Archive for the ‘Dili’ Tag

Things you may not know about travel to Dili

Thinking of travelling to Timor-Leste? Here are some useful things to add to your travel information:


You can buy great second-hand clothes at the markets, so don’t stress about bringing everything you think you might need with you from home. It’s easy to find dresses, tops, pants, and even warm things at the markets. There are several major market sites. I went to Manleuana a couple of times on this recent trip; Hali Laran is also huge and very popular… a sprawling, rambling market with lots of makeshift stalls. From the road it looks like the size of a small suburb. Manleuana is a purpose-built market space. The stall holders used to have their market in the hustle and bustle of Comoro but that market was closed down and everyone moved to this new site, which is much further out of the city. We went there in part to support the stall-holders. Also because the smaller number of shoppers meant that we might find amazing clothes. My co-shoppers found some real treasures – Yves St Laurent shoes and a sequinned Max Mara evening top, very stylish. Lots of things to fit the big bodies of well-fed foreigners.

You may wonder why one needs to buy warm clothes in a tropical country. You will need them if you go to the mountains. I bought a warm puffer jacket with a fur-lined hood at Manleuana for $10 and I was extremely grateful for it when I went to Hatobuiliko (near Mount Ramelau, Timor’s highest mountain which is just 2000 metres below the snow line – pretty high and cold for a tropical island) for the weekend. I also bought a warm roll-neck top, a long-sleeved t-shirt, and a pair of leggings to wear under my jeans. I couldn’t find any socks in the market place – bring your socks from home, perhaps, or buy them new in one of the supermarkets.

Me, cold in Hatobuiliko, Timor-Leste

Mozzie repellent

You have to pay attention to mosquitoes in Timor-Leste – they are abundant, and carry lots of horrible viruses and illnesses. In the last month, I heard of two people who had chikungunya (the virus I caught when I was there in 2010, very unpleasant), a friend of a friend who got dengue within a week of his arrival in-country, and another friend who came down with malaria. In one month.

It’s difficult to avoid getting bitten. I had always placed my trust in Tropical Strength Rid, but the roll-top bottle I bought just before leaving Australia turned out to be faulty – the roller-ball wouldn’t roll, which is a fairly critical design fault. I had to turn to a locally-available alternative, and that is how I discovered Soffell. The bottle is pretty and pink (a very different style of visual communication to the robust aggression of Tropical Strength Rid). The lotion is scented with geranium. It costs $1.50 in local pharmacies and is apparently an Indonesian brand.

Mozzie repellent

Soffell really keeps the mozzies off. I was very impressed. I am one of those people that is bitten often. I will be slapping away at the mozzies and scratching my bites while others in the room won’t have been bitten at all. But with Soffell, I was bitten far less often. In my last week in Timor-Leste, I didn’t get bitten once. That certainly wasn’t the case when I was slathering myself in Tropical Strength Rid.

Pronunciation of supermarket names (for Australians)

There are several big supermarkets in Dili, and people with Australian accents should take care to pronounce the names of two of these with care, for the sake of clarity and accuracy, and to make sure your taxi driver takes you to the right place. Leader (with a D and an R) is near Comoro. Lita (with a T and an A at the end) is in Lecidere, near the beach and past the World Bank building. Standard Australian pronunciation (which, let’s face it, can be a bit sloppy on certain consonants and turns lots of vowels into vague schwas) can make these store names sound pretty much the same. If someone says the name of the shop to you, it is worth clarifying: “Do you mean LeaDER [with strong R sound], or Li-TA [with carefully enunciated T-sound, and an open A-sound at the end of the word]?” Friends taught me to do this when I first arrived in Dili in 2010, and it is still useful to keep in mind.

Otherwise, you might find yourself on completely the opposite side of town to what you were expecting.

Back to Dili, 2014

Last time I was in Timor-Leste (also known as East Timor) I spent most of my four months outside of the capital city Dili. That was in 2010. I had a total of three weeks in Dili at the beginning of my trip, during which time I attended Tetun language classes and jumped through the bureaucratic hoops associated with obtaining a visa extension (most of which involved finding the correct office, building, person, or form, and standing in queues), but otherwise I lived in rural towns.

