Saturday, February 04, 2006

The invisible thieves

We met my friend Zelia (the one who is studying English at university) for lunch today in order to give her the electronic dictionary I purchased for her in Bali. However, she first presented me with my first “tais” which took her sister in Los Palos four full days to weave. It is beautiful and includes my favourite colours green and purple.

Unfortunately, Zelia’s house has been broken into about seven times in the recent past and so I am not sure how long she will be in possession of the dictionary! The story surrounding the break-ins is also intriguing. Apparently, a gang of youths who have named themselves 777 are the culprits. We have noticed the number 7 spray-painted on poles near the 7km marker, which marks the distance from the centre of Dili on the major road in our neighbourhood. We thought the 7km distance had something to do with it but perhaps it’s gang related? However, Zelia told us that the gang is based in a different neighbourhood. Anyway, the gang mostly break in at night when Zelia and her “brothers” are sleeping. They steal things like bags of rice, the rice cooker and radio (after all, there is not much to steal from other poor Timorese). No one ever hears them entering, stealing or leaving. When I questioned her as to why this was she said that the gang has killed people and uses the dust from their bodies (presumably burnt although I believe most bodies in Timor are buried not cremated) to cover themselves which then makes them invisible. Thus, they are neither seen nor heard and the police cannot catch them either.

Now, I have to tell you that my disbelief was very high during this little conversation, higher than it has ever been since I arrived in Timor for how could I respond to such utter nonsense. This was a classic example of a traditional animistic Timorese belief clashing with the ears of someone who hails from a modern rational scientific society. It’s ever so frustrating to have to listen to such things, smile sweetly and say nothing.

Zelia wanted to see us again the following weekend, which usually happens when we see her. However, I simply cannot see her that often. I have very little in common with her (apart from our shared humanity and gender) and just one hour can be a strain because I do not know what to talk about, especially when she talks of such irrational things as invisible thieves. When I told her that we were busy, she said “then what about the weekend after that?” So I said that I would email her soon to arrange another time to meet. Once a month is fair in my estimation but even then, I feel I’m giving too much for even at home in Melbourne, I rarely see my friends that often! (But how do I explain this to her?) More importantly, the relationship I have with her is not equal. I am in a much more powerful position than she is and this is no basis for a friendship. Friendships must include mutuality and shared interests. I consider Zelia an acquaintance (but one whom I help much more than other acquaintances) but she considers both Daniel and I “family”. As we all know, with family comes a whole host of expectations, responsibilities and the big one: guilt. Her idea of “friendship” and “family” are clearly very different to mine. For these reasons, it is very difficult forming and maintaining close relationships with Timorese; the life and education experience and cultural divide is immense.

Category: Timor-Leste (East Timor)

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