Saturday, January 14, 2006

Home again

The flight back to Timor was uneventful. The plane had many empty seats and we appeared to share them mostly with white Portuguese, Chinese Timorese, a small group of young Timorese men one of whom had a Portuguese passport, a Dutch family, a couple of Americans (maybe Peace Corps) and two white skinned nuns. It was such a different feeling getting on the plane and sharing the journey with this motley crew; it felt so Timorese, definitely not Balinese or Indonesian. Seeing the dark skin of the young Timorese men brought it home for me again how ethnically different the Timorese are from the Indonesians (mostly Melanesian not Asian); and the nuns absolutely reeked of their Catholicism (funny that Daniel says). In a strange way, I felt a part of it and was in a small way looking forward to returning “home”.

Upon arrival at the very unassuming President Nicolau Lobato airport in Dili, we felt the awful heat and humidity and our hearts sank. We put on our backpacks and walked the short journey up to the main road to catch a taxi as the taxi drivers charge a small fortune just to take you to and from the airport which I think is a rip off (and given we live right next door to the airport and can see our house when taking off and landing it’s even more galling). We passed three small boys sitting on the edge of the road under a tree and the middle one thrust his hand out asking for money. Hah, I thought, I’ve got you now! I spoke in Tetum (which I believed shocked them all expecting me to be a newly arrived tourist) and told him off in the kindest way I could muster. He looked suitably embarrassed and I felt pleased with myself.

We had decided to take a taxi in the opposite direction of our home to the supermarket as we knew we had little food in the house. Our taxi driver proceeded to complain about the lack of work and so feeling generous and although the trip was really only worth $3 at the most, I gave him $4 (he had a wife and kids and I just hoped he didn’t spend his money on gambling!). He seemed very happy at this. (I just wish they would reinstall meters in the taxis in Timor because it is very difficult trying to guess how much a trip is worth sometimes.)

I felt good walking through the gates of our property into the garden especially when I spied the “bibi malae” (sheep). I smiled and shouted to Daniel that they hadn’t murdered him for Christmas dinner after all! I also said something similar to the sheep himself. We visited Senyora to tell her we were home and to ask for the key to the house. It turned out that she had only got the message about our delayed return the day before from my colleague who lives in the same neck of the woods. It was difficult trying to email different colleagues to ask them to ask this particular colleague to bring the message to “our family”, due to the fact that the main person we asked was herself on leave until this week. We didn’t want “our family” to worry unnecessarily about us but we did make a number of attempts to let them know. The manner in which we did so also highlights the difficulties of communicating with and within Timor: we had to email a “malae” colleague of Daniel’s and ask her to go to my work to ask my Timorese colleague if she would visit “our family” in person to give them the message.

Yesterday afternoon and again this afternoon we experienced very fierce winds which were lovely as it cooled the house down. This afternoon they were accompanied by heavy rain which combined with the wind brought the water into our house through the top ventilation openings which are covered with mosquito netting but which cannot be closed up. The rain bounced off the roof of the awnings and straight in through the ventilation openings. As a result, I left muddy footprints on the white tiled floor as it is always covered in a fine dust (from the roads in the neighbourhood) and which is near impossible to keep clean.

We both got on the scales yesterday and I discovered that in three weeks, I’d lost another 3kg; not surprising really given that I didn’t eat for nearly a week! So I’ve now lost 8kg but do wonder how I will manage to keep it off, particularly when I return to the overfed countries of the West. I wish I didn’t like food so much but as a sensualist, it is one of the pure joys of life. However, combined with my genetic predisposition to roundness, I’m bound to remain rather cuddly.

What I notice most about being back in Timor is the poverty; it’s so obviously very poor. It’s also very quiet, despite the roosters, dogs, lizards, frogs, pigs, goats, sheep, the taxis with their horns permanently engaged, UN helicopters and the few commercial aeroplanes landing and taking off; and the children playing in the streets. I was very happy to see all the children again although I haven’t had the chance to greet them all. I really do adore them. Here’s a photo of four of the kids in our neighbourhood which I took just before we left for Bali. From left to right: the first two children live across the road (the second is a girl called Jenny), the third child lives next door and the fourth and oldest child at the back is Atoby, the second son of “our family”. They are all related to one another (mostly first and second cousins).

Category: Timor-Leste (East Timor)

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