It would be fair to say that the last few weeks in Timor have revolved around 2 main topics: cars and food.
For a start you really need to understand the driving in Dili.
(Insert song 'She Drives Me Crazy' - The Fine Young Cannibals)
Due to the kindness of new friends we have been loaned an enormous 20 year old Pajero while we continue the search for our own wheels. I am sure this car has lived to tell many a frightening tale, and the first time I turned the engine over to the unfamiliar roar of Diesel I fondly remembered my driving instructor of 20 years earlier -'Victor' (think heavily gelled and severely parted black hair and pasty white skin). Over and over again, Victor calmly encouraged me to 'ride the clutch slowly' on the Festiva as he licked his lips and we weaved through the leafy streets of the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. His soft voice reminded me of Hannibal Lector asking Clarisse about the Lambs…
If Victor could only see me now I am sure his toes would curl up in his white leather hush puppies. In just a five minute trip from the compound to drop Oscar to school I frantically check both side mirrors constantly as I wrestle potholes, avoid hitting joyful children jumping up at the car and screaming at me, dodge mad motorbikes (often with an entire family on board), and weave to stop slamming into taxi's who either drive at 20km an hour in the middle of the road or stop abruptly in the middle of the highway and don't use indicator's. Then there's the Microlets (small mini buses) overflowing with passengers who at traffic lights simply hop off the side, stand on the bitumen then alight as the vehicle moves once again. Then there's the other Expat's who all seem to drive 'trucks' like Prado's, Pajero's and Hilux's. Courage is required to cross any intersection and it's a case of who nudges in first wins - not to mention trying to complete a successful U-Turn into oncoming traffic with all of the above whizzing past.
On top of this picture me with the window wound down as the air-conditioner in my borrowed vehicle doesn't work so I am coughing and spluttering from smoke and dust at the same time. It's not pretty.
Dili 1: Sal 0.
It is VERY hard to find a good car here. Conversations with everyone I meet revolve around asking if anyone is selling their car, have they seen any cars on the side of the road with '4 sale' signs, and is anyone leaving Dili soon who might sell me their car.
I assure you I left my virtual tiara in Sydney and my expectations are not high, my only real requirement is that it can take our three kids safely in their child seats.
The Timorese man who brought me his 'Mitsubishi Outlander' was very excited to see me and couldn't understand why his electric orange leather interior and super sound system taking up the ENTIRE interior wasn't going to work for us. Like the other fellow who was surprised when I requested all the seats have seat belts. He did offer to rip them out of another car he had, and then install them in the one I was looking at but I politely declined, I could just imagine him ripping out someone's old couch from home and tying on some seatbelts. There has been the man who suggested the kids could just sit on each other's laps in order to fit, and there has been the car with over 260,000km on the clock, which I am sure had its odometer stopped in 2001. My personal favourite was the lady boasting that her car's back seat could not simply fit 3 child seats comfortably - but at lease 3 other adults at the same time if you really tried.
Dili 2: Sal 0.
Not having a car is obviously a challenge to any family of five, but in Dili it's simply a necessity.
The importance of finding a BIG car in Dili does not only revolve around the obvious as noted above. Its important the boot is large enough to fit a big esky so when you go to the supermarkets around town your frozen goods don't go bad as you are driving around from store to store trying to locate your desired ingredients.
This moves me onto the topic of food.
When we moved into our house I was surprised to find an enormous freezer in our laundry and wondered why on earth we would need such a monster storage device. It didn't take me long to discover why!
A few the things I have learnt about food in Dili;
*If you see butter/cheese/ice cream/Australian chocolate buy all you see and put it in your freezer for a rainy day. As one of the French mum's at Oscar's school suggested (insert strong French accent for authenticity) 'You need to buy ALL the butter when you see it - then sell it to your friends when there is no more in Dili. Voila!'
*No matter how tempting the supermarkets new display of lentils/brown rice/noodles/weetbix is; if you see it wriggling on its own it's probably best to let it go. And if it is not in a tin or a jar, it goes in the freezer.
*Eggs. Lots of eggs in Timor! But…if you see anyone polishing said eggs, once again keep moving - they are probably cleaning off mould. No use by dates on the eggs either so use 'water test' to check if they are edible. If it rises to the top of the water when popped in a pan then it is destined for the rubbish, or you are destined for a Dili hospital! I popped a dozen from the same packet in water last night before preparing dinner, 3 floaters, 9 sinkers.
Dili 3: Sal 0
4. If you want great food, all roads lead to Portugal. Historically not just great explorers, the Portuguese know how to find the good food. Both the Portuguese deli and supermarket here are fantastic and a better supply of chorizo, prosciutto, sardines and Portuguese cheeses I never did see in Sydney or Melbourne. We have even stumbled across fridges full of trotters and to Oscar's surprise an entire baby pig. Alas no Piri Piri chicken shops but I am adding this on my list of 'dishes to accomplish in Dili!'
5. Wine. If any of you were wondering how Marco was surviving without Vintage Cellars, do not be concerned. There is a ready supply of good Portuguese red wine and beer available and they aren't too bad at all, and most about US$7-15 a bottle! Our new favourite is a brand called 'Sexy'. You can't be sad for too long with Sexy Wine.
Alarmed you may be at reading all of the above, but please don't be. Our new normal is at times frustrating but all part of the journey and we are getting used to Dili day by day and are already forming some wonderful friendships and sharing stories and ideas. We are all going through exactly the same adjustments and are bonding in the unusualness of our situations.
We enjoyed the Australia Day celebrations immensely, which included a fantastic function hosted by The Australian Embassy, which was over 500 people strong, highlighting what a strong Australian community there is in Dili and surrounding districts. The Australia Day beach BBQ was also fun, complete with sausages, meat pies and lamingtons where all the kids braved the water for swimming and kayaking (Oscar decided to stick to 'crocodile picket' on the shore lines instead).
I may have swapped my Channel No.5 for Aeroguard (my preferred mossie repellent scent) but I do have my pink boxing gloves in our 'still to arrive' freight and hopefully an enormous 4WD to call my own so a new kind of princess will be rocking around Dili soon and the score board closer to evens.