Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Taxi driver and “mikrolet” conductor school of etiquette

I’ve decided that Timor needs a taxi driver and “mikrolet” conductor school of etiquette. Today I was walking back from Daniel’s office to mine and as usual, felt like a sex worker plying my trade on the streets of Dili. Just before I came to the junction where my office is located, a taxi crept up on me so quietly that I did not know that it was on my tail until it beeped its alternative sounding horn and I just about jumped out of my skin. I was so furious while motioning with my hand and saying “lae” (no) that as he drove off, I said “asshole” at normal pitch.

One of the Aussie blokes who gave me a lift back to work on Australia Day (see Australia/Invasion Day) told me that there are 3,000 taxis in Dili with a total population of 170,000 inhabitants. Taxis therefore represent 1.76% of the population. In comparison, the equivalent in Melbourne based on 1995 figures is 144 taxis for every 170,000 people! Notwithstanding the fact that private car ownership in Timor is very low, this is a hell of a lot of taxis!

On tonight’s “mikrolet” journey home the conductor went on and on and on about how “isin boot” (big bodied) the “malae” were and how they should pay more money. We understood most of what he said and I was in absolutely no mood for his shenanigans. I felt like saying, “hey buddy, I’ve lost 8kg in 7 months so who you calling big?” but didn’t know the words in Tetum so instead said “ami hatene Tetum” (we understand Tetum) and “isin boot saúdi diak” (big body is healthy), “isin krekas saúdi la diak” (thin body is unhealthy). The other male passengers were very supportive of us and told the “mikrolet” driver off as the “malae koalia Tetum” (foreigners speak Tetum) and that they had learned it from books and therefore we were “matenek” (clever). The conductor was suitably contrite and attempted to make amends with us by shaking our hands and asking where we were from and where we lived.

When we got off the “mikrolet” and walked down our street, there were heaps of kids out playing so we had many greetings to make. At the bend of the road, which leads to our house, a little girl of about three, ran up to me stark naked and held my hand (she has done this before). I asked her “o ropa iha nebee?” (your clothes are where?) and she replied “ba uma” (at home). She was so thin but had the tell tale signs of malnutrition as her belly was distended. I thought this is exactly the kind of “isin krekas” that is so unhealthy in Timor; most Timorese are thin not because they’re healthy but because they’re underfed and malnourished, and even though I am overweight, I know that I am much healthier than most Timorese because I was fortunate to be born in a country with plenty of food.

Normally I don’t mind “mikrolet” conductors’ comments as I’m pretty use to them now but when one goes on and on and on talking at all the other passengers as if we do not understand, I simply think it’s incredibly rude not to mention, discriminatory! How dare he want to charge us more simply because we’re better fed! Hasn’t he heard of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance? Perhaps I should start up a chapter in Timor (there’s certainly enough large “malae” about the place not to mention the occasional Timorese). And perhaps someone should start up an etiquette school for taxi drivers and “mikrolet” conductors because if their behaviour does not improve, I really will start demanding my own private transport, and preferably my little jet engine fighter (as Daniel calls my 17 year old Saab which is safely housed in Melbourne).

Category: Timor-Leste (East Timor)

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