It is the rainy season here and that means clouds, a definite plus when it comes to bicycle riding in the tropics. I can easily bike the 3-4 miles to one of my preferred grocery stores under such a sky. In East Lansing we longed for the sun. Now, I LOVE clouds! I can imagine, however, that those of you suffering intense cold and snow have little sympathy for such sentiments. We celebrated our three month anniversary in Dili last week. It seems a good time to reflect on the changes that have transpired in our lives. If you have followed our posts over these three months, you will have noticed that living here has become more tolerable and at times downright… ummm… okay. (You were expecting “fun”?).
I will begin with food. For a foodie such as myself, our daily diet is probably the area that has changed the most. My food snob factor has been taken down many pegs, and I now see food much more as a necessity rather than as a source of entertainment and pride.
The first week here, we were given white bread and processed cheese, which I disdainfully rejected as beneath my food standards. After three months, that same cheese was one of my goals on the aforementioned bicycle ride, and I am thoroughly disappointed when the shelves are empty and some alternative source of calcium must be sought (there usually isn’t any). After cheese, my favorite calcium source is yogurt, now consigned to “extreme luxury” status because of its exorbitant price. I splurged several weeks ago when the price fell and for a few days we reveled in its magic. Milk is only available here as UHT, the long-life version which few Americans have even seen. I purchase the “full-cream” version and then water it down by a factor of three. I have no idea if there is any nutritional value left after what it has gone through. (What do they do to it??)
The BIG event in our eating adventure has been the discovery, just last week, of real fresh whole wheat bread, one of the mainstays of our previous diet. My Australian friend, Louise, always a source of valuable information about life in Dili, informed me that every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, the Turkish bakery had such a treasure available, if the electricity is working in the morning.
This news made my legs fairly fly through the town Tuesday after class, with little regard for the dust thrown in my face and the ever-threatening traffic. Truly we have cheap thrills around here. And the bread is absolutely good. Not just “good for Dili” (a standard we usually use), but genuinely good! A thick slice dipped in garlic and basil-infused olive oil absolutely TRANSPORTED us out of this place for a few delicious moments. We were back in beautiful Roma. Aaah, life is good…
And that takes us back to another of the major changes that has occurred. We are less likely to take some of the basics for granted here. We appreciate them more because sometimes we don’t have them: electricity, propane, personal transportation, and water. Especially water from the tap. Water has assumed a much larger role in our lives, from the cold bottle in the refrigerator to the joy of a mandi to the necessity of frequently buying it or filling the tank. We absolutely relish the moment when we can throw cool water on ourselves after returning from teaching, from church, from shopping, or from being without a fan while the electricity is off. All beg for the relief of a bucket shower and each is a moment of real delight. Unfortunately, you must have a “wet” bathroom and live in the tropics without AC to know what this is really about, conditions not readily found in the US. You may have to take our word for it. A pity really.
The other part about water that we greatly appreciate is that we do have running water, and as much as we need. This availability does need some planning though. Every two days we fill a large orange water tank (700 liters) situated in our front yard. This filling occurs with the help of an electric pump sitting under the tank. We drag the long cord inside the house and plug it in to activate it. We try not to forget that it is on as there is no automatic shut-off. When the tank is full, water starts overflowing, streaming down the sides, continuing until the pump is unplugged. It’s not very elegant, but we consider ourselves quite fortunate. Because of the tank we have water during those times when the electricity is off. We learned early on that the process is not altogether straightforward. At certain times, mysteriously, no water is available or is dirty. We have no idea what is going on, but have figured out that the late mornings seem to be the best time to get clean and plentiful water. And, a recent discovery, that the dirt on the bottom of the tank will stay on the bottom if we allow sufficient time for it to settle. So don’t fill the mandi before waiting two hours after filling the tank. Got that?
Of course, we don’t drink the water from the tank. We have a drinking water dispenser in our kitchen and purchase refill bottles from our neighbors every few days. For one dollar per 19 liter bottle, we always have a supply of drinking water available. The water is one of the best deals in Dili, and we are very grateful for it.
I know there are other attitude adjustments we have made, but I think this is a good start and a good place to end this reflection. But not without saying that we also GREATLY appreciate all of you and know that you pray for us. Quod Vult Deus. [posted by Rory]