I enjoyed the buzz of Dili for those first three weeks. There was always something going on. I stayed with friends and completed my Tetun language homework every afternoon with the help of local children. We would chat, and sing, and just hang out together on the veranda of my friends’ Dili house. However, I was only there for a short time, and I never felt like I got to know Dili all that well.

I feel like I have made up for this now, having just spent a month in Dili doing fieldwork for my PhD. I spent each day visiting music programs and interviewing individuals with interesting experiences to share with me. I caught lots of taxis, and grabbed meals wherever I was at the time I was hungry. I stayed with friends again, who drew me into their social circles, so I met lots of welcoming people, each engaged in interesting work, good for a story, and happy to offer suggestions for further contacts for my research.

At the moment in Dili there is a huge amount of building and construction work going on. Much of this must be completed within a tight timeframe, as it is part of an effort to smarten up the city in readiness for the forthcoming Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries [CPLP] Summit. Timor-Leste currently holds the rotating Presidency for the CPLP, and thus will play host to the Summit, which brings the Presidents and high-ranking officials from all the countries in the CPLP together. The Summit is scheduled for mid-July, and Dili is in the throes of major upgrades, renovations and improvements. Everywhere you go, roads are being dug up, at least along the routes that the Presidential vehicles will drive. Piles of rocks, stone and rubble are commonplace. There is huge amount of dust in the air, and many people walk the streets or ride their motorbikes wearing surgical masks.

Most striking is the shiny silver corrugated iron that has been wrapped around many sites, shielding them from view. Some say that these barriers are to give the turf that is being laid time to grow, and to “protect it from Timorese children!” (Poor little Timorese children, being scapegoated like this!). It may also be designed to hide unsightly construction sites from view.

Lighthouse wrapped in silver, Dili, June 2014

The corrugated iron is so shiny, and so silvery! It gives the city a slightly surreal, space-age look. It reminds me of the cake decorating accoutrements we had in my family in the seventies, in particular the frilly, silvery wrap-around-the-cake thing that we used to decorate family birthday cakes. It looks like Dili is being populated by multiple oversize 1970s birthday cakes.

A more disappointing outcome of the city’s current facelift and spruce-up is that the food sellers that used to congregate on the beach every evening, selling barbecued chicken and ‘fish-on-a-stick’, have been moved on. In fact, people have been warned that, by the time of the CPLP meeting, any non-permanent structure on the Beach Road will be dismantled. It seems such a shame to lose these street stalls. The food they sold was tasty and inexpensive, the stalls were popular with Timorese families and visitors alike, and they gave this stretch of the city a lot of personality and character. It is sad that these hardworking people would be seen as eyesores, or as creating an unsanitary environment, rather than as contributing to the unique and attractive qualities of the city.

I stayed near the Beach Road (it does have an official name, but everyone, locals and visitors alike, calls it the Beach Road). This road now has a nice paved pathway that runs alongside the beach. It’s a relatively new addition, and I was impressed to see the large number of Timorese people jogging along it in the early evening. I don’t remember seeing many Timorese people jogging or doing other fitness or health-focused activities when I was here last time. I remember feeling quite self-conscious on the odd occasion I donned my sports gear and went out for a fast walk or jog. But there are many runners now. I also saw them running, with great stamina and grit, up the mountain road at the back of Dili, heading up towards Dare. Dili has the Dili Marathon each year – perhaps they are in training for that. Exercising suggests an optimism and faith in a controllable future (just as learning to play an instrument suggests a similar act of hopefulness and optimism). These are important steps in a city’s recovery from trauma.

Beachside path for joggers

Four years ago, there weren’t a lot of places that had internet access. Now, it seems like many more Timorese people are connected. Facebook is the most common platform. But also, I would say that mobile phones and mobile internet access is perhaps more affordable and accessible now; there are now competing providers which has presumably brought the costs down for consumers. Timorese teenagers seemed as connected to their phones and messaging as any of their counterparts in Australia.

