That first night in Dili, I bought myself a beer and watched the light fade over the traffic along the Avenida de Portugal. On the other side of the road, a few children played knee-deep in the shallows of the polluted beach, where perishing plastic had broken down into a tideline of white confetti.
The place where I was staying was a hostel and dive shop; it was an enclave for westerners, and charged accordingly. I couldn’t afford to eat there, but they had a deep blue pool for dive training; I dug out my bikini and immersed myself in the cool water. It was heaven. It was everything I needed.
I had booked a hostel bed for the night, and there were two bunk rooms. Early in the evening, I met a young English couple who were lounging in the living area.
‘Why are you in our bunkroom?’ said the woman. ‘Can you move to the other one?’
I was slightly taken aback. By this stage I’d washed; I swear I didn’t smell.
‘Um,’ I said. ‘That’s just the bed that was assigned to me when I checked in. I assume there’s a reason for it.’
‘Oh,’ said the woman. ‘Who showed you the room? Was it the native girl?’
The native girl? Are you kidding me? What is this, the undead British Raj?
I had been shown to my room by a pleasant woman by the name of Nafi. She was probably Timorese, and I definitely liked her more than these arrogant pricks.
‘I don’t care where I sleep,’ I told them, although I was kind of satisfied when it turned out that the other room was indeed fully booked. I hope I snored all night too.
Later, they tried to make chitchat – apparently they had been travelling for a year and they were on a ‘career-break’ and they’d been to South America and Thailand but didn’t have time to find out anything about Timor Leste because they were going back to the UK in a couple of days … I wasn’t in the mood. All I could think of was gap yah and saviour barbie.
I made my way down the dark, unlighted street and bought myself some noodles and vegetables to cook for dinner. Dili seems to have an extraordinary shortage of manhole covers: the capital has miles of newly constructed footpaths, neatly interspersed with gaping holes that drop several feet into the drains below. They are, literally, pitfalls.
At night in Dili you should always walk in the road; it’s safer.