all day for passengers. The only spare seat’s at the far end of a thin bench, one of two that run down either side. Clutching my day pack to my chest, I aim my toe at a sliver of floor between 12 pairs of shoes and push my way through a thicket of knees. The bench stops inches from the back wall. When I finally sit down, a bit of me hangs over the edge, my hair brushes the ceiling and my feet are propped on the spare tyre lying in the aisle.

It’s midday and I feel like I’ve walked into a crowded sauna. Workers are heading home for lunch and the afternoon shift of students is replacing the morning one. The air freshener sachets hanging from the ceiling look as wilted as the passengers. No one’s talking although we’re close enough for a group hug.

The trusty No 10 mikrolet

The trusty No 10 mikrolets get me from A to B.

The mikrolets are the closest thing Dili has to a public transport system. Continue reading

Burials and bingo

On a hot afternoon about two months ago, a humble black flag appeared at the gate of our family compound. Visitors started streaming down the driveway, the men in black shirts and trousers, the women in black dresses and headscarves. Many carried small white boxes.

Death of Eusebio's uncle IMG_0377web - Copy

A black flag at our gate marks the death of our landlord’s uncle.

We learnt from our landlord Eusebio that his uncle had died. The white boxes contained candles to light up his shrine. His uncle was 97, Eusebio said. This seemed incredible in a country where the average life expectancy is 67.

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