Sunday, December 26, 2010

Snow Bound

Snow can interfere with the best laid plans, so I adjusted those plans and went for a walk in the snow. I'd wanted to do a trail hike in the mountains, but with nearly 8 inches of snow and no gaiters -- I settled for a walk along the dirt road where my parents live in Madison County, North Carolina.

As I write this, it is still snowing and several more inches of snow are expected. After a year of living in the tropics, it is absolutely exhilarating to be able to walk in the snow and hear the squish, squish, squish under my feet and to experience cold weather.

Here are more pictures of our farm on a snowy, day-after Christmas.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Day - Marshall, NC

Weather is tough to predict in these mountains, but the forecasters got it right this time. They predicted a white Christmas here in the western North Carolina mountains – and, as if on cue, the snow started this morning and grew heavier and heavier throughout the day. By nightfall, there were nearly three inches of snow – and as I look out the window – it’s still coming down.  Here are some photos from our mountain farm.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Morning Shows in America

In my eight years living outside the United States, I had forgotten what it's like on morning television in America. I mistakenly thought I might get a bit of world news. What I found were stories on: the importance of checking the expiration date on toilet paper, the benefits of diet water and Lindsay Lohan's perspective on the world. 

I felt I fully understood American society after tuning in to the morning news in America. 

Over on the BBC -- reporters analyzed the Senate-ratified START nuclear treaty, focused on near civil war in Ivory Coast and mail bombings in Switzerland. 

I flipped back to one of the US TV networks and found a reporter getting Lohan's analysis of the benefits of drinking alcohol while watching the morning news programs.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Missing the Heat

All it took was 26 degrees Fahrenheit for me to begin missing the sun and heat of tropical Timor-Leste. And the breath-taking cold also brings to mind the old adage: be careful what you wish for.....

In Timor, where it was hot and humid, I was looking forward to cold weather -- my idea of cold was...say....45 degrees Fahrenheit.  A crisp cold, not a bone-chilling cold. Also -- I had completely forgotten about the wind -- and there was plenty of that with the 26 degree weather -- which pushed the temperature even lower.

I was completely prepared for the 45 degree "cold," when I arrived in Washington, DC -- I had a thin, long sleeved shirt, a t-shirt and a light jacket. It was the heaviest of winter wear in my closet in Timor-Leste.

Painfully and obviously it wasn't enough.

Still, I did get that snow I wished for -- on my second day in DC.  And it actually warmed up before it started snowing -- so, in a sense, I did eventually get what I wished for.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Steak on the Stone

One thing that I have missed in Timor-Leste is a good steak. Colleagues always say "ah, you want a good steak, go to so-and-so restaurant."  My last mission for a decent steak in Dili ended, again, in disappointment.

Several people had recommended a place that served "steak on a stone."  The waitress brings you a slab of raw beef -- sizzling on a hot stone.  It seemed promising -- part of the fun was cooking the steak to order -- yourself.

I attempted to cut into the steak with a regular table knife, but that wasn't happening. So, I asked for a steak knife -- that, too, proved difficult. I assumed the knife was dull. Finally, I tore off a piece of meat and popped it in my mouth.

I have to say it was chore -- chewing it. It was one of the toughest pieces of meat I've had in a while. My friend ordered the same thing and it, too, was one tough assignment.

I brought the meat home and fed it to the cats -- who seemed to enjoy it, but they, too, struggled to chew it.

I think the restaurant should change the name on the menu -- "shoe leather on the stone" would be more fitting.

Leaving Timor

Farewells are never easy, no matter how much practice I've had over the nearly eight years that I have lived outside the United States. Saying goodbye to friends and colleagues is always difficult and I always leave with the hope that I'll see many of them again.

Surprisingly, that has happened a number of times. It makes the world feel smaller. For instance, colleagues I'd worked with in Mongolia -- turned up here in Timor-Leste. Friends I knew in Tajikistan turned up in Dili. Strange, exciting world. The internet, too, makes the world seem smaller -- chatting with friends on Facebook or Skype. It's easier to follow the lives of friends, family and co-workers.

I will leave Timor-Leste in a few days and I will leave with having made a lot of friends. Friends and colleagues that I will miss. Facebook will help keep us connected -- and I'm sure I'll cross paths again with a few of them. Things like Facebook make goodbyes a little bit easier.

For me, Timor was a great challenge -- personally and professionally.  The extreme heat kept me indoors a lot, and while I swam and snorkeled -- there wasn't much else to do. So, I wound up working -- a lot. It is too easy to get lost in your work here.  Professionally, I had a great staff and yes, work was frustrating, but it was also quite rewarding. In many ways, unlike my work in the former Soviet republics, it is possible to get a lot of work done here without the government breathing down your neck. As I often describe it -- Timor was a breath of fresh air -- more often than not -- hot and humid air with almost no breeze.

So, off I go to the land of cold and snow. For a little while, at least, I won't miss the "forever sunshine."

Monday, December 6, 2010

Timor Long Horn

 There are Texas Long Horns and then there are Timor Long Horns and this is one of the latter.  This guy lives in Dili on one of the back streets and when I snapped his picture, his minder decided he wanted to get in on the action.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Falling farther and farther behind?

