How is life different in Timor-Leste compared to Australia? How is it similar?
Last week I came across Haley’s brilliant blog, in which she documents her life as a Peace Corps volunteer living in a village in Aileu district in Timor-Leste. In a recent post, she prompted herself to share three similarities and three differences between her everyday life in Timor-Leste and her everyday life back in the States.
Three things you do everyday differently than how you’d do them in the States and three things you do everyday the same as how you’d do them in the States.
With permission, I’m taking the concept and applying it to my life in Dili.
Things I do differently
- Drive a car
While I owned and drove a car in Perth, I hate driving, loved walking, and did whatever I could to sidestep driving. Moving to Melbourne and commuting on a bicycle only confirmed my commitment to avoiding cars where possible. But in Timor-Leste, the combination of tropical humidity, pot-holed footpaths, muddy, sludgy post-rain roads and the eager stares of the men who line them has me driving even the shortest distance.
- Do work face-to-face
In Melbourne I did 90 per cent of my work over email, and my awkward, avoiding tenancies had me eager to do the same when I came to Dili. After the fifth unanswered email and the realisation that in fact “just a quick note to say” was not in fact the most efficient way of working in Timor-Leste, I changed tact, and now visit my colleagues’ offices multiple times a day, cheerily ducking my head round the corner and gabbing away whatever they’re doing in a way I would have found unforgivably intrusive twelve months ago. “Hey, Mateus, I see you’re in your jogging shorts with your hand on the door knob. Just wanted to get your thoughts on these brochures! Got a minute?”
- Greet strangers on the street
Every single person I pass on the street in Dili greets me. Often there’s a good morning or good afternoon; a “where are you going?”; or a kid asking me, in English, how I am (I always return the question and without fail their response is “I am fine”). I’m now so used to it that I find it rude in Australia when people don’t do the same. Uhm, don’t you care?!
Things I do the same
- Hang out with Australians
As you’d expect, most of the friends I had when I lived in Australia were Australians. Here in Timor-Leste, I’ve actually found the same. While my friends in Dili come from all over the world, including Timor-Leste, I’ve gravitated towards the Australians for a shared sense of familiarity, recognisable cultural references, and likely for the fact that no one else can understand our accents or our unique Aussie slang (those duffers).
There are a lot of foreigners in Dili: A large United Nations presence, significant military support and generous aid funding from foreign donors brings thousands of expats, and a surprisingly diverse range of restaurants, to Dili. I feel very grateful for the opportunity this assignment is giving me to make friends all over the world, and for the fact that I can eat chana masala, Thai papaya salad and Turkish falafel in Dili.
- Loathe the shopping centre
In Australia I’d do anything I could to avoid going to the shopping centre, or shopping mall – I have shopping-mad sisters with tortured memories of my repeated shopping breakdowns. Crowds, artificial lighting, decision-making and spending money are four of my least favourite things in the world, and a shopping centre neatly combines them all and offers mindless consumption that you don’t really need.
In Dili, I’m the same. We’ve got one mall, Timor Plaza, and while I’m grateful for the fact it hosts bank branches, a cinema and a phone shop with staff who speak flawless English, I will do anything I can to avoid going.
- Drink speciality coffee
I threw myself enthusiastically into Melbourne’s coffee culture when I lived in the city and emerged a year later a proud coffee snob. While I knew Timor-Leste grew coffee, I misguidedly assumed its brews wouldn’t compete: so, after learning about Letefoho Specialty Coffee and its $3 pour over, I was beside myself to be wrong.
Countless cups and more searching later, I think Timor-Leste’s coffee is some of the best I’ve ever tried, and I’m happy to be a go-to mate for friends seeking recommendations for Timorese coffee to take home as gifts. My own Perth-bound suitcase is currently stuffed with no fewer than four different varieties.
(Need a coffee recommendation, or want to know my favourite Dili cafes? Don’t be shy: let me know!)