The sound of metal grinding on metal is never a good thing with a car. Rattling stuff isn’t much better. Yet when we pulled into Baucau Friday afternoon I heard both. I’d turned off the AC and rolled down the window for a bit of fresh air after what we affectionately call “the angry backrub.” The “angry backrub” is 4 hours of driving over a dusty washboard road between Dili and Baucau where the average speed is 20-30 km hour.
We’d been in Dili since Sunday to get our young friend Leyla registered for a midwifery program starting in January, and to renew our visa. Getting Leyla registered was easy; if all goes well, she will pass her basic entrance exam and her blood tests, and we will have another young person off on an adventure of learning and discovery.
The visa renewal was a different story. Describing it charitably, I’d call it an annual spiritual pilgrimage wherein we learn about patience and going with the flow. Each year there are different requirements in a process that is never 100% clear but always involves multiple steps to obtain the necessary documents. The office is only open for a few hours every morning and different officials there tell you different things about the what, when and how of the process. This year the hang-up was a letter from the Ministry of Education certifying that the kids were in fact students in Timor Leste. We spent two days trying to get a letter and finally resolved to head back to Lospalos with the hope that the plan we made through a friend of a friend to get a letter written would pan-out and we could have someone from the church turn in the letter on our behalf. That is, if we could convince the immigration officials to go ahead and take the kids’ pictures (the last requirement) so that they wouldn’t have to come back to Dili yet again.
When we walked into the office Friday morning (aka “Day 5 of Trying) accompanied by our good friend Rev. Juliana, we were happy to see that a particularly unsympathetic immigration official we’d encountered several times during the week was not working. We decided to try turning the documents in again without the required letter. It worked! She looked through the documents, we paid, they took the pictures and that was it. We were on our way back to Lospalos.
The route through the town of Baucau provides a welcome bit of pavement and it was easy to hear that indeed something was both loose and grinding in the right rear wheel. I hoped it was a stuck pebble or something. I tried my first trick: driving backwards and forwards a few times. Sometimes if it’s a stuck rock it will pop out. Didn’t work. We rolled on down through Baucau to the church in the village of Buruma where our friends Meri and Duarte are pastors. Given that the brakes were still working I briefly entertained the idea of continuing to Lospalos. Boy would it be nice to be at home in our own beds! But it was late in the day and the prospect of car trouble in a remote area at night was unappealing. Been there, done that.
When we pulled into the church compound I jacked up the car and took the wheel off. I pulled the brake drum off. It wasn’t a pebble I found, but rather multiple loose parts of the brake system lying there in the drum. Some were broken. Initially I figured there would be replacement parts available there in Baucau, but I was wrong. Locals told me I’d have to go to Dili. So the next day I got to do an unexpected endurance day to fetch car parts while Monica and the kids enjoyed an unexpected and most welcome day at the world’s best pool (still enduring from the Portuguese colonial era).
My day, though long and tiring, couldn’t have gone smoother. I got started at 6 am and got a ride to Dili with a nice young couple in an actual car (people driving actual cars in Timor-Leste is about as weird as people driving SUV’s in urban America, but anyway…) The night before I’d sent pictures of the parts to my American friend Curt. By the time I got to Dili he’d located the parts. He picked me up at the bus terminal; I bought the parts and got on a standing room only bus back to Baucau. Total time in Dili was under 45 minutes. Five really dusty hours later, I was back in Baucau. Man, what fun! I’m glad I’m still doing this stuff at 47; it’s either keeping me young or wearing me out, but either way, I’m grateful! Two more hours with the help of some local guys and a Leatherman tool, our only tool, and we had the new brakes installed.
Sunday morning we headed back to Lospalos with a nice stop for a breakfast of grilled fish and katupas.