Great "what if" piece from Thomas Friedman -- actually he hits the nail on the head.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Independence Day (one of three)

Timorese President Horta, center with striped shirt, Prime Minister Gusmao, at right in blue shirt, greet the Indonesian band members just before they take the stage for an independence concert.
Sunday, November 28th, the Timorese people marked the date 35 years ago when Portugal gave the country its independence. It was short-lived, days later, Indonesian forces would invade and occupy the country for some 25 years. 

Timor's history leaves it with essentially three independence dates -- August 30, 1999, is referendum day -- the day Timorese people voted to be independent from Indonesia. On May 20, 2002, Timor-Leste became the first new nation of the 21st century -- after Indonesian troops finally withdrew.

Timorese Prime Minister Gusmao overseeing the water cleanup just before the independence day concert.
Sunday's anniversary was marked by a big concert in front of the government palace with a top name Indonesian band as the main headliner. Earlier in the day, a cloudburst left everything soggy -- including the concert venue. Up until the start of the concert, workers were busy with sump pumps trying to get all the water out of the way --and at one point, the Prime Minister, himself, Xanana Gusmao, was overseeing the cleanup.

Deafening Rain on the Roof

I remember, as a kid, standing in a huge tobacco barn and hearing the rain pound the metal roof -- the voices around me were lost to the rain striking metal. It felt cozy and scary.

I'm reminded of that day pretty regularly here in Timor -- where even as I write this -- the rain is pounding the metal roof of my house -- deafening.  Add incredible thunder and lightning -- the house shaking variety -- and it's scary. Yesterday afternoon about this same time, a lightning storm passed through and struck something not more than 50 yards away.

Today, the rumbling -- lasting up to 30 or 40 seconds at some stretches -- is accompanied by strong winds and rain -- coming down sideways -- pounding and cleaning the windows.

Outside, across the street, several people are drumming -- seemingly keeping a beat with the thunder, lightning and rain on the roof.

On the second floor patio -- outside my back door, Nilla is nursing her three new kittens. They seem not to notice the sounds around them -- only the warmth of their mother's stomach and milk.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Unbiased News. Where Did It Go?

A disturbing, but accurate account from Ted Koppel on the increasing difficulties of finding unbiased news.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


I've had plenty of bouts of food poisoning and stomach viruses, but never have I had something as sustaining as what I am recovering from just now. It is stomach-related and appears to be a mixture of virus, bacteria and parasite.

Malaise is probably one of the best words to describe this feeling -- feeling terribly uncomfortable -- just plain lousy, but unable to pinpoint it.  In my case, all roads led to my stomach.

It started about three weeks ago with diarrhea and nausea -- next came exhaustion, then a short-lived high-fever, more nausea, more diarrhea  -- and all along the way -- a serious lack of appetite -- which led to a loss of five kilos (11 pounds). Not bad if you are trying to lose weight, but your social life is limited to remaining a few paces from the toilet.

Today, most of the symptoms have gone -- thanks to a variety of medicines and visits to a couple of doctors -- still -- the appetite -- not what it used to be --  which is not such a bad thing.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election Day

Watching the US mid-term elections from outside the US, it is puzzling how so many of the candidates that are on the ballot today, got there. I have to say it's scary from afar -- and probably down-right frightening if you are in the United States.  Based on what I've seen from many of them,  truth doesn't really matter any more -- and intelligence is a criminal offense.

I found this little item on Youtube that sums it all up quite nicely.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Tajik-Afghan Border

I was organizing my pictures today and came across some that were taken during a trip along the Tajik-Afghan border in 2007. I was traveling on the Tajik side of the border in a vehicle on a reasonable well-maintained highway.

I was fascinated by a narrow path cut into the rock on the Afghan side -- the path was often only a few feet above the river that divides the two countries. The path stretched for hundreds of kilometers along the river and occasionally I'd spot people walking on the path -- including the man below in white -- followed by two soldiers with guns. One could let their imagination run wild with that one.
The pathway is what connects the riverside villages to one another.


At night -- the houses on the Tajik side of the river had electric lights -- on the Afghan side there were only candles.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Taxis in Timor: An Assault to the Senses

Most times when you climb into a taxi in Timor, you are serenaded with very loud music -- and a reluctance by the driver to turn it down. He will do so eventually, if you continue to insist.

Once that's settled, he often lights up a cigarette -- and yet again,  you must ask him to put it out -- reluctantly he does so -- most times. This can be quite comical if you don't speak the language and are trying to convince him to put out the cigarette.

The whole time you're negotiating the cigarette issue, the back windows are rolled up and for some strange reason -- in almost every single taxi in Dili -- the windows will not roll down. So you are blasted with loud music, cigarette smoke and extreme heat -- since the taxis rarely, if ever, have air conditioning.

Even still, your taxi ride is likely to take a long time since many of the cabs are in pretty bad shape. The last time I took a cab, the engine was making strange noises and the car appeared to be having some sort of seizure as it jerked along at barely 20 miles an hour.

