Timor Lorasae

  • Date
  • 28 April 2001

Vice President Megawatti agreed to back a second censure of President Wahid, who will have two months after the censure vote to sufficiently answer charges or face a likely impeachment process. Wahid’s supporters have called for a national prayer to be held in Jakarta the day before the vote and the president has asked his followers, who threaten a Jihad (Holy War), not to harm any buildings in the capital. Jim and I are both glad to be leaving Indonesia a couple of days before this censure vote, even if we’re headed to less-than-stable East Timor.

In Dili, we arrived to find a small, still-under-construction airport terminal with no scanners or equipment, so after immigration stamped passports (with UNTAET – UN Transitional Administration for East Timor), other officials searched almost every bag brought into the country. For some reason they didn’t search me, but they rambled through Jim’s things and found a roll of US$1bills and demanded Jim declare his money, even tough we were going to be in East Timor for less than 24 hours. Already, Jim had declared he had over US$1000 on the entry form, but now they wanted him to complete yet another form. After 45 minutes of many superior officers getting involved, we departed the scorching hot airport.

While exploring Dili we saw scores of charred buildings – post office, hospital, banks and hotels – all ‘Indonesian’, according to a local. An evident burning and bombing war took place here. A handful of shops have organized themselves in the remnants of black, burned-out buildings. We saw little indication of repair work in progress, except for hotels, restaurants and UN buildings. The UN headquarters and the newly located post office and hospital are untarnished and freshly painted. What does this message say to the Timorese people? UN four-wheel-drive cars passed us on every block or sat parked beside restaurants and hotels. Dili looked to be a UN colony! Granted the workers are here to help organize the upcoming vote and to assist in establishing some sort of government for the infant country, but I couldn’t help thinking, “What in the world can all these workers be doing?” This heavy UN presence reminded me of Western Sahara, where the UN remains in major numbers after a decade of trying to organize a compromise between the Polisario and the Moroccan government.

Further out from Dili we found a glorious, serene cove, almost cluttered with a dozen or so UN vehicles stopped along the bank. UN workers swim and snorkel in these crystal clear, tropical blue waters. At the peak of the cove situated on top of a small mountain stands a statue of Christ with arms outstretched – an obvious remnant of the Portuguese past. The religious piece looked righteous with a backdrop of black skies cropping in from an upcoming downpour.

We enjoyed dinner at the only restaurant serving local Timor food. (Most serve Western cuisine, as the UN workers are the only ones with enough money to dine out.) Many products – pepper, napkins, beer, and sauces – were imported from Australia. The new restaurant served pretty good food and very cold beer. By 9 p.m., the open-air joint was packed and waitresses wearing tight tops and short skirts ran around trying to serve the 50 plus customers.

When driving home to our ridiculously expensive (US$100) hotel – rates inflated due to UN – Jim and I noticed that the only electricity beamed from restaurants and hotels or homes housing foreign workers. Generators power lights and hot water for the haves, while candles light the homes of the have-nots. Locals on this oil-rich island don’t have electricity, but foreigners ‘assisting’ them don’t share their darkness.