Giving directions in Timor is a challenge. In a country where street signs have only been erected in recent months, describing to someone how to find your home, a shop or a church location takes time and more time. For those of us who are used to using GPS navigation or even Google Maps to get to where we want to go, driving in Timor can be a mind boggling exercise.
Recently, we were invited to visit the home of some friends for an evening time of fellowship. Since Jason was at work, i copied down the instructions given to me over the phone. I was battling an epic tummy bug, so i wasn’t going anywhere!
There were seven steps to the instructions which included statements like:
Drive along and turn right past the supermarket, but before the bridge.
Continue on through the intersection with the traffic lights that don’t work.
As you drive along you will see a green and yellow wall, a pink three storey building and a sign saying ’Warung’.
This trip should have taken about twenty minutes, may be a little more in peak hour dusk traffic, but when he returned after an hour of driving he was exhausted and fed up! Miscommunication in the instructions meant he didn’t find the house and was too flustered to realise he had the phone number of the people to call them to see where he had gone wrong.
Finding new places here can be stressful! A few weeks ago Jason, Sam and I set out for an explore in our new (to us) car. We wanted to visit Letefoho, a place up in the mountains that Jason had often seen from the air, which has coffee plantations and another statue of Jesus. We set off early in the morning, supplied with all we needed to make a day of our adventure. Jason had looked on Google Maps and talked to several people about how to get there so we thought we were prepared. Along the way we used our limited Tetun to check with people on the side of the road that we were going the right way and off we went. About the time i thought we should’ve been arriving at our destination, i looked on Google Maps to see if we were in fact close to our destination, only to find that we were on a different road. Somehow we had missed the turn off and we were now heading for Ermera. Despite using all the resources we had available, we still got it wrong. The drive was fun, the scenery beautiful, but there was an overshadowing disappointment that we hadn’t reached our desired goal. We hadn’t made it to Letefoho like we’d wanted. On the way home we looked at each road, goat track and sign, trying to work out where the turn was that we had missed with no success. The reality was that Google Maps did not match the reality of the roads we were driving along. It was only when we discussed our journey with friends that had driven the same roads previously that we realised our error, and which road we should have taken.
Navigation is difficult when the support you are used to, like maps, signs and road names, do not exist. So why did i title this blog “the white goat” when in reality a more fitting title would be “Lost in Timor”? Jason went to another small group on Tuesday night, (I was still not leaving the property for stomach related reasons) again he had to follow my rushed verbal instructions.
“Go past the water place, turn right and the drive way is on your left along there somewhere, if you get to the beach you have gone too far. Look up the drive way and you will see a set of gates about 100 meters along, go through them, drive until you see the swimming pool, turn right and its one of the houses along there on your right. They have a black car don’t they?”
He found the place! When he came home he was telling me where the other people in the group lived, both nearby us and laughed as we realised they had been using the white goat as a landmark to describe to each other where they lived. A large white goat lives down the road from us and is always tethered to the various grassy patches along the southern wall of the American Embassy to graze throughout the day. I am amazed by the way directions are given and followed here, but i never thought i’d be navigating by a white goat, or for that matter a broken down generator, which now sits at the entrance to our drive way as a sign to our home.