Thursday, October 09, 2008

Road Trippin' Dili Style

So I have been sadly remiss in my blogging duties this trip. I have been here in Timor (a-frigging-gain) for two weeks – heading back to the US today – and this is the first opportunity I have had to write anything. That is because I have been being a very good little Banker and been out in the districts taking pictures of dirt. Yup. Dirt. I was leading the team doing the verification checks for our recent agricultural surveys, which involved taking pictures of the fields and plots of our respondents. Unfortunately for me on so many levels, it is the hot season here in Timor. Which means that basically my job for the last week has been to rock up to households, ask them a few questions, then try to convince them that they want to walk two kilometers in the scorching mid-day sun to a dry rice paddy so I can take a picture of it. Should the rural population of Timor Leste ever have need definitive proof that white people are blooming nuts, I was kind enough to furnish it.

The rest of my time was spent on a road trip with three Timorese dudes in a rickety pick-up. I will list a couple of the highlights here.

(1) My crazy driver. The driver is a terribly nice guy who speaks not a lick of English. Sometimes he would talk to me in Portuguese because I am white, and I would nod, but we never really got anywhere. In addition to being a total kamikaze on the winding mountainous dirt roads, he liked to lecture the other two guys about how much he knew about Americans. Did you know we hate smoking? In fact, not even allowed to smoke in restaurants in America. (Not that this stopped any of the guys from chain smoking all week.) As he delivered this lecture, he cracked an icy cold beer while speeding down a windy rural road. Yup, he sure knows how to make the American riding in the front seat with the broken seat belt feel nice and comfortable. Later in the trip he managed to break the key off in the ignition.

(2) Accommodation. Rural East Timor is seriously lacking in availability of Motel 8's. I for to stay in some lovely "hotels", which though lacking in electricity and running water, nevertheless came complete with all god's multi-legged and winged creatures, and plumbing that would have disgusted my Peace Corps age self.

(3) Meeting the people. This was actually kind of fun. Some got really excited to have someone that came all the way from *America* to sit on their porch and ask them about their life. They gathered up the neighbors, pets, livestock, and children, scores and scores of snotty kids, all to join in the fun. Then, I got to lead the parade to the field to take a picture. This was usually a good moment for the children to bust into whatever English language pop song they had been learning that week. You get a little misty eyed for “We are the World” and a little confused when it is a graphic rap song about deal with your bitch act out. And so it goes.

Other exciting things from the trip included a fallen tree in the roadway that we needed to find an ancient old man with a machete to chop up for us. Fortunately, the tree produced a pulpy seed pod that could be munched while waiting. Unfortunately, judging by the reaction of my intestinal tract, they actually weren’t edible to humans. There was also the musical selection. I spent three days listening to an Indonesian man sing a falsetto versions of such American classics as “Happy Birthday” and “Happy Days”, while being poorly accompanied by an electric piano. On repeat. It had somewhat of a Jack from the Shining effect on me…

It wasn’t all bad though. I got to go diving, always a highlight. And I am spending the day in Bali on the way home. (During which time I plan to prudently concentrate on gathering attractive and exotic shells so that I may barter them with the taxi driver for a ride home in the TOTAL FINANCIAL COLLAPSE of my home country.)

And it was good planning on my part. I am flying from Toyko to New York on October 11th. Crossing the international dateline means 36 hours of birthday fun!

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