Fish on a stick

Last Sunday, Pat and I went snorkelling at Back Beach behind the Jesus statue, as we’ve done on many a Sunday morning in the last two years. Later, we wandered around to the next bay. A high stone wall has appeared on the cliff edge. It won’t be long before the view of Atauro Island is commandeered by whichever ema boot (big-wig) is building a house on that beautiful spot.

The beaches and hills of Dili have soothed our souls during our two-year stint.

The beaches and hills of Dili have sustained us during our two-year stint. You can see the Jesus statue (Cristo Rei) at the end of the point, and Atauro Island in the distance.

Behind us work had begun on a five-star tourist resort; across the water, new dirt roads zigzagged over the hills, heralding more exclusive development. We agreed that we’ve been lucky to be in Timor at this time. A time of optimism, in spite of all its problems. A peaceful time, sandwiched between the turmoil of the past and the creeping inequality that casts a shadow over the future. Continue reading


Times are a-changin’

I was looking forward to getting back to Timor third time round. I’d met family I never knew at a reunion in New Zealand and hugged my grandkids till they couldn’t stand it. It was time to see Pat and friends, pick up my English teaching and Tetun learning, start writing again. Instead I got off the plane with a First World stomach bug and spent the first week in a disoriented fug.

Ants join forces to carry off bits of our house.

Ants join forces to carry off bits of our house to make one of their own.

As I lay on the couch feeling sorry for myself, two welts appeared on my stomach, souvenirs of an adventurous ant. In his Jitters from the Critters post last year, Pat described ants as ‘tolerable’. That must have been before the invasion. Continue reading

A room of my own

I landed back in Dili last week with the blues. New Zealand is to blame. Our grandkids were too beautiful, our families and friends too hospitable, the food too good, the colours too vibrant. Even Wellington’s lousy summer didn’t really get me down. I’ve had lots of hot. It was a novelty to put on jackets and jeans and not douse myself in insect repellent. I loved the wild beaches, the wind on my face, clean streets, plumbing that works, the comfort of belonging.

Three reasons why it was so hard leaving NZ: our grandchildren (from left) Avah, Rome and Jet.

Three reasons why it was so hard to leave New Zealand again: our grandchildren (from left) Avah, Rome and Jet at the gun emplacements on Matiu/Somes Island on a rare glorious Wellington day.

In the month we were home, Timor faded away. Continue reading

Hi, malae!

When we tell Timorese people where we come from, we often get a big smile and the thumbs-up sign. ‘Kiwi!’ they say. Diak’ (good). This is partly because New Zealanders served in the UN force that (belatedly) rescued them from Indonesian slaughter and kept the peace after independence. In fact, more than 4000 of our army personnel and police were here between 1999 and 2012. From what we’ve heard, they had a great reputation, making friends with the locals and playing soccer with the kids. People in our neighbourhood still talk about a group who lived in a two-storey house round the corner from us about 10 years ago.


Kiwi soldiers lived in this house in our neighbourhood in the late 1990s.

Sometimes we even get a ‘Kia ora’. Timorese seem to have a special affinity with Maori. Continue reading

Talking Tetun

On Monday night I started tutoring Timorese university students in conversational English. As soon as I introduced myself, the other tutor, a Pom, picked I was a New Zealander by my accent. She turned to the class. ‘How do I know where Pip’s from?’ she asked. A young man put up his hand. ‘Her nose,’ he said.


Does the author have a nose for Timor’s coffee beans?

I admire the students’ efforts to learn English (if not their bluntness). They see it as their ticket to the world. Continue reading