things to memorise

Three quick things to memorise to make your time in Timor-Leste easier.

Who lived in your house before you

I don’t know why this is such a currency, but it just is — the first time you tell another foreigner where you live, instead of trying to direct them to your house (“you know the small road, just off that traffic light road near the lighthouse near where Jacinto Supermarket used to be, ok so you go down for a bit…”), just show them where it is and ask who lived there before you. I’ve noticed foreigners tend to turn over the same houses — I was the fourth or fifth generation of Australians who lived in my last Dili house; I have an American and an Irish friend who each in turn lived in my first house after me. Now, instead of trying to describe where I used to live, I just say the name of the person who now lives there — and everyone knows it immediately. This is helpful for both directing a lift home, having friends find your place, and feeling connected with the community of foreigners who have come before.

Who you replaced in your job

Along very similar lines — though this one will probably apply to fewer people. If you’re working at an NGO, or have arrived in Dili on a specific program (like the ODI Fellowship or the Peace Corps), try and learn the names of some foreigners you either work with, or have replaced. Inevitably, whether you’re speaking with a Timorese person or a fellow foreigner, and you’re asked where you work, there’ll for whatever reason be more recognition of your predecessor’s name than your organisation’s — the name of your NGO will be met with a polite, blank smile, while the name of the last foreigner to occupy your position will get a big yes.

Your phone number

I don’t get many calls in Dili, but I give out my phone number a fair bit — often unexpectedly. It’s common at events, workshops, launches to sign in with your name and number at the door (sometimes you also give your marital status); if you’re visiting a friend who lives in a gated compound, you need to give your number at security; and then other times you’re just in little moments where knowing and volunteering your number quickly is helpful: at the pub when a new friend invites you on a dive, when you have a particularly good taxi driver and want to get in touch, when Fatima (from Fatima Cafe) offers to text her friend about your tailoring work and needs your number to make the introduction.

Mobile phone numbers in Timor-Leste are only eight digits, and almost every time the first two are ’77’ (if they’re not, it’s ’78’). They’re relatively easy to memorise, and it’s helpful to not have to pull out your phone to read yours out. People give numbers in Indonesian — people say “tujuh tujuh” before you’ve even hit ‘new contact’, so bonus points if you memorise yours in Indonesian.

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