Despite what my Instagram feed may have looked like while I was out there, the real reason I went to Timor was for work. The project I support there is an agriculture and food security program focused on developing supply chains for rural farmers and building technical capacity. My previous project was also an agricultural program in sub-Saharan Africa, but much more policy and high-level focused. Whatever results there were for the Africa project always seemed very abstract and far removed, so the Timor project was a refreshing change of pace. I spent a couple of days in the Aileu office to visit a number of participating farmers and conduct interviews and take photos for a report. I was able to see exactly how the project was helping these farmers and hear from their mouths (through an interpreter) how it was changing their lives. This project may not have as large a scope, but there are real changes in income and health as a direct result of what's going on there. That thought makes sitting in an office in Bethesda 10,000 miles away a little less excruciating.
Many of the farms are located on steep, irregular mountain slopes. The drive to the few sites we went to were pretty rough, but my boss told me these were actually the most accessible despite the driving including a portion requiring the fording of a flooded riverbed. The second morning, I was asked to take a photo of the roof of a greenhouse whose roof was damaged in a storm a couple of months prior. This ended up involving me climbing up a 100ft rusted, unstable water tower in the rain to get to a proper vantage point while the local farmers watched from below laughing. I don't think I'm afraid of heights, but I was definitely concerned that one of the rungs would give and I would fall to a wet, muddy death. And then I stepped into a giant puddle of and ruined my shoes.
I also spent one evening hanging out in the market at Aileu. It looked more or less like all the other markets in Timor. A raised concrete platform lined with concrete counters. Fruit and vegetables laid out on tarps. Men playing cards on the floor. Side shops with the same ubiquitous set of household paraphernalia, colorful woven cloths, and packaged food. I made my dinner out of some 25 cent chicken satay and strawberry Fanta (disgusting).