Water: on not taking anything for granted in Timor-Leste

Washing my hair at the Convent.

You can do an awful lot with ten litres of water. Over 10 litres of water sit in the pipes to the two cold water taps, and the warm water system for the shower in my flat.


Often, water flows and electricity runs. But then it often doesn’t.

My bathroom looks rather atmospheric when the power is out.

 I need two litres of water to shower for work, three if it is for a special day, and the whole lot if my hair has gone toxic. I carefully collect the water from the pipes, and map out my activities. How many times will I want to flush the toilet? How many times will I need to bathe? How clean do I really need to get, or how filthy am I right now?


Am I feeling lucky? Will I blow the lot, or carefully carefully plan the use of every drop?


Problem solving is what I do for a living – I’ve become a member of the hotel near my house. With this precious membership comes access to a magnificent shower at the hotel gym.


Two treadmills, two bikes, a couple of disintegrating mats, and the finest shower I have seen in Dili.  Hair washing problems are now solved. I do a token 15 minutes on a stationary bike, completely preoccupied by how absolutely life-affirming it will be to wash my hair properly. And oh my god, that’s exactly what it is.



This hotel bathroom of wonderment is in Novo Turismo. As with all buildings in town, it has a story from the occupation.It features in the film Balibo.


‘The Turismo was the haunt of foreign correspondents, diplomats, academics, revolutionaries and spies ever since it went up in 1967. It was where the Australian reporter Roger East was living when he was murdered by Indonesian troops on the Dili waterfront in 1975.’     End of the story for Dili haunt of press gangs of old


The hotel has been redeveloped, and doesn’t retain much of the original structure that survived the invasion and occupation, where journalists hid and filed news reports, where Australians lived before killed or evacuated, where the UN, military, NGO and everyone else sought as a landmark and meeting place.


And now, this place is my refuge for hair washing.

Turismo, before the renovations



Soooo, I work in an office building that has no drinking water, and often no water to flush the toilets. When I went to the loo this morning, I was feeling lucky. It flushed – what an excellent day.

There is a spring in my step when I turn to leave the toilet. The door handle disintegrated in my hand. A security guard freed me. But it’s still a winning day: we have had continual electricity and intermittent internet!! I’m still feeing confident.




This all reminds me of a t-shirt a Peace Corp mate in Vanuatu wore: A picture of half a glass of water with three captions 1) half full 2) half empty 3) I could have a bath in that.

Now that’s the spirit!


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Washing my hair at the Convent.