I think the arrival of Timor Plaza has also added to this access to internet. When I was here in 2010, Timor Plaza was a construction site. Many people I spoke to felt unconvinced about Timor Plaza – a big shopping mall, Timor’s first, with a posh hotel and conference facilities, and a cinema, and a food hall. Would the average Timorese person be able to go there? Would they be able to afford to buy anything?

But it turns out that Timor Plaza is quite a buzzy place to go. There are always lots of teenagers hanging around, taking advantage of the free wireless (it never worked when I was there, but apparently it is usually reliable), sitting around on benches with their netbooks and laptops, doing what teenagers are supposed to do in shopping malls (hang around and not buy anything).

It is also air-conditioned. And non-smoking! (apparently the owner is an passionate anti-smoker). There is a pharmacy there, and a couple of supermarkets, a food hall where I ate a wonderful chicken biriyani, and which also includes a gelato stand, flagship stores for Timor Telecom and Telemor (or whoever the other carrier is, I can’t remember their name), I think I even saw an Apple store there! You can get printing and photocopying done, and shop for gadgets, and traditional Timorese souvenirs… even have a music lesson (there is a shopfront private music school, where kids learn piano), or a massage or a pedicure or manicure. It’s a shopping mall. It appears to be a better fit for Dili than I (and many others) originally thought it would be.

Small music school, Timor Plaza, Dili

Small music school, Timor Plaza, Dili

Conference in Dili

Before leaving Timor, I presented at a conference on Working with communities through the Arts. This event was organised by Many Hands International (my host organisation) and presented to a packed room of representatives from different Government Ministries (Culture, Education, Tourism) and NGOs.

I was the final speaker for the day and gave a presentation about my work in both Baucau and Lospalos, comparing the two models of engagement that I used, and talked about community music in this context being particularly characterised by active participation (as opposed to passive consumption by an audience). As I spoke, a slideshow of photographs played behind me, on a loop. Tony told me later that there were several fortuitous moments in the slideshow where an image would be displayed that gave a visual example of exactly what I had just been describing in my talk! But in any case, the photographs were far more powerful than any words I spoke.

There were many Tetun speakers in the audience, so I worked with a translator. I would say a sentence, and he would translate it. Perhaps due to the nature of what I was talking about (and the fact that it is unfamiliar territory for many Timorese) the translations took at least twice the time that the original language required. It was an interesting presentation experience. You can read my presentation at the end of this post.

Q & A

After each of the speakers had presented, questions were invited from the audience. I was asked three questions by a Dili-based arts worker:

You’ve been involved in some great initiatives here, but now you are leaving. Do you have plans to come back?

I would love to come back! This has been an amazing time, and I’ve learned as much from being here as others have learned from me. So I’d love to come back, but I would need to be invited. In Australia I am a freelance artist and educator, and I work with many different organisations. I don’t have a salary; I get paid each time I work. This means that I have a lot of flexibility to build projects in Timor into my schedule, but I don’t have the means to take time away from work under my own steam.

Similarly, the invitation is important because I don’t want to be imposing anything on the Timorese. This is a rich musical and artistic culture, and it is up to the Timorese people to decide if they want further input from outside people. An invitation is an important indicator of that.

How sustainable has your work been? Will the children continue to play music now that you are gone?

I hope so. But I have to accept that as an outsider, and someone who is here only for a short time, it is not ultimately within my control. I hope that playing music with us each day might have inspired some of the children to seek out these opportunities again, and to recognise their talent and capacity for this kind of work. Maybe one will take the initiative to start his own group – we’ve suggested that to them! I hope that we have sufficiently modelled our strategies, processes and techniques for developing music-making among new groups and particularly with children, so that other Timorese musicians and teachers might be able to adapt some of what we have done for their own purposes.

But ultimately, the sustainability of what I have done in my residency here is dependent on the Timorese people. We have modelled ideas and processes, built instruments using local materials and knowledge, and put groups in contact with makers. I hope, I truly hope, that they will act on the momentum from our visit and keep these activities going somehow. But in the end, it is not something that we can take responsibility for.

What do you think are the tangible or measurable learning outcomes for the children in these projects?

