Friday, April 28, 2006

(East Timor Problems) Unable to return home

Upon receiving reports that the road from the airport out to our neighbourhood was closed due to disturbances in Tasi Tolu, a Timorese colleague of Daniel’s invited us to spend the night at her house in Bebora near Vila Verde. We gladly accepted her kind offer.

We waited for a car to return to take us to Bebora but as darkness descended on Dili, we decided to walk the kilometre or so distance to the colleague’s house rather than make the journey in the dark (car or no car!). The street on which Daniel’s NGO is located is a dead end, but we were guided or smuggled by the locals through various front and back yards until the way through was found. We passed under laundry hanging out to dry, women feeding children, dogs, pigs and chickens until we came out on to the main road, saving us quite a walk and avoiding the main road.

Upon entering our colleague’s house, we were a little alarmed to see an enormous packed suitcase waiting at the inside of the front door. We asked what it was for and she said it was there in case we have to leave in a hurry. We felt this to be an ominous sign. Our colleague motioned for us to sit in the stiffling and fanless front room of her house. We soon began to perspire. We asked if she had a television that we could watch the evening news on but she replied no, she didn’t have one. It still amazes me how very middle class, well educated Timorese do not have some of the material goods that we would expect in the West. I felt totally cut off from what was really going on and knew I would have to rely on rumours for any information. For better or worse, these are always plentiful here.

Reluctantly we asked our colleague if the neighbourhood was loromonu (west) or lorosa’e (east) and to our relief she said the former. We knew then that we would be relatively safe, primarily because most of the troubles seemed to be occurring in mixed neighbourhoods, but secondly because most of the trouble seemed to be aimed at lorosa’e Timorese.

Soon after our arrival I received the following text message (twice) from the Australian Embassy in Dili:

Aust. travel advice updated 28/04 – advise against unneccessary travel in Dili esp at night and around govt. bldgs, Tasi Tolu and Taibesi and Comoro markets.

We spent most of the evening sitting outside on the verandah where we were attacked by some ferocious mosquitoes. The thought of contracting malaria or dengue fever was not, however, uppermost in our minds. Our colleague brought out her photo albums and we happily devoured their contents as a form of distraction. We were a little envious however of the photos of our home city Melbourne, where our colleague had visited twice last year to attend conferences on Timor. One photo was of our colleague as she gave a talk at a workshop at the Cooperating with Timor-Leste conference, which I attended and remembered her very well. Little did I know then, that I would end up spending the night in her house due to a violent outbreak on the streets of her home town!.

Our colleague is the eldest of six children: four girls and two boys. She was born and educated in Dili before leaving for Kupang in Indonesian West Timor where she studied and graduated in law. All of her nuclear family now resides in Kupang except a sister who lives in Dili and works for the government. Since arriving in Timor we have slowly got to know her and like and respect her immenseley. She is a beautiful human being: both physically and spiritually and I feel very fortunate to have met her.

We shared a late meal together, most of which was the food Daniel’s female colleagues had prepared for their NGO’s fifth birthday celebration, but due to the outbreak of violence, unsurprisingly only two guests showed up and the event was cancelled. We ate white rice, a green leafy vegetable and mixed vegetables with chopped boiled eggs. Exhausted we all then went to bed. Our colleague had given up her room for us while she slept in the room that her parents use when they come to Dili. Despite having two mattresses on the bed (one of which our colleague put on the bed especially for us, knowing from experience when we stayed in Ainaro together with other colleagues for human rights training (see Atauro Island and Human Rights training in Ainaro) that I found the thin mattress uncomfortable) the bed was still hard. We tried to sleep but our minds were too unsettled.

Category: Timor-Leste (East Timor)

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