Saturday, November 26, 2005

An evening with the Ambassador

Last night I attended my first formal function hosted by the Australian Ambassador to Timor. The event actually came about after I half jokingly complained to an Embassy staffer that the AVIers felt unloved while the Youth Ambassadors were treated like royalty. This function was therefore held to redress the imbalance but the invitation stated it was to celebrate volunteering (International Volunteers Day is on 5th December) and to welcome two new Embassy staff to Timor. We were asked to bring with us our Timorese counterpart. Unfortunately, at the last hour, mine backed out as she had too much work to do so I went on my own (the irony is not lost on me here as many Timorese often don’t appear to have enough work). I was not happy about this and in fact, in my mind, it was just another nail in the coffin for the problems I encounter working here.

I arrived right on the starting time of 6pm (very unusual of me to be so punctual) and was greeted by one of the new staffers who much to my amusement soon abandoned me for a glass of alcohol. I deduced that she didn’t like my serious nature for when she asked me how I was enjoying living in Timor, I was honest and said, it’s challenging on many levels and gave just a few brief examples; after all, my intention wasn’t to scare her away, even if in the end I did. She remarked that she loved the “lifestyle” of a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) expat (living in a secure compound and working in an office that was as well resourced as back home; and you know how much I struggle with people who say they enjoy living here for “lifestyle” reasons).

To be honest, I’m beginning to enjoy the power I have to make people uncomfortable as it makes it very clear who is worth pursuing a conversation with and who is just too light to bother with. Also, I really do not like the culture of the AusAID (Australian Aid for International Development) and DFAT expats who “enjoy” living here for “lifestyle” reasons (again, I ask, how can you enjoy living in a Less Developed Country for lifestyle reasons; it’s simply unconscionable). My limited exposure to this culture has also made me really glad that I never pursued a career as a federal public servant; I’m sure I would not have lasted long.

Needless to say I didn’t much enjoy the evening as I was hoping it would be a chance to get to know my counterpart better. As she didn’t come I was left to talk with other AVIers and some of their counterparts. The Ambassador introduced herself to me as she wanted to meet the person who suggested she host such a function. I was with one other AVIer and one Youth Ambassador at the time and she started with me by asking where I worked and when I told her she said “okay, women’s rights” and promptly went on to the next person. In fact, she never came back to me and focused instead on a Youth Ambassador working in public radio. Ah, some things never change. Despite this being a function ostensibly to make the AVIers feel valued, all it did was reinforce how much deferential treatment the Youth Ambassadors receive compared with the rabble that make up the AVIers (and we are all funded by the same government department: AusAID). Throughout the evening I noticed how much socialising the Embassy staff and Youth Ambassadors did together, making it very clear that they had done this all before and knew each other well.

At terminal functions like this at least you can focus on the food. However, all that was served was four different types of Thai finger food of which only one was vegetarian, so I spent most of the evening gorging myself silly on spring rolls and sweet chilli sauce wishing that I was at home instead listening to Radio Australia or the BBC World Service. At least the company would have been more scintillating.

Category: Timor-Leste (East Timor)

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