One of the striking things when you first arrive in Dili is the number of little motorbikes and scooters on the road. They swarm everywhere with their high pitched whine, like pesky mosquitos. The female passengers sit side saddle, one foot on the foot rest, the other swinging towards the back wheel and then away again. Another form of transport is the bright yellow taxis. They are like sunflowers – they only come out in the day and retreat at night, so that there is no transport home if you want a night out on the town. The taxis and the bikes compete as to who can get the nearest to mowing down anyone foolhardy enough to want to cross the road. The only other form of
public transport in Dili are small people carriers, called microlet (sometimes spelled mikrolet), reminiscent of the old VW camper vans, which, like their counterparts in Eastern Europe, perform the function of a type of bus service. The difference here though is that the side doors are never shut and people hang precariously with one foot inside, the other dangling in the space between the van and the road and one hand on the roof or, if there is one, clutching onto the roofrack. At least in Russia they require that the doors be shut. Because there can be up to five people standing with one leg on the step and clinging on by their fingernails, these little buses career down the road in the most lopsided way, leaning heavily over to the side with the open door. The tyres on one side are barely visible whilst on the other side, the vans are like show girls lifting up their skirts and bareing all. It all looks terribly dangerous.
Today we saw one of these vans, which had clearly come in from the countryside (or as they say here, from the districts). Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo because I didn’t have my camera with me, but it was similar in type to the one in the photo, although it actually had a roof rack. It was as laden as could be, stacked up inside with sacks of rice, fruit and vegetables. The roofrack was overflowing with hands of bananas. The side door had the obligatory five passengers hanging on by their fingertips and the toes of one foot. But the most curious passengers of all on this van were the chickens. Their feet were bound together and tied onto the roofrack so that their heads dangled down over the windows. We thought they were dead, being taken to be sold in the market, but then one of them moved its head, another blinked and we realised that they were all alive. The chickens didn’t appear unduly anxious, but rather resigned to their fate. As the van cornered at the crazy speed of some 20 kilometers an hour (well it was a crazy speed given how laden it was), the chickens on the outside curve swung away, then as the van straightened out, thumped back against the windows. If there was a redeeming feature of this sight, it was that the humans clinging on to the side received equal treatment and at least the chickens couldn’t fall off.
Best wishes from Timor