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 working for a nongovermental foreign organization is $500 a month. A typical reporter or editor makes maybe $100 a month.
Gas is $1.04 per liter, which is more than $4 a gallon.
Typical meal in a casual open-air restaurant frequented by foreigners: $15 per person, with a drink. Typical meal in a rural Timorese restaurant, $1 or $2.
Typical weight of average Timorese woman: I’m guessing 35 to 40 kilos (75 or 85 pounds). Typical Timorese smile: More dazzling than Brangelina times 1000.
And one last bit of math: 1.5 kilometers from the Dili city limits is a lovely little beach, right next to the road. With not a soul relaxing on it, even on a Sunday.
You just have to get past the roadblock.