Friday, May 05, 2006

(East Timor Problems) An escape route

We arrived home late Thursday afternoon to find that the last remaining souls in Rai Kotu had finally abandoned their homes in fear of what they thought was to come. Even our family had fled leaving us on our own.
The silence was unnerving, particularly in the evening when I’m pretty sure I was the only remaining female in the entire village. We walked along the beach to Tasi Tolu to check on the other malae and were interested to discover that there are six not five residing there: two from Georgia, one from Canada, one from Australia, one from the USA and one from Bangladesh.
For the first time we met the American who is married to a Timorese woman and the man from Bangladesh who is the Ministry of Health’s Forensic Pathologist advisor through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). He has a car and offered to drive us out of the area should the need arise. We also met up again with the police officer who lives next to the couple from Georgia. He again reiterated that there were no problems, but many rumours were about. Despite his assurances, our sleep that night was disturbed and fitful.

On Friday morning, I decided to scour the perimeter fence to the airport, to find a way in should that be necessary. I blame my over active imagination as I had just read Taronga by Victor Kelleher, an Australian dystopian young adult novel which is mostly set in Taronga Zoo in Sydney following a huge calamity which, although never stated explicitly, I inferred as a nuclear holocaust. The wall that surrounds the zoo is the focus of much of the story as people try to scale its perimeter in search of imagined sanctuary. We found a section of the airport fence (by the beach) which had collapsed or been knocked down. It was being used by the many roaming goats to access the overgrown grass inside the airport's perimeter. We had found our escape route!

On Radio Australia we heard that both the American and New Zealand governments had decided to evacuate all non essential personnel, and that both Australia and New Zealand were prepared to send in peace keepers should the Timorese government ask. I was growing more edgy.

We received a telephone call from one of Daniel’s malae colleagues and she told us that her two housemates, who are Australian Youth Ambassadors, were being evacuated. “Now we simply couldn’t have Alexander Downer’s (the Australian Foreign Affairs Minister) protégées and so called “future leaders” of Australia harmed in any way now could we? while us AVIs are merely dispensable plebs”, I sarcastically said to Daniel. On the other hand, I take great satisfaction from knowing that I am made of tougher stuff and don’t need my government to hold my hand nor namby-pambie me and fly me out at the mere whiff of trouble! (However, I have since been informed that they were merely given the choice of whether to leave or not, am yet to clarify which is the case.)

At dusk we again walked over to Tasi Tolu and talked to our friendly police officer. He told us that nothing had changed since yesterday so we talked a little about his life. During the Indonesian occupation he was an English teacher (which explained his good English) and during the upheaval of 1999, he worked as a translator for a number of senior Australian army men.
During this time he visited our home city of Melbourne which he naturally enough described as malirin (cold). He subsequently joined the PNTL (police force) and lives with his wife and children in Tasi Tolu. From our brief conversations with him, he appears not only a dedicated police officer, but also an understanding and sympathetic citizen who acknowledges that Timor is a new and fragile democracy that must be nurtured.

Before returning home we decided to go for a swim as the half moon was brightly shining in company with hundreds of twinkling stars. Daniel decided to take a leaf out of my book and skinny dipped (which I had done the week before). I thought to myself how strange it was to be living in a near deserted village of Dili as rumours of an imminent attack abounded, swimming in the dark, one of us stark naked!

That night we watched the academy award winner Brokeback Mountain directed by the Taiwanese Ang Lee. By the end we were sobbing. It was a heart wrenching story wonderfully realized and beautifully filmed in my favourite place in the world (the Rocky Mountains of Canada). I highly commend this film.

Category: Timor-Leste (East Timor)

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