100 Dili tips

Learnt from experience over five years visiting Timor-Leste.

  1. Freeze your bread — it will go mouldy quicker than you think.
  2. If you see a product you like at the supermarket, buy it now, because it won’t be there next time.
  3. Learn the landmark nearest to your house.
  4. Horde your coins, and break $20 bills at supermarkets when you can, to give you change for the fruit markets and taxis.
  5. Make sure you really like papaya before you buy a papaya.
  6. Memorise your phone number — you will give it out more than you think.
  7. But don’t give your phone number to taxi drivers — take theirs if you want to stay in touch.
  8. Get cash to pay rent out the day before it’s actually due, in case the ATM runs out of money or encounters an error on the day you need to pay.
  9. Always keep a spare EDTL pulsa docket on your fridge, for when your electricity runs out in the middle of the night.
  10. You don’t have to get into scuba diving, but if you do, do it early in your time here.
  11. Only pack fisherman’s pants and linen button-ups if they’re garments you’d actually wear; you won’t dress that differently in Dili.
  12. If you read, bring a Kindle.
  13. On arrival, devote suitcase space to: novels you want to read, cleansers and moisturisers you use and like, a head torch, and reef-safe SPF 50+ sunscreen.
  14. On arrival, don’t devote suitcase space to: a yoghurt maker.
  15. On departure, don’t devote suitcase space to: 90% of the garments you’ll buy at the OB secondhand clothing stalls.
  16. Pack twice as many pairs of underwear as you think you’ll need.
  17. Hand-wash any item of clothing that’s even remotely delicate.
  18. Get in the habit of applying sunscreen and mosquito repellant every day — this is your beauty routine now.
  19. Develop a taste for gin and tonics, or light lager-like beers, or both.
  20. Always keep soda water in the fridge.
  21. Don’t drink the tap water.
  22. Buy local art.
  23. Subscribe to the ETAN email list to read English-language news articles, media releases, and other commentary on Timor-Leste.
  24. Respect pluralism.
  25. When you have some Tetun, read the newspapers.
  26. Be polite — more polite than you’d be at home.
  27. Spend money — more money than you’d spend at home.
  28. Drive on the left-hand side of the road.
  29. When driving, yield to the vehicles on the bigger road, and also to any vehicle bigger than you, regardless of its technical right of way.
  30. Try never to turn down the chance at a field trip.
  31. Understand that you’ll leave for a field trip a lot later than scheduled, but always be ready at the planned time anyway.
  32. On field trips, or holidays out of Dili, pack a spare roll of toilet paper — not just travel-pack tissues; a whole roll.
  33. On holiday trips out of Dili, bring at least one 19L gallon bottle of water, more red wine than you think you’ll need, and snacks you can only buy in Dili, not kiosk chips.
  34. Check if locals are swimming in the ocean before you go in; there might be a crocodile risk.
  35. Be forthcoming with friendship, and don’t waste time being coy.
  36. Remember that you’re allowed to decline an invitation, and you won’t be friendless for missing one night out.
  37. Understand that you will, multiple times, accidentally burn through all your phone credit in one go, and that it’s fine.
  38. Be reflective and conscious, but don’t let guilt eat you alive.
  39. Don’t barter too hard in the OB markets.
  40. Don’t shame your body in the OB markets; those clothes are very small, and the armpits are very tight.
  41. Take Tetun language classes, even just a few.
  42. Don’t be too proud to ask for help.
  43. Don’t be too smart to say when you don’t know.
  44. Take as many photos as you like of every sunset you see.
  45. Let yourself rest.
  46. Learn the difference between the microlet routes that are the same colour — 2 and 3, and 4 and 9.
  47. Shuffle down and sit at the back of the microlet when you first board.
  48. Understand that being here longer than someone doesn’t make you morally superior to them; equally, respect experience.
  49. Never buy more than one plate of avocadoes at a time.
