UN Troops, Refugees and shotguns

Dili Travel Blog

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Markus the Freedom fighter

People i met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia), Markus (Finland), Hannes (Sweden), Alex (Spain)

I was curious to discover what lay inside the borders of one of the Worlds newest countries, but at the same time i was also cautious over what problems may still lie hidden under the surface. Having read that up until 2 years ago there had been riots at the border town of Atambua, it was decided that a toursit minibus would be the best way to make the 12 hour journey from Kupang in West Timor, to Dili in East Timor. The van which took us to the border was very nice, but once we had our bags searched and our passports stamped, we were bundled onto a much more run down minivan.

Presidential Palace
Things that instantly sprang to my attention included how the windows had been shattered, presumably from stones been thrown and the reluctance of the driver to slow down whenever near pedestrians. I guess there was a direct correlation!

Even though East Timor receives few tourists, there is still a huge UN presence in the country and we passed several jeeps along the road with UN markings. Unlike many parts of Indonesia, where if a local spots you on a bus passing through the town, they start waving and drawing attention to you, the opposite seemed the case here, as I received steely glazes in response to my smiles.

The sun was setting as we approached Dili and our first drop off was for some locals into a refugee camp. The streets were pretty empty and the sun had set by the time we were dropped off at East Timor Backpackers.

Julia, Markus and Hannes checking out some graffiti with the local kids
I was therefore alarmed when we were told that they didn't have enough beds, but could maybe point us in the direction of another hotel. After some sweet talking (begging and pleading mainly) they agreed to put some single matresses on the dormitory floor and still Julia and I had to share one between us. I wasn't too fussed as anything was better than hitting the streets after dark with our rucksacks! After a nice warm shower, some Dinner and a movie (all at the hotel), we called it a night.

The following day brought better news, as the owner Henry informed me that they had a double room that had become available for Julia and I, which would cost exactly the same as 2 dorm beds ($20). This sounded great, even though i fully expected it to be just a shoebox room with a bed in.

Stood with a UN jeep on the main road
I was therefore gobsmacked when we were shown to an apartment with kitchen, fridge, bedroom with DVD and TV, en-suite hot water bathroom and even a washing machine! I thought all my christmas' had come at once, whilst Markus was left cursing that Hannes wasn't his girlfriend, so as they could have the room!

Henry was an interesting bloke and one of the first things he did after giving us our new room, was to tell me about some of the problems that had gone on in his adopted country during the last few years. As if words weren't enough, he proved his stories with graffic photos of several policemen with their brains blown out, at the hands of the army! It was advised that we should be extremely cautious after dark, as there were gangs stoning cars and creating a sense of fear amongst the population of Dili, whilst in the daytime it was more or less safe, but still to take the necessary precautions.

Refugee camp in the park

Before venturing out, i spotted that England vs Russia in the Euro 2008 qualifiers was been replayed on TV from the previous night. I therefore ordered some food and enjoyed our boys giving Julia's a good 3-0 whipping, which made one of our days pleasurable and the others miserable :) Leaving the hostel with a big smile on my face, the 4 of us went off to take a look around, checking out the Palacio de Govierno and Xanana Reading Room that contained information on the battle for independence, amongst other topics.

Exiting the reading room, I was also lucky enough to meet a group of Timorese who had gathered for an apointment with an American, to try and win a scholarship to the States. At first they thought i was actually the guy and were telling me why they were the right person for the place! After several minutes assuring them i wasn't playing an elaborate trick on them, they decided that maybe i wasn't the guy, but why the hell was i there then!? Explaining i was a tourist didn't work and now they were really suspicious and guessed away at UN worker, investor, journalist etc etc.

Me, Markus and Hannes partying
Eventually i just nodded to one of their guesses and got this section of the conversation over with - i only hope they hadn't said drug smuggler :)

What followed was a really interesting discussion with a few of the guys about East Timors current plight, how they saw their opportunities within the country and what their hopes were for the future. All agreed that the recent change in government had to be a good one, as any change was a good one compared to their last government (i found this a little too simplistic - think of Germany, Russia etc etc in the 1900's whose citizens preached such words!). They also had a disliking for the UN and believed that they should leave the country as soon as possible, as they were draining money from the country without giving anything back.

Me and Markus having a quiet drink
I must confess that i saw the UN do very little in my time there and was even told by Henry that only the Portugese troops were allowed to use force when needed - kind of seems stupid that all the other UN troops were basically just there to show a foreign peace presence, without been able to act aggressively if conflict within the country was to arise. Finally, they each clearly saw their own futures tied to life permanently or temporarily outside of the country, i hoped the latter, as such people would be desperately needed to take the country forward. It was an interesting talk and one that i thanked each of them for.