Measurement in music learning is a very complex and much-debated thing. You can measure how many notes someone knows, or how quickly they can move their fingers – but this just tells you about one aspect of music-making. It doesn’t necessarily indicate the student’s command of musical understanding.

Our music-making projects were not focused on learning outcomes, they were focused on participation, inclusion, and the collaborative development of musical ideas. Naturally, learning and skills development is an outcome of this participation, but it’s not the primary focus. Therefore, we didn’t set up tools to measure participants’ learning progress.

However, I know that much was learned! If I think about the Lospalos project, then I can think of indicators in the children’s demeanour that suggested a growing sophistication in their understanding of music, of instruments and of collaborative group processes. For example, in the first few jams, the children were very chaotic. They would snatch at instruments, and grab them from each other. They would hit them very hard, almost as if to see what it would take to break them! Their concentration would waver just a minute or so into jamming on a rhythm or riff.

By the end though, I could see a great many changes. The children took tremendous pride in their ability to play rhythms and melodies on all the different instruments. They were still highly energetic, but they knew how to recognise and respond to music-making cues. They were far more rhythmically attuned to one another, noticing when music was starting to fall apart, and listening acutely while playing in order to bring it back to the groove. They learned from each other, watching as one person played, in order to learn in and memorise it prior to taking the instrument themselves.

These are all things that show an awareness and understanding of the musical principles that make ensembles sound coherent, and of the skills required for collaborative music-making. It also shows they were highly engaged and keen to learn.

Meanwhile, there were changes in the community around us. Among our neighbours, quite an array of instruments were starting to appear. People didn’t necessarily come to us to show them or share them, but they certainly played them, sometimes from dawn til dusk.

Therefore, I am sure there was lots of learning going on. You’d need especially designed tools to isolate particular aspects and measure their progress, and this wasn’t our role or interest. But the progress made in musical understanding was clearly visible and audible, when we compared the demeanour of the first participants, to their demeanour in our last sessions.

Click here to read a summary of my spoken presentation in Dili on Tuesday 25th January. Continue reading

Udan Boot [Big rain]

I’ve been collecting photos of rainy days for a while now. The images below are from the Cultural Festival in Dili back at the end of November. It got rained out big time – apparently it took a week for the flood waters around the President’s Palace to subside. The drains get clogged up with rubbish so the water has nowhere to go.

And this photo was taken in Lospalos, or just outside Lospalos, on the road to the lake in the National Park. We were in a 4wd but no-one was sure how flooded the road was. Maleve walked on ahead of the car, to see how far up his legs the water went. In the end, it was too deep (too much rainfall had flooded over the causeway) so our intrepid driver did a u-turn on the narrow causeway and took us back out again. I took this photo from the back window.

Back in Dili – errands and a cultural festival

Tuesday, day 47

I’m writing this in Lospalos actually, but I’ll summarise the last week that I have just spent in Dili. Mum was there with me so I had company as I went about my errands

There were a few tasks and interesting things to complete: voting at the Australian Embassy for the forthcoming state election; going back to the house in Comoro for a visit and to collect some household things  (where I got to say hello to some of the children I used to sing and play music games with, back in those early first days in Dili, when I was going to language classes in the morning and playing clarinet on the verandah throughout the rainy afternoons); visiting the UN Human Rights people in Dili to follow up interest in my Baucau project; writing and emailing a funding proposal to the UN; visiting the Truth and Reconciliation Museum; sussing out ptions for hire cars (this was hot and tiring work – lots of taxis to various sites and wandering around in the heat of the day); and shopping for various things I needed to take with me to Lospalos that you can’t get anywhere by Dili. Like cans of chick peas, for example.

But the week was very much shaped by the “Cultural Festival” that was on at the Presidential Palace from 25th-28th November, closing on Timor-Leste’s Independence Day. This Festival brought musicians, dancers and traditional craftsmen to Dili to perform and craft their particular articles, as onlookers moved around the site.

