Fleeing the Jurisdiction


Adjourned sine die
July 30, 2007, 2:09 pm
Filed under: Government, Law, Timor-Leste

It seems the law has caught up with me again. This next few days will see me off at last to Dili, Timor-Leste, after many delays and postponements. It’s now a few months since I stepped, bewildered and sunburnt, off the plane connection from Sierra Leone. My plan to spend some few weeks indulging in the fruits of Western consumerism before plunging back into the developing world had evidently inspired a spiteful deity or deities to laugh.

It’s not the first time I’ve been forced to lay low. A previous scheduled departure for the world’s newest nation had been derailed last year by escalating violence surrounding a mishandled governmental stoush with the armed forces. Since independence, the need for a large standing army had naturally diminished, and finally a decision had been made to cut numbers. Any political fiat resulting in a large number of unemployed men with guns is best done with the utmost diplomacy. Whatever amount had been applied in that instance proved insufficient, and soon the capital erupted in violence enough to prompt evacuations. My intended travel, in the opposite direction, was accordingly shelved.

Recent months have seen a retreat to the twin havens of government and academia. Whilst not without their comforts and charms, the overall effect has been rather like being an adult returning grudgingly to the familial home. There are hierarchies to be observed that need not operate in the wider world, and an internalised sense that recent spurts of growth and change have been overlooked or undervalued. Of course, in this there is a measure of the natural instinct to surprise and even resentment on finding that, just as much as you have discovered triumphantly that you no longer need the trappings of that former life, it equally has continued on with its systems and routines happily without you.

Many talk of reverse culture shock, the mental gear shift required to adjust to old or remembered priorities and conversational touchstones. From monsoons, malaria and machetes to stock portfolios, school fees and SUVs. This is not, mind you, a value judgement, but a recognition that both sets have real meaning to very divergent groups. To switch between can prompt a difficult reappraisal, and potentially deepen feelings of isolation from both camps. Occasionally, I’ve felt like some stygian deep sea creature, accustomed to intense pressure and relentless darkness, and hauled unceremoniously into an unfavourable element to flap about in a less than dignified manner, perhaps to implode.

However powerless I’ve felt to change my circumstances, though, the reminder has been there of just how much more abject this condition is for so many. However much I’ve felt my capacities stifled, the comparison has been recalled to those for whom the advantages are far fewer. However frustrated I have been at the inability to plan for my future, the remembrance has come all too quickly of the people for whom there may be none at all.

Now, with the lifting of a governmental no-fly order that effectively placed Timor on a par with Iraq in terms of threat assessment, and the passing of relatively peaceful elections, it’s time to flee the jurisdiction once more. Of course, with the reported unity cabinet apparently poised to collapse, and old political rivals squaring off for the right to form government at today’s parliamentary inauguration, much uncertainty remains. Let’s hope that the conflict occurs on the floor of the House and not on the red dust streets of Dili.

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3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

The blog’s alive! Welcome back and have a prosperous time in Dili.

I wonder if the psychologists who coined the term re-entry syndrome really understood the demoralising effect of discussing house prices, raging about traffic congestion and the state of “yoof”.

Comment by Tom L

Safe travels, friend. And whilst you are leaving for Dili, I am plotting my return to academia (that familial home) late this year…

Comment by Vasco Pyjama

Have to admit, I’m a bit worried about reverse culture shock… Hope all’s well in Dili!

Comment by rachie




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