Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Giving lifts to strangers

I was waiting for a “mikrolet” but as it was 8pm, they were few and far between; and at this time of night, you cannot be guaranteed one at all. While waiting, I had to constantly engage my head in a “no” movement for the hordes of taxis wanting my business and as usual, got increasingly annoyed at their persistence in beeping at me as if I were a sex worker!

I flagged down an approaching “mikrolet” thinking it might be my route number 10 (remember without streetlights it is very difficult to see such things as a number on a “mikrolet”) but it turned out to be a “mikrolet” come school bus of young teenage girls. Their teacher asked where I was going and then said hop on in Tetum. I took my seat amongst the giggling girls. In my very basic Tetum, I ascertained that they were year 9 students from St Josephs secondary school in Balide (a suburb of Dili); a very famous school where the brightest students of Timor usually end up (most of Daniel’s Timorese colleagues attended this school). They had had basketball practice after school hence their late return home. Their coach and teacher was driving them while their maths teacher (and perhaps junior coach) sat in the passenger seat. While they were dropped off home one by one in different parts of Dili, the girls asked (in Tetum) my name, where I was from, where I lived and where I worked. Upon telling them (in Tetum) where I worked, one of the girls said she was the younger sister of the husband of the Director of my NGO; and another girl lived in my neighbourhood and had seen me about and knew where I lived as she said she was the younger sister of Senyor Raphael! It’s such a small world in Timor!

Upon approaching Rai Kotu, I saw Daniel’s head in the taxi in front of us, thus both the taxi and “mikrolet” arrived at our stop at the same time. “Fancy meeting you here” I said to Daniel as he exited the taxi and then I introduced him to the young girl who lives in our neighbourhood. We walked down the street together and she showed us were she lives. Upon arriving home, we immediately visited “our family” to tell them about the young girl and whether she was indeed Senyor’s younger sister. To begin with, he was perplexed, but then it transpired that the girl is from the same “aldeia” (ward/village) as Senyor in Bobonaro district. Timorese are very free in their use of the different words that make up members of a family and to whom they apply them, and if you come from the same village as someone, you will say they are “family” which of course confuses us “malae” who have a very limited definition of the word based on biology!

This is the second time that complete strangers have stopped and picked me up in their “mikrolet” and taken me home after dark. The first time occurred with Daniel and it was a family who lived in a suburb before ours but who were happy to drive us to Rai Kotu and then backtrack. I don’t know if this generosity of spirit is extended to all people (I assume it is) and not just us “malae” but it is really a wonderful feature of the culture that warms my heart.

Category: Timor-Leste (East Timor)

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