#6 Hating the UN

March 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

In 1945, after the most deleterious, costly, and involved conflict ever seen on the planet, the countries of the world came together in unprecedented enthusiasm to create a new kind of international platform. A platform for the exchange of ideas, the deliberation of critical international issues and the facilitation of security, development, social progress and world peace…. The outcome was the international body of the UN. An institution unmoved by political leanings that uses its resources to ensure the universality of human rights, the equality of all men and women and the betterment of planet earth as a whole. Today in Timor the expat likes to think of the UN as the incompetent drunk uncle at a wedding. He’s trying to hold it together in front of camera, but it’s plain to see the egg salad on his crotch. His mumbles are unintelligible and with the inappropriateness of his advances he attracts the scorn of all of those around him.

This once again, this is less than appropriate Uncle Jeffery

Expats love to hate the UN in Timor. It is one of the favourite past-times of malai to discuss the inadequacies of progress made in certain UN sectors or lament the driving inexperience of a UN employee. It’s also an important social mechanism that brings Timorese and malai together. Both can equally agree that the UN has problems and will make something of a temporary unbreakable bond of friendship through the chastising of the UN. Such seemingly innocuously conversation will cross the cultural chasm and make political-economic disparities between Timorese and Malai disappear as both begin polemics about how overpaid UN staff are compared to local civil servants, even though the malai probably earns 50 times what the Timorese person does.

“We’re like two peas in a pod, aren’t we Madre?”

Hating on the UN has become so ubiquitous with the development hurdles encountered in Timor that it is now not unusual to hear the most removed issues outside of UN sphere of influence blamed upon the organization: Lack of NGO program co-ordination, inflated price of consumer goods, the absence of real cocoa butter in a chocolate croissant at tropical bakery, a Collingwood grand final victory, Horta’s large harem…. All these can be squarely attributed by the malai to something the UN has done. The birth of a tourism industry is credited to it, yet it is scorned for limiting it. It has become the climate change of Timor. Seemingly anything can be slammed on it and nothing is off limits.  This also presents great opportunities for organizations with program failures who will present detailed reports hinting at UN policy or incompetence relating to their lack of success.

For all the criticism voiced by malai about a bubble economy, over paid Timorese stripped from local institutions, incompetent policing, a dependence on expensive imported goods rather than sourcing local produced -– what malai really like getting on their soap box about is UN drivers. Not a white landcruiser prado will pass painted with a thick back U and N without a snide remark about it’s speed or lack of road courtesy. Lack of parking, prevalence of potholes… even just being in the position to drive a new car will incur the wrath of the malai’s shaking fist of righteousness.

“This bad parking is just another reason demonstrating why the justice sector is not transparent”

Because there is such pervading animosity to the UN, there are a number of UN employees who choose to privately curse the UN amongst other NGO friends, and like to justify their UN employment as the political force of change from within. Secretly however these people are nonetheless incredibly happy with the salary and ample perks provided by their choice of institution, and therefore wouldn’t trade their stipend for the dream position at their local struggling NGO of choice. Those unfortunately don’t let you ride to Oecusse enclave on a helicopter.

“Screw you Lao Hammutuk!”

Many expats are aware of these perks and special purchase that being a UN employee affords. Secretly they would be quite excited to be privy to them… But to admit to this would show the expat to be less than engaged with “real development” and out of touch with the grassroots level players. To be seen in bed with big development, the malai believe they lose the cred they have earned dropping independence activist names, marching in local political protests or hanging out with Ego Lemos. The expat instead feels much more comfortable in there bubble of superficial moral superiority letting the jealousy of an air-conditioned house with pool, simmer sub-consciously below the surface.


#5 Shitty DVDs

March 28, 2011 § 1 Comment

People who choose to explore different work horizons outside their own country tend to also relish the opportunity to expand their cultural horizons at home, whether that be with contemporary art, literature or independent cinema. For the majority of malais, particularly those working in the development field, they also like to consider themselves morally and ethically upstanding individuals as demonstrated by their chosen profession. Despite such perceptions and their supportive views on the importance of recognising Timorese customary ownership of traditional intellectual property, one of the most popular activities amongst expats in Timor is building a large collection of bad quality pirated DVDs from 168.

