Just another day in paradise


UNPol is investigating this morning’s incident in which a Timorese national was fatally injured, and two others were injured, at an internally displaced persons’ camp near the Dili airport.


UNPol advises the area is secure after officers from the Malaysian, Pakistani and Portuguese Formed Police Units were immediately deployed to the area.


According to a public statement released this morning by the International
Security Forces, the ISF responded to a disturbance at the Airport IDP
camp and during that incident an ISF soldier was attacked and defended
himself by shooting the attacker, resulting in the death of one Timorese
























The Special Representative of the Secretary General Atul Khare has moved
to reassure the people of Dili that the security situation at the IDP camp is under control.


He thanked the people of Timor Leste for having maintained peace in Dili over the past 36 hours.


…Timor Post cited Special Representative to the Secretary General Khare as saying that UNPPOL had detained 148 people in relation to the latest security events in Dili and that he’s saddened with the damages to the UN cars and police officers.


The rock-throwing incidents left 7 UNPOL officers injured as they tried to provide law and order, said the Head of UNMIT stressing that the UN presence in Timor-Leste is here to help the people to find peace and stability.





Diario Nacional reported SRSG as saying all Timorese must condemn the violence perpetrated by some people against the UN whose role in the country is to provide peace and stability.


He appealed to people to refrain from violence

and maintain calm and to prepare for the elections.


The Head of UNMIT hopes the elections will be held in a free and fair environment and the results accepted by all the Timorese in order for Timor-Leste to proceed on to prosperity.


He believes the security situation will be resolved before the elections due to the efforts not only from the UN but from the government as well.





-From UN media monitoring report, Dili


Foreigner price

The currency in East Timor is the US dollar. That’s what you pay with at stores, and that’s what you get out of the cash machine.

This despite the fact that there’s no strong American presence (they even still like us here), and there’s no significant American economic interests (the government owns the oil development in consortium with Australians).

Leaving aside whatever US security interests there may or may not be here…….

There are, however, scads of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) here, allegedly helping to build / rebuild the country. That’s what has distorted the economy, not to mention driving an entire sector built on alcohol.

As my friend Virginia says, “I have heard that East Timor is sloshing around with all manner of people …it must be fascinating …like being in a kind of human zoo of NGOs!” A zoo, indeed – a menagerie of foreigners who sometimes purr, sometimes bite, sometimes fly, sometimes pace, and sometimes just sit and wait to be fed.

It’s a mutual dependency. Even while receiving grants and loans and other forms of assistance, the government UNDERspends its budget by at least 20 percent. Literally, they do not know how to spend the money. Yet most Timorese don’t have clean water or electricity or access to health care.

Don’t get me wrong. Many foreigners are helpful. Take Timor Telecom, which is run by Portuguese. They are not supposed to have a monopoly, but they continue to operate one by denying access to any private competitors. A 256K DSL line here – like what we paid an outrageous $70 a month for in Dubai – costs $2,200 a month. No, that is not a typographical error. Two thousand, two hundred US dollars each and every month, for a pretty basic high-speed Internet service. I believe this may be the most expensive Internet in the world.

Meanwhile, an excellent salary Continue reading


I can’t believe I live in a country where:

-Ash Wednesday is a public holiday.

-Dogs sleep for hours in the middle of the street.

-It’s perfectly acceptable to say to a woman in a job interview, “We heard that you’re pregnant. Are you? How far along are you? Will you work up until you deliver?”

-Flowers grow like weeds. In fact some of them are weeds. Anyhow, the most ordinary yard is like a botanical garden. [The header photo is a collage of common snapshots from our yard.]

-There’s lots of violence, and more than a few machetes, but no guns. The strongest gang graffiti is things like “Piss” and “Asshole” and “Black Spider” – twice.

-The word for “a lot” in Tetum, the local language, is “barak” which is the same as the Arabic root for “blessing.”

