What’s worse than having to get up at 5am for a bus? The bus turning up at your hotel twenty minutes early! And then beeping REALLY LOUDLY, waking everybody in the neighbourhood up. Well, possibly not, the people of Indonesia have such an amazingly high tolerance of noise, you’d swear they must be deaf. It might be an idea to ship all those whiney tossers who buy houses on the Heathrow flight path or apartments above city centre nightclubs (and then, predictably, moan about the noise) to one of these 17,000 islands and fill Britain’s noisiest homes with Indonesians.
Completely unprepared, I sleepily threw all my stuff in my bags like Winona Rider looting a Chinese laundry. I fell back asleep as soon as I clambered onboard and didn’t really wake up until we reached the border at noon – all I can tell you is that my driver drove too frickin’ fast. The next Brit who moans to me about speed cameras might well get a slap. Rogering my watch one hour forward, I got stamped out of Indonesia and marched triumphant over the border.
And thus I was in EAST TIMOR: my 50th country of this year. By jingo, this time last year I had done 124. Rubbish, Graham – must try harder. But at least I only have 17 more countries to go. Shame they are all in THE MIDDLE OF FRICKIN’ NOWHERE.
The trip to from the border to Dili was uneventful, but spectacular. These windy little roads would be so awesome… if I was driving. Getting thrown about in the back of a minibus isn’t much fun and makes it impossible to read or write – you just end up thrusting your headphones into your lugholes and staring out of the window, dreaming up amazing stories which would make great films. Or TV shows. Or stageplays. Or books. Or musicals.
Once this mad trip is over, I’m probably going to disappear off into the outback for a few months with just Mandy, my laptop and a pirate copy of Final Draft.
Arriving in Dili at sunset, I was greeted by Dan, the owner of the East Timor Backpackers. He had been expecting me since John (who I met on the Batam to Jakarta ferry last month) had arrived and told him what I was up to. I was exactly two weeks later than I really should have been. I’m really kicking myself now for procrastinating in Bali – this bungee jump thing in Liverpool had better happen!!
Dan’s a great chap, he’s from Chorley in Lancashire (not far from my neck of the woods) and travelled all over the world before taking on the only Backpackers in Dili last year. Nice place: bit pricey, but then so is all of East Timor. They use the US dollar, so conversion is easy (and great for holidaying Aussies at the moment: the Oz/US exchange rate is 1 to 1). Anyway, it was $12 a night for a dorm room, which is comparable with hostels in Europe. But for that you got the use of western toilets and hot showers, so it was more worth it than, say, Comoros or Angola.
The reason for the inflated prices is clear as soon as you step out on the street: the UN are here. And when I say here, I mean WOW THEY ARE HERE. I’ve seen more white UN trucks floating around Dili than I saw in Kinshasa, Monrovia and Freetown put together. I’m not sure they really need such a massive presence here – yes, East Timor is a very young nation and there has been some political instability in the last few years (culminating in 2008 with an assassination attempt on the Noble-Peace Prize winning President – luckily, he survived), but it smacks of overkill – I guess compared with Kabul or Baghdad this is a quite a cushy posting. I just wish that this amount of equipment and manpower was being put to better use: Somalia, anyone?
Actually, can I get serious for a moment? Somalia has not had an effective government for 19 years now. The levels of lawlessness and barbarity are as sickening as they are unreported.
A crowd of teenage boys gang rape, beat and dismember a young woman in Mogadishu in broad daylight. What happens to them? There are no police officers, no jails, no courtrooms, no judges. I’ll tell you what happens to them: nothing.
A gang of Somali pirates hijack a charity ship carrying medical supplies to some of the poorest people in sub-Saharan Africa. By the time the Royal Navy recapture the ship (or the insurance company has paid the ransom) it’s too late: most of the supplies have gone past their use by date. Thousands of people will die as a result. The pirates, even caught red handed, have their weapons taken from them and are free to go. Why? Cos there’s is no Somali Navy (well, there is, but it doesn’t have any ships), Kenya and Tanzania can’t afford to take them, neither can Yemen. The Royal Navy can’t keep them in the brig for the duration of their tour nor take them back to Britain.
A nine-year old girl has her vagina painfully mutilated by her uncle. While she is held down by her mother, he slices off her labia and her clitoris with a septic blade, and then, his hands covered in blood, he takes a needle and thread and stitches her up, leaving just a small hole to allow menstruation. It sounds like something from American Psycho, but the numbing fact is that this has happened to 99% of women in Somalia. It’s not even frowned upon. This most inhumane of acts is part of their culture. When a culture is that f–ked up, it ceases to be culture and becomes institutionalised criminality. By the same token, could we argue that it is the ‘culture’ of the Catholic Church to rape children?
Team America has seriously f–ked up in Afghanistan and Iraq, so any intervention from them is out of the question. No other nation state really cares about daft military adventurism – their politicians are too busy trying to win the next election, and I’m sorry to say that helping out the less fortune members of our species is something that is frowned upon, not just by the right who don’t want to have to pay for it (more yachts and pies to shove into their fat faces), but even by the left who seem, in the last few years, to have sacrificed their morality on the altar of cultural relativism and a misguided sense of ‘respect’.
There is nothing respectable about what is going on in Somalia. If you have a shred of feeling for your fellow humans, you’ll agree that this unnecessary suffering – suffering on a vast scale – must be stopped. The Somali government can’t stop it, the AU won’t, the Arab league couldn’t give a monkeys, NATO is too tied up in other business and the EU was to lazy to stop genocide on its doorstep in Bosnia and Kosovo, what makes you think it’s going to do anything for some impoverished nation full of religious nutcases?
The depressing but salient truth is that Somalia’s ONLY hope is the UN. Isn’t that sad?
Because we all know that the UN is about as much use as a KFC on the moon.
The ONLY way out of this mess is if a massive UN force is invited into Somalia by the Somali government (whose jurisdiction currently expends to Mogadishu Airport and Seaport. That’s it), and operates as Somalia’s army and police force, in a spirit of transparency and accountability (I would embed independent journalists, reps from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty with the soldiers) that was horribly missing from the Iraqi Disaster. They would have to implement a clear and precise twenty-five year plan to turn around the world’s most failed of failed states.
And anyone who allows human rights abuses, crimes against humanity or genocide happen on their watch GETS THROWN IN JAIL. Something that should have damn well happened in Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Darfur and Rwanda, to name a few. Listen you twat in the blue helmet, you’re not here to observe, you’re here to keep the peace. And if that means shooting the crazed maniac with a machete before he butchers a baby to death SO BE IT.
I firmly believe that the UN troops that stood by and watched the last few genocides happen and did nothing about it are just as morally culpable as the Israeli troops that allowed the massacres in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps happen in Beirut in the 80s.
In the meantime: we need UN prison ships, set up with the blessing of the Somali government and floating in international waters. I’m serious. Catch the pirates, they get a fair trial onboard a UN prison ship and are sentenced, contained and not free to go pirating again.
Or we can ignore the problem and hope it goes away, change the channel and watch X-Factor instead. I mean, Somalia is a long way away from here isn’t it?
I hear they just caught a 19 year old Somali boy attempting to blow up a Christmas tree lighting event in the USA. Failed states affect us all. It’s time we stopped feathering our nests for the fictional ‘next life’ and deal with the real issues are impeding people’s well-being in this one. Nobody deserves to be born into a life that is nasty, brutish and short. Nobody.
I’m going off on one here because I just read Dr. Sam Harris’ new book The Moral Landscape and it’s made me very angry about the moral bankruptcy of our national and international institutions. Read the book, it’s very good.