Pictured: Quality

Expats are analytical experts at not considering possible ethical problems with the enjoyment of pirated material. Unlike indie music snobs building a vast library of stolen music they will probably never actually listen to, the expat doesn’t even entertain the need to justify their actions through such clever clichéd arguments such as: Mainstream companies with already huge profits, The want of trying before purchasing, Unwillingness to support such crass cultural hegemony or The lack of opportunity to access such media in Timor Leste. They instead consider bad quality pirated DVDs an important part of the expat landscape, whose ethical contemplations do not apply in a foreign spatial sphere of development hardship.

Expats are shrewd and careful consumers. They are quick to call foul on cheap Chinese bicycles or a palasonic polystation game console, and are prepared to pay 25c more a litre for petrol if it comes from Australia. And this is why they continue to support an illegal market of products so flawed they are rejects of those sold in Indonesia while also content to pay 4 times the Indoneisan disc price. Perhaps it is the winning formula of famous stars wearing bikinis on the front of harrowingly morbid gritty dramas or creating a special shelf section just for Nicholas Cage movies, expats return to pirate DVD shops time and time again. That being said, malai have learned to be discriminating and with no factual evidence give startlingly confident reports to friends about which DVD shop is more reliable, when quite obviously none of them are.

the harrowing movie, the road

Expats are also connoisseurs at discerning the playability of pirated DVDs through the inspection of the shapes of glue spots or refractions on the inner ring. The DVD players present in 168 to check the quality of the DVDs are just a convenience for the DVD amateur and an affront to the seasoned expat who will by pass the opportunity to conduct 2 minutes of quality control out of their prolonged hour of indecision. Expats are some what justified in this response, as the expat amateur who checks their DVDs on the stores machines will be quick to ascertain once home that the store uses DVD players worth 5 or 6 times what most expats have access to and read better than their new Macbook Pro drive. Once home on the couch in front of the TV, the disappointment of a frozen Paul Giamatti looking awkwardly out at the expat sets in.

Better than a frozen Dawson

If the expat is scrupulous enough with his spot checking they might be lucky to be treated to a functioning DVD. Nothing is quite like the cinematic wonder of watching startlingly inventive visual feats such as Russian Ark or Avatar on shaky camcorder replete with an overweight moviegoer who stands continuously in front of the screen to treat himself to a 3rd trip to the candy bar or release his enormous bladder from the weight of a 2L movie cup of badly mixed coke syrup.

Because the expat is in Timor and away from the judgments of cultural peers, (or because they are UNPOL and cultural peerless), the crush and weight of hard work in Dili justifies to the expat the right to watch the crassest form of cinema available. Sex and the City 2 or Mall Cop exist for the expat in order for them to escape into a light fantasy world. Yet when the 168 disc does the expat something of a cultural service by failing and becoming stuck half way through She’s Just Not That Into You the expat becomes incensed, swearing with vitriol at the screen while also cursing the pirated DVD shop. This is followed by a sad Pavlonian ritual of ejecting and inserting the DVD again, fast fowarding to the time of failure and repeating this until the disc itself becomes wedged halfway into machine. By this point the defeated and morose expat will stare dumfounded at the TV screen following the movements of the DVD logo as it bounces around the screen, wishing it into the finality of a perfect corner and the end of their own horrible life.

"Why won't you work for me Mall Cop? WHY?"

Funnily enough, after all the acerbic comments made about the pirated DVD store, the expat will visit it again next week and refuse to use the DVD machines to check if their next purchases are usable.

#4 ETAN Wars

March 25, 2011 § 6 Comments

The internet is the cornerstone of a wealth of development communication opportunities and greater facilitation of knowledge to those who were once marginalized through, geographical, economic or cultural barriers. Great hope is placed on the possibilities the internet can bring if access is delivered accordingly to the average Timorese citizen.

The average Timorese citizen

For the development worker the internet is actually largely a playground for uploading a thousand photos on Facebook from a night at a GNR party and watching people fight on ETAN. ETAN is an email user group that was used to facilitate political opposition to the unjustness of Indonesian occupation and human rights abuses in pre-independence times. Post independence it is largely used as an arena for petty squabbles and ideological or political snookie punches.

