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...

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