Timor-Leste

Timor-Leste flag

Living Conditions

Housing and site location

Living with a host family is a crucial component of your service, offering a unique opportunity to fully immerse yourself in the local culture. In Timor-Leste, it is uncommon for individuals to live alone, and for many Volunteers, the bond formed with their host family becomes a cherished and invaluable aspect of their service. This arrangement not only promotes cultural integration but also enhances safety. While crime is rare in rural areas, instances of minor theft from houses occupied by foreigners have been reported, and although assaults are infrequent, they should be approached with caution.

Volunteers may reside in the capital town of a municipality or in nearby villages. Host family houses typically consist of cement blocks topped by corrugated metal roofs, which can become quite hot during the summer/rainy season months from November through March. To alleviate this, many Peace Corps Volunteers choose to purchase fans for their rooms.

PCVs are provided with their own bedroom, furnished with a bed and table. Some may need to use their settling-in allowance to purchase a wardrobe. The Peace Corps ensures the installation of security wire and mosquito mesh on windows, and a mosquito net for the bed is also provided. Bathing rooms and toilets are generally separate from the main house, and toilets can be either Western-style sitting or Eastern-style squat.

While host families have electricity, brownouts are common. The electrical current is 220 volts and 50 Hz, necessitating transformers for U.S. electrical appliances. Given the diverse electrical outlets, a universal plug adapter may be necessary. Timor-Leste experiences frequent power surges, posing a risk of irreversible damage to appliances or laptops, making a surge-protected power strip highly recommended.

Cooking in Timor-Leste typically involves firewood or kerosene stoves. During Pre-Service Training, you'll learn how to cook on a firewood three-stone stove. For evening lighting, bringing a solar-charged lantern is recommended.

Living allowance and money management

Volunteers are provided with a monthly allowance in U.S. dollars, tailored to sustain a standard of living equivalent to that of the local community. This allowance encompasses essential expenses such as food, housing, household supplies, clothing, transportation to and from work, utilities, recreation, entertainment, and incidental costs. Peace Corps Volunteers are encouraged to align their lifestyle with that of their host country counterparts, ensuring a meaningful and integrated experience. Volunteers are discouraged from supplementing their living allowance with funds from home.

Food and Diet 

The dietary staples in Timor-Leste vary based on the community's location. Coastal and near-city areas often rely on rice, while inland and mountainous regions predominantly consume corn. Dietary habits and a limited agricultural diversity contribute to meals mainly consisting of corn, rice, noodles, occasional fish (near the coast), meat, eggs, onions, tomatoes, and cassava. In more rural settings, the availability of a variety of vegetables and fruits is limited, especially from September to November during the latter part of the dry season.

It's important to note that the use of chili peppers is prevalent in Timorese cuisine, but it differs significantly from spicy foods in other cultures, such as Mexican cuisine. Corn is typically not ground into cornmeal; instead, it is commonly eaten roasted or boiled and mixed with vegetables. Timorese people are known for their exceptional generosity and often insist on sharing their food, regardless of its quantity.

For those considering a predominantly vegetarian diet, Timor-Leste is generally accommodating. However, incorporating fish and eggs into your meals can significantly simplify the dietary experience. While maintaining a vegan diet is possible, it may present challenges in acquiring the necessary variety of foods to ensure overall nutritional health.

Transportation

Most Volunteer sites are connected to the nearest district center and/or Dili by public transportation, which includes small buses, converted vans known as microlets, and open-bed trucks called anggunas. While public transportation is generally reliable throughout the year, torrential rains causing landslides can close roads during the annual monsoon season (November to April). In such instances, rural residents may need to navigate obstructed roads or local trails to access transportation elsewhere, often requiring additional time.

Volunteers are encouraged to identify within the community, the alternative forms of transportation, such as private vehicles, taxis, or trucks, in case of emergencies. Some Volunteers opt to purchase a bicycle; Peace Corps provides a bike helmet. However, the challenging terrain and road conditions in certain areas make cycling impractical.