"Take that internet!"

Although this is by no means the sole use of ETAN, (and admirably it strives to continue to circulate important information regarding fresh rounds of corruption accusations or sunset fairs), it is by far the most entertaining. With quiet glee group members check in daily to watch flame wars between  PDT and AusAID, Charles Scheinder and the government or Jose Texria and anyone. Such user group arguments make excellent talking points and many expats will, when the conversation is lagging, drop reference to a current argument being fought in ETAN, and possibly only read by 10 other people.

Favourite topics for ETAN bitch slapping include highly over paid consultants, UN ineffectiveness (see future post: Bitching About the UN), media featuring a passing reference to Timor that contain insignificant date errors, incoherently hilarious Tempo Semanal polemics addressing corruption and vague call-to-arms asking for greater focus on Timorese produced goods (there aren’t any), to better build the economy.

Righteous Indignation: the currency of ETAN

ETAN also helps give the expat an illusion of email contact with the outside world that can be critical to their mental wellbeing. The very act of seeing non-work emails in an expat’s inbox helps reduce the psychological damage of having no real new emails awaiting to be read, even if the expat is simply going to delete them after a quick glance over the topics that amounts to no more than 15 seconds of disappointment.

#3 Cheese

March 22, 2011 § 1 Comment

Living in a third world country, the expat feels a sense of strong moral superiority in the sacrificing of certain luxury items that are difficult or expensive to purchase in Timor Leste. The lack of certain goods from their origin countries makes the development experience more authentic for the expat and fills them with a sense of great achievement (perhaps otherwise lacking in their actual job). Development requires the struggle and restraint of going without….. One can not adequately occupy a space of giving selflessly to a community or ridding ones self of priveledge without personal hardship. Therefore the expat subconsciously feels sated by feelings that great change requires great work and suffering. One of the great sufferings experienced by the malai in Timor is the lack of cheese.

Pictured: Suffering

Cheese fulfills some primordial necessities in the modern expat worker in Timor that will inspire them to spend over 15 dollars on a block of small shitty black and gold cheese or an entire conversation boring another expat about how much they miss their certain upper-middle class brand of specially aged gorgonzola. Often trips to the big 2 supermarkets can erupt into a small panic when word gets out about a rogue shipment of haIoumi has found it’s way into the Leader dairy section and expats will scramble over each other to get a sweet slice of lactose before its gone.


"I would give my bebonuk security guard's salary for a sweet slice of you right now"

In fact the average expat is so obsessed by the lack of cheese in Timor they will jealously goad each other about their ability to eat cheese when on vacation leave to their home country. Any presumed reconnection with family or lovers is forgotten in the assumption that the expat is actually returning solely to eat cheese. Bribes will be made, promises of lifts to the airport, even vague hints of greater organizational liaisons or funding will be offered in order to secure a piece of cheese transported back into Timor.

Obtaining portions can be a great source of pride amongst certain expats who will metaphorically hold their cheese high like a trophy in conversation, subtly dropping hints of their cheese connections. This in the expat’s eye raises his or her standing as they are now in a greater political space of cheese power.

The height of cheese power

More often than not the expat is oft reduced to buying plastic cheese, such as Kraft singles, particularly if the ex-pat is living outside of Dili. This is a great source of shame and frustration for the malai and they will vehemently and loudly talk about their current disappointment with having only plastic cheese to offer other expats. This is usually followed by a 10 min polemic about their favourite cheeses in order to impress on the other malai that they are not some general plastic cheese eating riff-raff, but fenced in by the development constraints of a nation only now beginning to get back on it’s feet and yet to develop it’s own cheese industry. If the visiting malai is wise they will quickly accept the offer of plastic cheese and change topic or otherwise be subject to a lengthy pontification about the development opportunities of cheese production and upland dairy farming in Timor Leste.

future of cheese

The Future of Timorese Cheese Production


#2 Bad Music

March 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

Nothing quite says long-termer in the Timorese ex-pat community more than having rarely engaged with any contemporary music past 2002. Although this lack of interest in anything resembling musical innovation might seem strange to newly arrived ex-pats who are treated to extended sessions of Bryan Adams in ex-pat bars, this is actually performs a two fold purpose. It emphasizes how long “real” expats have lived in Timor without access to music that isn’t a best of bob Marley CD and it also re-enforces how committed and consumed by humanitarian development they are to pay attention to music that might be culturally shifting their communities back home in a life changing way.

