I've lived in the United States, England, and Japan--all countries that are well-off. I've never lived in, or even visited, a so-called developing country before. There are lots of different narratives about developing countries; what stories get told depend on the purposes of the teller--unsurprisingly. The hard facts of life in Timor-Leste didn't escape me--not just (just!) the trauma of recent conflict, but also the high infant mortality and food insecurity. But there was so much that I saw that was cheerful, vigorous, optimistic.
Twice a day there was a rush hour in Ainaro--foot-traffic rush hour, as kids streamed in to school. They were smiling, chatting with friends, looking sharp in their uniforms. Many of the teachers are unpaid local volunteers--now, you could see this as a problem (unqualified teachers), and yes, it would be good to have teachers who've been trained as teachers, but on the other hand, what dedication and sense of service that represents! And it seems to me quite likely that some of those volunteers are very good teachers.
Most people in Timor-Leste are subsistence farmers, but in Ainaro I also saw a carpenter's shop...They're making a cabinet (frame on the left). The day before, they were making a bed frame.
... and next door to where I was staying was an auto repair shop, and up the street was a van out of which Timor Telecom operated--the women there are fluent in English and got me set up with enough pulsa
that I could phone home.
And some women earn money weaving tais
, traditional textiles whose patterns vary depending on the region. This woman told me she could weave my name into the one she was making (but I was leaving too soon).
There was also the bakery, a couple of restaurants, and several copy and photo shops (these were popular with kids)--and these are just the things I happened to notice. Here are some shops selling clothes
Everything's just very labor-intensive, though. People were cutting the lawn across from the classroom with hand sickles, for instance.
As for play, I saw girls doing what we called Chinese jump rope
when I was a kid, and everywhere little kids, boys and girls both, rolling tires with sticks:
There are stone-lined water-runoff ditches along the roads, and I saw children playing in these too. One boy had a big palm stem that he was driving like a truck, making truck noises, along the edge of the gutter.
There's a football (soccer) pitch in the center of town, and in the late afternoon, I saw older boys and men playing on it. There's also a pool hall, and every evening someone's having a party--all the students talked about them. Several of the guys played the guitar, and several of the girls sing, and everyone seems to like dancing, including the newly ordained priest. Cockfighting is also popular--it goes on at the Saturday market (I saw the crowds gathered round, but didn't actually get up close to see the fight.)
Overall, people seem hopeful; they have plans, they're doing things. That's my narrative, anyway :-)