#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.
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.
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.
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.
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.