Most Volunteers get all their living needs by what is available in the country. International mail delivery in Timor-Leste is slow and inconsistent. Please tell your family and friends that packages mailed to Timor-Leste may not ever arrive, or if they do, it may take many months. Valuables or perishables of any kind should not be sent through the mail. The mailing address for the office is as follows:
Rua Nu’u Laran No. 12
Bairro Dos Grilhos
There are few landlines outside of the capital. Virtually everyone in the country who relies on telephone service carries a cellphone. Some outlying districts where Peace Corps Volunteers are stationed do not have full coverage, but everyone will be close enough to a coverage zone to rely on cellphone for in- country connectivity. You will be issued a basic smart phone upon arrival in country.
You may bring an unlocked smartphone from home if it has a slot for a SIM card. You can buy a SIM card in-country and insert it in your smartphone. Depending on the terms of your U.S. provider, your phone may be unlocked in Dili at your own expense and risk. It is relatively easy for you to call home but it can be expensive. Most Volunteers arrange to have their family call them since most cellphone packages do not charge for incoming calls. Skype, WhatsApp or Facetime are other options for calling home.
Some outlying districts where Peace Corps Volunteers are stationed do not have full coverage, but everyone will be close enough to a coverage zone to rely on cellphone for in country connectivity. Volunteers are increasingly able to access the Internet for communication with family and friends in the United States. The Peace Corps office will have a few computers for Volunteers to use when they are in Dili. Internet cafes are not as common and Volunteers may opt to buy a dongle (approximately $10) and then pay for data usage.
Housing and Site Location
Volunteers will live in villages outside of major towns. Houses are likely to be made of traditional palm and bamboo with heavily thatched, peaked roofs or cement blocks with a corrugated metal roof. Most villages are traditional, both in building construction and in availability of services. The most modern cement-block structures may be government buildings such as health posts or schools. Any residences at least partially constructed of concrete block or finished wood are likely to belong to a village chief or to the most prosperous farmers or small business owners.
While electricity in rural areas has improved greatly in the past few years, there are still many villages without it. The current is 220 volts. Any electrical appliance you bring will require a transformer, and these are readily available in Dili. Because of the varied outlets, universal plug adapters, also available in Dili, will come in handy. Power surges are common in Timor-Leste and can cause irreversible damage to your appliances or laptops.
Most Timorese cook over firewood or kerosene stoves. During training, you will learn how to cook on a firewood stove so you can cook with your host family. You may need to use solar-charged lanterns or candles for reading or working at night.
You are required to live with a host family and should expect to live with a host family for your entire service. Timorese rarely live alone. For many Volunteers, their host family is one of the most valuable parts of service. Living with a host family is a good way to ensure safety. While crime is not a serious problem in rural areas of Timor-Leste, there have been instances of small-scale theft from houses occupied by foreigners, and assault, while even rarer, is a risk not to be taken lightly.
Living Allowance and Money Management
Volunteers receive a monthly allowance in local currency that is sufficient to live at the level of the local people. The allowance covers food, housing, household supplies, clothing, transportation to and from work, utilities, recreation and entertainment, and incidental expenses. Peace Corps Volunteers are expected to live at a level that is comparable with that of their host country counterparts. The Peace Corps discourages Volunteers from supplementing their living allowance with funds from home. Timor-Leste uses the U.S. dollar as their currency.
Food and Diet
Depending on where your community is located, your diet staple will be rice (coastal and near city) or corn (inland and mountains). Dietary habits and a lack of agricultural diversity generally limit meals to corn, rice, noodles, occasionally fish (on the coast), meat and eggs, onions, tomatoes, and cassava. In more rural areas, a variety of vegetables and fruits is seldom available, especially from September to November, the latter part of the dry season. Although Timorese make liberal use of chili peppers, their spicy food is quite different, for example, from Mexican food. Corn is not ground into cornmeal and is generally eaten either roasted or boiled and mixed with vegetables. Most Timorese are exceptionally generous and will insist on sharing their food, no matter how little they have. If you choose to follow a mostly vegetarian diet, Timor-Leste is a fairly easy country in which to do so. However, including fish and eggs into your diet will make it much easier to maintain. While it is possible to maintain a vegan diet, it may be challenging to acquire the variety of foods necessary to stay healthy.
Most Volunteer sites are connected by public transportation to the nearest district center and/or to Dili. In a few sites, Volunteers must walk for up to an hour to reach public transportation. Transportation consists of small buses, or converted vans called microlets, and open-bed trucks called anggunas. While public transportation is reliable most of the year, torrential rains resulting in landslides close roads for varying lengths of time during the annual monsoon season (November to April). At those times, rural residents may need to walk around obstructed roads or walk on local trails to pick up transportation elsewhere. Volunteers are asked to identify alternative forms of transportation (i.e., private vehicles, taxis, or trucks) from sites in case of emergency.
Volunteers in Timor-Leste sometimes decide to buy a bicycle and helmet—a small allowance is provided for this, however the steep terrain and road conditions make cycling very difficult in some areas. In accordance with Peace Corps policy, however, Volunteers are prohibited from driving or riding as a passenger on any type of motorcycle for any reason. Volunteers are also not allowed to own automobiles or drive privately owned vehicles in Timor-Leste. Violation of this policy can result in immediate administrative separation from the Peace Corps.
In smaller towns or rural areas, there may be an occasional celebration, such as a wedding or the inauguration of a new house, in which everyone participates. Celebrations are often quite elaborate and may involve the sacrifice of a goat, dog, or buffalo, which is then served in a community feast. Older people often dress in traditional clothing for such events and perform traditional dances and rituals. In Dili or larger towns, there is a wider variety of social activities, including eating out at restaurants and attending local sporting events. In the evenings, residents of towns sometimes gather for cock fighting, soccer or volleyball games. Most social events center on the family, although groups of boys or girls frequently gather to pass the time and gossip. In this fervently Catholic country, the local church is another locus of social activity in the community. Timorese also enjoy outings to the beach even though only young males normally go swimming.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
Don’t be misled by the seeming informality of your work assignment; you will need to follow the lead of counterparts and take professional responsibilities seriously. Your work assignment may be visited by village leadership and supervisors, and perceived unprofessional dress or behavior of a Volunteer could reflect poorly on both the Timorese counterpart and the Peace Corps.
The clothing culture is different in Dili than in the rest of Timor, particularly the rural towns and villages where you will be placed. While you'll see women (mostly foreigners) wearing Western styles in Dili (that show their midriff, shoulders, and upper leg), this isn't acceptable in outlying areas. Both men and women should plan to dress very conservatively at least through training and the first months at their permanent site, until they fully understand what is acceptable at their site. Timorese may be offended by visitors to their homes or offices who display a sloppy or unkempt appearance.
Cleanliness and neatness are very important for Volunteers representing the Peace Corps. Shorts, flipflops, and tank tops are not considered appropriate dress in an office environment. At work, professional attire for men means collared shirts and long pants. Shoulder-length hair and dreadlocks are generally acceptable on men, if clean and well-groomed. Visible body piercings (other than earrings for women) are not common among Timorese. While Timorese are fairly tolerant, this may draw unwanted attention and gossip that often makes Volunteers feel uncomfortable. Swimwear should be very conservative; bikinis are not acceptable for men or women. When swimming in public (where Timorese are present), women are expected to wear a T-shirt and shorts over their bathing suits.