Next time, I'll bring a good book, a fan and ear plugs. Better yet, maybe I'll just walk.

Shadow Puppets in Java

The Indian epic poem, Ramayana, is often performed with shadow puppets. It's quite fascinating to watch from the audience -- the puppet master also narrates the story and keeps time with his fingers as they strike the wooden stage. The entire play is done with the puppets' shadows projected through a white cloth screen -- as seen above.

What's even more fascinating is to step behind the screen -- and watch the puppet master in action with his colorful puppets.

      The play is performed with a full orchestra of Gamelan musicians.
This man, who describes himself as a puppet maker, shows off one of the colorful characters from the Ramayana.

The Ramayana

The Ramayana is one of two great Indian epics -- the other is the Mahabharata. The Ramayana has been around since around 1500 B.C.
During my recent trip to Yogyakarta, I went to a performance of one of the books from the Ramayana -- where Rama's wife Sita is kidnapped by the evil Ravana. Rama is assisted in the rescue by the monkey god, Hanuman -- who is dressed in white. The story was performed on stage at the outdoor Ramayana Theatre.

                                          Ravana (standing)

                                          Hanuman plays with fire.....

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Neverending Power Interruptions in Timor-Leste

I thought it was bad when the power was off four hours a day here in Dili. Suddenly, the power is out about eight hours per day now -- and it continues to get worse and worse. The generator works, but it's simply not strong enough to power everything in our office -- so some people are forced to sit idle -- everyone does without air conditioning. The heat and humidity reminds me of a Washington DC summer day -- on steroids. It's really that bad.

The power interruptions and power surges are also wreaking havoc on equipment. PC's burn out, my laptop adapter cable fried and the water pump went dead. Stabilizers are connected to everything, but they, too, are succumbing to the constant up and down of the electricity.

So today, the water was off -- along with the electricity.

The one thing that does keep working is our internet. One of my colleagues noted that it was a bit odd that through all the power cuts and so forth -- our internet keeps chuggin' along.  It's mainly because we have a small generator that is dedicated to keeping the server and the VSAT hardware running.

Some things, you simply can't do without.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Candi Sewu (Sewu Temple)

There is something really appealing about these mostly ruins of Sewu Temple. Candi Sewu, built in the 8th century, is the second biggest Buddhist temple complex (after Borobudur) in Java. Sewu Temple is located in Yogyakarta -- a short walk from Pramadanan -- the Hindu temple complex.

Unlike Borobudor and Pramadanan -- only a small part of Sewu has been restored. There are heaps and heaps of stones within the complex -- collapsed temples -- and many of the reliefs look like Cubist pieces by Picasso -- since some of the stones have been haphazardly stacked on top of each other. At the same time, there is a beautiful rawness about Sewu. It feels almost like it is waiting to be re-discovered -- much as the more famous Borobudur and Pramadanan were -- in the 19th century -- both had been mostly mounds of rubble until restored early in the 20th century.

 Sewu Temple is not very well known -- so I had the place virtually to myself -- except for a Muslim family. One of the young daughters, wearing a hijab, posed with one of the Buddha.

Horse Power

I snapped this photo on Malioboro Street in Yogyakarta near the train station. I was sitting in a becak -- which was moving -- as was the horse -- making for the photo that you see above.  Horse-pulled carriages are a popular way to get around Yogyakarta -- competing with becaks -- bicycle-powered carriages.

I loved the hypnotic click-clack of the horse's shoes on the asphalt -- and when I closed my eyes on that particularly hot and humid day -- and listened to the tiny bells on the horse's harness -- I imagined being in a horse-drawn sleigh -- somewhere in Russia -- on a cold, snowy day.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Means of Transport

I was, at first, reluctant to climb into a becak (be-chak) on the streets of Yogyakarta. I was concerned about the cars and motorbikes whizzing by and the risk of getting hit. Then, I noticed that just about all the locals, old and young, ride in becaks. Next, I noticed that becaks get a lot of respect -- among drivers of motorized vehicles. Ok, maybe not a lot of respect, but enough respect to count -- and convince me to climb in and take a ride. On some streets of Yogya -- they have their own lane -- along the backstreets -- they pretty much have the street to themselves. By sheer numbers, they outnumber taxis by about 10 to 1.

It's a quiet ride along those back streets -- with the occasional motorbike darting past -- otherwise it's the sound of the becak drivers' feet going up and down on the bicycle pedals -- and the ding-ding of his bell -- when we are approaching a pedestrian from behind.

The becaks are a bit more expensive than a taxi, but I enjoyed riding in them -- they're pollution free and it helps the guy stay in business.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Market in Yogyakarta

Even before you walk into the Pasar Beringharjo in Yogyakarta you are overwhelmed by the smell of dried fish. Next, you see the source of that strong smell -- mounds of tiny fish -- the size of sardines.  Further along -- a friendly-looking young man is selling fresh ginger.
 Lunch is served -- noodles and soup and rice!
 Below are more photos snapped in the market on a typical Wednesday morning.

 This is a giant tub of spicy sauce -- try it -- if you dare!

 Rock sugar