I loved the performances I saw. On my second day there, I was present for one of the Instrument Demonstration sessions. I saw four sets of performers from around the country. The audience gathered around, seated on floor cushions or standing up, and watched the demonstrations with great engagement. Most of the audience were in fact Festival participants from the different districts. There aren’t many opportunities for them to see the cultural traditions from different districts and watching them watch each other was for me one of the great bonus delights of the Festival.

The crafts on display were also fascinating. There was a man carving ornamental birds from buffalo horn. There were two men working together to make wooden bowls from lumps of wood. There were women with weaving looms and tais (traditional woven fabrics) for sale. There were women weaving baskets, and selling these in all shapes, sizes and colours. There was a goldsmith, creating tiny pieces of jewellery with his traditional tools (my friend ordered two gold rings from him, one for each of her daughters. He engraved their initials on the rings, and they looked superb when we collected them the next day). There were men from Oecussi, the East Timorese enclave that is marooned in the middle of Indonesian West Timor (you either travel there overland, or get there by ferry, once a week), who were making small metal bells in a fireplace, which then were strung onto strands separated by narrow macaroni-seized pieces of bamboo, and then wound around the ankles as a percussive accompaniment to dance. These are called kini-kini, and I bought two sets. Hopefully I’ll be able to use them in my projects.

The Festival was the first of its kind. It took a couple of days to find its feet – the scheduled performances didn’t exactly happen to schedule, so it was a bit hit-and-miss what you got to see during a visit. The location was beautiful – the lawn of the President’s Palace has many thatched-roof traditional huts and shelters, and these housed the various displays, adorned with large banners of photographs from around the country. However, both Saturday and Sunday were hit by extremely heavy rains in the afternoon, which drenched the site and caused the road outside to flood. This impacted on some of the dance performances that were supposed to happen on the paved areas – basically, they didn’t happen.

I loved the conversations I fell into with some of the performers. I got to try a wind instrument made of bamboo (it is from Baucau and is apparently called a fahi kua-kua – fahi means ‘pig’ and kua-kua is an onamatopeic word for the sound the pig makes) that you play by putting the mouthpiece completely in your mouth and putting your tongue into the top of the tube. It only has three holes but they are quite far apart so you need the fingers of two hands to play them. I also was invited to join in with a group of women from Vicqueque playing their traditional local drums – small, skinny goblet-shaped drums with a surprisingly resonant sound. You tuck the drum under your arm to play it.

However, the place to be on Independence Day evening was at the Godbless concert in the heart of Dili. Godbless is a very popular Indonesian band (does that seem odd to anyone else – an Indonesian band being the headline artists at the main government-sponsored Timorese Independence Day celebrations??) and a large stage with stadium lighting had been erected in the plaza in from of the Government Palace building.

The crowds were satisfyingly huge. People of all ages were there – but Timor Leste is a young person’s country with a significant proportion of its population under the age of 18, and so they were in a clear majority at this concert.

The Timorese aren’t great clappers. I gather that applause isn’t really something they do, culturally. It must make it difficult for a rock band to have its audience be so quiet and restrained. As the guy making the introduction tried to rev up the crowd before the band came on, there were a few whoops and cheers, and a decent burst of applause, but it all subsided pretty quickly. By the time the Dire Straits-ian long guitar and drum atmospheric intro solos (with accompanying requisite stadium light displays) had subsided, any applause and cheers were long over. There was a group of hard-core fans who made a mosh pit in front of the stage and did their best to make up vocally for the silent majority, but it was a pretty tough crowd to play to overall, I’d say.

I have already been warned that I should try and strategically prime and place some ‘lead clappers’ if applause is going to be needed in any of my project performances! The Godbless concert confirmed this for me.

Timor plan – part 2 of residency

Monday, day 39

So now I am back. Mana Shona and Maun Craig have returned to Australia, Sarah our UN intern is house-sitting on the other side of the city; thus the house in Comoro where my Timor experience began is no more. Now I am staying a week at a hotel on the Dili beach road, where is there is a balcony that overlooks the sea. I am here with my mother, Mana Sheila.

