Mittwoch, 31. Oktober 2007

mau hujan

the air is hot, heavy and thick, but you can hear the rumble of thunder rolling down the hills already. then, a breeze picks up and the palm trees start to rustle. dark violet clouds move in overhead. "mau hujan," it wants to rain, as the indonesians put it. then the wall of rain comes in, bringing respite to the parched coastal strip. looks like the rain season is on time for once, after years of erratic behaviour.

unfortunately, though, this is not good news for everyone. while the farmers will welcome it, the close to 100 000 idps here in their makeshift tent cities will find life increasingly difficult, already for a second rainy season in a row.


in 1984 the scorpions recorded "still loving you." i wonder at times whether the boys from hannover had any idea that they had created what would soon become the global anthem of bus and taxi drivers? that classic hairmetal masterpiece has accompanied me on endless overland journeys on five continents. but in spite of all the hours i've spent listening to klaus meine's nasal, heartfelt whine and rudolf schenker's over-the-top guitar solos, i have yet to fully understand what it is they are trying to say. i've got about 85 % of the lyrics down by now, but the rest eludes me. ah well, i'm sure i'll have many more hours of travelling waiting for me in which to contemplate the issue.

on a different musical note, i had the joy and honour of seeing the timorese police force's special mobile K2 squad in action the other day, with K2 standing for Keyboard and Karaoke. this flying squad travels around the country performing at various functions, delighting the crowds with timorese pop songs. i must say that they weren't half bad. they did an excellent job of breaking the ice and getting the community involved at a reconciliation meeting up in the matebian area the other day. diak loos!

Montag, 29. Oktober 2007

power to the people?

as was to be expected, i've had endless discussions here about The Crisis (as it is generally called here) and the ones i have found the most depressing have been those in which several timorese themselves have stated that their country is simply not ready (or ever will be) for western-imported ideas such as democracy or human rights, especially freedom of speech and gender equity. while i do agree that 'the west' can not claim a monopoly on the one true path for societies to follow and that a one-size-fits-all imposition from the outside is not in any way desirable, i find the alternative that is being presented rather depressing. it is a neo-traditionalist harking back to a mythical 'golden age' where men and women 'knew their places' in society, there was one leader and everyone had to toe the line (and presumably did so ungrudgingly).

these are calls for national unity, justice, harmony and peace to be essentially imposed by dictatorship, which at times is expressed exactly in those terms. of course, timor leste is not the only transitional country where such sentiments are rife. i've heard the same argument in many of the post-socialist countries of central and eastern europe as well as in the former soviet union. in the mid-90s, many there talked enthusiastically about the 'pinochet model,' combining autocracy and neo-liberal market policies. personally, thats quite far from my vision of a society i would want to live in. but if "the people" want it, should i not then accept it, especially if i am merely an outsider here? and have not other countries had at least economic success with that model? the tricky part is of course is in determining whether "the people," that elusive concept, actually want it as much as the would-be leaders.

anyhow, its time for me to leave the dusty streets of dili behind for a while and go the the greener pastures in 'the districts'....

Samstag, 27. Oktober 2007

dili's three cities

within its relatively small confines, dili houses what basically amounts to three different cities which lead more or less parallel lives.

first, of course, you have timorese dili, inhabitated by the locals and which can be subdivided into those few living the life of the upper and middle classes, the majority that lives the life of the lower classes and thirdly the still very large idp population living in various camps spread throughout the city.

secondly, you have what could be termed the ex-pat bubble, or, as many of those living inside the bubble call it, 'the fishbowl.' this consists of all of us 'malae' staff of intl organisations, ngos, journalists, contractors, etc., again with various sub-groups, pay scales, nationalities and so on.

the third 'city' that lives in parallel with these two more visible ones is the one inhabitated by those non-timorese who are outside of the ex-pat bubble. these are mostly indonesians and chinese, labourers, small-scale merchants, and, yes, also sex workers. the itinerant underclass of the globalised economy.

though we all inhabit the same geographical space, we map it very differently. ex-pats for example refer to places as being in relation to landmarks they are familiar with from their everyday ex-pat life, be it an ngo office, a hotel or a bar. however, even timorese taxi drivers, let alone less mobile members of the community, have difficulty figuring out where "around the corner from the oxfam office" or "50 metres from one more bar" is.

there is of course some level of interaction between these three cities, be it for example the foreigners who make an effort to understand the local language, culture and society or the timorese who work with foreigners, be it in an international ngo or for a small-time surabayan trader. often, however, these contacts between the three different populations involve a transgression of lsocial (or even legal) norms, be it the stoning of foreigners' 4WD cars by timorese youth, the timorese girls who smoke and drink openly in the bars and discos favoured by the foreign community, being involved in the underground gay scene or the visits by un staff (in violation of its ineffective "zero tolerance policy" on un staff & prostitution) to the mainly chinese-run massage parlours.

massive outside interventions such as this one inevitably shake up the economic, social and cultural set-up of the "host community." based on my own personal views, i might see some of these processes as being rather positive (e.g. slowly increasing gender equity, more tolerance of minorities) and others as being much less desirable, but many might take a different view. the un and several ingos are trying at least in theory to strike some balance between the desired and undesired, often unforeseen, impacts of their presence. the question arises then of course who defines what is desirable, acceptable, avoidable, undesirable or unacceptable?

so much for my random sunday morning thoughts, time for a coffee...

Freitag, 26. Oktober 2007

bule pulang kampung

if bali felt like a "home-coming" in a more abstarct sense, returning to dili has all the concrete elements of coming back to your home village: friends, acquaintances and vaguely familiar faces everywhere. even the otherwise rather surly lady at timor telecom flashed me a smile of recognition.

something has changed in the atmosphere in dili over the past 5 months that i havent been here. i cant put my finger on what exactly it is and i'm tentatively venturing to say that its been a change for the better. on the up-side of things, theres a lot more people out on the streets, some of the most lethal potholes have been covered up, theres less vehicles with windows smashed by stoning going around and there seems to be a bit of an economic recovery (or at least theres a lot of construction work going on). on the down side, you still have the idp camps and you can see some newly torched buildings in town, burned in the post-election violence. in the ambiguous category is the fact that the presence of us foreigners is more visible than last time.

some things havent changed, though, such as the constant buzz of blackhawks, having rocks land on the roof of the cafe i was in last night, or, more positively, the beauty of the whole place and of the people.

Mittwoch, 24. Oktober 2007

home sweet pineapple

though i was born and have grown up far from these shores, coming back to the tropics after 5 months in europe does seem like a home-coming of sorts. the sweet smells of incense and kretek, the chirping of the cicadas and the calls of the geckos, the rattling of the motorbikes and the short but intense patter of a tropical rain shower... the tropics do seem to have a way of growing on you. (which reminds of a long discussion i had years ago about the colonial age concept/fear of "going native" and joseph conrad's 'heart of darkness,' but maybe more about some other time....)

for all the criticism that bali rightly gets about being over-run and spoiled by the tourism industry, it is, at the end of the day, not such a bad place to chill after an intercontinental journey and prepare for a return to timor leste.

speaking of which, my hopes that the denpasar-dili flights would no longer be flown by merpati but by some other, more trustworthy airline, have not been fulfilled...