It's important to note that Peace Corps policy strictly prohibits Volunteers from driving or riding as passengers on motorcycles for any reason. Additionally, Volunteers are not permitted to own automobiles or operate privately owned vehicles in Timor-Leste. Violation of this policy can lead to immediate administrative separation from the Peace Corps.

Social Activities

In smaller towns or rural areas, occasional celebrations such as weddings or house inaugurations bring the entire community together in elaborate festivities. These events may include the sacrifice of a goat, dog, or buffalo, followed by a communal feast. During such occasions, older individuals often don traditional attire and engage in traditional dances and rituals, adding cultural richness to the celebrations.

In larger towns like Dili, a more diverse range of social activities unfolds. Residents can enjoy eating out at restaurants, attending local sporting events, or participating in evening gatherings for activities such as cockfighting, soccer, or volleyball. While family-centered events are prevalent, groups of boys and girls often convene for casual interactions and gossip. In this predominantly Catholic country, the local church serves as another significant hub for community social activities.

Timorese people also enjoy outings to the beach, although it is more common for young males to partake in swimming activities during these excursions. Swimwear should be very conservative, with swim briefs or bikinis considered inappropriate. When swimming in public spaces where Timorese are present, women are expected to wear a T-shirt and shorts over their bathing suits.

Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior

Despite the apparent informality of your work assignment, it is crucial to recognize the need for professionalism and adherence to local norms. Following the lead of your counterparts and taking professional responsibilities seriously is essential. Village leadership and supervisors may visit your work assignment, and any perceived unprofessional dress or behavior by a Volunteer could reflect poorly on both the Timorese counterpart and the Peace Corps.

The clothing culture in Dili differs significantly from the rest of Timor, especially the rural towns and villages where you will be placed. While Western styles, revealing midriffs, shoulders, and upper legs, may be observed in Dili (mostly worn by foreigners), such attire is not acceptable in outlying areas. Both men and women should plan to dress conservatively, at least through training and the initial months at their permanent site, until they fully grasp what is deemed acceptable.

Maintaining cleanliness and neatness is paramount for Volunteers representing the Peace Corps. In an office environment, shorts, flip-flops, and tank tops are considered inappropriate. Professional attire for men at work entails collared shirts and long pants. Shoulder-length hair and well-groomed locs are generally acceptable for men. While Timorese are generally tolerant, visible body piercings (aside from earrings for women) are not common, and their presence may attract unwanted attention and gossip, causing discomfort for Volunteers.

Communications

Cell Phones and Internet

In Timor-Leste, the quality of Wi-Fi capabilities and internet speed varies across municipalities. Despite efforts to enhance internet infrastructure, challenges persist, particularly in remote or rural areas. Accessing mobile and internet services typically involves acquiring a SIM card and selecting a suitable plan based on individual communication and data usage needs.

A common term in Dili is pulsa, referring to prepaid mobile credit or balance. It represents the monetary value loaded onto a mobile phone account, enabling users to make voice calls, send text messages, and access mobile data services for internet browsing. Both expats and locals use pulsa to prepay for various services. Acquiring pulsa involves purchasing physical top-up cards from street vendors or telecommunication companies, available in various package plans.

Timor-Leste’s cell phone coverage throughout the country is good, although different providers may have better reception depending on where you are located. Timor-Leste has some of the world’s slowest internet speed.

During Pre-Service Training Peace Corps pays for an unlimited data plan so you can access online training materials. After swearing in, your monthly living allowance should be enough to cover an unlimited data plan. The unlimited plans enable you to use Facetime, WhatsApp, Skype, or Facebook Messenger without charge.

You have the option of bringing your own unlocked smart phone or Peace Corps Timor-Leste will provide you with one when you arrive. The Volunteer lounge at Peace Corps office has desktop computers for Volunteers to use.

Mail

International mail delivery from the United States to Timor-Leste is slow and inconsistent. Packages mailed to Timor-Leste may not ever arrive, or if they do, it may take many months.