A New Year in Dili

My new Year’s resolution should be to let go of the guilt of this contentment that having the house all to myself (they’ve all gone away!) for two weeks is bringing, it won’t be though: health and vitality are on the agenda and it’s seriously about time. The frantic Western lifestyle was more than bad for our health but with that in the past there is nothing to do but get our act together.

So, I swing lazily in my hammock chair, in the shade of a ridiculously leafy tree which houses our kids’ cubby/pirate ship/spaceship (boards and a rope can be flexible like that), listening to non-kiddy tunes (unusual in our house) and feeling pretty up-beat. The spinach seeds have been planted, the freezer is full of prep’d healthy snacks and the exercise machine has been dusted off. Bring on a healthy 2018. And if I may be indulgent, I dearly wish for more sailing this year, as we live in an amazing boating destination.

Just next door, over the high brick fence, are people who won’t have the luxury of indulgence this year.  They’ve settled there over the past recent years following Timorese independence.

from the Districts, trying to forge a living in Dili

They came from the beautiful outlying Districts to chase work and opportunity in the big city but unfortunately the sheer number of these country people doesnt match the jobs available. They have built their simple grey, cement-brick homes in areas of Dili that have not and never will see a town planner and probably will never see an acceptable sewerage system.  The land ownership here is dubious and it is the one major handbrake on development in Timor-Leste, from what we can see.  Why would you invest in a business, for example, on land that could be taken by someone else, down the track? It’s complicated and seeing as this dilemma has been for many years it’s not about to be sorted to everyone’s satisfaction.

typical home, perched on the mountain in Dili. A relative maybe went to Europe for hard graft to send home money to build it. Perhaps they hold a Title, most likely not.

Back to the settlers: their homes are huddled together and it appears to be a strong family community. Everyone that I cross in our back street is genuinely happy to say bondia Mana (good morning, Madam) and give me a huge smile, no-matter if they’re otherwise occupied in conversation with another Timorese.

Being kind to Dili, I won’t show you this scene in full colour… but it’s a cow grazing in the rubbish near our house.

We all walk past the rubbish dumping area, a trademark of Dili, a contribution by dozens of homes including ours. It serves as a dining table for the resident dogs and a playground for several curious toddlers and young children.  There is a contracted yellow tip-truck that arrives sporadically to collect the rubbish although most days it just accumulates outside our gate. Right now, after the busy Christmas period, it’s pretty special :-/


We see many well-dressed, healthy locals in this alley but two little girls hold a special place in my heart. They seem to appear from nowhere as I walk to work, just down the road.  Their toothlessness could mean nothing but join it to the stained, torn shirts that were once bedazzled with fairies and teddy bears, the lack of shoes, the uncombed hair that provides a safe haven for unmentionable critters. Oh, and they’re skinny.  Well, you get the picture.  They never stop smiling and singing as they skip along in the dust, holding hands.

in our street. Picture taken in the dry season so the mountains look a bit barren.

I always ask them in Tetun if they’re happy, if they’re off to school.  The standard reply is accompanied by that toothless grin and a cheeky and untrue “sin (yes), Mana”.  There’s probably no possibility of them ever attending school….

How does that make me feel? Many things, but mostly grateful. Frustrated? Yes, as children everywhere deserve good health and education. Saying that, Timor’s getting there and we see daily improvements and an abundance of hope.