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Postcard from Dili, Timor-Leste

by Commander Andrew Nuttall, Senior National Officer, New Zealand military contingent


15 May 2012

As I sit here at my desk, I ponder how a naval logistics officer like myself has become second in command of what is effectively an Army mission (and an ANZAC one at that) in Timor-Leste.  I subsequently realise that in the military, we often move around and work with different teams in different environments, hence the need to be flexible. 

I arrived in Dili, Timor-Leste’s capital, in early January 2012 for a six-month deployment. I was previously posted here in 2003 for about eight months. At that time, the United Nations had over 2,000 uniformed personnel from 15 countries who were assigned peacekeeping duties throughout the country.  This time around, the military force is limited to about 460 Kiwis and Aussies (the ANZACs) and together, we constitute the International Stabilisation Force.  We are here with about 900 UN police officers since 2007 on the invitation of the Timor-Leste government.


Since coming back, I have noticed a considerable change in Dili, especially amongst its people.  Timor-Leste regained its independence only 10 years ago, and the people have played a pivotal role in their nation’s young history.  The Timorese people may be small in stature (at 176 cm, I tower over many Timorese) but never underestimate their hardiness and their perseverance.  Whilst my day-to-day duties do not allow me to engage with the locals to any great degree, their determination to move on from the past and create a bright future for their country is self-evident.

I am a member of the “Phoenix Fliers”, a social (in Army-speak, that means non-compulsory) running group from Camp Phoenix that pounds through the streets of Dili just after sunrise three days a week.  The challenges we encounter during these runs are similar to those I faced way back in 2003. We have to dodge potholes, dogs, taxis (all taxis here are painted yellow like New York’s iconic cabs) and stray pigs and chickens.  I find the Timorese people just as friendly and welcoming as before. Everywhere we go, we are greeted “Bom Dia” (Portuguese for “good morning”). “Malai, malai,” (which roughly means foreigner) the kids cry out as we weave through the streets of Dili, huffing and puffing.

Walking around Dili, people greet me “Gidday Aussie” or “Kia Ora, Bro,” proof that New Zealand and Australia have made a positive and, more importantly, lasting impression here.  I have enjoyed my second tour and am pleased at the progress that this small and enthusiastic island nation of 1.2 million people has made. Hopefully, I will be able to return someday.

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