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 Tom had hired four of them to wash the car while he waited. Of course, 7 of their buddies then wanted to be paid too.
Dili is so small that I kept laughing as we drove through town. End to end is about a five-minute drive along the beach road; if you go “far out” to the beachside restaurants it’s 10 minutes, and that’s driving at about 30 kph.
Yet for some reason, there are many one-way streets and they’ve recently installed stoplights, which blinkly blindly at no one most of the time. Blame the Portuguese.
Tom took me to lunch at a place overlooking the sea and Artauro Island. The breeze was pleasant, the palm trees swayed, the beach was white, the prices were high, the service was languid, the food was earthy and good. A group of 20- and 30-somethings in shorts and tank tops were talking rather seriously at the next table, and I wondered if it was too windy for diving or something. Then I saw that one of them had a laptop; I realized then they were having a business meeting.
I had planned to go with him straight to the office and start planning with my team, but by the time I saw the beach and had lunch, I was ready for a gin and tonic and a lot of sleep. But we did get to the office, around 4:30, and almost no one was there; they were out at the Internet cafe or doing errands.
My job is pleasant. [Details omitted to protect the innocent.] All of it very familiar work for me.
We have only a few months to prepare the Timorese we’re working with for the election. [Details omitted]
But as Tom has seen, one can only push so hard here. There is a particular lethargy, which I remember well from the South Pacific, that seeps into your bones from the first minutes. It’s the heat, the humidity, the breeze, the scenery that is so easy on the eyes. It is like being on valium all the time. How I ever got any work done in Fiji I do not know.
It also looks familiar because it looks like the South Pacific – the architecture, both new and traditional, and the people, with their extended range of colors and hair.
But Tom is here. So I am home. Finally the wheels have stopped spinning.