-When it rains, the foreigners run inside and the Timorese run outside. For Timorese, rain = time to swim, play on the beach, and go for a run in flip-flops or barefoot.

-The waitress says “I haven’t seen you in such a long time” when it’s Tuesday and you saw her on Friday. And she means it. And she’s right. It is a long time between Friday and Tuesday. At least in Dili.

Mog says hi

Mogadishu likes it here.


[First day, at the beach.]

There’s geckos, and fruit bats, and big pretty spiders, and cool shiny bugs, and wild monkeys, and pigs and goats wandering around. And lots of very slow-moving dogs, although they don’t speak to Mogadishu yet because he doesn’t speak Tetum or Bahasa Indonesia or Portuguese (they don’t know any Arabic).



There’s lots of flowers and pretty stuff here.




It’s like a storybook.




Mogadishu is thinking of starting his own blog, because he has lots of time on his paws…..

But until he learns to type, he asked me to say HI to his pals Arielle and Ryland!

Wheels down

The descent to Dili was very strange, because I recognized everything. There’s the main government buildings, there’s the mosque, there’s the church, there’s the big statue of Jesus welcoming us all. I knew the layout from studying satellite photos of Dili on Google Earth. I landed in a place I’d never been to but already knew.

The wind was so strong, when I got off the plane, that I could barely see for the hair in front of my face. And hot – 30 degrees plus, Celsius. (For my American readers, here’s the Easy Scale of Celsius conversions: 0 is freezing, 10 is cold, 20 is perfect, 30 is hot, and 40 is damn hot. Anything above that is “don’t leave the air-conditioned house.”)

A typical small island airport: the visa issuance was in a trailer outside, the luggage offloading was slow, there were about eight trolleys for a hundred passengers, but the duty free store was well-stocked. The other passengers ranged from Chinese women in the type of tacky revealing clothes favored by low-priced sex workers, to the Aussies with their perpetual tans wearing jeans who apparently think that 30 C is a cool day.

And there was my honey Tom, standing outside gabbing with some other expat contractor, also looking tan and relaxed albeit sweaty, and in one hug-and-kiss swoop I forgot that he’d abandoned me to pack up the household….

We were assaulted by the skinny Timorese urchins before we got out from under the front awning, but turns out Continue reading

Interlude: Mogadishu in Denpasar

Where I go, Mogadishu goes.mog_bathroom.jpg

I let him stick his head out of my carry-on for the whole trip, and he loved it. Other travelers tried very hard to ignore me when I sat him on the table guarding the salt shaker. But who wants to talk to them anyhow?

Why “Mogadishu”? Rhymes with Machu Pichu and tiramisu, that’s why.

Why Denpasar? [That’s in Bali, an island in Indonesia.] Because it’s the normal routing to get to Dili. Don’t ya know?

So we’ve been enjoying Bali together. We’ve been to the pool, mog-pool.jpg Continue reading

Faithless love

By the time I got on the flight to Singapore, I was completely fried. For two weeks I’ve been getting no more than six hours of sleep a night, and the last few nights it’s been about three. I settled in my seat at 2:30 a.m., put on my noise-cancelling headphones, and fell asleep.


I woke with a jolt when the plane lurched away from the earth. As the wheels went up, I looked out the window just in time to see my last view of Dubai disappearing in a blaze of lights. And I gave out a sob, pressed my hand to the window the way that wives do when they visit their husbands in prison.

And then I fell asleep again.

Off and on, over the 6 and a half hours, I was vaguely aware of the adorable kid sitting next to me. His father kept trying to wake him up and make him eat, but the kid just kept falling over into sleep. When he was briefly awake, I asked him his name in a couple languages, but he just stared at me like I was some kind of dream / nightmare. I could relate…

But then, when the plane started its descent, I lifted the shade and saw — Southeast Asia. Sea, palms, boats, fields, old Chinese-style buildings. It all came back in a rush – 1991, 1993, 1995, 1999, 2002…..

