Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Secret Life of Expats

I have nothing interesting to report. After my purse got snatched the first weekend I was in Dili, nothing else exciting happened. I went in the office, ate out with my colleagues, worked late, headed out to the districts to pilot test, hit the beach on Sunday afternoons, frequented the local watering holes (where even the resident mercenaries were charming after drink number three or so...) And that's it. I don't even have a flat tired to report.

This is doubly bad because for the first time, I am talking up a charity and asking anyone that can contribute to contribute. The project is called "Lambs for Schools" and is run by one of the people I was a Peace Corps volunteer with Burkina Faso. The idea that a little girl (let's call her "Mary") is given a little lamb and money for one year's school tuition. Mary goes to school that year, and takes care of her lamb at home. The lamb grows up (fat and tasty), then Mary's family sells it at the start of the next school year to pay for school fees and another little lamb. Sustainable development at its tastiest (not to alienate any of our vegetarian donors.) So the Burkina volunteers are trying to raise money for the project. Global Giving, a online charitable giving site, it running a contest. The program that has the most individual donors by 3 pm (EST) on January 31st will get $50,000 from global giving. So if you have $10 that you aren't using, please contribute. This is the link: Education for 900 Rural Girls in Burkina Faso As I said, I don't usually do this, but I have something of a softness for education in Burkina. If we win, maybe I will even dig out all of my old Peace Corps posts and stick them on the blog...

Alright, I will leave you with a couple of pictures to try in some small way to make up for the lameness of this post.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Story of my Snatch

So I spend three days on a plane coming halfway around the world to help this glorified sandcastle of a country count its poor people, and what thanks do I get? Purse snatching.

I was sitting at a restaurant with two other women I work with. We had had a great Burmese dinner and where just finishing up our beers. I untied my purse from the chair (simple precautions) and set it on the ground to pay. At which time some asshole takes it upon himself to run in off the street, grab it, and take off.

When something like this happens, your brain runs through the options. Do I scream? Do I try to catch him? What if he is armed? Will anyone help me? Alas, while Brain was counting votes, Legs had declared martial law, and I found myself running full speed down a pitch black street in a dangerous third world country – chasing a potentially armed robber. (Security officer gave me holy hell for this the next day.) My determination was apparently inspiring to the otherwise unoccupied restless youth hanging about the area and they joined in the chase. Cheering me on in English, of course. (Theft! Theft! Catch him!) A guy took off on a motorcycle and just caught up to my little purse snatcher, just as he leapt over the seawall and disappeared. Brain was back in control enough to keep me from following him onto the beach. It was all over but canceling the credit cards.

In order to file an insurance claim, however, I would need a police report. The extremely nice and apologetic restaurant owner helped us call the Timorese police. Alas, as it was Saturday night, they were otherwise occupied. So we set about trying to contact one of the 1600 UN police occupying the city. The first number we were given was answered by an extremely drunk soldier, who apparently puked into the phone before his buddy, helpfully, took the phone and told us we were actually calling the New Zealand soldiers’ barracks on Saturday night. They won’t be of much assistance. Forty-five minutes had gone by and we were no closer to my police report. Fortunately we were right next door to a popular nightspot, so we walked over and found a couple of soldiers playing pool. They were nice enough to lend me a phone and call some more sober colleagues to take me to the police station. Poor Nigerians, they get screwed with the Saturday night peacekeeping shifts.

And that is that. Spent most of my Sunday off trying to call and cancel everything that needed calling and canceling. Getting lectured by the security officer. Chase thinks that they can reissue my credit card in six business days. The nice phone lady also wanted to know what state East Timor was in. I’ll keep you posted on that. And sorry I have no pictures for this post, but you will be happy to know that I didn’t have my camera in my bag, so there will be future pictures to be had.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Day in Taipei

So I am back in Dili. The journey here is always a little bit epic. In this case with the assistance of inconvenient airline routing, freak storms, and the world’s most incompetent ground staff (I’m looking at you United-Dulles), this particular journey took a little longer. I got to spend a day in Taipei though, which was nice despite being a rather typical boring modern Asian capital. They have the standard temples and subways and skyscrapers (including, as they tell you ad nausea, the world’s tallest building.) Minimally boring highlights include the following:
Body temperature scanners at the airport – After SARS, Taiwan is still a little nervous about commutable diseases. As you head towards immigration at the airport you pass through a thermal scanner. Should your body temperature pop up higher than it is supposed to, you can be hauled off into a quiet little room where airport security personnel will perform a routine physical. Think cool thoughts.
Crossing Streets – The streets in Taiwan, much like DC, have countdown timers and little green man icons when it is “safe” to cross. The difference is that in Taipei, the little green man walks. He walks really slowly when you have lots of time, but by the last five seconds, he is hauling little green pixilated ass. It cracked me up to no end.
National Palace Museum – So when Chiang Kai-shek was fleeing the advancing communists, he and his merry band of followers stopped by the palace museum in Beijing and took everything they could carry off. Turned out to be a pretty good plan from the antiquities perspective – that whole Cultural Revolution thing and all. China now intermittently asks to have their art back – to which Taiwan responds with universal snotty sibling tone of voice – “you broke yours.” The collection is impressive. Though I find it a little difficult to get all hot and bothered about plates, no matter how fine the porcelain, the miniature carvings and the silk painting were worth it.

(4) Asparagus Juice – They have 7-11s in Taiwan just like back on LI. The selection is a little more varied and exotic (Taipei teenagers can even talk bums into buying them scotch…). And I like to try new things. So I bought the asparagus juice. Maybe it was the packaging (what is up with that white chick on the side panel?). Maybe it was the appeal of the unknown. It was definitely the stupid god damned thing I have done in a long time. ~bleck~ Not recommended.

(5) The food – I love the Chinese. These crazy bastards will eat absolutely anything – preferably barbequed on little sticks. I had dinner at the local street market. I sampled the local specialty – beef with noodles – which was good and filling – but nothing to write home about. (That statement is completely contradicted by the fact that I am currently doing that, but on with the tale…) I walked up and down the street – surveying all manner of plants, animal and indeterminate life on display. What did I want to eat? Sweetened intestine? Weird colored snails? Something that might be a fruit or maybe a crab? I settled on a raw clam omelet served over wilted spinach with sweet chili sauce. Though admittedly it pushed the outer limit of my chopstick eating abilities – I definitely got my $2 worth. It was fantastic. And I totally beat the house on this one. I didn’t get food poisoning. Not a single cramp.

Next day it was on to Bali with my boss. She had never been to Bali before, so we did some of the things that I did on the last trip. We went to a cliff temple, saw the monkeys (which I definitely eyed a little warily after that incident last time with shopping bag – if one of those bastards went after my new camera, we was going to be a sorry little monkey), saw the dance show, went to a spiffy dinner. Next day it was back on the plane and on to Dili.

And that is that. I am back working in the office in Dili. I likely won’t be doing anything fun for awhile, we are running a training all next week. I will try to get somewhere fun on Sunday, but I have a workshop to give on Monday so it might just have to be the office…

Final note: You will notice as of this week that there are ads on my blog. They are currently just on the bottom but will soon be expanding to other places as soon as I figure out this HTML stuff. Yes, I do get paid if you click on them, even if you don’t buy anything. No, you are not in any way obligated to do that. All proceeds from advertising will be used to do insanely dangerous and expensive things that I will later write about on the blog. So there is something in it for you too. And to make up for my blatant step into commercialism, I added more pictures this time.