What are the plans for these days in Dili? I am staying here the week rather than travelling straight to Lospalos because there will be a series of traditional music concerts and workshops in the lead-up to Independence Day celebrations on November 28th. But there is lots to do:

Baucau project

  • There are some further Ministry of Education representatives that I hope to speak with this week (I am hoping they may be present for some of the music festival). These are people that I hope may be able to point me towards instruments that are available for use in Baucau.
  • While in Melbourne I downloaded a large number of documents on human rights, and children’s rights in particular. I need to start reading through these as preliminary research for my project. I need to find an angle from which to launch the music composing with the children.
  • While I was in Lospalos an idea was floated about some possible sources of funding support for this project. I want to follow up some of those ideas this week, see if I can find out who the people to speak to are, and go and speak to them.

Lospalos project

  • There is a possibility that some instruments have been donated to Many Hands that can be used by my music project. There is a chance they may be here already in Dili. I need to suss this out.

Lospalos house

  • There are a few things I would like to buy to take back to the Lospalos house, things I either forgot to buy in Melbourne, or didn’t want to try and pack in my suitcase from Melbourne and hoped to buy here. Things like a new toilet seat – not essential, but if I can find a cheap plastic one I think I’ll enjoy using it for the remaining months I am in the house in Lospalos. A toilet without a seat feels a bit like a toilet in a prison, or a public toilet, I think. And the rest of the house is so lovely!
  • Other things include finding a dispenser for the big gallons of water I bought to use in Lospalos. I have no idea where I will find one of these, so some investigation is definitely needed.

Other Lospalos things

Can I go to some of the rehearsals with the traditional music and dance group next week? I hope so… And can I start some initial meetings with children who will be involved in the music projects? I’d love to start tossing ideas around about possible ‘Lospalos secrets’. ‘Secrets’ is the theme/starting point for my Lospalos project. I am just realising that I haven’t written about that yet. A more detailed post of those ideas will follow.

Getting to know Dili

  • There are lots of things I haven’t yet had the chance to do in Dili. For example, Madre Kitty, the fun and spunky nun in my tetun classes at DIT is based with an order here that runs an early learning centre, and a hostel for young girls here in Dili. She has invited me to visit and see their work. I’d really like to do this.
  • There is a Truth and Reconciliation Museum that I have heard wonderful things about. I would like to visit this.
  • The best markets in town are apparently at Hali Laran. That is on my list of things to check out.
  • I haven’t been to ANY Dili beaches! This is a dreadful state of affairs. People rave about ‘Jesus’s backside beach’ for example (the back beach below the statue of Jesus that lives out on the promontory, known here as Christo Rei).

The rest of the visa extension saga

Monday (day 36) was Immigration Department day. I had to collect my passport which would hopefully by now be supplied with a sparkly new visa that would last for the duration of my stay.

Seidauk,” the helpful gentleman smiled at me when I handed him my passport collection form. (‘Sidauk’ means ‘not yet’). “Seidauk? Why seidauk?” I asked him. “You told me I could come on Friday last week.”

At this he frowned. “Friday last week I told you? Hmmm,” he replied, and he took the passport collection form back from me for another look.

“I fly to Australia on Wednesday,” I told him helpfully.

“On Wednesday? You fly on Wednesday?”

“Yes… so I need my passport.” There was a pause while we both contemplated this particular information. Then I asked him, very politely, “Where is my passport now?”

He was still frowning, so I added, “I think you need to find it today!” Luckily the person I was dealing with was the one member of staff there who can speak English and is relatively good-natured with his work. I think he is generally amused by his many dealings with malae.

He got up out of his seat, and said, “Wait here”. Then he disappeared out a door behind the counter. I sat down with Mana Er and waited, and he didn’t reappear for the next hour or so. They’ve lost my passport! I realised, with a fatalistic sense of horror and comedy. They don’t know where it is.

Mana Er also got in on the drama and I learned lots about getting powerful people to help you in Timor as I watched her speak with various officials. She was always quiet and respectful, speaking in a low voice so that others couldn’t hear, but she also told them things about what an important person I was, that I had a meeting with the Ambassador the following day (true, but not necessarily because I am such an important or famous person), that I was flying to Australia this week, that it was all very important and urgent.