Getting cash in Dili proved our next concern, as the only ATM was out of order when we first visited. A chat with security guard led to us finding that it was only operational for a few hours in the evening, so we went to buy some provisions from the supermarket, before calling back there on the way home.

Refugee camp with the Fretilin flag
That night was our apartment warming with a few beers, a game of ludo and ended with a couple of movies. We also had some unexpected guests, which included a resident mouse, some cockroaches and a lot of mosquitos. Still, i figured that they would chip in with the rent when we were leaving, so it was no problem ;)

Friday was a disappointing day as we found the Indonesian Embassy had closed early when we called on them. The rest of the day was spent investigating some other areas of the city including the football stadium, some refugee camps and UN complex and walking along the promenade. Julia was also keen to get some food to cook from the supermarket and i couldn't resist the Australian pies that were on offer, along with baked beans, chips and cold beers, all of which went down a treat that evening!!

Saturday proved to be a sad day for us, as Hannes was heading to Australia, bringing to an end 5 months of travelling with him on and off.

Sheep in the cemetery
It was therefore decided to throw a bit or a party for him and Markus came out of his 'drinking retirement' for the special event! Catalan Alex joined the festivities and with a couple of crates of beer from the supermarket and music from my MP3, we got the night going. It all ended several hours later with a card game of Ring of Fire and an attempt to get a taxi to a nightclub in town. This failed miserably and we ended up back in our room with a pizza and a Russian guy called Dima who was a photographer for the national geographic. Its strange how a night sometimes turns out!

Our next 5 days were pretty eventless in comparison with our first few, with the main objective of our time been to obtain our Indonesian visas. Our applications were eventually handed in on Tuesday and we got our passports back by the Thursday.

Another Refugee camp
On Wednesday Julia and I went back to the Xanana reading room to watch the shocking video 'In Cold Blood', on the Santa Cruz Cemetery massacre. The incident arose when Indonesian troops were caught on video massacaring East Timorese, who had just held a peaceful vigil to take a dead commrade to his resting place. Caught up in the event were several foreign journalists, some of whom were killed or beaten, and this exposure to the Western World is seen as a key turning point in East Timors fight for independence. After the video, we wandered down to the cemetery, which was a pretty sombre experience.

Markus, Julia and I spent much of the rest of our time in Dili watching movies, playing ludo and poker and generally relaxing after the gruelling travel schedule that we had set ourselves whilst crossing Indonesia.

Cape Fatucama
If there was ever a 'room' to do it in, then certainly this was the place. Our East Timor experience finally came to an end the following Friday when we caught the minivan back to Kupang, ending an interesting and informative stay. Hopefully a visit in the future would reveal a prospering country, free of UN influence with coffee exports soaring and tourism a major player in the economy. Hopefully the following government will be able to match their promises and corruption will not destroy the country before it has ever really started.

goezi says:
I have enjoyed the descriptive passage here Deats. I'm going to be Policing East Timor with the UN in April 2009 so I'm pleased to hear a little about what I'm in for.
I understand the Kiwis enjoy a better relationship with locals than some UN staff so I hope that's still the case when I get there and do my bit to improve life as best I can.
Posted on: Jul 18, 2008
Deats says:
Cheers, it was an experience :)
Posted on: Apr 30, 2008
rizky_wisnu says:
very interesting indeed... :)
Posted on: Apr 29, 2008
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Markus the Freedom fighter
Markus the Freedom fighter
Presidential Palace
Presidential Palace
Julia, Markus and Hannes checking …
Julia, Markus and Hannes checking…
Stood with a UN jeep on the main r…
Stood with a UN jeep on the main …
Refugee camp in the park
Refugee camp in the park
Me, Markus and Hannes partying
Me, Markus and Hannes partying
Me and Markus having a quiet drink
Me and Markus having a quiet drink
Refugee camp with the Fretilin flag
Refugee camp with the Fretilin flag
Sheep in the cemetery
Sheep in the cemetery
Another Refugee camp
Another Refugee camp
Cape Fatucama
Cape Fatucama
Alex and Julia choosing the music
Alex and Julia choosing the music
Football stadium
Football stadium
Presidential palace
Presidential palace
Markus in a happy mood!
Markus in a happy mood!
Julia and I
Julia and I
Hannes having a fag break
Hannes having a fag break
Hannes and Markus sprawled on the …
Hannes and Markus sprawled on the…
Circle of death card game
'Circle of death' card game
Santa Cruz Cemetery
Santa Cruz Cemetery
Santa Cruz cemetery
Santa Cruz cemetery
Cape Fatucama and the Jesus statue
Cape Fatucama and the Jesus statue
Dili
photo by: jose28