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Dili (Timor Leste), May 23rd 2009

The names and characters in this story are fictional, but the events described are based on our own experiences and anecdotes that United Nations employees in Dili have told us.

The tires give off smoke while the white Toyota Landcruiser races through the corner. Tim is in a hurry. Not because he is too busy with his job at the United Nations in Timor Leste, but because he has to be in time at a certain beach club. He has a lunch date with a good looking Portuguese colleague that he has been seeing lately. Andrea already has a child of somebody else, but during the remaining part of his three year contract he would like to keep her as his girlfriend. Afterwards, he will see.

At the beach club, Tim sees that Andrea’s jeep isn’t in the midst of all the other 20 UN jeeps. He could have known. Portuguese are always less punctual than Australians. While he is looking over the Timorese sea, Tim is feeling happy. He is so glad that he followed the advice of his father. When he graduated last year as a lawyer at the University of Sydney, his father had a surprise for him. Via a business connection he was able to arrange a well paid and an adventurous job for his son at the UN. The task would be to advise the Timorese minister of foreign affairs on a variety of topics. Tim hesitated for a short while: “Will I be able to do that, with only a bit of book knowledge?” After becoming part of the extensive UN community of the Timorese capital of Dili, he can’t imagine why he has ever doubted his own capacity. Advising a minister isn’t difficult at all, especially because you don’t have to bear the consequences of these advises. Just tell what this minister has to do and if the outcome isn’t as planned, it’s the problem of the people of Timor Leste. The number of hours that Tim spends working is limited anyway. The locals work at a low pace and his UN colleagues have made clear from day one that working hard isn’t appreciated. Imagine that Timor Leste makes steady progress; this will imply that there won’t be any need for UN presence. This would mean that Tim and his colleagues would have to find another working place and another paradise like Timor Leste isn’t easy to find. There aren’t that many relatively safe places where you can dive daily in one of the world’s best dive spots and where your UN salary allows you to live like a king.

After waiting half an hour, Andrea arrives. She isn’t alone, because she brought little Vitor to let him play on the beach. The main topic of the conversation is the coming de-stress holiday. Because the outside world thinks that Timor Leste is very dangerous, UN employees are granted a free de-stress holiday to be able to unwind for a while. Tim and Andrea know better, but such a free holiday is always nice. They are in doubt whether they want to go to Bali or Nepal. They would like to go to Nepal, but they are hesitating because of the long flight. Business trips of 6 hours and more are always travelled in the luxury of business class, but they aren’t sure whether this is also the case for a de-stress holiday. They will ask to be sure. Hence, their holiday would be spoilt if they have to sit all those hours among all those normal people in economy class.

While Tim and Andrea are enjoying their lobster in a delicate white wine sauce, Andrea keeps an eye on her little son Vitor. He found a friend to play with. Together with this little Timorese child he is playing in the sand. When the Timorese kid is putting some sand in the hands of Vitor, Andrea jumps up and drags Vitor inside of the restaurant. Tim doesn’t understand the hassle, but his girlfriend can explain it very clearly. That Timorese child can have all kinds of bacteria that can make her little son ill. When Tim tries to argue that Vitor could also pass on some bacteria to the Timorese kid, Andrea gets infuriated. “Are you trying to tell me that my beautiful child could make that dirty boy ill? You really don’t understand anything about children!” Because Tim doesn’t want to spoil the afternoon, he shuts up wisely. After finishing the lobster, he snaps with his fingers to call the waitress. In his own country he wouldn’t even think of treating waitresses with such a sense of superiority. However, in Timor Leste is everything different. The UN is the king of this paradise and the normal Timorese people are his servant. A great job!

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