Tuesday, November 06, 2007

All Quiet on the Eastern Front

So I have been in Dili about 10 days and nothing has happened to me. But that doesn’t mean that things have been quiet! Last Wednesday, a boat carrying smuggled gasoline caught fire in the harbor right outside the office. As I drove by a lunch, the explosion had just happened. Huge flames and black diesel smoke was pouring out the left side of the big wooden fishing boat. There was still a guy standing on the very tip of the bow though, staring at the flame, hands on his hips, and a look on his face that could best be described as “Hmm. Guess they meant that bit about the no smoking…” The fire burned almost 24 hours. Coming home from a video conference just before midnight, the fire was still lit up the harbor. Fun stuff.

Other highlights: Food shortages are anticipated in some of the IDP camps around town. Some have already turned violent, throwing rocks and occupying roadways with their tents. There are rumors of renewed guerilla activity in the mountains, new government slightly shaky. Politician’s house on the same road as I live, though on the other side of town, raked with gunfire on Friday night, man stabbed in neighboring IDP camp… Etc. etc. etc.

And yet, I was sitting in yesterday’s security briefing with this nagging sense that something was missing. It just didn’t feel right, you know, just not quite… complete. Then, as if to answer my dark prayers, here he was! PESTILENCE! Galloping across the metaphorical World Bank parking lot to join his brothers Famine, War and Death, the Fourth Houseman of the Apocalypse finally arrived! In the form of an anthrax outbreak on a neighboring Indonesian island no less! I relaxed and smiled, as the security officer sternly warned against importing livestock from the affected areas, knowing that Dili was packed and ready for the second coming.

It’s not all bad though. [If there is any country in the world where the Ministry of Tourism has enforcers, it’s here. I have to make sure to offer balanced coverage.] I got to do some touristy things this weekend. I haven’t had a day off since I went to Bali, working straight through the weekends, so I decided that this week, I was leaving at 5 pm on Saturday and not coming back to the office until 7:30 on Monday morning. Drawing a line in the sand.

Saturday night I went with another of the visiting consultants to climb Jesus and watch the sunset. You always have to be careful of the guys that are the same age as your parents and want to climb things. They are in dizzying shape. The run-up to Jesus was a long series of steps climbing the hillside, with distance intervals marked by the stations of the cross. Finally a practical use for something I learned in St. Pat’s. “Oh thank god, Jesus just met the women of Jerusalem, more than halfway there…” The view from the top was nice though. Dili, which despite being the capital has a population of less than 100,000, looked like a tiny fishing village on the edge of the sea. We had just enough time to make it back down the hill, take a quick swim in the ocean, and walk about to a beach bar for a beer and sunset.

The sunset was spectacular yes, but it was definitely the secondary show that evening. There are 1600 UN police patrolling Timor Leste, most based in the capital, it was a beefcake convention on the beach. This guy running, that guy swimming, this guy lifting something, someone doing push-ups, someone else doing one-armed push-ups, a beach volleyball game likely to induce combat trauma. A Creatine circus at its finest.

The next day I truly took a day off and went diving. You can dive straight off the main beach road in the capital here, but I decided to head a little further a-field to the volcanic islands about an hour’s boat ride north. Highlights of the trip out include: meeting hundreds of dolphins who raced along side the boat and generally did the SeaWorld thing until they grew bored of us, a pod of pilot whales lazing about on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and a splash way off on the horizon that might have been a humpback whale (or dynamite fishing.) It was a much needed relaxing day on the water.

I am here until the end of the week then *I am on vacation*! Provided that I can get out of Timor. But really, what are the chances of the airport being closed because of riots at the nearby IDP two Fridays in a row?

P.S. I am trying the new video blog feature. The fish video itself is nothing interesting, but if it works, I can shoot better things. Like fires.


Anonymous said...

I LOVED the video. Next video I want to see someone being shot or tortured or burned alive in the fascinating places that you travel to.
Your friend in boring Cold Spring Harbor - Georgia

Carol said...

This is your mom - it's time to leave for a safer place. Today would a good time to leave. Pay no attention to Georgia - I am very happy with underwater fish video! Fish are good. Take care and be safe. Mom