Finally, the smiling, good-natured official reappeared, looking somewhat harried and hassled now. He called me over. “Write your phone number here,” he said, handing me a notebook and pen. As I wrote in his book, I asked for an update.

“We-e-e-ll, the director is sick and in hospital. The deputy director is in a meeting. We need someone to sign your form.”

I tried to be helpful. I offered to take the forms to the hospital and to track the director down myself (this was me being more bloody-minded and frustrated than helpful, I confess), but he waved that suggestion away.

“I will try to finish your visa for you. I will call you when it is ready”.

“Do you know when that will be?” I asked.

“Maybe about 4…,” he said vaguely, and so that was where we had to leave it.

As we left the building, we discovered that Dili was being pelted by one of those sudden intense tropical rainstorms that can hit it in the afternoons, so we ran along the driveway and across the road, leaping puddles as best we could, and dashed into Mana Er’s husband’s car – I was amazed to learn he had been waiting for us all this time.

We waited at Mana Er’s house for the phone call, and sure enough, at about 4.15pm I got a call from a man telling me that I could collect my passport from Immigration whenever I was ready. I raced back there, knocked on the door, was relieved when they opened it, and they checked my name, and handed me my passport. No money required! All done! A visa for the full length of my stay. Phew.

Two days later – day 38 – I left Dili and flew back to Melbourne to do a workshop for the MSO and follow up a few other project developments.

Dawn songs

Sunday, day 14

During our stay on the island it became not unusual to hear people break into song. These were generally local men, walking along the beach, maybe finished work for the day, or completing some tasks. Their voices would carry on the wind and as I sat in front of our cabin or floated lazily in the sea I would hear them. Work songs are an important part of the musical traditions here.

To get back from Atauro in time for Monday morning work, we departed at 4am on the local shop boat. Every Monday, the owner of the village general store goes into Dili on his boat, and takes a small number of passengers with him.

Most of the others on the boat curled up and tried to continue sleeping on the deck of the boat. I tried this too but couldn’t – too uncomfortable! I sat up and watched the water, hoping we might see dolphins or whales – often sighted on this crossing.

There were two of the ship’s workers sitting at the front of the boat and one of them began to sing. Quite unselfconsciously, gazing out to sea as he sang. It was an intriguing sound, accompanied by the jagged percussive constancy of the fishing boat’s loud motor. The singer was sitting at the front of the boat. I scooted over, my camera in hand, and recorded the sound, holding my camera just behind his head.

Unsurprisingly, there is more motor in the recording than voice. But when he finished the song I started up a conversation with him and he invited me to sit at the front with him. He sang more songs, explaining where they were from (one from church, one traditional Atauro song, etc).  I filmed each of these, using a Flip camera.

One idea I am exploring with this residency is how I might be able to use footage that I film or record in a performance outcome of some kind. The clips I filmed on the boat – of my singer and his co-worker sitting on the prow, singing together while the boats makes its way back to Dili and the mountains of the mainland come into view – could possibly be used in this way.

So, while I didn’t get to see any dolphins or whales, I got to hear and record some beautiful music. I don’t have the bandwidth to upload one of the clips here, but this is a photograph of the two singers that morning, and some others from the morning crossing.

Two boatmen, singing

Sleeping on the deck

Dili Harbour, 7am

Christo Rei (Jesus) on the promontory at the edge of Dili Harbour

Manas (hot)

Friday, day 12.

It seems extraordinary sometimes, to be this hot all the time. Someone told me about a t-shirt they saw for sale once in Colmera (the centre of town, where there are lots of shops). It said, “I’m hot like a toaster”. I want a t-shirt like that.

Hot like a toaster doesn’t quite describe it, however. I drip. I just seem to perspire all the time. It’s like there is a constant coating of water on me even when I am sitting completely still. I’m hot like a tap that needs a serious overhaul.

Dili on a Sunday

I was in the town centre last weekend, looking for somewhere to eat on a Sunday. Not so easy to find! In the meantime, I took some photos.


Dili - quiet on a Sunday



Clouds rolling in in layers - looking towards the port

Fish-seller and motorbike on the Dili esplanade