  50. In supermarkets with loose fruit and vegetables, the produce get barcoded in its section, not at the till — ask a staff member to weigh and bag your apples before approaching the checkouts.
  51. Unless you’re a Timorese politician, you probably don’t need to have any enemies.
  52. Understand that “maybe later” probably means “no”.
  53. Say thank you in Tetun less frequently than you think, but express your gratitude in other ways.
  54. Eat seasonal fruit.
  55. Don’t order fish in Maubisse.
  56. Soak candlenuts in water before you eat them — they are poisonous raw.
  57. Don’t feel guilty about getting massages — either don’t have them, or have them, and don’t undo the calm they bring by churning it over.
  58. Get into the habit of checking the high and low tide times before you go to the beach, to avoid disappointment.
  59. Try not to fall in love with street animals, to avoid heartbreak.
  60. Don’t take shells or rocks from the beach.
  61. Probably don’t walk the Horta Loop alone.
  62. Learn the names of the staff at the places you regularly visit — they’ll remember yours.
  63. Attend weddings.
  64. Buy vegetables from the tiu ai leba selling from long sticks slung over their shoulders.
  65. Ask permission before taking people’s photos.
  66. Learn the numbers one to 10 in Indonesian.
  67. Be forthcoming and generous with information — from travel times to restaurant recommendations; you don’t need to gatekeep.
  68. Get your eyebrows threaded by Gisela at The Spa.
  69. Get coffee from Kafe Atsabe.
  70. Take a date for dinner at Nari’s Korean Restaurant.
  71. Make sure you take your four-wheel-drive out of Dili occasionally.
  72. Spend money freely and wildly on trips out of Dili, especially in markets.
  73. Have plants in your house.
  74. Try local foods — cassava, mung beans, seaweed salad, corn porridge.
  75. Don’t feel guilty for buying Iced Vo-Vos or Vita-Wheats.
  76. Understand you’ll get stared at by Timorese people, often, but that stares come from curiosity, not hostility.
  77. Resist the urge to call every Timorese person you’ve ever met your friend.
  78. Fill in your immigration forms in blue pen, not black.
  79. Get comfortable with being a beginner.
  80. Pay forward the generosity that was shown to you as a newcomer.
  81. Resist making fun of newcomers for what they don’t yet know — that says more about you than it does about them.
  82. Have a couple of go-to mood boosters in mind for when you’re feeling glum (Beto Tasi ocean swim, $15 hair creme bath at Yomi Salon, fancy lunch at Pau de Canela).
  83. Have a couple of go-to cheap restaurants in mind for when you don’t want to cook dinner, or the gas bottle runs out late (Everest Coffee House, Queen Tundriee, Little Pattaya).
  84. Learn which type of gas bottle you have and where to exchange it, because you can only swap like for like.
  85. Understand the things that happen slowly — trust, work, food at most a la carte restaurants.
  86. Understand the things that happen quickly — event planning, Friday nights, friendships.
  87. If you exercise, and you do it outside, the weather is better early in the mornings over the evenings (less humid, less chance of rain).
  88. Limit wearing black clothes; you’ll be mistaken for a mourner, and black absorbs the heat.
  89. Pack a hat.
  90. Always say hello to your neighbours.
  91. If you work in an office, prioritise popping in to speak to your colleagues face-to-face over sending emails.
  92. If someone misses your call, immediately call a second time — they might have just missed you and don’t have credit to call back.
  93. If you have a cleaner or nanny, pay them generously — more than you can get away with, and add an extra month’s salary in December.
  94. Understand that you won’t be able to change the systems, but you can change how you move in them.
  95. Understand that at some point you will eat dog.
  96. Try to get used to wearing jeans.
  97. It’s good to ask questions, but understand that most answers will reveal themselves with time and patience.
  98. Avoid making assumptions.
  99. Enjoy rumours, but don’t take anything as gospel.
  100. Including a stranger’s list of advice — enjoy your time in Timor-Leste, and have fun finding your own way through.

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