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 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.


2 thoughts on “Foreigner price

  1. Hi, Lisa,

    Welcome to Timor-Leste.

    You might be interested to know that the US dollar is used here because of a decision taken by the IMF in 2001, while TL was still governed by the United Nations.

    There are indeed U.S. economic interests here. The principal oil and gas project is run by ConocoPhillips, based in Texas. The largest buyer of Timorese coffee exports is Starbucks, based in Seattle. These may not be the reason for choosing the dollar, or particularly important to the U.S. economy, but they are vital — for good and bad reasons — to Timor-Leste’s impoverished economy. This is a small and new country, theoretically independent, but it’s still very much at the mercy of global economics.

    Timor Telecom, by the way, has a 15-year legal monopoly on telephone and internet service, since 2002. Hopefully the TL government can find a way to get out of this contract.

    Ate amanha,

  2. Hi Charlie,

    Thanks so much for that additional information. I’ll surely look into it!

    I’m actually from Seattle, so I’ll have to ask my colleagues there to find out about the coffee exports. I wonder if it goes into a blend? Cuz I don’t think I’ve seen any “Timor” coffee…. or worse, maybe they are sneaking it into the “Sumatra” roast….

    I’m told that there is a loophole in the TT monopoly for data traffic, and TT has been told to give a private Internet service provider the lines, but they have refused to do it.

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