Do not let these good times die

The exception to this is of course top 40 music, and usually anything involving pitch-shifting vocals. It is this type of music a long with some particularly terrible trance music that no self respecting Timorese expat would be without when planning their party.  The more vulgar, commercially bland or pitch-shifted the music, the more the expat feels comfortable playing it in front of their peers at a badly themed metiaut house party. Shakira’s world cup theme song carries a particularly large amount of currency, and so much that it will sometimes be played 4 or 5 times in a night complete with dancers mouthing the unintelligle chorus while swinging a half empty can of tiger on the dance floor. Also of course, no ex-pat party is complete without the blackeyed peas lyrical masterpiece “tonight’s going to be a good night” remixed in 5 different obnoxious versions that seem to do the unthinkable by making the original seem almost listenable and inoffensive.

Poetic Geniuses

Perhaps one of the great musical pillars in the expat community are the famed caz-bar “international” djs whose credentials as a dj are usually possessing an ipod of 1990s ministry of sound compilations , and reputation as international meaning they once visited another country other than Timor Leste. Never actually having played music in front of an audience who want to dance doesn’t seem to be a hinderance to Caz’s full moon parties. And what hangover after a night of bland Portuguese bland dance music can be complete without a breakfast soundtracked by Jason Mraz or 4-non blondes?

#1 Drink Driving

March 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

Expats love to drink. The crush of humanitarian hardship would be too great without the relief provided by a few quiet beers to wind down the week bought from a portable kiosk near the cathedral roundabout at 3am. The expat feels entitled to this as an intrinsic development right to soothe jangled nervous after a particularly hideous logframe review in a donor meeting. However, without taxis at night the pursuit of alcoholic indulgence is complicated somewhat. Although many expats like to emphatically state they would never drink drive back home, particularly from a moral view point, they enjoy and actively engage in drink driving often in Timor, whether on motorbike or NGO assigned car replete with stereo cranked to 11 and psy-trance  blaring into the night void of an empty Comoro rd.

Get your development on

What expats in Timor seem to enjoy more than drink driving, is bragging about their state of intoxication behind the wheel the night before and how “they could really use a lime juice and nurofen right now just so they can properly articulate how fucked up their weekend of free UN beer at the palm springs party was”, before they go into the training workshop they are presenting at. Almost embarrassingly, but with a sly smile, expats will give a pretend hint of regret and lament their state of drunkenness, emphasising how incredibly legless they were at the end of a GNR party and how they shouldn’t have driven home….but emphatically justify these actions with a shrug and ask the other expat “What other options are there?”. The thought of carpooling, drinking in moderation or karaoke without being hammered seems beyond comprehension and removes the possibility of lugubrious Monday morning dirges about the weekend’s activities and the cred received from being involved in such a wild and erratic shenanigans. Particularly well received by expats are stories that involve vomiting and driving at the same time, a true sign of road mastery and long term experience in the country. Although the expat on the receiving end of the story will express judgment and disgust, secretly they are envious that own levels or irresponsibility that weekend didn’t scale such giddy heights and give them such a powderkeg  story of weekend recklessness.

The expat in Timor has become so good at reinforcing their indignant and moral right to drive drunk that within in weeks of moving to Timor Leste the expat feels entirely comfortable at getting on the back of a motorbike driven by a person unable to cognitively connect key to ignition or remember the way back to their house without stopping at Tiger fuel for a 4am pizza and a roadie. The ability to navigate Dili’s streets while inebriated is perceived to be something that is learned, rather than illegal and persistent behavior like this will soon fill the expat with the perception of revered third-world driving skills, whether they are drunk or not.

Crank the trance, shits fly yo.


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