Oh! I forgot. I love Asia, too. As soon as the plane doors open I can smell Asia, my love, my first love.

That heat, which even at its worst feels less cruel than Arabia’s desert-fueled furnace. The air that smells like rice and fish and charcoal. I love the smell of her….

I am such an unfaithful lover. It takes just those seconds to forget my love of the Middle East and fall in love with Asia again.

The Hawala

I tried to go the legal route first.

I just needed to send $3000 to Afghanistan, a contribution to the news agency that Tom and I started. They have a bank account, I have a bank account, neither bank account is in the US, both deal with multiple currencies.

However, when I tried to use the online wire transfer, my bank in Dubai sent me a message which I did not get for many days, saying that they needed the info for the intermediary bank. By the time I got and sent this info, my bank had already started the process to credit the money back to my account. The upshot: I paid $18 in bank fees plus $28 in loss via exchange rate differences, two weeks had passed, and the money still wasn’t in Afghanistan.

My bank said try again. I said Hawala.

Centuries ago, before there were banks, before “america” was “discovered” and before “Europe” was doing much of anything serious, there was trade in the Middle East and Asia. And those traders had to have a way of getting money from one place to another. That was the hawala.


You went to the hawala in Medina and you gave him 100 currency-units and a fee, and you said to send 100 currency-units to your family in Fez, and they got the 100-currency units through a sophisticated system of communications and trust that did not rely on phones, the Internet, or any such nonsense.

The hawala system gives a different meaning to the term “personal banker.” It grew up on family ties, that became trading ties, that became somebody who knows somebody and whose reputation will be ruined if they violate this trust.

Unfortunately, the US government learned about hawalas after 9/11, because some of the money used to set up the attack went via hawala. Well, duh.

But because of this bad use of a good system, the US went crazy on hawalas and for awhile tried to get them all shut down. One of many examples of sheer arrogant ignorance. Hawalas are used by poor workers everywhere in the region to send money home to their family in the villages, because it’s cheaper and frankly more reliable and comprehensible than banks.

So tonight I walked to the water-taxi dock on the south shore of Continue reading

Thunder and rain


They say the next real war will be over water. I wondered about it, as I sat in the bathtub. 30 litres of water probably?

The New Yorker article said Americans use more water per capita than anyone, but I read in the Gulf News that it’s the residents of the UAE who take that award.

When I was watching Al Jazeera International the other night, I saw that rain was likely in the Gulf, according to the chirpy blonde weather girl (sorry fellow feminists, her whole persona is deliberately “girl”).

Sure enough, when I went out today, it was gray and cloudy and raining. How about that – Al Jazeera doesn’t lie ALL the time, Mr. Bush.

Then I heard a vaguely familiar rumbling noise that made me think, for a moment, of guns or bombs going off. Damn, World War III has finally started, and me without insurance on my storage…

Later, listening to Al Jazeera while I pack, I look up to the screen when I hear “Gaza” and the sounds of thunder. It wasn’t raining there, though.

And the residents of Tuvalu, in the South Pacific, have no more than 40 to 60 years before their country is underwater, due to global warming. New Zealand accepts 75 “climate change refugees” a year.

The US accepts none Continue reading


i went up to watch the fireworks for the Dubai Shopping Festival. from the roof. and

i noticed that on the highest floor of this fancy building

in the office that has the best views of the fireworks, [that would be the H floor, used to be Health Club, now I guess it means Hip or Hot or High Rents]:

five of the six windows to the roof (the world really, since anyone can come in the lobby, take the elevator to the H floor, and wander at will)

ARE UNLOCKED [and so, by the way, is my front door… it’s Dubai]


I know, because I open every one of the windows of this office.

In one of them, some heavy-set guy in Western clothes is chattering in Arabic. An Arab. Working too hard. I want to run in and save him, as from a burning building.

It’s THURSDAY NIGHT, buddy! Juice night! The night that Continue reading